Students in Nigerian universities have stories to tell, but hardly anyone to tell them to. For our new weekly series, Aluta and Chill, we are putting the spotlight on these students and their various campus experiences.
This week’s subject is Mariam Adeleye. She talks about how ignoring her mental health affected her academics and how she was asked to withdraw from her first university.
Tell me about how you got into school
I wrote JAMB in 2015 and went for University of Lagos. The original plan was to study medicine and surgery. It didn’t seem UNILAG was going to happen, so I changed my preferred school of choice to University of Ibadan. I made the supplementary list and was offered Medical Laboratory science.
I wasn’t really triggered by the fact that I didn’t get medicine. At that point, I was more determined to get into a school, even if it meant that I wouldn’t get the course I wanted. MLS wasn’t medicine, but it was close.
Did it get off to a good start?
Unfortunately, no. A lot was going on at the time. My grandmother was buried a day before resumption, so I went to school straight from her funeral. I wasn’t in the best state of mind. On my first morning at school, I woke up feeling numb, lost and unsure of what to do. It felt like I was going to be sucked into oblivion. I could have used some guidance there, but there was none. Yeah, it was a rough start.
I’m so sorry about that. How did you navigate the feeling of helplessness?
My first roommate had everything figured out, or so it seemed. She had been in school before I came, so she walked me through the basics — registrations, medicals, and classes. From there, I met other people, and slowly, I began to settle in. However, it wasn’t enough.
What do you mean?
Family issues. My uncle, whom I was close with, was very sick and was on the verge of dying. It was tough to handle that. Perhaps the biggest thing I was struggling with was the pressure to be the best I could be. I’m the first child and the only girl in my family. Standards had been set for me and I was expected to meet and surpass them. It wasn’t fun at all. I don’t think I handled all of these things the right way. I disassociated from people. I was always in class without being there. Also, I had concentration and memory issues. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get a break.
Did it get better, though?
For a brief period, it did. I became friends with a guy and it seemed like I could actually do this uni thing and make it out in one piece. But that didn’t last for long. I realised that I was beginning to develop an unhealthy attachment to him. I’d been so alone for a long time that when he came along, he was the only person I wanted to be with. I recognised how dangerous that could be, so I took a step back from him.
Anyway, I saw my first semester results and they were terrible. I actually thought it was a mistake at first because I didn’t think I could do that badly. It didn’t help that everyone had access to my CGPA. There’s this document in UI — Book of Life — where every student’s CGPA is compiled before it’s presented to the university senate for consideration. It’s supposed to be confidential, but it leaks every semester. So everyone knew how bad my grades were. It was tough dealing with people coming to me to ask about what was wrong. It’s not like they cared, and even if they did, I didn’t need their pity.
Aww. How did you attempt to bounce back?
Again, I pulled back from people. Not necessarily because I wanted to be a studious student, but I didn’t want a repeat of the first semester when everyone was hitting me up to ask if something was wrong. I was fighting for my life now and I thought I could turn everything around. It did get better, but at the end of the semester, my CGPA wasn’t enough to keep me at the department. I was advised to withdraw from the department and was transferred to Zoology.
Whoa! That sucks. I’m sorry.
Telling my parents was the hardest part. I’d disappointed them. They thought I’d lost my chance at studying a “good course.” I remember my mum telling me about how much she cried. Getting kicked out of the department was a dreadful confirmation that I was mediocre and wasn’t cut out for anything good.
I believe you know that’s not true. How did you find the new department when you transferred?
Not good. It wasn’t a bad department but I didn’t think I should be there. My second year was the worst period of my university experience. For the most part, I was trying to convince myself that I liked the department when in actual fact, I didn’t. My mental health took a turn for the worse.
I tried to take everything a day at a time, but that did little to help. Then the suicidal thoughts started to streak in. It didn’t seem like I had what it took to live.
OMG. That’s a lot. Did you talk to anyone about this?
