No Shame

It hasn’t always been easy to accept my condition; its perks and limitations. It wasn’t always easy to accept that I am different. I didn’t always have the courage to start a mental health conversation.

Coming out of the mental illness closet is as scary for me as it for anyone else. People begin to doubt you. They question your judgment. They discount your opinion. And begin to use your condition as a tool against you. All of which are NOT OKAY.

I know what depression feels like. I know what it’s like to have thoughts so wild in your head that they feel like individual voices. I know what it feels like to cry ceaselessly for days for no reason whatsoever. And I know what it is to be suicidal.

But you know what’s most important? That I know what it feels like to feel alone in this. I know the misery that accompanies not being understood or feeling like you need to prove you are ill. I have felt the emptiness of not having someone to share my candid experience with.

That is why I choose to speak. I choose to lend my voice. I choose to listen. I bear #NoShame living with more than one mental illness and I implore every one reading this to create a safe environment for people to speak about mental health. End the stigma by asking questions. Let us who live with the illness tell you about it. Do not criticize what you don’t understand.

Finally, everyone living with a mental illness has a right to recover at their own pace. You need not jump out of the closet if you are not ready. There is no pressure whatsoever. But know this, WE BELIEVE YOU. YOU ARE NOT YOUR ILLNESS. YOU ARE A SYMBOL OF STRENGTH. AND YOU ARE #NOTALONE

Big thanks to The Siwe Project for this brilliant initiative. #NoShameDay

Mental Health Matters: Let’s Break The Silence Africa

As part of the run up to World Mental Health Day, Aware Africa, a Nigerian owned mental health awareness platform, ran a social media campaign – #MentalHealthMatters #LetsBreakTheSilenceAfrica – calling all mental health enthusiasts to lend a voice to mental health in Africa. Our founder took to our Instagram page to lend her voice.

Here’s what she had to say –

My name is Hauwa and I believe #MentalHealthMatters. #LetsBreakTheSilenceAfrica.

I choose to speak because I know firsthand what it means to live with a mental disorder. I know what it means to be misunderstood. I can relate to anyone who is in denial or confused with the voices they hear and things they see. I know what #psychosis, #delusions and #paranoia feel like. I have had my fair share of #panicattacks and extreme #mood cycles. #Suicidal? You’re not alone.

Most of all, I know what stigma feels like and the many forms it comes in. Your judgment being questioned, your opinions discounted and utter derogatory statements and actions towards you. Mental health is not an easy topic, but how can we continue to swear the oath of silence when suicide rates are spiking and more and more people fall into the troughs of #depression, #anxiety, #bipolar, psychosis and the likes.

I speak for everyone like me and everyone who chooses to damn the consequences. #LetsBreakTheSilenceAfrica

Let’s Just Be Who We Really Are

Shola is hearing voices and having bloody hallucinations. Her parents have completely made her feel like she is overreacting. ‘Just strengthen your relationship with God and stop listening to your body so much’, they say. Since everyone else seems to make light of the situation, she now thinks that she may actually be overreacting. So Shola keeps her problems to herself and decides to ‘pull it together’.

Nnenna can’t make sense of the fact that she wakes up every night crying hysterically. Of course, she has to stomach that unexplained pain weighing on her and ensure that Mama doesn’t hear her sobbing in the dark. You see, Nnenna keeps having nightmares and flashbacks of the nights Uncle Chudi hurriedly entered her room. With one hand raised and one finger on his mouth, Nnenna knew there was no escape. He had been providing for Mama, herself and her younger ones ever since papa died. Mama let out a heavy sigh the day Nnenna told her of Uncle’s escapades. And that was it.

Everything seems to be going well for Hadiza. She works at a top finance company and has a man that loves her so much. Her family, like any other, has its challenges, but everything is looking good. But what are these bouts that plunge Hadiza to extreme happy moods that have her spending 6 figures a day and craving sexual adventures from any man that so much as smiles at her. The confusing bit is when all these sudden go away and she dives into at a low that makes wonder if life’s worth living.

Shola, Nnenna and Hadiza are three Nigerian women who live with mental disorders – schizophrenia, PTSD and bipolar respectively – and need answers. Rather than keeping their confusions and mystery to themselves in the midst of self-denial and denial from loved ones, there is a SAFEPLACE these lovely ladies can take masks off, rip off the fake smiles and be who they really are.

Finally, there is a safe place that holds love, hope and support. The first mental health support group in Nigeria, we can all feel safe among the misfits.

To be notified about our next SAFE PLACE, please subscribe HERE.

I Am Suicidal, But I’m Not A Coward

I never really understood what it meant to be suicidal or have suicidal thoughts. Why and how would anyone try to end their life? It just didn’t add up. Life cannot be that bad.  Well, that’s one way to look at things. Frankly speaking, that is the way many of us have been conditioned to look at suicide in relation with mental health.

