Am I Ever Enough?

Between the people involved in making sure that I get the adequate support before returning to University in September and having a meltdown, I think it is safe to say I have not had the greatest start to the year.

After watching a motivational video from one of my favourite spoken word artists, Nego True, honestly, I am not sure how I feel. Not that I am even supposed to feel anything, but putting the issue of success to one side for one moment I found that this video tapped into my biggest insecurity – self-worth. I will hold my hands up and admit I do not believe I am worthy of anything; love, affection, gifts, you name it! In my head, I do not deserve it. However, I strive to make sure everyone around me knows that they are worth everything the world has to offer and if you ever start to believe otherwise, I will be the first to shower you with praises and reassure you that you are destined for greatness.

I am a hypocrite, I know. As much as possible, I try to uplift people close to me who talk down about themselves. It breaks me to see them in that state. But when you try to uplift me when I talk down about myself, I will tell you it is too late. I feel I am only deserving of pain and just learning to live with it. My heart pangs a little, but this is what I truly believe and for the longest time, I did everything to make sure I got pain because that is what I subdued my worth to. Whether I am physically harming myself in some way or constantly telling myself how worthless I am (to the point where I refuse to look in the mirror), I would rather result to self-pity than hate what I see. Even worse than this, I absolutely hate to be doted on in every sense of the word. Do not make me the centre of attention. Do not spend money on me (this goes as far as my family). Let me look after you in every way, be there for you and, as delusional as it sounds, take away your pain. I feel this is where my worth is.

Admittedly, I am probably a leech. I find it strange how my friends deal with me. I guess I have some good in me after all.

The other thing Nego spoke about that touched me was the issue of perfection and planning. Now, I cannot plan for the life of me. Ordinarily, you would think I plan everything to the last detail, but as long as I can figure out how I can get there and if I can get inside, planning evades me. I am what my cousin calls a Panster (Google it), but when it comes to writing I am meticulous and everything has to be perfect (seeing the link to my self-worth yet?)

I have been writing spoken word poems for as long as I can remember, but till this day, I am yet to gain enough courage to jump on stage owing to my social anxiety and my issue with vulnerability. Come to think of it, I always thought last year was a disaster, but having the opportunity to meet Nego True (Yo! I had to maintain a high level of composure that day) and discussing my issue with vulnerability, it was not as bad as I thought!

Know what he told me? There is no such thing as being too vulnerable. If people react, you have most likely struck a chord. And most of all, “Just close your eyes and hit send”. A part of me wishes I remembered this when I had the opportunity to perform at the end of last year. I wish to be this confident a-person, and the fictional character in my head is everything I aspire to be, yet the mere sight of happiness or even the warmest feeling makes me want to flee because I still stand in this mental cage that constantly repeats, “I am not worthy”.

My challenge for us this month? Close your eyes and hit send. Be open with where you are right now and what you are going through. Yes you may get some negative responses, but take pride in the fact that you tried. A step further? Tell yourself every day, “I love myself”. I will probably cringe trying to do this, but I will try.

ABOUT BLESSING ODUKOYA: On all fours is how her life began; Growing into a young adult in the past is where she remains; Occasionally sitting on two wheels; She saw life through a different lens but her strive to be the same was almost her end game; Failing to see past her self inflicted pain; They undoubtedly became best friends; Only to realise society didn’t live up to her standards anyway.

Is the Occurrence of a Mental Illness Random?

How people acquire a mental illness still remains a mystery.

Is it communicable? Is it spiritual? Is it a curse? Is it hereditary? Or does it have to do with an imbalance in our neuro-chemicals? With so many different theories out there, it is hard to know which one is widely accepted.

I will not claim to have the answers to these burdening questions, but I will shed some light based on my experience working in mental health institutions. Therefore, the contents of this article are strictly my opinion.

The occurrence of mental illnesses is not random! Let me explain. I have had the privilege of examining the mental state of people from both the spiritual and scientific angles.  At times, there is a need to eliminate life experiences and attribute the cause to certain conditions of the brain or spiritual problems. There is a psychological model called the diathesis-stress model which explains that someone may have a vulnerability to a mental health issue. The diathesis, for example, can be an early childhood trauma or a parent who suffered from mental illness. This predisposition would then need to interact with a life event (the stress) which could trigger the onset of a mental disorder. Some of these life events could be a breakdown in one’s marriage, the death of a loved one, etc. There are also protective factors that shield one from acquiring a mental illness such as a secure attachment with a childhood caregiver, employment, etc. Most times, these mental illnesses, triggered by these life events, manifest from the onset and impinge gradually until they become more serious.

