Image by Quadri Sorunke
‘What’s going on?’
‘…We’re all human right?’
‘Yes. So it’s bound to happen to each one of us no matter how fat, skinny, tall, short or whatever we are or whatever we believe in. It’s bound to happen at least once’
‘I’m afraid I don’t understand what you mean’
This feels strange to me. I’m really not one to put myself out there or pry but I can feel that something is wrong. I might have guessed a few times but I’m sure of it this time. This is a whole different person. This isn’t the person I know albeit from a distance.
‘I’ll try to make it simple. What did it sound like when your heart broke for the first time? I don’t mean in the context of being forced to end a relationship. The heart break could occur as a result of a number of things: losing a friend, losing a family member, failing at something you had devoted or poured all your time and energy into. Anything. A force that shakes you to your core, reverberating through every single part of your body till it breaks your heart into an infinite number of pieces’
‘Well, that happened to me. It was deafening. The sound of my heart breaking could be compared to the sound a twenty-storey building made entirely of glass – including the intricacies characteristic of such elaborate buildings – would make during demolition. The din produced as the structure shatters into an infinite number of pieces…This really is an unjust comparison. It sounded much worse but I want you to understand’
‘Is that how it started?’
‘…Another thing you need to understand is that prior to that incident, I was shouldering and concealing a lot of things. I found an insidious balance. I somehow gathered the exact amount of strength needed to keep carrying my fardel. But that heartbreak; that heartbreak tipped the scales…I lost someone. Not through death. I lost the one person who almost believed me’
We attend the same university, her and me, we are students of the same faculty and we also happen to live right opposite each other. She’s not someone I consider a friend simply because we don’t have that kind of relationship. She’s just a person I know. Nothing really sets her apart from the average girl – her build, her speech, her gait and what have you are run of the mill – nothing except what I perceived to be her genuine kind spirit which isn’t very common these days. I don’t know. It could be the stories I heard of how kind and thoughtful she is or the time she offered to help me carry a very heavy bag into my house when she saw me struggling with it across the street or the fact that she never runs out of shy hellos accompanied with one of the warmest smiles you will ever see to offer anyone who looks in her direction.
‘This doesn’t make any sense to you at all, does it? You have that vapid expression of unbelief on your face’
‘No, no, no, not at all. It’s just that…you’re speaking to me and I know there’s more. I might not be able to conceive what it is that you’re feeling but I’m here to listen and I promise to try to understand’
‘The cynic in me thinks that a very large part of that is utter bullshit’
‘I’m not going to try to counter that. I just want you to try to believe that I am deeply concerned. I want to listen. I want to hear your story’
I was twenty minutes late for a 9:00am class one day. I really could not afford to miss the class. As I hurried through the entrance of my faculty, about to approach the flight of stairs that would take me to the class on the second floor of my department’s classroom building, I bumped into her. No words were exchanged between us; I was filled with thoughts of the possible consequences of being an extra ten minutes late to the class so I quickly gathered myself, stepped aside and raced to my class. It was when I had taken my seat and settled down that I realized that I got no cheery smile or “oh, I’m sorry” from her which was contrary to her personality. This was my first guess.
‘I failed to laugh at a wisecrack from a friend once. Note that I’m usually nice enough to laugh at even the very unfunny ones. This particular joke should’ve been funny, I didn’t have to feign amusement, but I couldn’t laugh, I was the only one who didn’t laugh. Another friend in our group of four noticed this and asked why I didn’t laugh. I said nothing while trying to arrange my face into what I hoped was something between a smile and an almost laugh. She was still unsatisfied and went on to lament to our group about how I’d been in a mood lately and how it was beginning to wear her out. It was at that point that I became open to the possibility that I might not be okay. This ‘mood’ of mine had lasted for far too long’
‘How long have you felt this way?’
‘Oh, I don’t know…several months…I haven’t been keeping count’
I stopped seeing her in school. At first, I thought she was ill but it had been too long since I saw her around in school. At some point, I wanted to ask a friend of hers if she was okay but I felt that it wasn’t my place to do so and I was also too shy to do so because my enquiry would’ve been met with a question of why I was asking about her and I did not have a concrete answer to that question. This was my second guess but to bury those feelings I reasoned that if something really tragic had happened to her or her family my parents would’ve caught wind of it and kept me in the loop.
‘Well, there’s the constant anxiety, the irascibility, insomnia, when I do manage to sleep, the nightmares, the loss of appetite, the struggle to keep up with school work. Some days it even gets really hard to do regular things like reading, I used to love to read, cleaning, taking a shower or even getting out of bed’
‘Have you tried to talk to a close friend?’
