MENTAL ILLNESS: A SOCIAL CONSTRUCT OR NAH?

I sincerely believe that the worst thing next to mental illness is the stigma attached to it. It’s saddening to think that a society teeming with supposedly intelligent, educated humans still holds such backward beliefs about delicate topics like mental health.

A lot of these false ideas being spread about mental illnesses do more harm than good. And I should know – I happen to be one of the victims. My name is Loluwa, and I’m presently suffering from severe depression.

My story isn’t particularly tragic, ‘cause I’m not dead yet – SPOILER ALERT. I’ve lived with my illness for a little over a year, but it might as well be centuries or millennia. Honestly, being depressed for merely twelve hours is enough to make one want to end one’s life. It gets infuriating when people begin to regard it as something unserious, something that’s “inside your head”, something you can just change by not thinking about it.

Before I go on, I’d like to define the illness itself. Contrary to widespread belief, depression is NOT sadness. It’s a mental condition stemming from a deficiency in serotonin, a neurotransmitter required in the brain for mood regulation, among other things. Depressed people don’t feel sad; they feel; much, much worse. You can’t possibly compare a bout of sadness to the crushing, long-lasting weight of hopelessness and, in worse cases, suicidal feelings.

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The way I see it, the ridiculous ideas attached to mental illness made things worse for me during the first ten months that I had to live with it. And it was because I kept listening to what others told me, that my feelings were just of sadness, that I could easily get rid of depression by changing my mentality or praying against the “spiritual powers” that were working against me. Believe me, I tried doing both, and neither worked – the latter wasn’t much of a surprise, to be honest. As a result of my ignorance, I had to suffer for months, waking up every day feeling like I should be dead. Sleeping was an almost impossible task; I legit had to take certain measures to cope with my insomnia (I’m not going to talk about them, but if you know, you know). I remember how easily the suicidal feelings came to me, especially at midnight, when I was alone with my thoughts. Eventually, in November 2018, I decided to check myself in at a hospital and since then, I’ve been taking prescribed drugs and going for therapy. I’m happy to say that I feel better now – not fully healed, but better.

Why did I fall into depression? My honest answer is: I DON’T REALLY KNOW. It sounds absurd, but it’s true. Besides the deficiency in serotonin, the cause of my illness could be anything. At first, I was convinced that it was because I was denied admission. As a result, I tried my best to always top my class at UTME lessons, having sudden, terrible depressive episodes when I didn’t. I remember a day I felt like killing myself simply because I got 60% in a class test, despite the fact that I was second place and pretty much everyone else scored way below me. It took me over an hour to get myself to calm down.

My whole life changed because of my depression. I started to gain weight, which was thumbs-down for me. I lost the mental energy to do a lot of things, so I appeared as “decidedly lazy” to most people. I was legit irritated all the time, and it took me nearly all of my willpower to keep from losing my temper and attacking someone, something I fantasized about most of the time. On the plus side, I stopped caring about a lot of things, which made it a lot easier to approach people. I could say whatever was on my mind and not feel embarrassed. I remember I greeted approximately twenty people I wasn’t familiar with every single day at school.

Another upside of being depressed and having negative views of the future was that I started to work for my survival. It took a while, but I landed myself a job as a freelancer. The downside of this is that my illness still hinders me from making as much progress on the job as I would like to.

How do I cope with my depression? Well, I used to meditate, but not so often these days. I’m not religious, so praying is out of the story – why pray to a being that let me fall into depression in the first place? The therapy helps, too – it’s nice to be able to talk to someone who won’t stigmatize or judge me.

I hope my story helps. It would be great if I could reach out to others like me with this, and save lives that are on the brink of self-destruction. I have some advice for you: Don’t listen to the crap society tells you. Don’t live by anybody’s standards except yours, or your life will be a living hell. Also, if nobody will blow your trumpet for you, do it yourself.

Namaste.

**Drops pen**

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