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.
Get the digital copy of our May issue HERE