My Difficult Childhood Unknowingly Drove me into Depression; Lily Okeyo

Photo | Courtesy

“It is okay not to be okay”. This is a statement taken so casually but carries so much weight. It is estimated that 300 million people worldwide suffer from depression which is the most common type of mental disorder.  
Kenya happens to be ranked 6th in Africa in the number of depression cases at about 2 million.  It is also estimated that 4 in 5 people who commit suicide are depressed at the time of their death. 

The most common causes of depression are biological changes experienced during pregnancy, genetic predisposition, psychological risks and social factors. (WHO, Kenya Mental Health Policy/Act 2014)

Even with the shocking statistics, most people suffering from mental disorders are not aware of their conditions. This is the story of one Lily Okeyo who underwent a prolonged period of depression when she was between the ages of 21 and 23 years. Which resulted to her having several suicide attempts and was almost successful on the fourth attempt. She goes on to explain, “what made the situation more difficult was the extreme religious beliefs I was brought up with which undermined my ability as a girl/woman to explore my potential and abilities.”

“My coping mechanism at the start was destructive. I drank a lot, always blamed others but myself for my predicaments. This drove my self-esteem further down and increased my pent-up anger over the years. I believe this is the reason I became suicidal.” Lily Confesses.

Her journey of healing came through a self-development journey, therapy and other well being techniques. She believes that sharing her story has also helped her heal and encouraged others who are going through similar situations to find healing. She goes on to say, “through therapy, having the right people in my corner and a positive attitude towards life have enabled me to pick myself up.

Ms. Okeyo comes from a blended family where she is the only girl and last born with three brothers on her mother’s side. Lily was born in Eldoret where they resided till, she was nine years old when they moved to Nairobi with the father after her parents separated.

“I had a tough upbringing! My father is a Pastor and most of the times he was out on missions in different parts of the country and across the world. Added to this he was very strict, and his ideologies were extreme and guided by his belief system.” She explains.

Lily goes on to expound on how toxic their home was because the father was very abusive, and he would use extreme discipline measures. She narrates of one incident when she was 14 years old that led her to ran away from home with her elder brother.

“This happened after I attended a sports day at Busara Primary as a member of the volleyball team. I was very good at volleyball, but my father could hear none of it because it was a violation of his extreme religious beliefs. When word got to him that I was playing volleyball he came for me and I got a through beating. The beating was so bad that it was enough to have him taken to court by my mother,” Lily outlines.

She goes on to say that her relationship with her father has been bittersweet. “Despite the abuse and beatings, I went through I still love my dad.” She exclaims. This is even after he disowned her in 2007 while saying he still loved her and wishes her the best in life. “For a long time, I was seeking his love and validation which never came. After having an internal fight of love and hate for 11 years towards my father I decided to forgive him.” Ms. Okeyo expounds.

As for the relationship with her mother, Lily feels that, she was taken away from her at a very young age and never got a chance for them to connect or know each other. None the less, she respects and loves her as a mother. For a long time, their relationship has been toxic and as a result Lily questioned her existence, struggled with low self-esteem and felt unworthy.

Photo | Courtesy
Despite the difficult childhood, Ms. Okeyo is happy that she is now a mother and is very much inspired by her children. She points out that, “I see bits of myself in my children. My son is very sensitive and empathetic while my daughter is very feisty and independent.

Lily is driven by her desire to create a better-balanced world and provide safe spaces for children, youth and women to feel safe. This she has been doing through her work as a counseling psychologist, mental health advocate and champion for access to quality education. She is the founder of Wholistic Wellness and Motivational Centre also founder and CEO Work Her Dream Organization. She recently launched a safe space for boys because she believes that they are also part of the bigger picture and important stakeholders to the change she envisions.

Regarding her upbringing and battle with depression she confidently says that, “I wouldn't change anything about my past because through them I have found my purpose which drives my passion.”
In conclusion, Lily gives words of hope and encouragement. To those struggling with depression she says, “get help.  It's okay not to be okay and it gets better in the end in your own timeline.” As for everyone else it a call for humanity, “Everyone is struggling with something. Show someone love and kindness”


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