Today I want to get really deep and personal with you all about an illness I battled during the darkest period of my life. Whether or not you are a stranger to me, I hope my story helps to shed some light about the reality of mental illness and its gravity; how deeply and seriously it can affect someone’s health and even threaten their life.
One terrifying thing about mental illness and the multiple faces it has (i.e bipolar, PTSD, clinical depression, schizophrenia, anxiety, ADHD e.t.c) is that its damage is something you can’t see with your naked eye. If someone was to physically hurt you, you can easily show people the scars they left on your body and point at the red and purple bruises on your body as evidence and say ‘I was harmed here and here as well’. Mental illness on the other hand, leaves behind invisible scars because its psychological and depending on how much damage has already been done to your body, it can drive a person to hurt themselves or to take their life out of desperation. It’s a disease that eats at you slowly and painfully, and I pray anyone battling with any form of mental illness will be able to defeat their ugly demons and live a peaceful and joyful life.
So, for those of you who did not know this about me I was diagnosed with clinical depression in 2016.
Clinical depression is the severe form of depression (also known as major depression or major depressive disorder). It has many symptoms such as an individual experiencing deep feelings of sadness, hopelessness, they experience difficulty concentrating or focusing or something, they experience many blank outs, loss of interest in the things they love doing, physical pain (headaches, back & stomach pains), suicidal thoughts and so many other symptoms which cause significant impairment in daily life. All these symptoms arise when there’s been an alteration of certain neural circuits in the brain which causes an imbalance of certain chemicals and hormones in your body. Depending on your diagnosis, you may or may not need to take oral medication to balance the chemicals and hormones in your body before they spiral and cause deeper/semi-permanent damages to your body.
The most common misconception about depression is that you have it when you feel emotions of ‘sadness’. This is not true because everyone in life is bound to experience some lows and feelings of sadness or experience some heartbreak or loss. Although in most cases, a traumatic event must have taken place in someone’s life in order to trigger the illness. However, depression can be much deeper than its cause/source and I’ll help you understand this as you getter deeper into this read.
I coward from writing about this topic on my blog for many reasons. However, for the first time since the many years I had to silently battle depression and coming to terms with the fact that I needed help and seeking help, getting treatment and finally killing my demons, it feels right for me to write about it.
Before I share my experience, I want people to understand that before you judge an individual for not getting help when they needed it, it is very difficult for such individual to talk about something they are struggling to understand themselves or to seek medication for an illness they didn’t even know existed. This was the case for me and many others I have had the chance to talk to personally that battled clinical depression.
So where to start?
How about I start from the very incident that shook my core and made me question everything about my life but helped convince me that something was truly wrong with me and I needed help. It was the lowest point in my life because I felt truly helpless and hopeless and thought I no longer had a place or a purpose on earth. It was scary because I wanted out from life and just felt really done.
It was my final year of uni and on this particular day, I had an Equity and Trust law exam to write. I can’t recall how I started my morning that day due to the events that later transpired and broke me. If I had been hanging by a very thin thread, the thing that happened to me on the day of my exam snapped that thread and I finally came shattering.
So, on the day of my Equity and Trust law exam, I arrived at the exam hall on time and prepared to write my paper. I glanced over at my Portuguese male friend/study partner, who was sat a few tables away from me and raised my thumb to wish him good luck before taking my sit. The invigilator went over the familiar exam rules and a few other assistant invigilators started to share the question papers and when they were done, the main invigilator told us our time had started. I said a silent prayer before looking down at my blank answer sheet and the cover page of my question paper. I wrote down my ID number, said bismillah and flipped the page to the first question…or should I say to the moment and incident that was to change my life?
As soon as my eyes rested on the first question, wallahi I felt something weigh down on my head and I lost sight for a few seconds. If I had to guess how long I lost my sight for I’d say 3 seconds. It was like a ball of white light was inserted in my eyes. I couldn’t see anything except white light for what felt like three seconds. When that happened my heartbeat skyrocketed because I didn’t understand what was happening to me. After the light disappeared, the words on the question paper became mere letters; I couldn’t make sense of one word.
