As told to Femi

A couple of weeks ago, I put out a tweet looking to speak with young people dealing with hypertension. Ehimen reached out to me. Our conversation spanned beyond hypertension to other issues. Here’s his story.

It all began in my final year at the university when I was 19. I think it was all the stress from being a final year student and trying to graduate. Being one of the few people with a laptop, I helped others with their projects. I was under a lot of mental stress. Sleep came in bits and I had very little appetite. I noticed I was having migraines and a lot of hallucinations. My eyes and fingernails turned a shade of red. I thought I just needed more sleep but there simply wasn’t any time.

Sometime later, I found out that I was to have an extra year because of a mix up in matric numbers. Seeing my mates graduate drove me into a downward spiral of depression. My mental health took a major hit and I lost the will to do anything. My physical health too was declining steadily. I fell sick and went to a pharmacy near my hostel, looking to get drugs for malaria. I explained my symptoms to the pharmacist on duty and she told me that I needed to check my blood pressure.

I was surprised and almost laughed it off, thinking only old people could have blood pressure. She insisted I checked it so I did. Her look of shock still haunts me to this day. She checked 10 more times, with three machines. The readings were all around 180/130. She couldn’t believe that I could still be standing with my blood pressure that high. She asked where I was coming from. She expressed disbelief that I walked that distance without fainting or going into a stroke.

I called my parents and they asked me to come home to Lagos immediately. They understood how dangerous it was because they were also hypertensive. My whole family was worried sick because they knew what my parents were going through with it.

After some treatment, I went back to school but the blood pressure symptoms worsened. I started feeling chest pains, migraines, insomnia and weak erections. When I could get erect, I would hardly last 10 seconds before ejaculating. It was a dark period. I would lock myself in my room and only come out to eat once a day. I moved to a new hostel and was acquainted with a new group of friends and that was when I started slacking off with life. I didn’t care about anything anymore. Sometimes, I would take more pills than I was prescribed just because I didn’t care about life anymore.

I moved back to Lagos after school. I landed a good job and was in a great relationship. My libido also improved and life was generally improving. However, my relationship began to stress me with incessant fights, along with having to deal with a long work commute from Victoria Island to Ejigbo. Every sickness I had worsened due to my blood pressure: malaria, typhoid and even injuries were exacerbated. At this point, I knew I couldn’t avoid taking blood pressure medication.

The first pill felt like a shot of heroin up my arm. I felt so calm and weightless. It was going great until I started reacting negatively to the medication. I was having incessant nose bleeds, worse insomnia and hallucinations. Sometimes, I’d see pictures talking to me and see things that weren’t there, such as snakes. I’d be walking and suddenly feel like I was falling off a building. The doctors put me on milder medication. 

As I got older, I added more weight because I trained as a chef. I was eating a lot of new meals and wasn’t exercising. A health checkup told me that my cholesterol was higher than normal for my age. At this point, I decided not to let this condition affect my life. I started making plans to live healthily. Exercise became routine and I ate more healthily.  I gave up alcohol and started taking my pills diligently. Then the lockdown happened.

Because of my condition, I was almost paranoid because I knew I had to be extra careful not to catch COVID-19 At some point, I was exhausted. I stopped taking my pills and was hoping I would contract the virus during a suicidal phase.

Now, I’m trying to relocate to another country so I can access better health care. I think there’s something wrong with me, deep inside but I think I’ll have better answers when I leave this country. Nigeria triggers my anxiety a lot. Seeing a police officer or having a close shave in traffic often sends my heart beating at a thousand miles per hour. I feel a tightness in my chest, my breathing becomes gasps and I feel dizzy, even when driving. Every day, from my waking moment, till I go to bed, I feel sick. I am trying to relocate to another country so I can have better medical care. I still believe there’s something wrong with me inside, I can feel it. I believe I’ll have better answers when I get there. But it has been a tedious task trying to leave this country. 

I’ve learned to take a nap whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed and to avoid all triggers because I know I’m going to live with it till the day I die.

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