Are you crazy? Four young adults say No

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Sometimes when I hold conversations on mental health with my friends, it leads up to me being called a “mad person”. The type of conversations in which folks my parent’s age will be heard saying that “young adults are committing suicide because they’re not well focused”.  

The idea that we don’t have anything yet that should “bother” us, or the idea that we are in “such a hurry” is a naïve, lazy assumption, that somewhat creates an impression that poor mental health is not an issue for Millennials. This kind of impression leaves young people reluctant to open up and share our experiences, because of how will people react or what will people say.

In addition, the false mindset that Africans do not need therapy or that we do not have mental health struggles has become more glaring with the increase of depression-linked suicide, especially among young people. This high spate of suicide has piqued my interest in young people who, like me, might be going through mental health struggles.

May being Mental Health Awareness Month, Four young adults including myself shared their story regarding their mental health struggles, particularly the triggers, how they’re dealing with it, and what it feels like to reach out to somebody.

Adanna, 24

What do you deal with?

  • Started off as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), declined to Depression and now it’s Anxiety.  

What experience triggered this issue?

  • A series of events that were suppressed but my sister’s death definitely triggered it.

Triggers you experience the most

  • In the past, my triggers were really flashbacks, intense stress and my major symptoms were insomnia, restlessness, intense food cravings (I gained a whole lot of weight this period). Each case led to me shutting out my loved ones. If you try to reach me at this point, you’re on your own cause I just want to be left alone.  

Living with this situation  

  • Honestly, it’s been a back and forth situation. I honestly hate feeling this way because I never know how to talk about it and even when I talk about it, I end up in tears and I really hate to cry or feel vulnerable. I’m thankful for the people in my corner that let me simmer and eventually vent.  
  • Now, I focus on avoiding anything that makes me feel stressed especially if I can control it and the things I can’t control, I just let it be. I channel my energy into work which even ends up triggering my anxiety cycle. Some days are better than the rest.  

Dealing with it

  • Sharwama, sleep and when I get around to it, I speak to someone about it. I find that prayer helps me, and I mean the “Hi God, this is how I feel and I can’t handle it, you better step in and bring peace. They can’t say this child of yours is going through this when I can easily get peace from you” kind of prayer. Honestly, I sleep after this.  

Did you speak to someone and what was their reaction?

  • I started off seeing a therapist and honestly, it was so helpful and I didn’t expect the positive response I got. First of all, I didn’t think Nigeria had the capacity to have non-judgmental therapist especially with the way our society is set up. With friends, it was a mixed reaction. It was a mix of “I can’t believe you are depressed abi it’s the attention you just want, just get a boyfriend” to actually listening to me and dragging me to eventually seeing a therapist or ensuring I didn’t find space to brood or be alone.  

What do you think people should do differently around you and was there a stereotype attached to you?

  • I would want people to be more empathetic and not pitiful. That is genuinely showing concern and wanting to help in the best way that they can. I would love that people would not give me motivational speeches and just be present for me.  
  • There wasn’t any stereotype really, and that would be because I really didn’t talk about it to people I didn’t trust. But I remember just recently, there was a conversation on mental health and I shared my experience and they called me “a mad person”. They said “Nigerians don’t experience stuff like this” and that was when I realized why people don’t come out to own that they could be going through issues like this and that it exists.

What would you tell someone going through this struggle?

  • I would say don’t suppress it because what you’re doing is letting it linger without dealing with it. Don’t hold back on the emotions that come with it, if you want to cry, please do. You want to scream, get comfortable and scream into a pillow or into an empty space. Angry, find something (not someone oh lol) and punch. Bottom line, express those rush of emotions that come with it and then talk to someone and sleep. You are doing amazing.  

Saidat, 25

What do you deal with?

  • Depression, mood disorders, anxiety

Triggers you experience the most

  • Anger, anxiety, mood swings, weight gain, insomnia, a bit suicidal, restlessness

Living with this situation  

  • It was very challenging because I was scared to talk to anyone about it for fear of being misunderstood.

Dealing with it

  • Books. I started to read everything including the Bible (Ecclesiastes is an amazing chapter for someone depressed), books on positivity and listening to comedy podcasts.

Did you speak to someone and what was their reaction?

  • Yes, I talked to a close friend, and she couldn’t believe I was depressed. Eventually, I got around to talking to some people that have gone through the same thing which included a talk with someone from the Mentally Aware Nigeria Initiative (MANI) group.

