by Ada Nnadi
On the 22nd of May 2017 a crazy girl jumped off the first floor of her school’s three-storey hostel. A crowd gathered. People were holding her but she was still insisting on jumping.
She was asked if she wanted to kill herself and her response was “no”. They further asked her if she was into sports (have you seen me doing such before ?), she says no. “ Why do you want to jump then?” “Because I just want to.”
And I did, running back to my room – four-hundred and nine A, on the building’s last floor – as soon as I hit the ground. I had things to do, I was cooking beans.
By the time I got to my room, the news had traveled round school.
There were different variations of the story. Something about a cat, demonic possession and breastfeeding. All of which landed me in the school’s medical centre. Despite vehemently denying that I had absolutely no intention of killing myself, with talks of bucket lists and the ability to form coherent sentences and maintain some semblance of composure. Nobody was listening.Nigerians are not listening to you, but God is.
A child of God does not go through depression. Depression is a foreign ideology in the black man’s vocabulary. If you act a little strange, perhaps out of the status quo, there’ll be a certain school nurse trying to build some sort of cordial relationship with you but the first question she asks will be: “do you go to church?” Hesitate and she’ll tell you whilst watching you closely “say Jesus.” You are trying hard to contain your mirth and are thankful that the night shrouds your incredulous look but you say the words anyways. “Say Jesus is Lord,” she prompts again. You repeat, “Jesus is Lord.”
It is appalling that in a country that barely encompasses one hundred and sixty million people, there isn’t a legitimate safe place to talk about what you’re—what you are mentally going through. Even if there is, it either lacks publicity or it is difficult to make it available to everybody. We don’t know enough and nobody really wants to learn.
At the neuropsychiatric hospital I was referred to in Enugu, I was booked for three different appointments. The only thing they had in common was the consultation day. On each appointment, I had to see a different psychiatrist; I had to recant my jumping story over again and I had to sit through the same customary, banal, clichéd questions. Nothing new, nothing less. No diagnosis, except the word “abnormal” turned up too often for comfort.
I remember sitting in the waiting room, my eyes falling on the card of the person beside me. This guy had the first side of his card full and the other side of it halfway there and I wondered what had brought him here, if he also had acted out of what was deemed “normal.” The fear I had felt then, was the slithering kind of fear that slowly creeps up on you, building up until suddenly it overwhelms you. I wasn’t afraid of being diagnosed with a mental illness; I was afraid of being stuck in an endless cycle of unhelpful appointments, recanting a story that happened five hundred years ago, hearing the words “you’re not normal” and then start to believe it myself.
You really are abnormal were the parting words the last psychologist – an elderly man a few days short of retirement age who had no idea what a bucket list was – had said to me after I refused to leave his office, asking him why he had written me another appointment for an incident that happened a month and half ago.
It is our inability to listen that makes us unable to understand, and if we cannot understand, how can we broach the problem, talk more of solving it or even getting half-way there? This is why, when the discussion of suicide comes up there’s always a Nigerian somewhere, harping on how suicide is a sure ticket to hell or why the average person thinks talking about your mental health means you’re desperate for attention.
We need safe places, places where civil, comfortable and intelligent (yes, I said intelligent) can thrive. A place to teach and create awareness (which you can do all by yourself on the internet if you actually made an effort but I will graciously pretend that doesn’t count, because you are here and you are reading this).
A place like this is what NGOs like the Smart-Nigeria Suicide Prevention Initiative is trying to do. If you need someone to talk to, you can reach out to them on Facebook; Smart-Nigeria Suicide Prevention Initiative or you can call them on their hotlines:
A web address where you can reach them is in the works and on the 10th of September, World Suicide Prevention Day, they’re holding a small event on Mental Health and Awareness (details will be communicated later, just keeping checking the https://happenings.com.ng). In addition to that, the Lagos University Teaching Hospital also recently launched a suicide prevention service called the Suicide Research and Prevention Initiate and Staff Emotional Care Services (SURPIN/SECS). You can reach them on the numbers: 09080217555, 09034400009, 08111909909 and 07013811143.
Contrary to the popular belief, having a mental disorder isn’t the quintessential Nollywood mad person. Most times it is silent, it is loud, it has many voices, myriad emotions and sometimes… it is nothing. Millions of people suffer from mental disorders, the most common being depression. Black people can suffer from mental illness, Nigerians can suffer from mental illness, if you have nothing constructive to say and have no intention of educating yourself, please; Shut. Up.
Now on a concluding note, I’d like to clarify a few things:
1. Why did I jump? It’s one of the many things on my bucket list. There are a whole lot of other fun stuff on there (like meeting Oprah Winfrey before I’m thirty, making a presentation at Harvard, wearing a ball gown to a beach outside Nigeria or trying to make a Queen’s Guard laugh). No, there is no killing of people on my list (although some people are trying me), no, I do not want to get arrested (not by the Nigerian police, thank you very much), no, I am not going to attempt anything in my birthday suit, especially in a public place. What’s on your bucket list? Don’t have one? Nothing’s stopping you from making one. Feel free to post it in the comment section.
Disclaimer: please if you added jumping off anything at all (even off a seasoning cube), ayam not dia oo.
2. Will I jump again? I end this with a quote from a popular classic:
“Do you think I’ve gone round the bend? I’m afraid so. You’re mad, bonkers, completely off your head. But I’ll tell you a secret. All the best people are.”