I, Hasiya Altine Nagode who has always held a book in her hand for the better and longest part of her life. I, Hasiya Altine Nagode who valued reading and loved being gifted books as a child and would spend my fun and free times reading, couldn’t for the first time in her life read or make sense of a single world. No matter how much I try today to describe how I felt, I don’t think anyone can really understand how I felt at that moment. I was terrified. It felt like I had lost my one and only ability. My hand started to tremble and my pen slipped from my hand and I tried to pick it up again but my hand was terribly shaky.
So I left the pen, closed my eyes and started to pray. I’ve prayed to God DESPERATELY for so many things in my life before that day, but I don’t think I’ve ever been that desperate with a supplication as I was at that moment on my exam seat. I didn’t want to fail. My whole world and everything I valued in my life was already crumbling and I didn’t want my education to crumble as well. It was my final year and final paper and unfortunately because it was a core module, the paper accounted for a significant percentage of my final grade. If I didn’t pass that paper, that would be it and gone would be my hopes of graduating with the grade I wanted. My eyes started to tear and my heart and soul called out to God..please God I don’t want this to happen to me. I didn’t want to be a failure. I didn’t want to be a disappointment to my family. I couldn’t read what was in front of me talk less of trying to understand what was being required of me. PLEASE, PLEASE Ya Allah make the words make sense to me.
I started to pick some words but I couldn’t connect them to make sense. I literally ran my fingers through every word and tried to spell and make sense of their meaning. I looked up from my paper with fright and surveyed my surrounding to see if everything still looked right in the room, but then my eyes stopped at my friend’s desk and I saw how quickly he was writing and my heart broke. I shook my head and tried to clear my head, took deep breaths, tried to slow my rapid heartbeat and went back to the first question. Tawakkul Altine. God will get you through this. My eyes ran through each word again but wallahi I still couldn’t make sense of anything. I later told myself I would return to that particular question and attempt other questions but the same thing happened.
I did not understand what was happening to me but whatever was wrong with me, I told myself I wasn’t going to leave the hall without writing down something on my answer sheet. Even if it was an essay question, I must write everything I knew about the topic. At my panicked state I could still recall some of the things I studied the whole year and I was going to write them all down (whether or not it related to the question I couldn’t read) but when I picked up my pen again to write, it hit me that I also couldn’t write. I had lost my ability to write and construct a single sentence. I had the sentence of what I wanted to write clearly in my head but I just couldn’t write it.
My hand started to tremble a lot worse. I couldn’t even write the letter A. I tried to spell out my name and I also couldn’t do that. This thing I’m recounting to you actually happened to me. ME and not some character in a book. I wish I could say it was a lie but this is one of the ways that depression affects you physically; you are unable to carry out the most basic and most simplest of activities. For example if you want to eat, you can’t eat. If you want to go to the restroom you can’t move your body. Your mind is telling you to go, but the part of your brain that sends a message for your limbs to move is temporarily not working. With depression in particular, some irregular neural activities take place in your brain which could disrupt other functions/circuits in your body. It’s a terrifying thing and I experienced it for the first time at the worst possible time.
When I was in the exam hall I couldn’t understand at the time what was happening to me. I just felt finished. I felt so helpless and I knew I was done. The only thing I knew for sure was that something was wrong with me (I couldn’t read or write and I literally went blind for like three seconds with my eyes wide open). Before that day, almost every night I would cry myself to sleep and I always told myself and tried to convince myself I was okay. Whatever pain I was enduring, I told myself it was going to be okay in the end. I believed that. I really wanted to believe that but at that moment in the exam hall, I truly lost hope. I didn’t believe things would end up being good for me. To cut the story short, I ended up not writing a single word on my exam paper. I think I doodled some weird lines whilst trying to write some letters and my name but besides that nothing else. I couldn’t cry. I felt numb. I sat there staring at my blank answer sheet with my pen in my hand and I couldn’t think of anything. I couldn’t feel anything. I was an empty soul in an empty body.
Finally, I heard the invigilator say the exam was over and we should all stop writing. I remember laughing at that statement and I immediately felt resentment for myself. Why was I laughing? My life was done and I was there laughing? I felt disgusted at myself and the failure that I was. I got up and bolted straight to the restroom. I didn’t wait for my friend. I didn’t wait for the invigilator to collect my paper. I just bolted for the exit door.