What do you think people should do differently around you and was there a stereotype attached to you?

  • Nope, there was no stereotype at all

What would you tell someone going through this struggle?

  • The best advice you can get is one you give to yourself…   

But in situations where it’s a challenge, talk to someone. A loved one, a family member, a doctor, go on the internet, there are groups that can help.

Somadina, 26  

 What do you deal with?

  • I would say one of the mental issues I go through pretty often is anxiety.  

What experience triggered this issue?

  • I started having full-blown anxiety attacks sometime in November 2017. During that period I put myself under so much stress, I was so worked up about things I had no control over, I honestly believe this was when my anxiety began in full force.

Triggers/Symptoms you experience the most

  • My trigger?  Truth be told I can’t pinpoint what triggers my anxiety because it could be anything, anything at all: the thought of losing a loved one and me obsessing over the thought, it could be me worrying and obsessing over a test that I took and I feel I won’t pass (oh and I always pass by the way) which makes it all so exhausting or the thought of something not going my way. On a normal day, any and everything can be a trigger to my anxiety.   
  • My symptoms? They vary, to be honest. But I experience these pretty often, tension headaches, heart palpitations, Insomnia (the worst really because I used to love sleeping). The most frequent symptom was intense shaking both internal and external, it’s almost like I can’t just be calm no matter how hard I try *Sigh*  
  • Then also, finding it hard to concentrate on things, my mind works like a faulty water tap. Gushing water uncontrollably and simply can’t be turned off. I have like a hundred and one thoughts in a second and I’m not even joking, so most times where I’m trying to study or focus on a particular thing, I struggle with distractions from these thoughts which can really be exhausting. I get tired often too and lack the enthusiasm to do the things I used to love. I also experienced shortness in breath (shallow breathing) and a high level of irritation. I am so forgetful these days it’s ridiculous! (I guess it’s because of my racing thoughts).  

These are just to mention a few but trust me I could go on and on and on. It can really get exhausting.  But we are still here and we will keep pushing.

Living with this situation  

  • Initially, when I started experiencing these symptoms it was awful, confusing and scary. Especially in a country like Nigeria where most people don’t even understand what it really means to have an anxiety disorder. After my panic attack and the kind of “advice” I received from the psychologist, I knew I was the only one that could really help myself once I’m in this Nigeria.  
  • Some family and friends were really helpful I must say, most times just talking to me and some words of encouragement really helped me hold on ( because truth be told at a point I thought I was losing it) but las las we thank God.  

Some days are better than the rest, some days I fight and other days? Not so much. But we keep pushing.

Dealing with it

  • Food o. Food, talking to people, music. Food has been and is still my coping mechanism, I’ve always loved food but I noticed over the years it’s become more of something I do to feel better. So it really helps me have something (fun) to look forward to. Talking too, I have friends I can “lament” to, people who listen when I need to talk. And I must say it helps me so much because I generally like talking so sometimes just getting it all out of your chest reduces the burden and you feel a lot better and lighter. So I’m really grateful for good friends. Everyone needs a good tribe, really important.  

Did you speak to someone and what was their reaction?

  • Yes, I did. I saw a psychologist or something like that. Truth be told that day is a bit of a blur right now but I do remember him saying I needed to pray and cast out some spiritual demons and all that then I was prescribed drugs for different ailments at that moment. So you see? That didn’t really help.  

What do you think people should do differently around you and was there a stereotype attached to you?

  • I just wish people treat others better with their words, be emphatic, be kind, and be less judgmental!!! Also trying to educate oneself on mental illness goes a long way for someone who is battling with one mental illness or the other.  
  • There hasn’t been any stereotype attached to me by my family or friends(none that I know of though), and then it’s not something I discuss in details with everyone, I have few people I feel comfortable discussing such with, so the people who know and understand it have been really helpful.  

What would you tell someone going through this struggle?

  • I would say “keep fighting” I know it’s hard but keep fighting. You are stronger and even braver than you think, little itty bits of effort daily can go a long way. Just keep fighting, keep trying. There are people out there who are going through exactly what you’re going through right now, so know that you’re not alone.  

Kosy, 23

What do you deal with?

  • Anxiety, panic attacks, and depression  

What experience triggered this issue?

