Nigerians have come a long way from how they perceive mental health. The youths are more mindful and self-aware and are in turn educating the older populace about mental awareness. Today, I spoke to 6 strong Nigerian women about their mental health journey and because this is a story of how they conquered, I will be adding their superpowers.
Superpower: Resilient and self-aware
In 2019, my mother was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. It came as a shock to me because she is my everything, she is the parent that stayed so to see her become so ill broke me. At the time, I was already dealing with overthinking and anxiety so it was tough for me to accept this new reality. I’d be at school or work and start worrying that something must have happened to her in my absence.
A part of me is still ridden with guilt that somehow this is my fault. It’s ridiculous, I know but I cannot help but feel like I should have seen the signs or been more attentive.
Over time, I took on more responsibilities and I could feel myself getting drained. As she got better, I became worse. Food, sleep, hanging out became a distant memory for me. Whenever I went out, I’d find myself crying in the uber. This was when I decided to get help. E-counselling has really helped me. I now know to keep my mind and personal space clean. Trying not to clutter my life with negative people and so far, things have gotten better. I am mentally in a better place.
Superpower: Speaks 4 languages and knows over 60 countries national anthem
I started learning national anthems as a way to beat depression and social anxiety. When I was 6, my twin brother died. When I turned 8, my mom died as well. It was just me and my dad and he wasn’t really the “fatherly” figure one would expect. He remarried and that was when my life truly became hell. My stepmother tortured me for days. She’d lock me up in a room for an extended period whenever my dad was away. It got so bad that I refused to come home for mid-term breaks and I’d be the last to leave school on long holidays.
When I got into university, this woman would pay boys to beat and harass me. At some point, I became friends with the guys she used to send. We would end up using the money she paid them to hang out.
Whenever I complained to my father, he would tell me everything would be okay. It took this woman almost setting me on fire for my father to send me to my aunt’s place. When I moved in with my aunt in Lagos, I began to seek help. I would stay indoors for days without eating or moving. So my aunt made me see a therapist and I got diagnosed with clinical depression.
In December 2018, I wrote a suicide note, had a bottle of sniper near me that day. Funny enough, a call from my Dad saved me.
He just called and said he loves me. That was the first time my dad ever uttered those words to me.
So I’ve been battling a lot of anxiety and sadness all my life. Even now that I’m older and more independent, I still have a lot of anxiety.
Sometimes I feel like my heart is about to fall out of my chest. I have unnecessary panic attacks. I almost feel like I’m broken. This past week, I haven’t been able to sleep at night. I’m mostly awake overwhelmed by my own thoughts. As much as I am thankful for life, I do not feel like I have a purpose.
Superpower: Very Logical and empathetic
I have battled with mental health issues all my life but the incident that stood out for me was the year 2018 when I was in school. When it happened I just knew I had to get help. Just before I had my exams, I had a breakdown. Stayed in bed for a month, couldn’t function or eat. It ended with me in the hospital getting diagnosed with depression. It was so bad that I had to take a year off school. My parents wanted to make sure I wasn’t getting stressed over schooling while recovering. I think it hit them hard when they found out that I was cutting myself.
For me, I would say my triggers were a function of the uncertainty that hit me. All my life, I have maintained good grades, done what I was told to do and now I have to figure things out myself and the nagging question of “what next, what now?” hit me harder than I anticipated. I cut myself every few days during the hardest point of my depression. The only reason I’m alive is that I kept thinking about how my death would wreck my family and the religious implications as well.
I am very grateful for modern medicine and therapy. Although, being on anti-depressants makes me numb. I don’t feel sad or ecstatic about anything but it is better than feeling a pang of overwhelming sadness. I’d advise that people on anti-depressant always speak to a doctor before going off them cause suddenly stopping medication can lead to a deeper depression. I know this cause I have lived it.
Superpower: Unique thought process, open-minded
I haven’t been diagnosed yet but I have shown symptoms of anxiety. It is easy for me to breakdown during an argument, especially with a loved one. There was a day I broke down and tried to harm myself. It was terrible. I cried my eyes out, used my body to hit the floors. It was scary and confusing plus I had no idea what was happening. I felt insane. It got worse, I entered the kitchen, picked up a lighter and started burning my hands. A loved one had to intervene. After the incident, I started reevaluating myself. I wondered why I couldn’t feel the burning pain until I stopped hurting myself. It made me realise that I may have a mental health issue. ‘
Seeing that I cannot afford therapy, I have been getting help from mentally aware. Some days the breakdowns are subtle like the rains and other days it could be as harsh as a storm. To cope, I have distanced myself from my toxic family and their expectations. Writing also helps.
I believe everyone has their share of mental health issues but how they handle is what truly matters. The world may vilify people who have been open and expressive about mental health but I want those that aren’t speaking up to know that it is not their fault in any way and they shouldn’t let stigma stop them from speaking up.
Having a mental health issue actually saved me from a bad relationship. thing is, I left a bad relationship to a worse one. When I tried to leave again, the guy would come with a face full of remorse and a mouth full of apologies. I knew the relationship wasn’t what I wanted cause of the amount of stress the guy put me through. Imagine being in a relationship where your partner enjoys having quarrels. He was an overthinker and if I agreed too quickly on something with him, it would stir up an argument. I gave 80% of my life to him, we were always together because he’d insist on it.
I could feel myself hitting rock bottom in the relationship but I stayed. Until I started crying in my sleep. I’d wake up with tears and the nagging memories of a nightmare. I knew I had had enough when I woke up to voices in my head screaming hateful things at me. It was terrifying because it felt so real. I could hear the voices saying “I hate myself, I hate you.”
Thing is, I would never think these words to myself on a normal day so why are these voices yelling this at me? The voices were throwing a tantrum and I just stayed there crying. I didn’t want to link it with mental health because I felt I was strong and these things were beneath me. Eventually, I ended the relationship and left all social platforms for about 6 months. I didn’t go for therapy but I took on meditation, yoga and exercise to cope. Life is meant to be enjoyed and I’m glad I found what works for me.
Superpower: Selfless with a big heart that has nothing to do with cardiomegaly.
When I was in school in 2014, my father died. I had bouts of depression. Back then, I wasn’t quite sure what the emotions I was going through were but now I know that it’s a miracle I was able to pass my exams that year. Since then, I have dealt with anxiety in different forms. I have researched painless ways to die.
In my search for an optimal suicide option, found an injection that could let me go away painlessly but it’s wasn’t sold in Nigeria. The other options were drowning in the 3rd mainland bridge or by hanging. I searched for anything that would make me go and ensure I didn’t survive cause it would be worse than the depression. I didn’t want to deal with the guilt or get arrested cause apparently, suicide is a criminal offence in Nigeria.
The funny thing is, my organisation provides resources for therapy and such but I just want to wallow. I don’t think there is anything to be happy about. Right now, I can’t even tell my partner cause he is going through his own problems. In times like this, I miss being able to pray and just take things to Jesus. It was easier. I don’t want to be woke anymore, I want to sleep. I’m tired.
For more more stories like this, read How living with my family triggered panic attacks.