We cannot treat mental health the same way as physical health. You cannot just treat the ‘illness’ or symptoms and forget about the individual. Mental health is personal and no two people are the same, even if they both have the same diagnosis. When we shift our perspective of mental health to the individual, this changes what treatment should be available for recovery. Certain clinical methods need to be prescribed so that one can fully understand their life story and how various factors may have contributed to their current state. An example of this is psychotherapy. It can be scary but also empowering because it gives the power to the individuals and makes them realize that they probably are not crazy or their brain decided to randomly stop functioning. Usually, the brain responds to the environment. If there were stressful life events, it may have manifested in the functioning of the brain.

I am a firm believer in not seeing people with mental illnesses as their clinical labels; Schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, OCD, etc. I understand there are important descriptors to diagnose and implement the correct treatment. However, I believe we need to look beyond these labels to see the human being underneath. So, instead of seeing someone as only a mentally ill person, maybe we can say they are human beings going through a mentally ill experience.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kawthar is a psychology graduate currently working as a research assistant in mental health in the UK. She plans become a qualified clinical psychologist in the near future. She is passionate about removing the stigma around mental health and also examining the cultural and social context in which a person’s mental health evolves from.

Standing in my Truth

Living with depression and anxiety is one thing, but add a disability to it and you have what some would call a recipe for disaster. This is my life as it stands! Before you ask, nothing happened. I was born with the inability to walk, and you know the crazy thing? I love it! Yes, I have my days, but overall I would not have it any other way. I am growing to be the opinionated, big spirited and unapologetically smart-mouthed tomboy I was born to be. After two suicide attempts, a long history of self-harm, and struggling to live according to everyone’s standards and expectations of me, I have had no choice but to be me.

I am not here to prove myself to you or glorify how great my life is because that would be a lie. I am here in hope that you seek some solace in my words because growing up, all I wanted was for someone to make sense of what was happening to me; tell me that I was not crazy and that there was possibly a deeper reason to why I would come home from school to cry for hours then proceed not to eat for hours because nothing was appetising to me, or I just could not move from my bed. Most of all, I just wanted someone to tell me it was okay to be me in every sense of the word.

I am here to take your hand. You will feel me cry through my words. I swear to you, it is the simple act of writing that has saved me one too many times. So, if you are reading my words, know that you are providing me with a release, and in a sense, you are saving me from the demons that depressions and anxiety have forced me to see. I know it is a confusing place to be in because at times I struggle to explain what is happening to me, but know it is fine not to understand. The thing to never forget is to speak; either to someone or getting it out in the correct way. Go for a run, sing, listen to music, or even breathe. Just do not let it lock you in. I say this from experience as someone who stayed mute for eight years. I cried silently at night (I actually mastered the art of making tears fall, but not making a single sound), starved myself repeatedly, and went to the gym and exercised to the point where black spots were behind my eyes and I was close to passing out. I even stabbed myself on numerous occasions and had violent meltdowns to the point that I forgot where I was and did not know who was around me. Strangely, all these happened secretly for eight years and I ignored it, playing it down like it was normal.

It will catch up with you, I promise. Oh no, I am not saying this to scare you, but simply because it always happens (it happened to me).  Depression sees no age, gender or ability. It sets up shop and grows till it blows and by that point, it is unavoidable. It took me owning the situation to fight it so all I say is, find what works for you and conquer it slowly. That might include taking drastic steps like I had to when I decided to take a gap year from university and restructure my life so I can breathe, or taking smaller steps like spotting signs and coming to terms with it. I am here to make sure you know you are not alone. Whether you are new to this, been living with a mental illness for a while, or know someone who is suffering from it, I am here to tell you it is okay and there is light at the end of the tunnel, even if it is dim. The year 2016 could very well have been the finish line for me, but I am somehow living to tell my tale.

Oh, and do not get it twisted, you will definitely laugh with me too! This journey is not all doom and gloom, as I am known for getting myself into questionable situations. So, prepare for tears of laughter too. We will smile through this.

Stay beautiful.

ABOUT BLESSING ODUKOYA: On all fours is how her life began; Growing into a young adult in the past is where she remains; Occasionally sitting on two wheels; She saw life through a different lens but her strive to be the same was almost her end game; Failing to see past her self inflicted pain; They undoubtedly became best friends; Only to realise society didn’t live up to her standards anyway.

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