Editor’s note: Kimmora Ward graciously agreed to share her struggle with bipolar disorder and reiterated that it remains a journey in progress. She is to be commended for her courage in sharing deeply personal details. Mental health remains somewhat of a taboo topic in Montserrat. Kimmora says her goal is to open the door – even if only ajar – for others with mental issues to seek help. She requested that this story be published February 9, 2024, which would have been her deceased son’s 18th birthday.
It is 6 a.m. Monday, June 28, 2021. Kimmora Ward is sitting in a black Suzuki jeep parked outside her home in Judy Piece, Montserrat. She’s in the driver’s seat, literally but not figuratively. She has been there for 10 hours straight, alone, reading self-help books and watching music videos on her Android phone. Since celebrating her 35th birthday three days earlier, Kimmora has slept a total of four hours. Her busy weekend included a birthday breakfast, dinner party, drinks and dancing at Marine Village, plus a Rotary Club ceremony. On Sunday she attends a brunch at the Vue Pointe Hotel, where she consumes a caffeine-infused caramel beverage.
Kimmora is sometimes teased about the fact that her birthday is June 25, the date of two tragedies – the deadly volcanic eruption in Montserrat in 1997, and the death of Michael Jackson in 2009. Her birthday weekend in 2021 also became an infamous anniversary. Her whirlwind three days – compounded by minimal rest – fueled a manic bipolar episode.
“I felt like I had all the energy in the world, like I was running on adrenaline,” she says. “It’s almost like a state of euphoria, like being care-free.”
Like alcohol or some recreational drugs, manic bipolar disorder sheds inhibitions, judgment and reason, facilitating extraordinary behavior. In some cases the results are innocuous, such as being talkative or animated. In other instances it can conjure severe aggression. That fateful Monday, Kimmora was admitted to Glendon Hospital following two major acts of vandalism.
“I’m not normally a confrontational person,” she says. “I’m very passive aggressive. But when I’m in a manic state and you mash my corn, I can be very aggressive.”
In late 2005, Kimmora was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in England after being hospitalized there following an episode. More episodes would follow in 2010 and each year from 2014 to 2018. She has struggled to maintain relationships and has endured the microscope of a small community, including folks who have called her “crazy” to her face. She has contemplated suicide. She has been arrested. She has witnessed how her volatile behavior has saddled distress on her unwavering mother, whom Kimmora calls her best friend. And then there’s her lowest point: the death of her infant son – a tragedy that is as complicated as it is heart-wrenching. Kimmora’s adult life has been strewn with emotional baggage, and there’s much to unpack.
On October 12, 2023, Kimmora published Goodbye, Bipolar! A Healing Journey. The book, which is available at Amazon, chronicles her journey with the disorder. Most authors dedicate their publications to a loved one. As a testament to her magnanimous intentions, Kimmora has devoted her book to anyone struggling with mental illness.
“Mental health is important just like physical health,” she says. “There is a thin line between sane and insane. How many times have we seen someone who seems to have it all together, and then they go through some kind of trauma and commit suicide.”
Kimmora then adds: “There are a lot of people in Montserrat suffering in silence.”
And in order to address this, she is willing to be the first to speak up.
Kimmora Shadine Ward – affectionately called “Kimmi” by her family – grew up in Boston Village, a section of Town Hill, about a half-mile southeast of the now-buried capital of Plymouth. She attended St. Augustine Catholic School on George Street. She excelled academically, was a member of the Girls Brigade – similar to the Girl Scouts – and sang in her Methodist Youth Choir.
When Kimmora was 9, her family was displaced by the volcanic crisis and moved north, settling in Brades, which became Montserrat’s de facto capital post-volcano. Kimmora attended the Montserrat Secondary School, where she continued her scholastic achievements. She earned Student of the Year honors in Fourth Form and finished second runner-up in a regional Public Speaking competition in Antigua.
“I was always on the Honor Roll,” says Kimmora, who was once featured in the Montserrat Reporter newspaper along with other top MSS students. She even dabbled in sports, participating in the long jump for Green House during the annual Sports Day.
Although Kimmora’s parents split up when she was a toddler, she has always remained close with both, especially her mother, Paulette Ward, a native of St. Kitts who came to Montserrat as a baby. Her father, Elijah “King” Silcott, is a Montserratian from Baker Hill. To honor them, Kimmora even began using both their surnames while in high school – until one of her teachers objected. “She told me, ‘No one in this class is married!’ ” Kimmora says. “She was a person of authority, so after that I just used Ward.”