  • I honestly don’t know, but I’ve experienced some traumatic events that could be the cause or triggers but I’m not sure  

Triggers/symptoms you experience the most

  • I have different symptoms. For panic attacks, my heart just suddenly starts pounding, I’m gasping for air because I can’t really breathe, I’m scared, my head is spinning etc.  
  • Depression comes in different forms, I usually feel very sad, helpless and hopeless, exhausted, I cry for no particular reason, I barely eat, I usually just sit and mope around  

Living with this situation  

  • It’s been difficult but I’ve been dealing with it and surviving and sometimes it’s a bit more difficult cause people don’t really understand it  

Dealing with it

  • I try to talk about it with people and sometimes, I just let it pass  

Did you speak to someone and what was their reaction?

  • I’ve got friends who know about it and they’ve been very helpful and understanding. I plan to start therapy as soon as I can get a good therapist  

What do you think people should do differently around you and was there a stereotype attached to you?

  • I don’t want them to ask me how I am because they already know that I’m not fine. I just want you to be present because that’s what I honestly need at that moment. Try to show me what “normal” looks like, bring me food if you can, drag me out of the bed, watch movies with me etc.  
  • I honestly don’t know if I’ve been stereotyped but honestly, I don’t care. When I started talking about my mental health, I was scared that people would judge me or see me as “that sad girl”. But honestly, at this point in my life, I don’t care.  

What would you tell someone going through this struggle?

  • I’d tell them to seek help, to talk to a professional and to understand that mental health issues are serious but could be managed appropriately.

 

Well, there you have it. What I find both odd and bad is the situation of a professional psychologist/psychiatrist advising a patient to pray and cast out spiritual demons as the most helpful way of dealing with mental health struggles.

How does this even help? What does it achieve?

A helpful tip is given by Paul Gionfriddo, President and CEO of Mental Health America, on how to enhance mental health through common tools and strategies like animal companionship, humour, spirituality, work-life balance, recreation, and social networking which will lead to improvements in both physical and mental health.

With platforms like Mentally Aware Nigeria Initiative (MANI), She Writes Woman (SWW) and others, Mental Health Awareness is becoming more prominent here and people are becoming more aware which is amazing.  

These initiatives enable young people to become more aware, identifying their triggers, and being conscious about wanting to be better and in a more healthy mental state.

Knowing is half the battle.

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Vulnerability and Self-Awareness

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My biggest talent apart from dancing, singing and looking for trouble was hiding my emotions and protecting myself from any emotional trouble that I could. If you asked my friends and loved ones about me, they would say that I was strong, outspoken (I’m not really sure about this one), fun and always happy. I was all of that but deep down, I was afraid of being seen as weak, not capable, emotional, and generally scared of being vulnerable. However, as life started to happen, the power to do all those protecting began to lessen and I found that I became more anxious and scared of the outcome.

Towards the end of last year, I started to discover some incredible changes about myself. The changes showed in my behaviour, in liking what used to irritate me and in discovering weird pleasures.

So at the beginning of this year, I decided it was my year of self-discovery and being myself wholly. Exciting ride you might think…..not really. I realized that at the core of everything that was an issue for me lay the fear of being vulnerable. I realized that I fought vulnerability so much that I got tired and it started to win.

Bréne Brown puts vulnerability as “the ability to be seen”, and this is the hard part of it. You see, being vulnerable exposes our imperfections, fear, sadness generally emotions we are afraid to feel. It has always been the fear of people seeing through my emotions and imperfections that has scared me the most. It is the reason when I meet a guy and he is starting to know me well, I withdraw but then I want him to be open with me. At least that one I can handle. This reminds me again of Bréne Brown’s words, “Vulnerability paradox: It’s the first thing I look for in you, and the last thing I want you to see in me”. It’s in the fact that the people I care about are not scared to talk to me about their problems but I will cringe at the thought of it or until I’m about to explode with emotions.

In my journey of self-discovery and working on being myself, I’m realizing that it’s okay to feel vulnerable and be seen through the high walls that I have built, to express my feelings the way I feel it and not paint it like it’s not a bug deal when it is. And that showing my flaws and imperfections doesn’t make me less human. Being vulnerable exposes me to more hurt and disappointment, but it also creates a level of intimacy in relationships, reveals your genuineness and confidence in a beautiful way. Most importantly, it allows us to show and be more authentic versions of ourselves.

Criss Jami’s thoughts on vulnerability was striking, “To share your weakness is to make yourself vulnerable; to make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength”. Don’t ever associate weakness to yourself just because you show a level of vulnerability. To want to be seen, express and show thy true self is a rare display of strength and you should embrace it.

