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Angela - Interview 15

Age at interview: 42
Brief Outline: Angela cared for her brother with mental health problems for much of her adult life. Once her brother was cured, she was finally able to get married and have a family, the absence of which had been as source of great pain for her.
Background: Originally from Nigeria, Angela came to the UK two years ago with her husband. Their baby daughter was born here. She has a degree in French, and has also trained as a Pastor. She was a carer from her early teens until her late 30s.

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Angela is 42 year old and lives in Belfast with her husband and baby daughter. She came to the UK from Nigeria two years ago. In Nigeria, Angela was caring for her older brother who suffered from mental health problems since his teens. His problems began as he started smoking marijuana. He soon became addicted and very unwell. Angela, along with their mother and other full-siblings, did what they could to help him, but he didn't admit to having a problem and  didn't want help. He was unable to complete his degree in Law and was in and out of hospitals for a number of years.

The situation impacted greatly on Angela. Due to the stressful situation and the stigma attached to her brother's mental health problems, she was unable to get married. She felt ridiculed and mocked because she was single and had no children in her mid-thirties, which, in her culture is often seen as shameful. She found it hard to concentrate on her studies, and spent several years extra completing her degree in French.

The last straw came when her brother, very ill, was rejected by a rehabilitation clinic. At that point Angela and another brother, who is a nurse, decided they needed to take serious action. Due to his mental health problems, which occasionally led to violent behaviour, they had to tie their brother's hand and force him home. Angela is a committed Christian, and had prayed for her brother throughout his problems. She describes how, when her brother was rejected by the clinic, she begged God for help. She says her prayers were heard as her brother overcame his addiction and his mental health improved dramatically.

Coming from a polygamous family where her brother was the eldest son and Angela the eldest daughter of the first wife, they experienced rivalry and jealousy among their father's children. Angela believes it was evil forces called upon from within the extended family that caused her brother's drug addiction and, as a result, his mental health problems.

Once her brother's mental health problems had gone, Angela felt free to focus on her own life. She met her husband and got married at 37. When she gave birth to a daughter aged 42, she felt fulfilled and that she finally could let go of the hard experiences of the past.

Angela believes people with mental health problems must receive support and pastoral care. She says that the UK can learn from other countries, where medication is not seen as the first option and where patients are not left in hospitals without much to do or look forward to.

 

Mental health stigma meant Angela did not marry and start a family when she wanted, leading to...

Mental health stigma meant Angela did not marry and start a family when she wanted, leading to...

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But it did affect me, I was ashamed, you know, that how can, how can I bring a husband to my family. And the family that they already know that he's, that the eldest brother is colou, that's the language they use, they say colou.

Colou?

Yeah that, they, they say colou, colouranki, he's colou.

And that means?

That's mad, do you want to go, 'Oh you don't know. That girl is a very nice girl, she's very good but he has desperate eyes' -whatever. I got married at age 37. - 37 after waiting, you know, I was ashamed that I can be mentioned with that kind of ugly name, so I was now waiting, waiting on the Lord. People were laughing at me, they were mocking at me, 'Look at you, Dede', that is old woman, 'Mummy Jesus, old woman, she refuse to marry'. We will see actually is going to eventually marry. 

So that's how my husband came all the way from America, just came just like that miraculously and I got married. As if that was not enough, did he deserve at my wedding somebody said that, 'Marry, this old woman?'. This was the day I got married, I was 37. This old woman, well this one say, 'Will she ever have a child again?' It's not about marrying, it's actually about getting my, - it's by when you get married definitely there must be a production. 'Will this one ever produce a kid', that one told my husband, - Oh, do you know that one cost me another five years? So I was there, baby didn't come, I was waiting for a baby. 

And when your daughter was born, how did that feel?

Oh my God. Oh my God, I don't know what to say. I was just weeping. When they gave me the baby in the, in the maternity ward, when they gave her to me like this, I just sat there weeping. I was just weeping tears, tears of joy were just coming out from my face. I just wept, I said, 'God, thank you Lord. Thank you Lord. Thank you Lord'. I was just saying, 'Thank you Lord, thank you Lord'. I was repeating it over and over. Tears coming out from my eyes. A gift all that the Lord gave me.

 

Angela thinks people with mental health problems need a firm hand and spiritual care.

Angela thinks people with mental health problems need a firm hand and spiritual care.

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They do a lot of drugs here in the country so that is why the mental health is more. Do they, -they do have them in the street -like in Africa you can't see them in the street, you can't count many people. They are naked in the street, you understand, they don't dissociate but those that are here they are not actually helping them, they are not helping them. -Because -what they are not supposed to be doing, they are still doing it. It needs iron hand, if actually you love people you're taking care of. Mental health needs iron hand, it's not something you pet people over, you don't pet them, just be straight for once, you understand? And they need counselling from ministers, -you understand. And there are some, you know, that are actually OK, but the counsellors, I don't know if it is the counsellors they call them, they don't release them, they don't want them to just go like that. Well they are already OK but they don't release them, so go on do something meaningful with their lives. I had somebody who was talking in the, on TV, they say they are to facing their prayers before they release them from the rehab, you understand, so I was just smiling, do you understand? Some of them are already well but the government will not release them, why, why is that?

 

Angela says God helped her brother get over his addiction to drugs, and so curing his illness.

Angela says God helped her brother get over his addiction to drugs, and so curing his illness.

