“My Mental Health and Me, is a series of personal essays written by real people in their 20s and 30s who have or are currently battling with broader or more specific mental health challenges. It is important to gather around people with similar struggles to talk candidly about our journeys, the little triumphs and the reality of living with mental health challenges in a country like Nigeria. This is an important dialogue that needs to continuously be had.
The aim of this series is not to seek pity but to articulate difficulties that many of us are also going through. It is a message to you, informing or reminding you that you are not alone. It is my hope at by engaging this conversation, we are able to humanise those with mental health challenges and debunk the myths. As a country, discussions like this are still often condemned as western babble, with many people being dismissed as “mad”/”crazy” and sometimes exiled into the wilderness
of a ward that has no intention of helping them. Two wonderful volunteers kick things off with the hope of humanising mental health challenges. It is our wish to empower ourselves and others to come forward and seek help where they can. You are not alone.
BEWAJI ADENIJI IN HER OWN WORDS
I can’t really say when it began or when I first felt that emptiness but what I do remember is a point in time when I didn’t want to exist, and I questioned life as it is continuously. I spoke to many, but none gave me the answer that I was truly looking for. I was a Nigerian stuck in Nigeria with no one to talk to about how I really felt because it was either taboo or a ‘white people’ thing. Depression is not something that was considered a topic of conversation nor something that was important in family life. Just something you needed to get over because you were just being sad/moody/seeking attention.
From the first time I tried to articulate my feelings out to anyone, it was something I was very apprehensive about. I didn’t know how best to share what it was that I was feeling, nor did I think they would really understand. With so many thoughts and emotions I began to cut myself and my cousins that I went to school with noticed. That’s what started the first conversation. I explained the best I could and hoped they would understand. They shared this information with their parents and some other relatives who tried to have hush hush conversations with me to try to deter me from a path they thought I was heading towards. It didn’t really feel good to share, and I didn’t want to talk about it.
Years went by, I had moved to the States for university. I met and found people that were like me, with whom I could share my intimate thoughts without feeling judged or accosted. I could talk to them about almost every feeling and they encouraged
me to go see a therapist. Seeing one made things slightly better. At least I could talk to
someone constantly about how I felt but after a while it felt too mechanical. It also didn’t help that my therapist had now
diagnosed me as being bipolar disorder and put me on Prozac. Now my uncertainties had all come true. I was certifiably crazy!
MR YOUNG IN HIS OWN WORDS
The lights were dim, I was dancing wildly, arms forming random shapes, I was on my own planet- Planet le dance! I attempted a handstand at one point that nearly wrecked the DJ’s equipment. But for deft spacial awareness, calamity would have occurred. I was completely taken by the music, it was a transposition of rhapsody, the feeling was euphoric. On our way home, a friend mentioned that there was a girl at the bar who fancied me, but after the hand stand, she thought that I was a bit ‘too much’, perhaps I needed to tone it down. This wouldn’t be the first time I was hearing this. If there were ever words
to summarise my life, it would be, “he did too much” or “he did too little.”
Growing up, I had a searing temper. I used to get into fights a lot in school, when I mention it to people now, they find it amusing, I still have flashes now and then but they happen once in a blue moon. I had an interesting childhood, I used to play outdoors a lot, mostly by myself and I was fine. Growing up I would have periods were I would get along with everyone and periods were I would get into fights for almost no reason. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, round it or under it, in fact every time I tried, it burnt my finger. School was no better, never liked it. I found it hard to concentrate in class, and was always looking forward to break time and closing time. I used to get into trouble a lot when I was in primary and secondary school.
I picked up reading as a hobby in my early adult years, I figured that reading would help improve my attention span and focus, it has helped a lot. I sometimes experience episodes of severe anxiety when I’m around a lot of people. I used to be very hyperactive, but nowadays I make an extra
effort to stay calm and listen more. Only recently have I begun to feel comfortable with who I am, so I’m a bit more relaxed and don’t feel the need to be the centre of attention.
I tried speaking with an older person about my low attention span and hyperactiveness and they recommended taking up chess, which is fair enough, but that didn’t help much. In Nigeria, being hyperactive, you are labelled as a ruffian. Depression is one of the byproducts of ADHD but I was told that depression is from the devil. Most times I end up working/powering through these problems. There is a lot of literature online that helps me. One of my best friends says that I ‘auto-correct’. It’s a good and a bad thing in the sense that I am always self evaluating and self-critiquing. The down side to that is self-sabotage and self-doubt. It’s like having a rifle, making up your mind that you’re going hunting and then shooting yourself in the foot so you don’t have to go. It’s particularly tough on personal relationships especially for partners and family members. They bear the brunt of whatever mental challenges you are going through; there are high highs and low lows and they are there through it all. Most partners can’t deal and they leave. I remember chatting with a partner about stuff I was going through (I am not usually one for sharing my baggage). A couple of weeks later we broke up. I am constantly ‘toning down’ or trying to find that happy medium, I have thought about professional therapy, but in my mind it, a) costs too much b) seems more like an unnecessary luxury. Sometimes it seems as if talking about my condition gives off the impression that I am not grateful for the life I have. I have been told to get out of my head, which I try to do, but believe me, it’s easier said than done. I have identified certain triggers and I try to moderate and avoid them.
As a creative, I do a lot of things and have a lot of interests.It’s hard to focus on any particular one for long enough, I have had to force myself to do so. In the past, once one particular field became too stressful or boring, I moved on to the next one. Consistency and focus are things that I am constantly working on. I read a lot and used to read a lot of motivational books, but for some strange reason, they never worked for me. I get more inspired by essays, articles and TED talks. I find release in writing, dancing, comics, sci-fi, music, drawing, photography and singing. I end up spending more time by myself these days. I got tired of people calling me weird or telling me I do ‘too much’.
Talking about mental health in Nigeria is often avoided, like a taboo. I overheard someone saying that mental health is a foreign concept and we have had solutions to these issues which were found in family/
community and church. While there is a place for the church and the community in fostering mental health, there are also physiological factors that need to be
considered. These days I spend more time at home with family. The Catholic faith has been therapeutic but I have far from found
peace, I get patches of it from time to time and I am grateful when it occurs. For the most part, I deal with long periods of anxiety. If I could describe my mind, it would be like a desert; super hot in the day time and super cold at night.
Do you wish to share your own journey with mental health with the Genevieve community? Please do not hesitate to get in touch with us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was first published in the Genevieve Magazine May Issue, to complete the My Mental Health and Me Series, purchase the e-magazine HERE