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Heart to Heart Spaces was birthed in Butabika in 2019. Its story is one of finding hope and light in a very dark space.

In 2019, I walked through the gates of the private wing escorted by my cousin Jerry Malingu and big brother Darren Barasa. It was my second time in Butabika. The first being a visit I had taken with my vacation fellowship group to the Alcohol and Drug Unit to listen to stories of people who were fighting with Substance Abuse Disorder. After hearing their stories I made a promise to myself never to end up like them in this mental health institute known as Butabika. I was going to be a very disciplined person and make all the right decisions.

Here I was years later going to see a doctor because I did not understand why for the life of me I kept trying to end myself. My people did not know how many times I had made a plan and gone through with it, they would find out later from a book I wrote. I had just never been successful. While waiting to see the doctor, I concentrated on reading my book; Redeeming Love that my cousin Claire had lent me as I waited for my name to be called.

A random patient who was also in the que hit off a conversation with my brothers as he was so hyped to see me. He thought I was getting admitted immediately so he told them he had booked me to be his girlfriend while on the inside. They laughed it off. I on the other hand was getting more anxious by the minute. 30 minutes later my name was finally called.

I gathered my very small body and sat in the chair right opposite the doctor. I had lost 15 kgs in a space of 2 weeks, I was weak and shaking. The doctor asked me to share about what I was feeling. She then referred me to go see the therapist and return to her after. I had to wait a bit but I finally got in.

My therapist was called Veronica (Such a God send). We had a conversation about how I was feeling and she listened. She gave me some tools to fill in and after she scored them she diagnosed me with Severe Depression, Severe Anxiety, OCD and PTSD. As she went through the symptoms I broke down and cried because it wasn’t just in my head. It all made sense.

I was ill and had simply used tape and glue to fix a broken bone for over 10 years. The symptoms had become part of my personality. I was sad about it but I was at peace knowing that I now had a face to what was going on and I could fight it.

She then told me that they admit people for just one illness if they felt the person was a danger to themselves which I was. I remember begging her not to take me in. I promised to be a good outpatient and keep all my appointments. She then called in my brothers and explained what I was suffering with and informed them that I would have to come in thrice a week. I remember my big brother being in shock because this whole time he thought I was just being dramatic.

We went back to the doctor and off I started my journey with medication and talk therapy. Things did not get better immediately. I was not eating, I hardly got out of bed, the anxiety persisted, I was sad and spent the day crying, Sleeping was hard and when I did so I had terrible nightmares from the sexual assault I faced when I was younger and didn’t deal with. Being out of a toxic relationship didn’t help things either. As I kept coming for the sessions my therapist noticed that I also had a conversion disorder.

I felt like I was losing. I was tired, I wasn’t getting better. I thought I was supposed to immediately be in a better space after 4 weeks. I had watched almost all the TED talks about my illness, made research on what I can do to get better but here I was failing again. It was a Saturday evening when I decided to try and go for a walk to get the suicidal ideations out of my mind.

I walked from Kissasi to Kansanga. On return I just took my medication and went to bed. The next day my family tried to hold an intervention for me. I was not having it so I got on a bike, bought some pills and went to a place by the water where I had planned to take them and end it all again.

I was found and my big brother had to make the difficult decision to take me in as an inpatient this time. I cried, screamed, begged but he wasn’t budging. With tears rolling down his face he signed me in. I was livid; at him, at the world, at my family, at my ex, at my abuser and mostly with myself for ending up in a place I promised myself never to be in as an inpatient.

 It took my friends sometime to come around and get what I was dealing with but while on the inside I made friends. By my fifth day I was fine with just sitting with them and listening to their stories and where they were on the journey to healing. It was a vulnerable space but it felt so safe. It became my healing community.

We often thought about what would happen when we were finally released. We knew the stigma around mental illness was horrible. We had all dealt with it in one way or another. In here we were okay and somehow a little safe from it.

Starting safe spaces like the one I was part of on the inside became my mission after I was released. I purposed to learn more about mental illnesses so that I could help bring awareness around them. I know that if I had this information ten years ago, I would have gotten help earlier. Maybe I wouldn’t be in situation where my mental illness is chronic.

It has been years on this journey. I have been re diagnosed, I have relapsed, had a few more attempts but I have seen and known hope as the fire that never burns out. Every breath I take is a sign of that. I hope you find a place to call home here.


Rita Auma


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