By Ibukunoluwa Omotorera Owa
It’s 1:05 on a Monday morning and there’s an awkward silence between us, I can hear him breathing and I long to be by his side but I have to compose myself. I ask softly, “are you talking to anybody else apart from me”?. There’s a pause, then he replies, “yes and no, I was talking to someone else before I met you, she said she didn’t want a relationship but got attached and started catching feelings, we quarreled about it and this led to us not talking, it was during this period that I met you. Three weeks into my getting to know you, she suddenly begins hitting up my phone and has not stopped since”. I reply with a simple, “ok”, trying to conceal the fact that his reply had bothered me.
‘Chinedu pls, I’m begging you, stop!’. He swerves the car in both directions, then looks at me and starts kissing me, I respond , my lips gently accepting the moist warmth of his lips. “You know I love you so much, I promise I won’t do it again”, he says. We drive past the toll-gate and head to my place. His car is parked right outside my house; we listen to music and laugh at each other’s jokes, talking about everything. The look in our eyes say what we both constantly try to conceal, the fact that we long to be together, the hope that this might be the one, however, the night is ready to take its leave and so must I. I gently hug him, not wanting to leave his warm embrace, I soak it in for about 50 seconds and then pull back. “I’ll talk to you later” I say, “bye”, he responds. I shut the door and make my way towards the gate; I look back for a minute and notice his stiff gaze on me as he ensures I walk into the compound before he drives off.
Lying on my bed, I replay every single memory of the day, how he held my hand like I was the only thing that mattered, how he kissed me like my lips was air and he needed to breathe. The way he stared at me, like he could see his future in my eyes. I have so much hope in him, I just wish he could see himself through my eyes, he would see how much potential I saw in him, the greatness I was certain was in his future, if he could only believe.
It’s a sunny afternoon in Lagos. The sun is so bright and the heat could leave you drenched in sweat after a couple of minutes of being in the sun. I am laying on my bed with a light vest and jean shorts so short you could see my bum crack. I have earphones on and I’m listening to Miguel’s ‘simple things’. My mind reverts to Chinedu, as I hear the romantic phrases being uttered in the song. I pick up my phone and search for Chinedu’s name in my watsapp contacts. I type ‘hi Chinedu’, drop my phone and pick up a book and read for an hour. I notice it’s been an hour and I haven’t heard back from Chinedu, so I look at my phone, which signifies that there is no new message from Chinedu. ‘He’s probably busy’, I say to myself and keep reading. Thirty minutes into my novel, I fall asleep. I wake up at 7, the sun had taken its leave and the dark had been welcomed. I check my phone and still no message from Chinedu. I decide to call him but still no response. I listen to music for an hour and slowly fall asleep.
I walk to the door hearing the knock; I already know who the visitor is and I’m filled with excitement, I open the door and she screams ‘booski’, with wide arms, my lips widened showing my raging excitement. I wrap myself in her arms. Ezinne smells like roses with a bit of Oudh, that’s one thing I had always admired about her, she always smelled so good and I being a staunch lover of perfumes, I couldn’t help but love her for that. We make our way to Gbemi, she and Ezinne exchange pleasantries and we begin chatting. It’s no surprise that the first topic of our discussion centers on men, to be more specific, ‘Lagos boys’. We had all reached the age where we had acquired the expected level of education one would expect someone our age to acquire; we were all lawyers, so it’s safe to say we had exceeded the expectations of the average girl of our age. “All these Lagos boys are just packagers who come with the ulterior motive of breaking your heart; when they first meet you, they tell you all a girl wants to hear but that same mouth, where all those admirable praises came out from, is the same mouth they’ll use to belittle you when they get disinterested in you” , Ezinne says. I and Gbemi respond, “yes oh, stupid boys” and then hiss so loud the maid in the kitchen could probably hear us. We discuss at length about everything, boys, politics, the Nigerian job market, parents and fashion. After about two hours, we decide to take our leave from Gbemi’s house.
Donell Jones’, ‘this love’ is playing in the background and I’m dancing and reminiscing about the good times I had been privileged to enjoy in the company of Chinedu. I remember he had not responded to any of my missed calls or messages, so I decided to try one more time with the hope that this time, he’d reciprocate. I send him a message, ‘Chinedu if I’ve done anything wrong I’m sorry’. “Mummy, good evening” ; I kneel down to show respect for my mother as I walk into the house. She responds, “How are you”? ; “I’m fine ma”, then take my leave. My mother probably knows there’s something wrong with me but being a mother who grew up with a daughter with mood swings, she knows not to interfere. I lay on my bed flipping through Instagram, admiring beautiful females and reading inspirational love quotes.