I found the closest female restroom and locked myself inside the toilet and it was then I finally broke down. I slumped to the ground and cried my eyes out. I didn’t know I had that much water stored inside my body. I felt completely shattered. At some point I started gasping for air because I couldn’t breathe and it was a horrible horrible feeling. I wanted to die. I didn’t even try to search for my inhaler in my bag. I truly gave up on life at that moment and no longer wanted to exist. I didn’t care about anything or anyone. I cried my heart and soul out. I can’t remember how long I sat on the floor for but it felt like a really long time. After a while, it occurred to me that even though I felt dead inside, I was still very much alive on the outside and I had to get out of the toilet and continue living my shitty life. I remember walking out of the toilet room and it felt like I was just hovering over the place. I couldn’t even feel my feet on the ground. I felt so light-headed but still felt heavily weighed down by something. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I didn’t want to speak to my mum who I knew would be eager to hear my feedback about the paper. I just wanted to go home and hopefully a bus would hit me and erase me from the surface of the earth.
However, for some strange reason I found myself knocking on the door of my Equity and Trust law Professor’s office. I’ve never been to her office before so I don’t even know how I found myself there. Perhaps and perhaps I didn’t ask people along the way for directions. I honestly couldn’t remember any of it. All I knew was that I was knocking on the door with the name of my equity and trust law professor and she welcomed me in. She got up from her seat with a huge smile plastered on her face and asked how my paper was? She and I had spoken a number of times before in the lecture hall and in our seminar rooms but never in her office.
When she got a good look of my face, her smile fell and I broke down again at the sight of her smile changing because of me. I was a pathetic sight. I honestly couldn’t believe I could cry some fresh tears after my break down in the bathroom. In between my sniffs, I told her I didn’t know what happened to me in the exam room but I lost my ability to read or write after experiencing the blindness of white light for a few seconds. Trust me even I knew how crazy I sounded. She tried to make sense of what I was saying and asked if I had prepared for the exam and I told her yes. She sat me down and told me to calm down, that unfortunate events like that happened from time to time and what happened to me could give rise to an extenuating circumstance and I could be given the opportunity to retake the exam as though it was my first time. She started to tell me some story about a student or some kid who had some extenuating circumstances and re-took her papers. She asked if I had been seeing a therapist to discuss some issues in my life.
Therapist? You would think I was hearing the word for the very first time. It sounded very strange. Why would I need a therapist? People came to me to share their problems it doesn’t happen the other way round; I hardly open up to people. As a matter of fact, my siblings and parents had sat me down a couple of times in the past to share their concerns about me; that I’m very distant and don’t talk to anyone or let anyone in. I can never forget the day my sister sat me down and was crying to me that nobody knew what was going on in my mind and it scared them because they were my family and didn’t really know me. If I didn’t talk to my family, people I knew actually cared about me, why would I talk to a therapist and share my problems with a complete stranger?
I told my lecturer I’ve never seen a therapist in my life. She heaved a deep sigh at my reply and I knew something was wrong. She mentioned it would be difficult to claim extenuating circumstances if I don’t have a record or history of seeing a therapist to discuss some of my existing issues. She mentioned the worst case was I would have to re-sit the paper and get the lowest grade for it even if I aced it. She wrote down a phone number and advised I go see one of the university’s certified counsellors; the service was free and could help push my case forward to the exam board. What was happening to my life? How did my life go from 30 to -7000?
On my walk back to the train station, I ran into a guy I had spoken to a few times I studied alone in the Library. I dreaded running into him because I had spent weeks trying to avoid him in the library; he had been trying to ask me out and I kept turning him down in return. It was the last moment I wanted to see him or anyone else I knew for that matter. I pretended I didn’t see him and just walked past him. He kept shouting my name but I just kept walking until he ran and stopped right in front of me and blocked my path.
I looked up at him and he knew I didn’t have to say anything to let him know something was wrong. He begged me to have coffee with him at a café around the corner of the station and close to were we stood. For the first time since I started uni, I didn’t feel like turning down another person’s invite. The last thing I wanted was to be alone in my apartment; I didn’t trust myself or any other strange thing that could happen to me. I still felt very dead inside and dreaded the conversation I was yet to have with my parents.
I agreed to have coffee with him and when we were settled down, he asked what happened to me. I explained everything to him and he listened very attentively. He didn’t look at me like I was crazy or with suspicious eyes. Honestly, if I didn’t experience the thing myself I probably would have doubted the truth if I heard it from another person’s mouth. The more I recounted what happened to people, the more it sounded crazy to my ears. After a long period of silence, he stared me deep in the eye and whispered he could help me. I stared blankly at him. How in the world could he help me? Could he rewind the hands of time and check me into a hospital to do a brain scan? Could he make me disappear? I didn’t believe anybody could help my situation. All anyone could do was feel sorry for me.