Only my boyfriend at the time. He was the support system, even though he wasn’t in Ibadan. I got through a lot of stuff because of him.
I didn’t end my life, obviously. However, my quality of life or academics wasn’t better. My grades were still in shambles. Unfortunately, I didn’t know how bad they were until the middle of the second semester. This was my second chance at redeeming myself and I messed it up again.
At the end of my second year in 2019, I was advised to withdraw from the university. My time at UI was over.
Wow! That’s a lot.
Yeah, it was tough. The toughest bit was that I got to know that I’d been kicked out through the Book of Life. I ran to my level coordinator, course adviser, and HOD to see if there was anything I could do. Of course, they couldn’t help. It was final. I’d been sent out of the school.
How did you handle that and everything that came with it?
Not very well. I felt like shit. I had no idea how to tell my parents that I’d failed them again, so I kept it away from them. In hindsight, it wasn’t the brightest idea. My rent was still active, so I stayed in my hostel for four months. When my rent expired and I moved out, I had to tell them.
How did you confront them eventually?
I sent my mum a text and told her that I’d been kicked out of school and that I was suicidal. I couldn’t bear to look at them when I broke the news. My dad was livid and it wasn’t only because of the fact that I was out of school, it was also because it took me four months to come clean. They were disappointed that I’d not lived up to the expectations they’d built around my existence. Thankfully, they got over it quickly and focused on finding the fix.
What was the fix?
I decided to seek professional help about the state of my mental health. I was diagnosed with Recurrent Depressive Disorder. It means that every now and then, I would have episodes of depression and they can range from mild to severe.
Bruh! What did it mean for you to find that out?
I had to accept it. It’s sad that it can’t be cured, the best thing I can do is to manage it. The littlest thing could set down a dark path. The idea that I would live with it all my life is something I still struggle to accept, but it is what it is. My parents thought it was something I could pray away — I wish it was that easy.
Nigerian parents and their belief in prayers.
Right? Anyway, it was good to figure that out. I knew what I was dealing with and how to manage it. This made a lot of things better. In November 2019, I decided that it was time to go back to school. In February 2020, I was accepted into a private university to study psychology.
I’m glad, but why did you decide to go to a private university this time?
My parents were the biggest deciding factor. They thought there was too much freedom in a federal university and believed I would do better in a more structured environment. Also, UI is one of the sane public universities and I couldn’t go back there. I didn’t know what I’d find in others, so it was easier to go for a private university where it is less likely to experience lecturers at their worst.
Fair enough. I think it’s interesting that you’re studying psychology now. Was there any particular reason for that?
It was because of what I had gone through with my mental health. I became fascinated with the idea of studying the human condition. Besides, I developed this drive for social activism and there is a branch of psychology dedicated to that. I’m right where I should be.
What’s it been like so far?
Pretty good. The school is small, which I like. It’s good for me. I find the classes interesting. The people I’ve met are nice. Things are good.
I’m glad. How do you manage your mental health now and stay in control?
I made the biggest control move when I decided to get help. That changed everything. I’m on antidepressants now — that helps to control the extremes of my mood. I’ve made the decision to do only the things that I enjoy. I’m determined this time to stay in control and that’s because I know that I’m in a better position to stay in front of whatever comes around. Also, and this is important, my therapist is only a call away.
Do you think an early diagnosis would have kept you in UI?
Yes, that could have changed a lot of things. I knew something was off, but I didn’t think to get help. Maybe if I had done that, I would have concentrated better. Maybe my memory wouldn’t have been so fucked up. Maybe I wouldn’t have dissociated myself from people. Maybe I wouldn’t have gotten kicked out.
However, I know that I made some mistakes. I should have involved my parents earlier. They had their faults too, but they are supportive. They’ve always been supportive. I should have told them what went wrong the moment it went wrong. But we move. I’m in a better place now and that’s all that matters.
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