Maybe that was why I panicked when I started hearing voices in me telling me that perhaps dying was the best solution. Just before you try judging me, know this. Why would I panic if I was the one simply telling myself? It should be no news for me then.

You see, when you panic by the very thought that something in you is considering death as a way out, it can only mean that the thought did not truly originate from ‘you’. Are we still together?

So I panicked! Had I reached that point? That very unfathomable point? Were things that bad? Yes and no, things were not/extremely bad.

So I jumped off my bed that cool January afternoon and I began to cry hysterically. I kept pacing and pacing. Minutes passed, hours passed, but I kept pacing. These thoughts had somehow been lingering for about six months but the voices were getting louder. I remember telling a friend that, ‘I don’t want to kill myself, I just wish I had a car accident and died’. You can imagine his response. He was angry at me? “Why should you wish such on yourself?”

I didn’t know. I (still) don’t know.

Suicide is such a complex conversation that might require me truly and deeply having a one on one with anyone who chooses to be cynical about it. Thing is, I was once like that person. Insensitive, with a complete and utter lack of empathy. I just couldn’t understand why you should want to end your life, and yet I once did, and maybe I am still trying to save myself from suicidal thoughts.

World Suicide Prevention Day is such a personal day for anyone who has felt suicidal and anyone who has lost some to suicide. It’s a mix of liberation, acceptance and confusion all at once. So pardon me if I still stutter when speaking about suicide, I barely escaped it. Pardon me if it’s hard to listen to cynical comments from bystanders on social media pages.

I know too well what it means to fight against yourself every day. I too have seen and dwelt in the darkness. I am still suicidal. I can’t explain it so please don’t ask me to. I want to live so badly, but something keeps holding me back. So I fight through every day. Some days better than others, but I fight. Simply existing is hard for me, and I know that may be hard for you to comprehend.

So no, suicidal people are not cowards, they are fighters. They make it through everyday crying and fighting their way through. Those who we have lost to suicide are not cowards either, they fought the good fight, but we don’t win all battles.

If you are suicidal, I won’t bore with the whole “it gets better speech”, I don’t know for sure. What I do know is that you don’t have to be alone in this. Let me share in your confusion. Let the mystery daze us all. But let us do it together. Don’t walk this lonely road alone. I want in.

Can Mental Illness Ever Be Stigma Free?

Growing up, the picture I had of a mentally ill person was the man at the waste dump area dressed shabbily and picking items from the trash. That was what ‘mad’ meant. We were conditioned to believe that he had been condemned to such a life due to his own wickedness and iniquities. I am not the only one with that picture. Though statistics may not come to my aid on this one, I strongly believe that more than 70% of Nigerians (the most populous country in Africa) fall in line with my assertion. Which begs the question; can mental illness truly be stigma free?

How do I begin to explain to my people that a lifelong generational misconception is rooted in utter ignorance? That what we thought was a punishment from witchcraft was in fact a result of chemical imbalances in the brain? Make no mistake, this is not limited to the African belief, it presents itself differently across race, culture, nationality, religious beliefs, gender and sexual/social orientation.

Having experienced firsthand the depths of major depressive disorder and a spectrum of anxiety, I wonder how I may begin to explain to anyone who has been fortunate to have escaped the grasp of faulty neurotransmitters in their brains. In the mental illness community, we often say that “You don’t understand, and I can’t explain”.

Common misconceptions that depression is synonymous with sadness, and happiness is the opposite, only make the dialogue harder. Depression is in fact nothing like sadness, and the opposite, in essence, is more like vitality. In addition, careless misuse of mental illness lingua – like “the weather is so bipolar” and “I swear she’s a neat freak, she’s so OCD” – only belittle the severity of the illness. It’s a mystery that we don’t easily hear such about other more ‘physical’ illnesses. When a huge part of the population still believe that mental illnesses are self-afflicted and can be overcome by ‘bucking up’, we are still a long way to go. Let’s not even get started on the faith communities not doing enough to displace the ideology that faith and mental illnesses cannot coexist in a body.

Since mental illnesses are still seen as a sign of weakness, how can men – whom have been conditioned to rise above any form of weakness – even admit to such, when the very fabric of their masculinity may just be questioned, further tugging on stigmatization.

I could go on and on, but my point is clear. There is a whole lot to be done in and outside the mental health community. The first step would be to EDUCATE the general public on what indeed mental illnesses are; their causes, how to seek help and be of help. One does not assume if one knows. The second step is to ENCOURAGE people living with mental illnesses to take back their narrative and indeed speak up. To join hands with advocacy groups and mental health bodies to speak openly about mental illnesses. We need to give mental illness a voice, and who best to do that than those who actually live with these illnesses. The third step will be to ENGAGE government, faith, gender-based and professional bodies in strategically pushing mental health related campaigns and directing funds and attention to actively include mental health as a priority in general health and wellbeing.

Like many other causes, we have barely begun to scratch the surface.