‘Temi it’s fine, lets just leave it at that’; I read Chinedu’s message over and over again, trying to comprehend what he was trying to convey. Did he mean he was over the little disagreement we had had five days ago or was he trying to tell me he was done with me. I was so perplexed and helpless. I make my approach towards the living room and tell my mom what I had just read, hoping she’ll understand what I couldn’t understand. “What does he mean” she says, “I don’t know mummy”. She replies, “just leave it, you’ve done your part” . I was staring at the TV for about 5 minutes, without noticing what was on, my mind being occupied with what had just happened; I couldn’t understand how someone I shared so much with in such a short period of time could just decide that I didn’t matter anymore. My mom looked at me and at that moment, tears fell from my eyes; she hugged me tight and told me to let it out. “I lost my pride mummy”; I got calmer, controlled my anger and mood swings; ‘why didn’t it work out this time? how do I start with someone else’. She embraced me tighter and told me not to worry and that God knows best.
Chinedu is depressed, I can feel it. It was at this moment that I realized that I had never truly understood what he had told me about four weeks ago. “I was diagnosed with mild depression, I used to cut myself and take weed to feel better”. Those words kept replaying in my head. I wanted to reach out, help him, I just wanted him to be ok, to know there’s a way out but I can’t help someone who wasn’t willing or able to let me.
The truth is, I had once ‘been’ Chinedu; we had once ‘shared the same illness’, an illness that comes intermittently, without any announcement and leaves when it wishes. Depression has been defined in the Oxford Dictionary as ‘a mental condition characterised by feelings of severe despondency and dejection, typically also with feelings of inadequacy and guilt often accompanied by lack of energy and disturbance of appetite and sleep’. Some of it’s symptoms are loss of appetite, loss of interest in daily activities, feelings of hopelessness and helplessness and weight changes.
During my teenage years, I had suffered from depression; I was never happy with my physical appearance , I constantly compared myself to my friends and other females and this attitude made me oblivious to the blessings in my life, I became numb to happiness; I comforted myself with food. It wasn’t until my fourth year when I decided I wanted an intimate relationship with God and also decided to lose some weight, that I was finally able to overcome depression.
The reality is that depression is overlooked in Africa and in many other countries and individuals suffering from this illness are never taken seriously. The Nigerian Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing estimated that the lifetime and 12 month’ estimates of a major depressive episode were 3.1% and 1.1%, respectively . The mean age of onset was 29.2 and the median duration of an episode among lifetime cases was 1.0 year. Nigerian society trivialises depression, its preceived as an illness that only affects the western world and that only the “white people” understand it. Nigerian adults and teenagers are expected to deal with their issues, if they summon the courage to utter the word “depression”, as the illness they suffer from but the truth is, depression is a mental illness just like any other physical illness and it needs to be treated appropriately, if not, the victim continues to suffer, with little hope of improvement.
Depression can be treated, either with therapy or if appropriate, with medication. The mild cases can be treated with oral therapy, which basically involves talking to a qualified person about the symptoms and possible triggers, while more serious cases can be treated through medication and oral therapy.
As individuals, we should learn to care for people; if we notice a change of pattern in someone’s behaviour or a sudden loss of appetite and/or elatedness, we should reach out to ensure they are ok and if it seems they are not, we should try to gently probe further, to find them the help they need or encourage a referral to consult an appropriate specialist. It can be quite difficult ‘being there’ or being a friend to someone who’s depressed because most times, they are not willing to receive help but we should still endeavour to be persistent in our approach to seek them the help they need.
Depression, as with all types of mental illness must be destigmatised and treated in exactly the same was as any physical injury, as this alone, would help to reduce the feeling of isolation of a person who is suffering.
We all have imperfections and generally, others sympathise and try to help, so we need to strive for the same attitude to be taken with those whose ‘injury’ cannot be seen but certainly exists and must be helped.
Ibukunoluwa Omotorera Owa is a young lawyer practicing in Nigeria. Her aim is to raise awareness on depression in Africa and hopefully help people understand and show compassion for individuals suffering from depression.