Now if you think I had a crazy day, wait until you hear what this guy said to me. I knew he was an intelligent tech guy based on the few interactions we had in the past, but then he started to open up to me about some things he had done in the past. He confessed some academic crimes and told me he could hack into the system and give me a grade I wanted but because I had already spoken to my lecturer, things would be difficult. I’m sorry what? When did my life become a movie in one day? He’s got to be joking but the intensity in his eyes said otherwise.
It wasn’t until I had that chat with him that I knew there were different shades and levels of fear. In the exam room I had felt terror but this guy who was sat across me and was confessing some of his academic crimes and telling me he could do something illegal for me, made me feel a different type of fear I had never felt before. I tried to play it cool and told him I didn’t need him to do that for me and that I would happily bear my cross and dance in my fire.
One thing I was grateful to him for though was when he told me he wanted to be by my side, when I call my dad to break the news to him that I failed my paper. Heaven knows it was the last conversation I looked forward to having; I could already imagine the many things he could say to me out of disappointment and disbelief. We went back to the uni and sat in one of the quiet rooms and he reassured me that everything was going to be okay and that he was right there if I needed anything. I brought out my phone and my hand started to shake but I managed to dial my dad’s number but he collected the phone and ended the call. I looked up at him and he asked me if I would prefer he speaks to my dad instead because I was shaking. I thought it was very thoughtful of him but I told him no, it was a conversation I had to have with him myself. He nodded and returned my phone and watched and listened as I tried to explain to my dad what happened to me.
As you can imagine that conversation with my dad did not go very well. I broke down for the third time that day and the guy didn’t know what to do. He tried his best to console me with his words. He mentioned how he didn’t like seeing me cry and out of desperation he just started cracking some random crazy jokes and for the first time since waking up that day, I could truly smile and laugh. Even though he was a crazy guy, I realised his company was exactly what I needed at that moment and once again I started having faith that maybe Allah hasn’t forsaken me completely. He’s sending people my way to remind me that I’m not alone and I’d get through whatever was wrong with me.
The next day I booked an appointed to talk to one of the uni’s certified counsellors and the talk I had with her taught me 3 things. The first is that there’s nothing heavier than unsaid words. The second thing is that it is extremely therapeutic talking to people; I could for the first time understand why people would for example come up to me and share their problems with me. It’s not that I’m special or a good listener or something. There is actually some relief and comfort you get from speaking to someone about your problems instead of bottling them inside and letting them eat you up slowly from the inside. The third thing I learnt that day was that I had clinical depression.
When I arrived at her office, the counsellor mentioned she received a report from my lecturer and wanted to hear from me what happened in the exam hall. I recounted everything and she also listened very attentively. The next question she asked me surprised me very much. She asked when last I slept and how long was the longest sleep I had. How??? How many minutes in and she was already seeing through me? My insomnia was something I had kept secret and didn’t share with anyone. I would go 2-3 days straight without sleeping or napping and when I did sleep it would be for just 3-4 hours. She started to make some notes.
She later explained that the momentary white blindness I experienced in the exam hall could have been a side effect of the insomnia. She mentioned my body must have been put under a lot of stress and reached its limit and triggered that reaction/response in the exam hall. She then asked permission to ask some deeper questions to get to the root of my problem because insomnia was a symptom of many other illnesses. She asked why I wasn’t sleeping. I opened up to her and told her I was afraid of going to sleep because I always had terrible nightmares and weird dreams.
Just to explain, one of the common symptoms for people that are diagnosed with depression is that they have a sleeping disorder. Some people have chronic insomnia and can go days without sleeping whilst others could sleep for 15-20 hours straight and still wake up not feeling well rested. Ever since I was a child, I’ve always had terrifying dreams. I would always try to stay awake and distract myself. I remember vividly a time when my family still lived in surulere which puts me at an age of roughly 5-6. It was late at night and my parents were watching tv in the living room so I snuck out of bed into the living room and hid under the couch because I was really terrified of sleeping and having one of my scary dreams. I remained under the couch until l got caught by my dad who chased me to bed because I had school the next day. I started crying when I got to bed because I was really scared of sleeping, so I just held on tight to my brother till I succumbed to slumber.