After MSS, Kimmora attended the Montserrat Community College. Due to circumstances, her education took a hiatus, and in 2015 she earned a degree in accounting from the University of the West Indies Open Campus.
On a personal level, Kimmora drew attention for her fashion sense and consistent pristine appearance. “I got that directly from my mom. I try to emulate that standard. Even if I’m going down to the corner shop I feel I need to wear my earrings. I do it for me, but to be honest, I also enjoy getting compliments.”
So by all means Kimmora appeared to be enjoying a well-grounded existence . . .
. . . until she was grounded – literally.
The World Health Organization states that although not everyone will experience mental illness in their lifetime, “everyone will struggle or have a challenge with their mental well-being.”
THE FIRST BREAKDOWN
Kimmora states in her book that her first recognized bout with mental struggles came in December of 2003. Like most young adults, she had become interested in the opposite sex and began dating. It was the Festival season. Her mother urged her to complete her education before engaging in sexual activity. When Kimmora defied her request, her mother grounded the 17-year-old. A devastated and angry Kimmora rebelled and retreated. She threatened to take her life. There was also a childhood trauma that she had suppressed for almost a decade. After her punishment, that scar was ripped open, adding gasoline to the emotional inferno.
As Kimmora’s behavior became increasingly erratic and she was subsequently hospitalized, her mother sought help from mental health experts. It was decided that Kimmora would require medication. She fought it for some time because she felt it would be an affirmation that she was indeed “crazy”. She eventually relented when her mother held an anti-depressant pill in front of her and insisted that she ingest it. “I remember it like yesterday,” Kimmora states in her book. “This pill was blue on one end and hot pink on the other.”
Medication stabilized Kimmora for some time and she began to experience some semblance of normalcy. She had not yet been officially diagnosed, so the mystery surrounding her mental collapse remained. Nevertheless, she felt great physically. She continued her education and got employment at a local travel agency and Montserrat Utilities Limited.
But like a vulture, bipolar disorder is constantly lurking, waiting to swoop in at the first sign of vulnerability. The Mayo Clinic – consistently ranked as the top hospital in the United States – reported that “although bipolar disorder can occur at any age, typically it’s diagnosed in the teenage years or early 20s.” It is often triggered initially by stress or trauma, and victims sometimes have a genetic predisposition.
Kimmora elaborated on her particular case. “Bipolar disorder has two states – the manic and the depressive. I’m more the manic. But usually after that goes away I go into a depression and regret the things I did while I was in the manic state. I have done a lot of things I’m not proud of.”
There is a reason why – despite historic advancements in the medical field – there has never been a successful brain transplant. The body’s most important organ is impossible to replicate. With trillions of neurological sensors controlling everything from mood, movement and memory, it is a complex engine that serves as the body’s cockpit. The World Health Organization states that although not everyone will experience mental illness in their lifetime, “everyone will struggle or have a challenge with their mental well-being.”
From 2006 to 2021, Kimmora was hospitalized “at least nine times” in Montserrat for bipolar episodes. Her hospital stays often constitute three stages: medication, observation and rest. That would often be followed by counseling. She has had to be physically restrained by hospital staff and has received sedative injections “multiple times”. It’s a humiliating experience that she says is exacerbated by nurses who are ill-equipped to deal with the mentally ill.
“They can be very callous. They’ve medicated me heavily sometimes to the point that I have slurred speech. As soon as you go in, they hit you with an injection. Sometimes I just need someone to talk to.”
A member of the mental health team told Montserrat Spotlight that patients are treated on a case-by-case basis and that injections are administered usually when a patient is non-compliant. Asked what is the most powerful drug utilized, the team member said Diazepam, a sedative often used to treat seizures. The side effects include paranoia, suicidal thoughts and impairment in judgment, memory and coordination.
THE NEXT CHAPTER
Kimmora’s book serves as the latest step in her odyssey of coming to terms with her illness. Asked if she constantly feels the looming possibility of another episode, she says no. “I know what I need to do to stay well. I have to take my medication and avoid triggers such as not getting enough rest. I especially have to be careful around Festival season in December.”
She does, however, feel the burden of discipline. “The slightest mess-up and it’s almost as if people will say, ‘Well, what do you expect?’ I feel like there’s pressure on me to be the best person I can be. ‘Normal’ has different definitions. I feel like I’m repressed.”
