As a child, I worried a lot. About things that seem big to me and things that seemed small to the rest of the people around me. I was aware of my mortality from a very young age and I spent a lot of time, fearing that I would die.

I remember a dream I had when I was about nine or ten. It was a dream that prompted a years-long habit of writing down every detail of any dream I was fortunate or unfortunate enough to remember. Though I think I would’ve remembered the dream regardless of the aforementioned habit.

In the dream, it was night time. I was standing outside a house – it is unclear to me whose house it was but it didn’t feel like mine. I felt worried about an impending disaster and soon enough I watched a plane crash into the house. I remember standing outside in the pyjamas I wore to sleep that night – purple shorts with sleepy cows and a purple shirt to match – watching the fire grow and dance in front of me. There were people around but I don’t recall what they were doing. I just remember the feeling of helplessness and anxiety. I woke up and spent the rest of the day in a strange daze. Anxious about this dream and not understanding what it meant. I just remember explicitly hoping that neither me nor my family died in real life.

I am anxious about a lot of things, some of them make more sense than others and for a long time I just assumed I was alone and definitely crazy. So I kept it inside.

When I was 11, I began to feel defeated and downtrodden. I would cry on the Sunday before school. I would cry when I came back from school. I was anxious and sad and that combination… What a partnership of awfulness for a child. My mother found me crying into my cereal one weekday morning before school at which point i was prompted to tell her of my unhappiness. It was the first time my parents ever listened to me. I am grateful they did because once I was taken out of that toxic environment and into a different school, I suddenly began to do well, I joined all sorts of extracurricular activities and began to feel like myself. That feeling is one that I strive to replicate constantly but the truth is, a dark cloud often looms over my head. For years I didn’t understand what caused my mind to suddenly go dark – sometimes for weeks or months at a time. I couldn’t identify the reason for my anxiety attacks.

By the time I turned 19, my second year at university, I lived alone and spent most of my time indoors, in the dark. Insomnia became part of my equation: I could go three days without even a wink of sleep. I wasn’t fully functioning, but no one knew.

One night, coming home from the library in the middle of my exams, having gone another three days without sleep, I was delirious. I was in such a daze that I walked right into oncoming traffic. A car swerved, missing me by mere inches. I didn’t react, I just kept walking. I burst into tears when I got to the other side. I slept the next morning at 9am.

I didn’t seek therapy until 26. Not because I was ashamed to do so. I had desperately wanted to but in my lowest points I couldn’t bring myself to and at my highest points, Because I was training at drama school, I had school holidays and when those came around, I didn’t leave my home for weeks at a time. On more than one occasion, I burst into tears on the bus home. I would be happy one moment and suddenly remember something stupid I did or said and I would melt into a puddle of tears on the kitchen floor, hyperventilating. I sought therapy after a particularly bad case of “memory”, when I felt indescribably pain and begged God to pull me out of this.

Therapy helped me a great deal, as did my time in drama school. I realised that I so badly wanted to be in control of the narrative – no matter what little sense it made – that I bottled so much inside. I believed so desperately in mind over matter that I ignored the fact that my mind was the matter. Finding the courage and finding the words and saying them out loud allowed me to confront a number of my mental health challenges in a way that I had not done before. I felt empowered in doing so.

By 2017, I was back in NIgeria and going through severe episodes again, this time with no professional help to guide me. I descended into the black hole again – anxiety attacks, severe depression, insomnia – and couldn’t get out. If I tried to talk to anyone about it, it was dismissed as is commonplace in this country. I didn’t speak to my parents about it at any point because I was too afraid it would trigger my mum’s own challenges- which she has overcome and which she has so bravely spoken about. This was of course far from the truth but I couldn’t convince my mind of that at the time. I drank more and never wanted to be in my house. By the end of the year, I was spent. A trip to South Africa was my saving grace. What was supposed to be a great big party holiday for New Year and my birthday, turned into a healthy, introspective journey with two of my best friends. I found a kind of peace that I hadn’t felt in over a decade. I returned to the “real” world, optimistic that I could fight this thing. I stopped drinking altogether, found that sleep had returned to me, had no real urge to go out or stay out. I began to focus on my projects – Genevieve, my production company and writing. I took up painting, even though I am comically terrible at drawing. I found joy in my own company, which meant I was good company to others. I let go of grudges I had held on to. I went from chatting with God once in a while, to having conversations with him more often. I have cultivated my own relationship with God and this has been a great help.

It is a slow process, it is a bumpy road, there will be regressions but I am fighting at a higher frequency than ever before. I shared this not for your pity or your judgement, I shared it for those who might find some encouragement from my story and for those who are on a similar journey. Let us keep the conversation going. Let us speak for those who have been cast aside for enduring the similar struggles. Let’s demystify mental health challenges.

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