My nightmares were really terrible and some of them were recurring dreams. I would wake up with sweat drenched all over my body in an air conditioned room. My heart would be beating really fast and I would always have to hug one my younger siblings to calm my fears. This happened all through my adolescent years. I never used to tell anyone about my dreams because I remember learning from a young age that if you have a bad dream, islamically you are advised not to recount it to another soul and to just pray to God to not let its evil touch you and if you are financially capable, you should give sadaqah the next day.
Some of the less scary but more twisted dreams, I would confide in my mum about them. But whenever I got the scary ones I would just tell her to help me do sadaqah or I would just pray myself. I really hated sleeping because ALMOST EVERY NIGHT I would have a terrible nightmare or a very twisted dream and see all sorts of things that is definitely not borne out of the figure of my imagination. I became afraid of closing my eyes and seeing whatever terrible or disturbing thing my dream would show me. They were always so very realistic, vivid and dark…so vivid that I can still recall most of them till date. The counsellor asked to hear some of the dreams but I told her I couldn’t tell her. I could get a sense of what she was thinking so I told her my dreams concerned only me and no-one else in my family.
She then asked me some personal questions about certain people and certain incidents that happened in my life and we eventually got to the root problem. There were many things I buried deep within me. What shocked me the most was that there were certain things I witnessed in my childhood that I didn’t even realise had a significant impact on me emotionally and psychologically but helped contribute to the major issues I had. Being a quiet and reserved person didn’t help matters for me growing up because I didn’t feel inclined to talk or share much with people but do you know what’s funny? Everyone who knew me as a child always told me I was very stubborn and naughty and would look for trouble and had a very sharp tongue.
My memories don’t go as far back to some of the things they recounted I did as a child, but I can believe what they say because I recall when I was in primary school (in Nigeria), I was very social and had friends in older classrooms and even befriended teachers. I was involved in so many different extra curricular activities; I used to run track, partake in drama plays and play the piano. I was very bold and used to stand up to my seniors who bullied my timid friends and I remember vividly the day I slapped a guy that was my senior just because he made fun of my friend’s name (Brenda) and would always tease and call her blender and make her cry each time. When I saw her crying on that day and she told me what happened, I searched for the guy during break and saw him hanging with his friends. I walked up straight to him and slapped him hard across the face and told him to never make fun of my friends name again because he made her cry and it wasn’t nice. I was later called to the principal’s office that day and got punished for slapping him but I didn’t care. I remember I loved to dance and would steal the spotlight in parties but then things just magically changed with me and one of my aunt till date still wonders if I was the same child. I became the complete opposite. I started withdrawing and became quiet and shut off from everyone. I started spending time alone and didn’t like socialising or playing with other kids. I’ll admit the bullying I later experienced in Ireland contributed to my personality change but I became very sensitive and super observant of things that happened around me.
Whilst speaking to the counsellor who was trying to figure out all the things that happened that could have caused me to change, I dug deeper and deeper into my memory and the words came tumbling out of me. Things I’ve never spoken about before started coming out of my mouth and it felt like I was hearing my voice for the first time. All the dark things I was trying to erase from my memory, all the things I feared that would happen but were outside my control, the things that were missing in my life, I told her everything I could. Then I started to cry. The tears were not coming from a painful place. Lord knows I had cried all the painful tears when I cried myself to bed each night. This time around, the tears came from a place of relief. I felt so light. Why and where did I learn to bottle things in? While the painful things that happened in my life scarred me, the burdens of my silence damaged me and it contributed significantly in affecting me psychologically and physically.
Alhamdulilah for everything. Although failing my exam was a terrible experience, it was good it happened to me at that time because only God knows maybe if I had lived an extra day with the burdens it would have killed me or damaged me to the point of no repair. I was already feeling dead inside and all that was left was for me to truly die. What’s the point of living when you already feel dead inside? It’s a heavy burden feeling dead inside but being forced to live as though you are alive; forcing yourself to smile and laugh. Forcing yourself to carry on each day as though you are okay when each night you cry yourself to sleep. These are the kinds of thoughts you get when you are depressed.
