Mental Health – October 9 2021 Trisha's story: Writing to escape pain in the real world Trisha* wants to tell her story but in her own way. She is a fictional writer who uses characters she creates to tell her real life story, a life characterized by loss, pain, battle with mental health and triumph over the darkness inside her head, with help from SOS family strengthening programme. She discovered her passion for writing when she was in primary school; then it was a hobby but later her writing became therapeutic, a channel to let her emotions and feelings drain away. I create fictional characters experiencing the same thing that I am going through. But then I make sure they have a good ending. This gives me hope that me too, like my characters, will have a good ending.” - Trisha, 28 years old. In her own words, the author tells her life story through a girl she calls Lisa. It was a bright morning on April 2013, Lisa, 20, stared at her red journal for some time, she could not write anything. Writing took her to a calm place in another world, where it was just her and her fictional characters, away from the pain in the real world. She closed the journal and stared blankly around the living room. She could not turn on the television before her or the radio because she had been forbidden. Even if she wanted to, she could not because her Uncle Mark’s wife had dismantled the aerial and pulled out the radio cables. She gazed at the white walls. The silence made her uncomfortable, but she could not venture outside because the spies her uncle's wife had planted would tell on her. She looked at the ten pills she had placed on the table. She took a deep breath; "why has it all turned out like this?" she asked herself. Lost in thought In that moment she remembered the last time she saw her mother, she looked peaceful dressed in white, red lipstick, neat eyebrows, and face well powdered. She lay motionless in that box-like structure. Lisa was too young to understand anything at the time but she remembers crying when relatives lowered her mother into the dirt. Later she saw her father wailing in his room; she had never seen him so distraught. After her mother's funeral, her half-brother, Eddie, left with his biological father. In one week, Lisa lost a mother and was separated from her dear brother. She was only six years old. Her father's health gradually deteriorated after that, how stressed he became after losing his wife and accounting job within months – friends then abandoned him one by one. A house once filled with friends and relatives every weekend fell silent. One year after her mother died, and her father slept too. Then her worst nightmare begun. Living with Uncle Timothy Lisa went to live with Uncle Timothy, her father's brother. He was very strict. Any mistake she made earned her a thorough beating. She kept on telling herself that she could have prayed. If only she had prayed, God could have saved her father and made her brother stay - but it was too late. As she grew older, the beatings intensified; one day the bathroom clogged and her uncle hit her head on the wall until her nose bled. "You will die like your mother!" he yelled. Lisa sobbed quietly and his words stayed with her. When Lisa was 11 years old, her uncle took her to SOS Children’s Village medical centre for check-up. He did not tell her why she needed to see a doctor, but she had learned about the disease in her science class. She had seen the same signs on her mother and father before their passing. Talking to counsellors at the medical centre made her feel better. She opened up to them every time she felt like giving up. They became like family to her, always ready to listen and offer good advice. In her last year of high school, her uncle Timothy passed on from kidney failure. Fortunately, for Lisa he had paid her fees in full before his death. None of her other relatives wanted her and she ended up here, at Uncle Mark’s house. Back to the present Lisa looked at the drugs again. She was done asking why. Tired of all the mistreatment, she needed to be free and there was no other way for her. She suddenly started crying and scribbling something in her journal; as she wrote, tears flowed down her cheeks on the notebook. It was a plot for a story. She wrote of some fictional character going through the same problems she was. The thought of overdosing on drugs faded. An unseen finger was guiding her through the writing. She knew then that she would be or do something great in the future. The days ahead were not easy for her but she pushed on. In 2015, Lisa approached the SOS family strengthening team for help with school fees to further her education, and they sponsored her to study a three-year course in ICT. One day her uncle's wife opened up and said to her; "Lisa, I don't like you, I don't like the way you eat my food, use my water and sleep in my house for free." Lisa moved out …. Tragedy seemed to follow Lisa wherever she went. In 2017, she lost her stepbrother and grandmother, and she was diagnosed with retinal detachment in her left eye. The doctor told her she would be half-blind in one eye because she could not afford surgery. It was hard dealing with everything. Outside Lisa seemed okay, always smiling but inside she was so broken. All the people she ever loved had left her. She needed a brave heart and great will power to move on. Comfort for Lisa Lisa’s greatest comfort came from counsellors at the SOS Children’s Villages’ family strengthening programme who took their time to listen to her. She had walked with them from primary to high school and they understood her. Finding someone to encourage and walk with her the right way saved her. Lisa graduated in 2018 with credit in her diploma course and secured a job as an IT coordinator. She resigned one year later due to eye complications. She had four surgeries in two years but she had gone too late, the doctor could not save her eye. After months of searching, Lisa found a new job. She used her income to publish her first book Perfect Timing, from the entries in her red journal - a fictional book that partly tells her life story. Lisa is in a good place now and she is at peace. She is mentoring some girls in her church and recently, she released a second book she co-authored. Her dream is to change the lives of one or two children especially orphans affected by HIV and AIDs. These children, Lisa feels, face a lot of stigma and she has made it her life’s mission to stand in the gap for them. *Name changed for privacy reasons.