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Mental health and me

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Telling my parents I wanted to see a psychologist was no easy task. No parent ever wants to hear there is something wrong with their child, and most especially something as misunderstood as a mental illness. PHOTO:HR review

I have spent a lot of time thinking and trying to decide how to contribute to advancing mental health awareness in Nigeria. I have decided that the best way to start is to talk about my experience with mental health. To put my story out, and talk about my experiences, in the hopes that it will shine a bit of light on mental health issues, and hopefully inspire people who are facing similar problems to reach out and seek help. Mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety are routinely dismissed as being a figment of the imagination and often people say things could be worse or pray it away. In Nigeria, they are often seen as a whiteman’s illness, or associated with demons. A worrying reaction to medically recognised conditions. These conditions can affect anyone at anytime, and it is important to realise this.

Deciding to seek help was one of the toughest things I have ever had to do. Firstly, it involves admitting to yourself that there is something wrong. I have always been an outgoing, friendly and generally extroverted person. I am the kind of person who normally appears to have things under control, a very social person usually with a smile on my face. Therefore, this made it harder for me to accept that something was wrong, and subsequently reach out for help.

Additionally, I come from a society with very traditional views of masculinity. The kind sometimes referred to, not inaccurately, as toxic masculinity. Where I am from, you are expected to show strength and never any weaknesses; much less talk about those weaknesses. It is almost as though not acknowledging these weaknesses will make them disappear. I remember once seeing drink about it, smoke about it, but don’t talk about it, and I feel that this is an accurate representation of the society I come from and the kind of masculinity expected from men.

My upbringing in this society made it incredibly hard and challenging to accept that I had an issue. About two years ago, I had begun to feel less like myself. I began to feel down, had a lack of interest in doing most things, and failed to see the point in a lot of things I was doing and had previously enjoyed doing. This led to me spending most of those days in bed and sleeping through them; I had lost motivation to do things and would often only leave my house in the evening to buy food, if at all. This went on for a few weeks, until my close friend’s 21st birthday. This brought a lot of my other friends, from far and wide, back together and coincided with an upturn in my mood. However, once my friends left, my sullen mood returned again. I have had periods where I wasn’t as happy, but these tended to be short moods rather than prolonged periods as this one proved to be. This led me to the conclusion that I was homesick, and the feeling of having my friends around me helped alleviate the problem.

Making matters worse was the fact that I had never been much of a talker about my deeper feelings. I was used to bottling things up, and hardly ever speaking to people about what was truly going on deep down and how I was really feeling. I would occasionally have conversations of emotional depth with two or three friends; however these were often after we had all had a few drinks. Effectively meaning I was unable to fully process and speak on more than surface level emotions consciously. The bottling up eventually caught up with me.

I have an affinity for reading, and at this time had been reading articles online, especially long reads. This led me reading an article on GQ (I am unable to find the link to the article) detailing how one of their contributors had greatly benefitted from therapy, and just generally speaking to someone. He spoke about how comforting it was to speak to someone who was completely neutral. Someone trained to probe into and identify problem areas, and how this led to an improvement in his general mood. He spoke of the fact that even after he felt he had recovered, he still felt it was healthiest for him to attend. This article, along with gentle encouragement from my best friend, helped me decide to give therapy a try.

After researching clinics and the benefits of seeking therapy, I decided to see a psychologist rather than a psychiatrist; a psychologist tends to treat using different forms of therapy, whilst a psychiatrist generally prescribes medicines along with therapy. Thus, I felt a psychologist would be most beneficial to me. Telling my parents I wanted to see a psychologist was no easy task. No parent ever wants to hear there is something wrong with their child, and most especially something as misunderstood as a mental illness. I eventually garnered some courage to do so, and painted it as I was going to speak to someone; I had a lot on my mind and felt like speaking to someone would be the best thing for me. They were understandably worried, but patient and understanding enough to encourage me.

To be continued tomorrow.

Giwa-Osagie is a student at the Nigerian Law School, Bwari, Abuja.


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