Did I ever experience suicidal thoughts? There were a few times I would stand by the train tracks with my ear plugs on and I would imagine falling into the tracks and being ran over by the train. There were also times I would go for walks and I would hear a voice in my head telling me to walk a bit closer to the edge of the street and maybe I would get run over by a car. Did I ever deliberately harm myself? Never, but God knows there were many times I wanted to punish myself whenever I sinned or did something I wasn’t pleased with but then I would remember Allah and the fact that my body isn’t mine but a trust by Allah and I can’t ruin it and do whatever I like with it.
There were many days I didn’t feel anything and other days I felt emotions too strong that my heart felt like it would rip itself apart and bleed out. How did I ever stay sane during those periods? My solace and safe place was my praying mat. I would lay on my praying mat and I would talk to God and tell him how much I was hurting and how He should please comfort me because I had no one. He was the only one I couldn’t deceive with my laughter. I questioned my existence many times. Why did He create me? What good am I? On the days I couldn’t find the strength to get up from my bed, I would stay sane by drowning myself in music and reliving good moments in my head; I would replay certain conversations and memories I had with people I loved with the hopes of feeling the same good feeling I felt the first time. Anything to awake a feeling that would make me feel a bit alive and not like I was the walking dead.
After hearing and sharing all I had to say, the counsellor gave me her diagnosis and told me that I had all the symptoms of some who had clinical depression and because my case was severe, I had to take medication because the chemical and hormones in my body were not balanced. Clinical depression is just like every other major illness that requires medicine. She told me not to worry about the exam and to just instead focus on my mental health and recover enough to be strong enough to retake them. She recommended I see a doctor at a particular clinic and I went to see him the day after. He was the first doctor to prescribe me my very first anti-depressant drug; amitriptyline and a particular sleeping pill.
At that point I was still quite ignorant about mental illness and was still trying to get over the load of information and many revelations that took place in the counsellor’s office the day before. I didn’t fully understand my diagnosis and was terrified of using the drugs the doctor prescribed because I started to think am I one of those crazy patients? A psycho that has to use drugs to stay normal? I’ve watched a lot of Hollywood movies and how many white people abused their drug prescriptions or got addicted to them. I’m black, we are mentally strong people and don’t have any need for drugs like that. I tried to think of many excuses but the truth was, using the drugs felt like I was accepting I was mentally sick and that scared me. So I never used the anti-depressant drugs but I kept it with me just in case but I started using the sleeping pills in the prescribed dosage…just enough to get me back on a healthy sleeping routine.
In the end, our brain is a creature of habit. Once it get’s used to something it would start to function that way. So when I started sleeping at a certain time and waking at a certain time with the help of the drug, my body adjusted and I had no use for the drugs again. My migraines which started in secondary school never left. The worst experience I had was when I had the headache for one month straight with no pause. Imagine having a constant headache for one month straight; it was hell. I had spoken to different doctors and they all said there is no cure for migraines, I would just have to be taking painkillers to help manage the pain. My mum used to have terrible migraines when she was younger, but after some years she mentioned it disappeared so I figured I inherited the migraine from her and it’s something I would just have to live with until mine disappears as well. Unfortunately, I still experience my migraines till date.
Just to further paint a picture of what every day living is like for someone that is battling clinical depression; it’s a mental hell you can’t really escape because it’s all happening in your head. Your mind and thoughts never leave you except you’re dead or are able to find things to distract you for a while. For several years, I forgot what real happiness felt like until I fell in love and found someone who could still love me so much at my lowest. During the dark years my head was filled with so many negative thoughts and self-criticism. I felt like I was a magnet that only attracted sad, gloomy and miserable thoughts. I found comfort in reading books (escaping my reality by being in another character’s mind and story), watching anime, talking to people I loved, I also found comfort being in a park and being surrounded by nature.
I am not going to lie I questioned the love of the closest people in my life; how could they not see me and tell how much I was hurting? Didn’t anyone love me enough or was observant enough to be able to see past my fake smile and laughs? I wanted desperately for one person to see me for the mess I was and not the person I was desperately trying to be; the good muslim, the good daughter, the good sister, the good friend. Some people would chastise me for being a recluse but eventually accepted it was who I am. Others would say Altine is this and that and I hated myself because I had no answer who I was. Whoever I was to people, it didn’t feel like I was that person, I just became that person. With time I started to believe I was the problem and hated myself even more. I was just too good at hiding my feelings and putting everyone’s needs before mine so I couldn’t fault anybody for not knowing. Most of the nights I cried myself to sleep, I wouldn’t even know why I was crying. I would just feel this great bolt of emotional pain and crying was the only way to release that pain. The next day in the midst of my family and friends and colleagues I’m laughing and smiling like I wasn’t crying blood the night before.