Earlier this year, my cousin while giving me a piece of her mind about my fear for showing vulnerability to anyone said “you have to know that it is okay to love someone and bare it all”. That pops up in my head sometimes and pushes me to show some doses of vulnerability.

So, I am allowing myself to feel and express emotions, and it’s a new level of freedom unlocked. In as much as I am trying to control my tear gland most of the times, I must say that I feel empowered now. As I work my way to different stages of unlocking my vulnerability (maybe I will tell the guy I’m tripping for how I really feel *fingers crossed*), you should know that it is beautiful to be/want to be vulnerable as it is the birthplace for true authenticity and show of one’s true self.

 

Life Lately: Mid Year review

Hey guys, hope you’ve been amazing? This is an open letter to apologise for my long absence from this place. Been dealing with a lot lately and I decided to just take the time out. Trying to finish strong in my MSc pursuit and the pressure has been intense I must say.

Also been dealing with insecurities in my writing (feels good to say this out loud). I started this year with so much topics on my notepad that I wanted to explore, wanting to get opinions on deeper issues that are close to my heart and share it on here. But the fear of whether it will resonate with people was strong, and also the fear of not getting it done exactly how I want it to be. But then it is in trying it out first and the people who will love it no matter how little they might be will.

Let’s get right into it, shall we?

Thankful: for life, family and friends that make it easier. Thankful for growth and for my Msc program so far. Finally submitted my dissertation!!! And I couldn’t be more thankful for that and even though this is just for internal review at least am happy I get to cancel that out and begin the journey to the end of this program.

Learning: that it is okay to be vulnerable and cry. I have been doing a lot of that lately and honestly am marvelled at how I became a cry baby overnight. My friends can testify to the fact that you would hardly see me cry but lately all it takes is a mushy scene in a movie and the waterworks starts. But am learning that it is okay to be and feel vulnerable, it doesn’t take away from how strong you are.

Binging on: Hillsong Worship. Started to listen to the songs on “there is more” album again and let me tell you that they are all amazing. My favourites has to be New Wine, So will I and Seasons.

Excited: About my short trip to Enugu. I have been making such a fuss about it just because I need a break before exams start and it’s my friend’s wedding as well!!! I am too excited about this and am going to eat everything in that state lol.

Reading:  TD Jakes “SOAR” and hoping that I finish it before my life gets busy again.

Wishing: That I could splurge on a vacation to Santorini, Greece with the LOML and just enjoy the city. But a girl is allowed to dream till my account balance can cooperate with my wishes.

In the Process: Of learning, unlearning and relearning most things in my life. Being more confident in myself and discovering the levels to my capacity is something I am learning. Unlearning that I cannot live my life by society’s standards. Relearning that peace of mind and joy should be cherished at all costs (post for another day).

Favourite Quote: By Breene Brown says “Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage”

Appreciating: Everyone that reads my blog even with how inconsistent I have been. People that have sent me messages to check up on what’s been going on. I love and appreciate our little family here.

How has your year been so far and what has been the major lesson you have learnt. You can drop them in the comments section below. Have a beautiful day…

Love and Light

Adanna

 

Dealing with Depression: An Interview with a friend that conquered.

I recently shared my story on how I dealt with depression here and I got a lot of messages from people on how they dealt with their own experience and it was overwhelming. Honestly, it was.  This is why I decided to start this series, to share stories of people who overcame this phase in their life and to reassure people going through it that they can come out of it and probably learn from real life experiences.

I put out on my social media platforms asking for people who had gone through depression and willing to share their story and my friend Oma immediately replied. i have been skeptical about putting this up cause i wanted her story to be well told and i hope you pick out one or two things if you are in this situation. So, here goes her story:

My name is Oma and I was depressed for a while. I was highly stressed to the maximum at work, spoken ruthlessly to by my boss and everything I did felt wrong. I became so scared of her and afraid of work. Most times when she’s done shouting and I have to respond, I won’t find words to answer her.

What made you realize that you were depressed?

I realized that I was depressed when I started to notice that i was becoming highly irritable and always anxious. I was always angry and wouldn’t want to talk to anyone about it. i wasn’t eating well and i was loosing interest in basic stuffs.

Did you speak to anyone and what were their reactions?

I spoke to a friend. And he was highly helpful, going through the phase with me. He told me ways to handle the situations, what to say and better ways to react to her. He never judged me as opposed to what every other person could have told me.

