Navigating life as a woman in the world today is interesting. From Nigeria to Timbuktu, it’ll amaze you how similar all our experiences are. Every Wednesday, women the world over will share their experiences on everything from sex to politics right here.
This week’s #ZikokoWhatSheSaid subject is a 43-year-old Nigerian woman. She talks about finding peace after her mother’s death, living with two bipolar brothers and escaping toxicity through classic books and films.
What makes you happy right now?
My published books, blogs and fan fiction. I haven’t made much money from them, but getting readers’ feedback makes me feel better about my self-worth. My mum died a week before my 40th birthday and my mind closed off. I couldn’t function. It wasn’t just the shock of her death, I also felt she died disappointed in me. I’m her only child who didn’t give her grandchildren or get married. A lot was left unsaid between us.
She wasn’t always fair to me. Islam teaches us to accept the will of Allah, but I wish I focused more on her counsel than worrying about criticism from her. My brother’s wife told me something that gave me some closure. She said they often discussed me when I was at work and my mother would say she was proud of me. I wish she’d said things like that to me. I miss her very much, and I still feel sad when I think of her.
I’m sorry. How do you feel about not being married now?
Well, I never imagined I’d be single at 40, but I don’t mind it at all. I don’t want to be under a man who will tell me what to do or I’d need permission from. As a single woman, I’m not pressured to meet a husband’s expectations. I’m my own person.
What gives you this impression about marriage?
I’ve personally not experienced many healthy ones. My brother and his family live with me, and he has bipolar disorder. He’s on medication, but he’s not easy to live with. I sympathise with his wife but get angry and frustrated during his episodes. I always have to remind myself he’s mentally ill, yet sometimes, I feel he uses it to justify his general selfishness and superiority over his wife especially. Most times, I avoid him so his antics won’t get me down, but she can’t.
How do you manage your own mental health?
I focus on my hobbies. I read and watch classics, and write mostly to tune out the negativity. Sometimes, I just go out. I considered therapy but decided not to because I’m terrified of the possibility of needing meds.
I had panic attacks up until about 2010 because of my teaching job. I hid the attacks from my mum, who was already dealing with my younger brothers. Both of them are bipolar; I couldn’t add my issues. It was a horrible feeling, and I’m still prone to anxiety now and then. I don’t want a psychiatrist to detect it and say I should take meds. Then I’ll be unable to function without them. I want to be in control of my life without meds.
Fair enough. What was it like growing up with two bipolar brothers?
Their condition was undetected until they were both in university. But it’s not been easy. I never know when they might have an episode. The younger one takes his meds but won’t stop taking caffeine. He’s more bearable than the older one, but sometimes, he’s unreasonable. I resent the older one more because he’s done many things I can’t forgive him for. I generally try to avoid them.
Tell me about the hobbies that help you tune out negativity
I’ve loved classic books and films since I was a child. I have my late father to thank for that. He was a voracious reader who wanted his children to improve their vocabulary. He’d buy us books on our birthdays and let us read from his collection. Reading and writing fill me with fond memories of him.
That must be nice
He was still a strict father, though. Because of his temper and how he was set in his ways, I was afraid to cross him.
Where did your love for classic films come in?
As a child, NTA 5 aired BBC adaptations of classics like “Jane Eyre” (my favourite book), “Little Women” (my second favourite) and “Oliver Twist”. It made me love the classics even more. I also grew up watching great films like “The Sound of Music”, “The Thief of Baghdad” and “My Fair Lady”.
After reading about the history of motion pictures in an encyclopaedia in JSS 2, I wanted to watch all the films mentioned in it. Over the years, I’ve been able to. I especially enjoyed the film noirs. I love the feeling of entering another era, and it’s been helpful now when I need to escape. Today’s films, most of which are remakes of the classics, just don’t compare.
How did you transition to actually writing your own stuff?
The more books I read, and films I watched, the more I longed to create my own stories. But I didn’t consider actually writing until I started reading Enid Blyton’s books, my first inspiration to write children’s stories. I was about eight when my father bought one for me, “The Three Wishes, and other stories”. I think I was 15, when I first wrote anything. It was a three-stanza poem about the sea, and I sadly no longer have a copy. My first two books were published by Lantern Books.
How did that go?
It’s not easy to write for kids because you have to learn what they like, how they think, and keep the language simple. I submitted a manuscript of ten children’s stories in 2003. They were published in 2006 as two separate books. I was so happy when the physical copies were placed in my hands. But my third book wasn’t published till late 2018.
Have you written anything for film?
My first attempt at a film script was when I was at Federal College of Education (FCE), Osiele, Abeokuta. I showed it to a friend, but while he said it was well-written, he thought it was controversial because it talked about cultism. I haven’t made a second attempt.
Would you still offer it for adaptation to film one day?
I pray so. It would the pinnacle of my writing career.
And your romantic life so far?
I’ve only been in three brief relationships, and they all happened when I was 19. In fact, I would hardly call them “relationships”. I’m ashamed of the first and third because I thought I was in love. The second, I knew, was real, but I was too immature to handle it well. I haven’t tried again since.
I really don’t want to talk about it; all three were humiliating mistakes. I’ve forgotten the whole thing and moved on with my life, happily single.
NEXT READ: What She Said: I Need to Write to Be Alive