In the early years of the depression when I was in high school, I wrote a lot. I started with journalling and it gave me some relief but I could never bring myself to re-read my writings because there was just too much pain and anger in them. So many pages of my journal were smudged with ink as a result of my tear drops and wiping the pages dry. I knew I had some problems in my personal life that were deeply affecting me but I made a mistake of belittling my pain. I would always tell myself others were going through a lot worse and that I had a lot to be grateful for. I would tell myself to suck it up and be strong. Whenever I wasn’t strong enough, I would then start to hate myself for not being grateful enough for the good things in my life. The saddest thing was that I was the only person who knew how much I was hurting but I was also the only person that showed myself the least love. It was so hard loving myself because I could alway find something to criticise myself for. I honestly hated being me, I wouldn’t wish me (or the way I thought of myself) upon anyone. It wasn’t until much later (when I started healing) that I learnt that whilst someone else may be going through something worse, it doesn’t take away from my pain or make my pain any less justified. I’m allowed to hurt, I’m allowed to feel and love myself through the healing process.
After returning to Nigeria, I knew I had to face my demons. I was far from healed because I still wasn’t using my medications as advised by the doctor. I remember when I got back home, I really didn’t feel ready to go to law school. I had told my mum I didn’t want to go to law-school and she said if I didn’t go, my three years studying law would have been for nothing. I just wasn’t mentally ready to go through that whole academic process and struggle. I was yet to discuss my health issues with my family. I was yet to heal but everyone said I must start law school immediately; I started bar one roughly two months after my final paper. Sometimes whenever I look back at my life, I feel like the remote controlling it was pressing the fast-forward button instead of the play. I don’t regret the milestones in my life; I have things I am proud of but it sure as hell contributed to the great anxiety I have today and the pressure to do things quickly and to accomplish things early…I know there’s still that little child in me that was deprived of certain moments. I got double promotions in primary school. I finished high school at the age of 15. Foundation at 16. Uni at 19. Law school at 20. Marriage at 21. Things happened very quickly for me but Alhamdulilah every incident that has taken place in my life contributed to shaping me into the woman I am learning to love and be a lot more proud of today.
When I finished uni and returned to Nigeria, I experienced other terrible things and heartbreak and experienced other symptoms of depression; I lost interest in everything I loved doing. I stopped writing. I stopped blogging. I stopped watching anime. Everything I liked, I didn’t like doing them again. I lost key relationships that meant everything to me. I wanted to just erase and delete everything in my life; delete all my social media account, take down my blog, erase my online footprint and move to a country where nobody knew me and start life afresh. My nightmares started again. I remember having one especially horrible dream that left me scarred for days. I knew if I continued living at that rate I would drive myself to my grave much earlier and this time I can’t blame it on my depression alone. So I started reading & researching deeply about mental illness and clinical depression in particular. I learnt SO MUCH. I felt empowered with the knowledge I had and no longer felt helpless.
I discovered the ‘artidote’ on instagram and his page alone cured half of my illness. His page was a space for people to bond & heal through art. I’ve always had a deep appreciation for art and he was fond of sharing beautiful artworks and would comment a quote or a poem tackling issues around mental health and self-awareness. It was so therapeutic for me. I spent days on his page and could connect with every one of his post. His account remains today as one of my greatest discoveries on instagram.
I then later discovered Hauwa Ojeifo who is the founder of She Writes Woman; a platform she uses to raise awareness about mental illness in Nigeria. She would organise monthly safe place events where people experiencing different mental health issues can come together, talk and speak to professionals about whatever they want. I booked and reserved a spot for myself at one of her safe place events and was texted the details of the location some days later. Attending the safe place event was another major step I took that brought me closer to fully healing. The first major step was unburdening myself and talking to my counsellor. The second was doing my research about my mental health and empowering myself with knowledge. The third was creating different channels for me to heal; i.e the artidote, attending she writes woman safe place event and hearing other people’s story. Some people battled darker demons; some actually attempted the suicide but got saved at the very last minute. I met and spoke to an amazing psychologist; Naya Ndupu who helped answer some of the burning questions I had about depression and the safety of the drugs the doctor prescribed me.
