Casually strolls in
why i've been away, depression, burnout, therapy, etc.
For the greater half of 2023, I struggled. My mental health took various plunges, each deeper than the previous, and I didn’t know what to do with it. When I was younger, it was relatively easier to conjure beauty out of the darkness that hovered around my head, once in a while. All I had to do was write. In fact, a lot of my favourite pieces were born out of dark times. Safe was a recollection of my anxiety-driven feelings on how unsafe I felt at different points in my life, and Seven Steps on How to Deal with Loss was a melodramatic eulogy to heartbreak.
I have always known how to wield intense emotions and create things out of them, so they are not entirely useless. I think this theme is a recurring one in my life — the need to be useful. A world where I am not able to fashion out something concrete from my pain feels strange, and unfortunately, that’s where I have been.
I didn’t know what to do about this darkness. For one, I have always been a little melancholy. I imagine that on the list of ingredients that make up my composition, there is a 100mg blob of wistfulness, right above white girl dancing (50mg) and resilience (75mg). It’s why I cry when I watch movie scenes that have no business arousing tears, and why I still remember what the sunlight looked like when it peaked through the windows of the lecture theatre we had Constitutional Law classes in, three years ago.
It’s also why I tried to convince myself for so long that I was simply just tired. In my defense, I was indeed tired, though that wasn’t the only reason I felt down. My life had gotten busier than I could manage and I was constantly running behind schedule and sleep. Every day, I woke up, did some work, had a few meetings, then the world put a blanket over my eyes, and all I wanted to do was sleep.
I was very anxious about not wanting to ascribe labels to the way I was feeling for two reasons:
Self-diagnosis as a concept is heavily villainized.
I didn’t want to deal with it, whatever it was.
Giving it a name would have sucked me into a cycle of researching symptoms and medications and I already had enough on my plate. So I ignored it. Instead, I watched as many videos as I could find on how to manage my tiredness. I learned about the Pomodoro technique, and the four-hour workday. Then I figured burnout was probably a more appropriate term because I was forcing myself to do SO much, but none of it was giving me a sense of joy and satisfaction.
Then one day, I realized that I was gradually phasing out of life completely. I felt my will levitate from my consciousness, till it hovered over all the things that should have been on my priority list, looking at them like a mere spectator. I didn’t feel anything. I lost interest in nurturing my friendships, started isolating myself from everyone, replying texts became a chore and I lost several opportunities as a result. In addition to these, my physical health underwent some struggles and I found myself always on the verge of tears. My brain was also working overtime to convince me that life was too exhausting to invest in. I felt unwanted, unloved, and awful. Point blank.
It wasn’t my first time experiencing this type of darkness, but it was the first time I felt completely and utterly helpless. I knew that no amount of time spent reading Brianna Wiest’s 100 Essays that Will Change the Way You Think would help me this time around. I knew I had to make certain changes and seek external help.
Now let’s pause for a second, and talk about therapy.
Therapy in Nigeria is perceived as a relatively Western concept, and it might be, because the expression as it is does not exist in our languages. The closest thing to it translates as medicine in Igbo ọgwụgwọ and iroro ema in Urhobo (helping an individual to mould his/her thinking) as shared in this article.
From my observations, I have found that there are a few general approaches to the concept in our society. People who share that they need therapy are generally responded to in the following ways:
It’s because you think too much.
There’s nothing those doctors will tell you that you wouldn’t find in the word of God. Focus on your identity in Christ.
You’re tired, just sleep and you will feel better.
It’s because you’re always on the internet. If you drop your phone you will be happier.
I’m not saying that there isn’t an element of truth in some of these statements, but there’s a danger in completely relegating mental health assistance to the self. People don’t expect you to treat a broken bone by yourself, so why is a broken brain (for lack of a better expression) any different? Sometimes, you simply need to be helped by someone else, and there’s no shame in that. It’s completely okay.
Another approach I have found is more welcoming, and curious and perhaps a little overzealous?
Omg yes! I too, need therapy.
We live in Nigeria. We all need therapy.
But isn’t it super expensive?
My sister had a therapist, once.
I prefer this one. Though sometimes in a bid to make the person feel seen one might end up centering themselves and their issues, it also raises valid points about therapy. For one, I do believe we all need therapy. Many of us grow up in environments that threaten our sense of safety and self, and wonder why we find it difficult to complain when the hairstylist is pulling on our hair too tight, or why we cannot sit for more than five minutes with our fathers in the same room.
Also, therapy still is very inaccessible for the majority of people living in Nigeria. A standard session may cost well above minimum wage, and especially for younger people whose priorities fall within the first two tiers in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and who are more in tune with their mental health, this inaccessibility is felt most deeply.
So for the longest time, I had avoided therapy for the above reasons. I felt like I was being dramatic about the state of things. This feeling was aided and abetted by the fact that it was too costly for my income bracket, and I believed I could manage myself on my own. That was, till realized that I couldn’t anymore.
So I found a therapist.
My first session happened on a Thursday evening. That day, I panicked throughout because I didn’t know what I was going to say or do. I was so nervous about somebody else having access to my thoughts and feelings and wondered why I had opted for an in-person session when a Zoom session would have afforded me the ability to log off and blame my absence on MTN. Still, I was punctual. As soon as I sat down, I felt so vulnerable that I started tearing up, but my therapist was great. She spent the entire session asking me questions that made me remember clues and incidents that had probably played a role in my state of mind at the time. At the end of the session, she gave me an assignment, and we made plans for a follow-up session.
I left that session feeling a lot more in control of my life and the role I had to play in my happiness. I pride myself with being self-aware but it unlocked a new level of awareness for me. So I plan to continue with therapy in 2024. While I don’t think it can solve all my mental health issues, I am determined to follow through with it because I am seeing improvements that I like.
So that’s why I have been away. I been wan craze small. I am sharing this because I want to play a part in removing some of the stigma associated with mental health struggles and seeking medical help. My friend Michael says we cannot sit and stare at our wounds forever, so I am back, and I will write more letters in the coming year.
I want you guys to know that despite the madness, 2023 has been a good year. From the time I stopped writing till now, the newsletter has grown to over 4,600 followers which is insane to me. Where are you guys coming from? How did you find this little haven? Every time I go out I meet someone who reads the newsletter and assaults me for not updating you guys. Well, this is why, and this is me. I am here now.
I will put out one more letter before the year is over. Just to talk about 2024 and things for us to consider.
Thank you for being here, and for not forgetting me. I love you!
Ps. I am fine o. I started writing this in November and I am now in a good place, so this letter is not a cry for help.
Media I Consumed this Week
Currently watching The Bear. It’s the best series I have seen this year. The writing and the pacing and the characters are so good. My favourite character is Marcus, because he is so teachable and not afraid of growth. I love all of them so much!
Currently watching (also) My Demon (K-drama). Nothing better than seeing two extremely good-looking people onscreen with the chemistry of a nuclear landmine. I am obsessed with them. Jin Starr is so annoying and I need her to take a long stroll.
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