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.
We are taking issues of mental health in Nigeria more seriously than we used to. However, there is still a lot to do. For students, there is a relationship between mental health and their quality of life, which includes satisfaction with the college experience. So, I spoke to some students at Pan-Atlantic University and asked them to talk about events that have affected their mental health. From feelings of inadequacy and depressive episodes to panic and anxiety attacks, these students had a lot to say.
Four weeks into the second semester of my second year, I got into an argument with my group of friends. They were the closest thing I had to a support system. That would come back to bite me.
At the end of the month, the school released the first-semester results. I’d assumed that I would well as I usually did. However, when I saw my grades, they’d done so much damage to my CGPA. It was way below what I was used to.
I broke down at once. An existential crisis happened, and I started to question who I was and what my purpose was. I always thought I was a smart person who didn’t need to work a lot to get what I needed. My school persona was tied to my grades, so when I got those low grades, it felt like I lost an important part of myself.
I always struggled with impostor syndrome as well. I didn’t think I deserved the good grades I got, and the one time it actually happened to me, I believed that my day of reckoning had come and I would be made out as the fraud that I was.
A lot happened. I was tired, stressed, and so out of it. Everyone I could talk to wasn’t on speaking terms with me. I went on a downward spiral and was at my lowest for a while.
People didn’t know I was hurting because I deflected my pain with humour. I looked happy, but deep down, I was in a lot of pain.
Slowly, things began to mend themselves. However, I don’t think I fully recovered from the episode. I was on a 4.GPA before it happened, and I dropped to a 3. GPA. I’ve been trying to get my CGPA back up since that time, but it hasn’t happened yet. I guess I just have to figure out a way to live with it.
I’m the first child of my parents. Growing up, I was taught to be strong at all times. I’ve lost count of the number of times somebody told me to get a hold of myself because “people look up to me.”
I internalised all this, and it was a driving force to how I lived my life. In my third year, one of my closest friends died. I didn’t get to process that because it meant going out of character. The enormous schoolwork didn’t help either. School turned to hell for me. At times, I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t shed a tear because that person wasn’t who I was raised to be.
I’m very outgoing and generally a people person. I put on smiles for people, while I was dying inside. This was me for two months as I struggled to keep it together.
One night, I attended a friend’s birthday party and drank more than I should have. As I sobered up, I became so emotional and couldn’t stop crying. I had a heartfelt conversation with two of my friends that night and shared everything I kept bottled up inside.
From that night, I became intentional about my mental health. I decided that it’s okay not to be strong at all times, to blow off some steam when I need to and to let go of anything that could weigh me down. I still struggle with all this, but I take it one step at a time.
My first week at the university was not very fun. Right from the moment I stepped into the gates, I felt funny. On my second day, I tried to push myself out of my comfort zone and talk to people. Everyone was doing it. I saw someone I’d known before I resumed at school. We’d been talking in a group chat, but we hadn’t seen each other yet. It seemed like a good idea to talk to him.
But as I walked up to where he was, I started hyperventilating badly. I couldn’t control it even when I got to him. I knew I was in the early stages of a panic attack. We barely spoke a word when I hurriedly excused myself and left awkwardly. It was embarrassing, but it was either that or breaking down completely befoe him and everyone else. I couldn’t live with that memory.
It was my first panic attack in months. I called my mum and she managed to calm me now, albeit with strict instructions to visit the school clinic.
At the clinic, I had an extensive conversation with the school psychologist and she was very helpful. She spoke with me calmly about my history with panic attacks and made me feel much better about myself. I thought that was a wonderful touch.
I think I’ve gotten used to the school now, so I’ve gotten some grip on my anxiety and mental health. More importantly, feel better with the fact that the school takes these issues seriously and there is a professional I can always talk to whenever things try to get out of control.
I study accounting, which I’m not very crazy about. I tried to switch departments in my first year, but my parents didn’t allow it. By my second year, I’d had a couple of carryovers. I was just going along with the flow, not sure how to be at my best.
I’d just seen a couple of my results and there were additional courses I failed. I was in class when one lecturer came in and started talking about success and how CGPA play an important role in it. She implied that I was doomed to fail in life if I didn’t get my grades up. I was already low, and listening to all of this just made it worse. It triggered a depressive episode. I broke down in class, in front of everyone.
When I finally got a bit of myself together and left the class, I went to the guidance counsellor, hoping to get some clarity. However, there was little they could do to help me.
I’m in my third year now, and I’m still struggling with school. To be honest, this pandemic is a blessing to me. I’m removed from the school environment, and I don’t think too much about everything that happens there. I don’t know what I will do when I return to school, and I have no idea how to deal with it.
I had a roommate in my second year whom we made music together. Sometime during the session, he organised an event — a gathering of music enthusiasts.
He was in charge of planning, and he included me on the list of people billed to perform. It was going to be the first time I performed my songs for people. I was pretty excited and looked forward to it.
The day eventually came and everything was great. What I didn’t know was that I would be the first performer of the night. I guess the news took me by surprise, and everything became a disaster from there.
My set was terrible. There was hardly a reaction or engagement from the audience. It didn’t help that I forgot the lyrics to my song.
I blamed myself for everything that happened. For agreeing to perform at the event. For not preparing better. It was my first time and it makes sense to go easy on myself, but I was incapable of doing that. It was just messy.
Needless to say, my confidence took a big hit. I haven’t held a microphone since that event. I’m working on that, though. I plan on getting myself together and organising a similar event before I graduate from school.
Covid-19 happened and the school sent us home. However, academic activities continued. Soon, it was time for exams, but things would be different this time. We would write our exams online.
I logged in to Zoom 30 minutes before the exam was scheduled to start. Things were quiet for a while. All of a sudden, I started breathing fast and it felt like something heavy had been placed on me. This had never happened to me, but somehow, I knew what it meant.
I called a friend and told him that I was in the middle of an anxiety attack. He instructed me to stand up, breathe slowly, and think of something that makes me happy. I did everything he told me to. In no time, my breathing returned to normal. And I managed to write the exam without any further incident. I think about it sometimes and I know for sure that I don’t want to go through another episode.
Can’t get enough Aluta and Chill? Check back every Thursday at 9 AM for a new episode. Find other stories in the series here.