She helped shed a lot more light on mental illness in general and the different treatments available. She mentioned most people were scared to take their anti-depressant drug but that when they have malaria they’re not afraid to take their drugs. If you have clinical-depression you have to take your drugs. Every drug has a possible side effect but the good they do outweighs the bad, except you specifically react to the drug in particular. We also discussed a particular book that explained the different types of mental illnesses that there are. I purchased a copy of the book and spent the next few days learning more about clinical depression and mental health in general. Why didn’t they teach this thing in school. The number and statistics of people that have mental illness in Nigeria alone is frightening, talk less globally.
Learning about depression in depth provided me with most of the healing I needed. I had spent years blaming myself for many things that had very little to do with me personally but the illness itself. I always thought I was bad energy and just a sad and all too serious person. The negative thoughts I had was all because of the sickness and I’m not inherently a negative, gloomy and unhappy person. The amount of the cortisol (the body’s main stress hormone) that was being released into my body was insanely much, so I had to balance it out by taking my medication. After a while I started to take my anti-depressants and my life changed for the better. Colours became brighter. I was learning to love and appreciate myself a lot more. I prioritised self-care and self love. I started putting me first before everyone. I made peace with my past and forgave those who hurt me. I learned to let go of the things I knew I couldn’t control and forced myself to shut my ears and eyes to things that don’t concern me or I knew would threaten my peace of mind. I met new people and established strong connections with others I’ve grown to love and care about. I always felt like life chose me and I just had to be and give it what it wanted, but for the first time since I was born, it felt like I was choosing life and doing with it what I wanted. It’s so liberating and life became so much more beautiful for me.
Your mental health is something you have to prioritise your whole life. I’m happy that the whole world is now beginning to recognise the need to prioritise your mental health and people and organisations are actively creating awareness about mental health in both their jurisdictions and online. If you’ve had to battle clinical depression, I’m so sorry for all the lonely nights and pain and mental anguish you had to go through alone. If you’ve undergone treatment, you need to take extra care to not slip back into your old ways. Try and remove yourself from situations that would trigger the illness. Your mind is your weapon and forge it to keep away the dark thoughts. Don’t entertain or let them in. Nostalgia is not your friend; it’s a can of worms that’s ready to feed on your wellbeing. Please do your research and learn more about it. Please speak to someone you trust and unburden yourself by discussing whatever may be troubling you and stealing your peace of mind. Please seek professional help and use your medication in line with the prescription your doctor gives you and In Sha Allah it will all be okay and everything will be in the past.
If you are a muslim please don’t pay the slightest attention to ANYBODY who says you have depression because your iman is weak (because a real muslim should not feel sad about the test Allah gives him and be depressed). Those people are ignorant and have no idea of what they are talking about. Allah mentioned in the Quran that He will test us and one of the things He will test people with is their health. If someone gets bitten by a mosquito why don’t the ignorant muslims speak rubbish and say you have malaria because your Iman is weak. Does that make sense? You have malaria, because you were bitten by a mosquito and you have to take your medication to feel better. Clinical depression is an actual sickness that is triggered by certain events in your life that affects you mentally by causing irregular neural activity in the brain which causes significant impairments in your normal daily life activities. The deep sadness you feel, the hopelessness, the suicidal thoughts, the sleeping disorders, the eating disorders, they are all caused by the depression; the same way malaria causes a person to feel nauseous and vomit, experience body pain and increased body temperature. Depending on how deep your symptoms are, you will need to take the anti-depressants/medication that your doctor prescribes.
If you have any questions about mental health or clinical depression in particular, please feel free to ask them in the comment section below. I’d be happy to respond to them.
I hope I’ve been able to shed some light about the reality of living with clinical depression and how it can deeply affect someone. If you are a friend or related to someone who has been diagnosed with clinical depression or any other mental illness or you suspect someone may have it, please check on them frequently and try to make yourself available to them when they need you and allow them to heal at their own pace and time.
May Allah grant shifa to anyone battling any mental health issue and replace their troubles with peace and their sadness with joy.
If you made it up to this point, I’m super grateful and thankful for your time and may God protect you and your loved ones from experiencing any form of mental illness.
Until next time,