I had a hard childhood and it reflected in my behaviour patterns. To give a better background, my mom died while I was 6years old, by my eighth birthday my dad remarried and that became the tail end of everything in my childhood. My step-mom was not mean to me or anything but as a kid, I had nobody who checked in on me both physically and emotionally, like make sure I was okay and how things were going with/for me so I grew up holding my own hands and being my own shoulder to cry on but as I got older I couldn’t hold myself much and needed to have someone in my corner.
My father was focused on his new family, there was always a new baby or some family emergencies and project he was dealing with and at some point, I felt invisible and alone. Those were the days I miss my mom and other days I miss both my parents. I was sent off to boarding school for High School. From boarding school to university and as soon as I was done with the university he became less and less concerned about me except with money. He took my upkeep seriously even though it was barely enough but he never asked if they were and I never mentioned that they weren’t.
It was a rollercoaster trying to get a job after University, and then the first wave of my depression hit me. I rented an apartment on another side of town, away from home so I didn’t have to deal with the energy at home. My dad was glad I asked for assistance with rent. He is a good father, he just didn’t know what to do with me after my mother passed and now he still doesn’t know how to face me without looking uncomfortable. Now he has four other children and the more they had the more I diminished.
Six months after my NYSC and I couldn’t get a job, my father had spoken to some of his well-placed friends but it seemed the universe also forgot about me. I paid to learn to sew which was also a struggle because getting out of bed some days was impossible, that wasn’t what I really wanted, my mates were working 9-5 and I wanted that. I couldn’t focus on my training and it felt like I was fighting a war with invisible beings that leaves me exhausted. I had constant migraines and ate a lot. Would wake in the mornings and only leave the bed only when I got hungry, hunger was the only thing that kept me awake some days, the only thing that helped me muster my energy.
I was drowning in a mental dark hole for so long, on the days I didn’t go for my training I stayed in bed all day. It was on such cloudy days I got a call from my stepmother that my dad had been booked for surgery, my Aunt also called and instructed that I dress up as she was coming to my place to pick me up, we were going to the hospital to be by my dad. The news jolted me out of the hollow in my head. It was a silent drive to the hospital. Thank goodness it wasn’t that much of an emergency as he was booked for a hernia surgery.
On one of such journeys to the hospital I ran into Rukky, her father too was on admission in the male ward and she came with her siblings for a visit. We were bunkmates in secondary school and were quite close. I recall now she lost her mom towards the end of SS3 and we sort of bonded on that in the waiting room of the hospital. Like my father, Rukky’s dad remarried too and she and her two brothers had been having the same diminishing experiences as I am but she seems to have a handle on it. Rukky has always behaved so maturely.
Rukky asked me about my mental health, considering all that has been going on, and that would be the first and only time anybody would ask me that question, the first time someone would check in.
“Mental health is how feel in my mind right,” I asked anxiously, almost with a laugh.
“Yes!” she responded with her eyes fixed on mine
“I am fine, I think,” I said in confusion “I am handling my lonely life as much as I can, my dad forgets about me, and my uncles and aunts only check in when they need me for something or when I reach out first, I don’t have friends because I don’t know how to make them and it gets so lonely sometimes but I am handling it” but Rukky looked at me like she just found a mole on my face and sternly said to me “I don’t think you are doing well though, your eyes are shallow and you look like you are lost. You look depressed… You know what depression is right?”
Before I met Rukky I hadn’t paid much attention to depression or mental health, I had thought it was just a “Gen Zs” concept. I only read about it in social media timelines and never took it seriously but Rukky asked me to learn as much as I could on the topic and let her know. I started to search the internet for depression, signs and treatments and every other information I could find on the topic and the more I learnt about it the more it became clear to me that I was going through it and the more I read what it does to people who ignore it the scarier I got. In my panic one day I reached out to Rukky to tell her of my fear that I might be depressed. I had read so much about it lately and I have all the signs especially not having an interest in anything else.
Rukky was amazing with the way she handled my panic, she invited me to a social support group where her friend brings people who are going through depression together to find healing with one another and for a loner like me it felt great being with people but most being with people who gets the war that goes on in my brain, I didn’t think anyone else felt that way. By the second session, we were given a journal to write down our feelings every time we felt overwhelmed, I was reluctant at first but little did I know that was where I would find my healing and peace.
I was never one who wrote anything, would rather call someone than type a message or mail, as a matter of fact, I hated to copy notes in school and now my therapist is making me write. I was very reluctant at first and went to the next three sessions without putting down even a line in my journal but every day I learnt new ways to write because my therapist kept saying “Imagine you finally get to see your mom again, what do you want to tell her” or “writing is like talking to the universe and guess what? The universe is always listening to our stories” and other lines like “write it like you fell it, put it down exactly as it is in your head”, “Writing is like painting your emotions on lined canvases”.
I left the sessions every day with the conviction that would be the day I start writing but I lost the motivation as soon as I picked up my pen. But after my father informed me he was being transferred out of state and I couldn’t come with him because the accommodation is small for his new family, I felt like the world has come to roost on my shoulders once again and I saw the need to talk to someone, I pulled my laptop and with an easy app created a blog for my journal and I began to write, first I wrote to my mom on how things have been since she passed, I cried a lot and wished that a little miracle will allow me hear her voice one last time, and then I wrote my dad on how I feel abandoned and alone since mom died.
I didn’t know how long the episodes were because I didn’t go back to reread or edit them, I just posted them as they came to my head. I had spent all day writing on that first they that I missed the time; I got to my therapy late. First I noticed everybody smiling and then the clap that ensued. “What is going on” I kept asking as I joined in the clap still bewildered. As soon as I sat down the moderator said to me “Wow, you are such a good writer” I was shocked because I had only sent the link to her, how did the other group members see my story? “Your story was so brave and touching I had to post the link on our WhatsApp group and we read the last one just a few minutes ago. We are all so proud of you” the moderator said.
It felt good to be seen and acknowledged, the last time I was ever celebrated for anything was in school, the last birthday I ever celebrated was the last one before my mother passed, my dad has never even called on any of my birthdays, he forgets. So this was the highlight of many days for me, gone and ahead. I felt important and I liked it and that was how my healing began, I wrote more and the more I wrote the more accolades I got and I hung onto that and never looked back. I wrote exactly the way I felt and before long my inbox was filled with people who had/have similar experiences at this point I didn’t need anybody to love or take care of me, I became the best part of me every day.
My therapy moderator introduced me to a Reading Club, I didn’t know they existed in Nigeria, thought it was only in movies but I was there. I learnt at the club that I have a “media voice”. Me? Who would have thought? In my reading club, I was the star of the show and from there I met my first boss who is a manager at a popular radio station in town. I struggled at first but I found my feet to become good at my new job as a radio presenter alongside being a panellist on many panels and workshops talking about rejection, depression and mental health.
Right now I host and produce three major shows on my station, I sell short stories online now and I sell about four in a week. My girlfriend is an amazing person I met in a Literary Club I joined and it’s been bliss since we met.
I leant in therapy not to focus on life as I used to know it but to focus on life as I want it to be and that is where I am right now. I still talk to my dad as I also learnt in therapy that he too is handling the trauma of losing his wife the best way he knows how. I am not just employed but I have become a household name in town and nobody has ever asked me if I am a lesbian or not or what my past was like hence my decision to share my story with this community I love so much.
It doesn’t matter where you are now, discard the pains and hurts, and focus on building the life you want, maybe you can even try some of the things you have been afraid to start, it doesn’t have to be big or groundbreaking but it is your race, choose how you want to run it.