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It was through my prayers and people's prayers, you understand, it became obvious that this is not ordinary. It became so obvious I can -he who is a barrister that is doing away, his job was flourishing, he was making money, how? People were not concerned, how, how can this be happening, how? You know, people could not answer that kind of question. Until I challenge God 'if you know actually I am serving you, if you know you are the God of Israel that the people talk about, if you know I'm not serving you in vain you must do something God, you must do something'. Because now the hospital they've rejected him, everybody they've rejected, even my mother has rejected, 'Lord you must speak to this situation, you must speak to this situation' and he spoke to this situation till tomorrow. He didn't go back to marijuana and he's perfectly OK, he's doing well. So mother has no give up, the mother did not give up. My father was not supportive financially because there are other children, you understand. He was not supportive. He's not here now but he was not supportive because every family member well I know you think, it does not have cost to go back to smoking, but it was not his father's fault. There was this spirit behind it telling him to go and do it, 'go on do it, go on do it', when he does it -he goes then.

 

Living in a polygamous family created tension rather than support.

Living in a polygamous family created tension rather than support.

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Actually I'm from a polygamous family from Nigeria, my father married four wives, my mother is the first in that family and she gave birth to three children, that is of my mother. So we are the first in the family, my senior brother, myself and my younger brother. So it's happened that in Africa all the first born they are the people that take all the mental health. All talking about mental health -it just doesn't come just like that. Most of the families in Africa because they are polygamous in nature there is bound to be jealousy by, fighting, struggling for your inheritance. 

So it was -so my mother spent money, my mother spent all our resources trying to make sure that boy becomes a better person of society. My father was not do, -he was, he was not too bothered because he had other children to fall back at, he has 14 children, then my mother has just three, you know, so it was a very painful experience. They left us and just my mother, you know, to take care of my brother. 

 

Angela says people in hospitals don't get the care, support and empathy which they need and which...

Angela says people in hospitals don't get the care, support and empathy which they need and which...

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If you lock somebody into maybe rehab without giving the person a cigarette to smoke or without even taking drug or drinking, you'll be OK. A lot of them, mental health, a lot of them are being caused by drugs, most of them are in the rehab home they'll be there for five years, that's in giving their cigarette to smoke, their cigarette, you know they're not doing them anything, they're not helping them at all. Instead they are making the case go worse. Mental health need to be handled with care and support. You have to put yourself into that person's shoes- if you are this person how would your family feel, how would your brother feel, would they not relent, would you relent. I did not relent personally, I had to give up all myself. Because my brother was very, very brilliant, the brain of the family, a pride of the family. For him to just waste away I say 'no way, no way, no way'. All of them they've all called me this morning wishing me happy birthday. When he thinks back he will remember the kind of fights we fought for him, he will remember. Because the hospital rejected him at the last minute, they rejected him, that was the last straw and that was our duty. Till tomorrow nothing like, nothing like that.

 

Her brother got mental illness from smoking marijuana, but she thinks his addiction was caused by...

Her brother got mental illness from smoking marijuana, but she thinks his addiction was caused by...

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But before that, '79 -I'm talking about my brother has already started his problem, you know, it has to do with peer groups. He started by smoking marijuana as early back as -'79 was really smoking marijuana. So that was where he got the problem, that was where the problem started, so he started with marijuana. So -you know in Africa you must have a loophole before they enter through you, so the open, everything was, you know, true, everybody was -my brother's marijuana, -his mental sickness was because of marijuana. Why did we not take him to, -went to the highest rehabilitation home, went to hospitals, at times they would do, discharge him when he's three months at times a year, at times it was just to keep his sanity. So it was caused by marijuana initially so then he was in class four in the secondary school, far away. He is senior to me, I'm 42 now, he's 46, four years senior to me. So the first, first one was not just, -it was like a blow, you know. Before he do, -he abusing that he's not ashamed of himself, you look at him just smoking marijuana around the streets or whatever, 'look at what you are causing to my mother'. My mother became hypertensive because of my brother, all of us we're now ashamed, for somebody that's so intelligent to start behaving like that. 

Mental illness in my country they always caused by one thing or the other, either drugs or the one that is caused naturally or the one that, that people caused, you understand, there are one that people caused, some other people cause it, you understand.

Each other?

Yes.

How?

By fetishness, they are doing the unnatural, they are doing that being caused by people, there are the one that, that are just, they are just mentally unbalanced.

Do you think your brother's was caused by other ways?

Of course yes, that one was very, very obvious, there were forces behind that one, they are so obvious.

Do you think you know who?

Of course yes, I know, -I know and everybody knew in our family. Everybody knew.

How was that to, -how did that feel to know who did it and then to suffer so much like you did?

It caused a trade of segregation in the family because we knew. We knew, we knew where the [mental health] were coming from, so we knew. So that kind of it which caused jealousy and hatred. Till tomorrow we know the person.

 

Don't give up on the person you care for, try to understand them, but don't pamper them.

Don't give up on the person you care for, try to understand them, but don't pamper them.

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Let them not give up. They must not give up. I never gave up on my brother. I never gave up on my dreams. I never gave up one day that the situation, 'that this one is too much for me, God I cannot handle'. I never gave up. I did not give up. And their approach that they are using, let them take advice from other place, let them see the approach others are using so that theirs would be good. Never pamper them too much. Mental health doesn't need pampering.

You need to be a bit harder on them?

Yeah. He doesn't need pampering at all, because I saw this with my eyes. Even though that it happened to me, you know, I won't have another family would be passing that kind of situation, that is where there's some others who have that.

Yes, what I would advise parents passing through this kind of situation, because my mother went through it. As parents don't ever give up on your children, no matter how bad. No matter how bad the situation is, don't give up on them. If you give up, that means you are telling the devil to just take you away, take away and just let them go and die. You understand? Try and always understand your children, you understand?

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