What we learnt from the touching experience of 3 Nigerian men suffering from mental illness

A frantic search for Digital Strategist, Ayodele Bandele – known simply as Dele, which lasted barely a day has turned up a body and a suicide note. The note – left privately for his closest friends, found its way to the internet somehow. 

While this is a tragedy that is essentially that of Dele’s friends and family – it is why he left his suicide note to his dearly loved ones only, the conversation about the circumstances surrounding his passing has resurrected a seasonal public discussion on mental illness and suicide. Disappointingly, the landscape of that conversation on Twitter shows that there are a handful of things Nigerians have remained adamant against in understanding mental illness and suicide.

I spoke to 3 men who have and continue to deal with depression and anxiety about their experience so far. The goal is to put in context the 1001 rhetorics that resurface like a jack-in-the-box every time some longsuffering soul succumbs to the ravages of mental illness and commits suicide.

Hopefully, these stories can help move the needle on this tired conversation and we can at last, approach this delicate conversation with the seriousness it deserves.

Topeoluwa

“Guy, forget that thing. Depression na white man problem.”

I was diagnosed with clinical depression about 2 years ago but I grappled with it for 4 years before finally seeking help. That delay was born of ignorance. I thought for the longest time that I was just suffering from seasonal sadness – which to some degree is something depression can be described as, but it was more grave than that.

It didn’t help that when I casually brought the topic up with my best friend to test the waters and see if I could open up to him he retorted, “Guy, forget that thing. Depression na white man problem.” We were at a bar, I just laughed very loudly, took a quick gulp of my beer and changed the subject.

It was meeting a new kind of friend that got me to a place where I could seek help, and all they did was maintain a language and demeanour that always said, “vulnerability is okay here.” It breaks my heart to think of the countless number of men who don’t have that kind of friendship and/or don’t know that they even deserve it. We need to make space for vulnerability for our mandem.

Mustapha

“The best medicine is prayer. If you seek the face of Allah (SWT) all your worries will be no more.”

How do you even begin to process a problem (the only way to understand it enough to know you need help), if its very source is where you are told to go for help?

Because I had been curious about the human mind and mental illness, I was able to know early on; that religion triggered my anxieties. I was grappling with the loss of faith in the religion of my parents which was all I knew for a significant part of my life, that was bad enough.

Every time I spoke about my despondency, the response I got was “the best medicine is prayer. If you seek the face of Allah (SWT) all your worries will be no more.” It sent me spiralling into grief for the loss of my faith in something my near and dear seemed to find all the solace in the world they need. Something I, on the other hand, had lost grasp of. It also didn’t help that I lived in a deeply conservative place.

I sought help after I moved to a less constricting environment, and now I am on a lifetime journey of healing. Something I learnt in therapy is that if I had got a single compassionate and non-judgemental listening ear, my anxieties could have been better managed, at least enough to prevent my attempted suicide in 2018.

I really hope we will be more compassionate with one another and be able to maintain that compassion for longer than it takes for a suicide hashtag to die down.

Fatah

“Think about your mother. The pain you would have left her in.”

I attempted suicide the first time when I was 15, which was 13 years ago.  I will always remember resurfacing from the pain that knocked me out into what I thought was certain death, and I was devastated. I was angry at myself, but it was more the disappointment that I couldn’t even succeed in killing myself that really crushed me. Then the Aunties came and the guilt-tripping began and that almost single-handedly precipitated my second attempt 2 years later.

Because how do you respond to, “Think about your mother. The pain you would have left her in,’ when the same mother is the architect of the trauma that got you to a place where you consider death the only way out of your predicament? It reinforced my sense of helplessness.

I have since moved out and I’m taking it one day at a time with therapy, meditation and prayer. I wonder now and then whether that second attempt could have been prevented had the immediate response of my Aunties been to seek to listen to me rather than guilt me.

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