How did this affect your relationship with your loved ones?

I argued with my boyfriend a lot about everything, but I’m blessed to have someone that understood what was going on and was always there. I stopped going home because it didn’t appeal to me anymore and even when I went home, I just get to my room and sleep. I was just completely angry with everything and everyone.

What about relationship with yourself?

It affected my self-esteem and the way that I viewed things. I was able to get a hold on them before losing it completely.

Did suicide ever occur to you?

No, it didn’t. I felt alone….Yes, but not suicide.

Personally, how did you help yourself recover better?

I spoke to myself. I refused to be down. I was in a terrible place and tried to take out negativity on any one around. I decided to start speaking positive words to myself. Everyday i would speak to myself words of positivity and it helped me recover.

 

At the end of talking with her, one thing that stood out for me in this was how she started to speak positive words to herself. It goes to show how powerful the words we speak are and how much they edifies or break us down. For Oma, she saw it as building up what her boss had already broken in her with her words.

I have been friends with her for more than six years and I noticed she was withdrawn but she always said she was fine whenever I asked. I felt she was really fine and that maybe I was just panicking. You see those friends that claim to “be fine” or “very strong” or “always too happy”? Constantly check up on them. You never know what they are going through under that charade of “I’m fine”.

If you would love to share your own story, email me at atuonwuadanna@yahoo.com or at any of my social media platform at the left hand of the page.

 

Adanna Atuonwu

MSC Experience: Choosing to run an Msc program

Adanna AtuonwuOne semester later and I think am ready to write about how my Masters has changed my life so far. I will do a step by step gist for you on why I decided to go for a masters degree, finding myself in my school and my experiences so far. It will also be a rant because at some point I felt like getting on this degree was taking a huge toll on my life and making me miss opportunities I think I should have at the moment.

DECIDING TO APPLY

Before I start, I like to emphasize that you shouldn’t rush into doing a masters immediately after your first degree unless you are absolutely sure of what you want to do. This is because the program is too stressful for you to study what doesn’t interest you. During my one year NYSC program (NYSC is a compulsory one year program for Nigerian university graduates), I realized my first degree was not enough for me, it just didn’t satisfy me if that makes sense. At the end of four years, I started to ask myself “is that it?” I knew I wanted to do a follow up instantly from my first degree which was in Mass Communication. My interest in digital marketing had also grown as well and I just wanted to do a more hands on course. I needed a course that will satisfy all of this in a year and also in Nigeria and my friend suggested I check out my current school. I had also applied for jobs in the places where I was interested and I was turned down because “you are good enough but for our organization you need to get your masters before you can work here”. This ignited the want to pursue a master’s degree. Currently, am running a masters degree in Media and Communication with my major in Marketing Communications from Pan Atlantic University (PAU) in Lagos.

ADJUSTING TO THE PROGRAM

There was no space for adjusting because on my first day, I went home with an assignment that was due in two days. I remember laughing and thinking this people cannot be serious, and the next day we got an email reminding us of the assignment that was due the next day and I knew that I just landed myself into what I was not ready for. It stretched me from all angles and I remember early this year actually crying my eyes out in my room because I was just plain tired. Every week you are battling meeting assignment deadlines as well as not lagging behind in your dissertation proposal, all this with preparing for tests. Turnitin has been my present terror and honestly if you have tips on how to deal with it, a sister would really appreciate.

Exams came and I found myself constantly on caffeine and no sleep. As daunting as it sounds, building a tribe that share in the same struggles makes it easy. Every day that I had to go to school, I always consider the idea of just dropping out and you know given a degree for the one that I have read already. But just constantly reminding myself that it would be worth it pushes me to wake up and get dressed for the day.

ENJOYING THE EXPERIENCE

I have met people that have made me grow, and tasked my patience as well. It’s been interesting coming out of my comfort zone and being challenged. Meeting people who are eventually going to be big shots in the industry. Learning from people who have excelled in their fields and being given tips on how to survive in the field. Being allowed to share your opinions for me is one of the perks that I have enjoyed in this program. You get to exchange opinions with your lecturer and given real life problems to solve, for me it’s exciting as tasking as it is.

Am always complaining about how stressful the program is and looking forward to the end of it. But, it is rewarding in the skills that you learn and in the attributes that you begin to hone without realizing it. It is rewarding in the people that you meet and in the memories that you create in the stress of the moment.

If you’ve done your masters or currently running one, how are you coping and what tips do you have to share…..