As for her personal life, Kimmora admits she has not experienced healthy relationships. She dated one young man on and off for about a decade. “Every time I would have an episode he would leave me, then come back when I get better. In 2017, I had an episode and he called me and said, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ He left me for good. That broke my heart.”
She has dated after that, but nothing long-lasting or substantive. “I seem to attract narcissistic people. I know I need to work on myself. But I seem to pick up people who need work themselves. Sometimes I tell myself I should just stay single.”
That said, she acknowledges her faults. “I hold on to emotions. I have stuck emotions. I got a tattoo recently that says ‘Let It Go.’ Sometimes you act out on people because you haven’t healed. I’m also a very jealous person. I have to work on that. I think that stems from insecurity.”
LIVING AND COPING
Since 2016, Kimmora has been employed with the Office of the Auditor General in Montserrat. The department is responsible for auditing and reporting on public accounts. It not only provides oversight, it compiles financial and budgetary data that is crucial to the government, especially during legislative meetings. In 2022, she completed a 10-month course with Norway-based IDI (INTOSAI Development Initiative) and became a certified compliance auditor.
Kimmora says she enjoys a cordial relationship with her co-workers, who are aware of her illness. “They are compassionate because they know how I am when I’m well,” she says.
In December of 2022, Kimmora displayed a flair for drama when she appeared in the play Wahari, written and directed by Montserrat’s William “Bubblicious” Galloway. She loves the camera, and it apparently loves her back. She’s a self-described “Selfie Queen” who posts regularly to Instagram and Tik-Tok. She remains a member of the Rotary Club and has become Montserrat’s unofficial spokesperson regarding mental health, even appearing on Radio Montserrat to discuss the topic and organizing events during Mental Health Week. In 2023, she launched a YouTube channel on which she posts frequent videos addressing mental health.
“There are a lot of people in Montserrat suffering in silence.”– Kimmora Ward
Kimmora says she has been told by “many” people that Montserrat is not the ideal place for her to manage her disorder. Countries such as the United States and England could provide advanced care and a level of obscurity and privacy that is impossible in Montserrat. “I agree with that,” she says, “but Montserrat is where most of my support system is, especially my mom. I don’t want to put her under that stress where she would have to get on a plane every time I have a setback.”
In the interim, Kimmora will continue to advocate for improved mental health on her tiny home island. Montserrat currently has a four-person mental health team: a psychiatric nurse, a clinical psychologist, a community psychiatric nurse practitioner and a counselor. The island has come a long way from the days when mental patients were jettisoned to an institution in Antigua. But Kimmora says reform is still needed, notably sensitivity training for the ward nurses tasked with caring for the mentally ill once admitted. It is much easier to treat a broken arm than a broken psyche. A mental health hotline would also help. Kimmora is in direct communication with two regional groups that address mental health: Healthy Caribbean Coalition and Let’s Unpack It. Both are based in Barbados.
Kimmora constantly highlights the fact that mental illness covers a broad spectrum, from depression and anxiety to more serious disorders such as schizophrenia. Postpartum depression is another mental ailment and affects 1 in 10 women, studies show. Kimmora says many people in Montserrat carry around emotional trauma and are reluctant to address them for fear of being stigmatized. “They’re ashamed and proud. They classify mental illness as being weak. But they must go through the necessary avenues to seek help.”
Kimmora’s book elaborates about her illness, triggers, mistakes and how everything from faith to meditation have brought solace to her plight. And although an important part of healing is revealing, some issues remain too painful to revisit in detail. The book states that one of her goals is to eventually get off medication and be treated with natural remedies. The title – Goodbye Bipolar! – is more wish than declaration. However, she’s gainfully employed, and her relationship with her family is strong, especially with her mother. She’s content . . . but not complete.
“I’ve never asked ‘Why Me?’ and I don’t think of myself as a victim. God gives His toughest battles to His strongest soldiers. But certain things are missing from my life. I don’t know if I get them that I will be happy. But happiness begins with you. . . . I need to heal.”
Postscript: On December 28, 2023, about two weeks following our interview, Kimmora sustained minor injuries in a car accident. She was hospitalized and administered two sedative injections. Kimmora says they assumed she was having a bipolar episode. She insists she was not.
Note to Montserrat residents: If you or someone else is experiencing a mental health emergency, call Glendon Hospital at 491-2552.
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