‘Oh, I did. Just before I did, I hadn’t fully grasped what was happening to me and I’m in the habit of blaming any emotional irregularity on my period. So I tried to share my feelings but ever so inarticulately. I suppose I shouldn’t blame her for not understanding’
‘What did she say?’
‘She asked why I was trying too hard to be sick…there was nothing left for me to say after that’
‘What about your parents? Surely they must have noticed that something wasn’t quite right with you’
‘When it got worse, I started avoiding my parents at home, staying locked in my room all day and not coming out until I really really had to…mum came into my room one day; earlier that day I sensed that I was going to get a good talking to but maybe she was waiting to see if I’d improve…anyway, mum came into my room to ask about something but once the acrid smell of my room assaulted her, she flipped. She said that this sour mood of mine had lasted for far too long and it had to stop…didn’t I know that I was a woman? Part of being a woman means being able to handle pain well, didn’t I know this? Whatever was bothering me had to stop… she kept yelling and yelling but I blocked most of it out and just kept staring at her. She ended her rant by instructing me to clean my room and prepare something to eat before 6:00 pm. She stormed out of my room and I pulled the covers over my body again. There was no hope there’
‘What of your dad and other family members?’
‘Did I say something wrong?’
‘I feel nothing and at the same time, I feel everything. Don’t ask me to explain, I don’t understand it myself’
‘You don’t have to…’
‘I wanted to feel something. A part of me still does. One day, I closed all the windows in my room, turned the fan and AC off but left the lights on. I wanted to feel the heat. Maybe working up a good sweat would purge me of the terrible feelings festering inside me’
‘Did it work?’
‘No. I did sweat, a lot, but I ended up feeling much worse than I did before’
‘Has it gotten much worse than that?’
‘Oh yes…there are the suicidal thoughts’
‘Shocked, surprised?…I’ve thought about it extensively and I know that I do not want my death to be messy, painful or quick. I want to feel what it’s like to die. I want to feel myself slipping into the next world while reviewing the life I’ve lived so far. My first option was to end my life by downing a cocktail of sleeping pills but I did some research and discovered that modern sleeping pills are prepared with tiny doses of vomit inducing substances so if you take a shitload of them, best believe you’ll find yourself over a toilet bowl in the next fifteen to thirty minutes. I had to rule that one out because there are a few things that are worse than a failed suicide attempt. I’ve still kept that option open, I could get lucky and take just the right batch. My second thought has been to drown myself in a bathtub at home, not as convenient and at par with my terms as the first but it’s still a way out. I’ve even mentally prepared my suicide notes. Plural. One for each person in my life. I like to write’
I mentioned earlier that my house is directly opposite hers. I can see who goes out and comes into her house from my bedroom window. It was sweltering that day. The power had just gone out along with my protection from the heat, the fan and the air conditioning. I was trying to open my window to let fresh air in when I spotted her. I saw her struggling to put two huge bags of trash in the large refuse bin outside her house. The first one went in but before she could put the second one in it tore open and the contents of the trash bag were all over the ground. She stood silent for a few seconds staring at the pieces of trash and then she started kicking them all over the place and screaming. I rushed outside to meet her. I could see the tears streaming down her face now.
‘Are you okay?’
The passage above is my very feeble attempt to get the reader into the mind of a mentally ill person. The opening line ‘what’s going on’ is Marvin Gaye inspired if no one caught on to that. If you’ve meditated on the song and the title album you’d understand the reference or maybe not. My mind is weird.
Various types of mental illness and disorders plague about 20% of the world’s children and adolescents. Over 800,000 people die by suicide every year, about 75% of the suicides occur in low and middle-income countries of which our beloved Nigeria just happens to be one of.
In such parts of the world, mental illness is hardly treated or even recognized as a form of illness. Sufferers of mental illness are usually labeled as juvenile, difficult and obtuse. The stigma and misunderstanding attached to mental illness have produced an increasing number of deaths and forestalled efforts to educate people on the various types, causes and treatments.
Recently, efforts have been made to create awareness by individuals and different bodies. This is my individual effort to create awareness. Mental illness isn’t untreatable. There should be an increase in the presence of mental health in the public health agenda and there should be funding to provide the adequate human and material resources needed to uphold mental health and well-being.
I’m no authority on mental health so I’ll provide links below that offer a wealth of information on the subject.
The passage is open to interpretation but I urge the reader to leave with this: anyone can become a victim of the crippling effects of mental illness, your dad, best friend, girlfriend, teacher, neighbor, cleaner etc. and that doesn’t make a single one of them less of a person. With proper diagnosis, adequate treatment and loving support from family and friends they can live full, healthy lives.
I know we’re all so busy living our lives but try to check up on the people around you from time to time, talk to people, give a smile, provide company and enlighten people.
“The wound is the place where the light enters you” – Rumi
Peace and much love to you,