When a lot of people, in Nigeria, hear someone mention, “mental health/illness”, they think “insanity”, and that to them is, “naked, aggressive and roaming the street” but that is an uninformed conclusion, as many with neatly carved beards and polished nails are mentally sick, without most people knowing because they do not manifest the expected symptoms.
Much secrecy surrounding the topic and its under-estimated relevance in the Nigerian society hasn’t helped the ignorance swimming around either, even though specialists in the field have said 2 in 5 people in Nigeria is/will battling/battle a mental illness.
This growing poet’ acceptance, with the possibility of much backlash and stigmatization presents another opportunity for action. Here is his story:
The day I walked into a psychiatric hospital I saved myself. There will always be stigma surrounding mental illness, you are not responsible for how people feel towards you, you are responsible for you and sometimes it is is difficult to block out words from other people but try because at the end of the day you are the one facing the music.
Before I sought for help I was battling my illness with alcohol, cigarettes, and marijuana. There were days I couldn’t sleep, I was so high that life felt useless and there were days when I was so low that it felt useless too. My high days were terrifying because I usually make decisions on impulse, I could go clubbing and spend all my cash and trek home, most times I hate my aloneness so I pay a girl just to watch her sleep. The day I went into a manic state, I haven’t slept for ten days, my eyes were red, I have just been given four drips to washed my system because I tried overdosing. That day I woke up by 2AM and tried walking out of the compound barefooted, the guard said I was murmuring words and agitated, he ordered me back to my room where I was taken to the staff clinic by my roommate. I was given Diazepam to relax my mind, then a colleague escorted me to Benin where I went to the psychiatric hospital to seek for help. I could talk about my mental health online but I’ve never told my siblings or anyone close to me about it, I was ashamed, to many I was brave but to me I was weak, broken, something that can’t be whole and so I went deeper into alcohol. At the hospital the welfare officer called my sister, she has just put to birth so I can only imagine the stress my illness will put on her, when I spoke with her later she showed so much love, my younger brother came to stay with me, a family friend who’s a nurse at the hospital abandoned her leave and made sure I was okay, some friends were always calling, showing me love. Some friends sent me money and we were able to raise the cash for a month admission, at the end I didn’t get to stay for a month, they said I did well so they let me out.
Living with mental illness can be difficult, I take my medications religiously, I have to avoid making decisions on impulse because I want to be sure I’m the one making it and not the illness talking. Most times I look at people’s eyes, especially those that know and try to see if they are judging me. I know I didn’t create myself, I didn’t make myself like this. So I have the feeling that I can survive this and live my life fully. I can be whatever I want to be.