Sometimes, reading other people’s stories, we find the strength to tell ours. I have been monitoring the rise in deaths by suicide in Nigeria and the reactions to them. Some assumptions trail some of the unempathetic comments directed at the departed. Some would say suicide is not part of “our culture” and that no matter what, those who died should have found a lasting solution to the problems they were facing.
Mental health is the least discussed issue in our part of the world. It is stigmatized. People stone and make fun of those considered to be “mad.” Our folks assume all kinds of things about what made those individuals unfit for life as sane people. There are those who would take their mentally ill relatives to “spiritualists,” who would do nothing but flog and punish them in the name of exorcising the “spirits” possessing those sick individuals. Even the so-called psychiatric hospitals are hardly fit for rehabilitating human beings. Nigeria, as a country is a mental asylum. If one did not lose one’s humanity living in Nigeria, one would be close to the edge of mental breakdown without a keen sense of awareness that one is almost losing it. This situation is partly because nearly everything is designed to bring the worst out of a decent human being. By default, everything is designed to frustrate and drive one insane or kill one. The stories of those who chose to end it are not different from those of many. Coping mechanisms can breakdown. And some may not find a reason or worth attached to their life. So, they cut it short. The stories remind me of that dark time in my life. I almost ended it.
It is essential to understand that some wounds, however trivial to an outsider, may never heal. Some void may never be filled. I almost committed suicide a few years after losing my mom. With every second, the more that noose I made with a rag was tightening around my neck, by the staircase, the more I realized I wanted to live. Nobody was at home that day, but I somehow managed to rescue myself by swinging to hold the railings. It was a close shave. Since that event, I made up my mind to make my life count for something. Unless they are reading this post now, the relatives I was living with at the time did not know about this story. They could have found my body instead, and I would have been long gone. I didn’t even know what I was suffering from until much later. I was too young to understand grief and how to process the loss of a loved one. I just knew I felt alone, overwhelmed, and everything around me was tasteless and dark. I was barely fourteen.
My mother was my world. When she fell ill, I was the only one living with her at the time. I would travel to her younger sister’s place to pick up food. One of my older nieces, sister Bunmi, would occasionally help with washing her clothes and cleaning the house. I would bathe her in her chair and manage to change her clothing. I was eleven years old, turning twelve at the time. I would give her her medicine and hope she’ll be fine. There was no mobile phone, then. So, there was no way to reach out to distant relatives for help. When her situation got critical, her younger sibling, whom she fondly calls, Iyabo and older sister, Mummy Lalupon, came to tend to her. I was relieved of much of the duty, but I knew she would die eventually. She couldn’t talk, and I saw the pain and sorrow in her pale eyes. On the day she finally passed away, her older sister was praying on a mat in one corner of our house.
My mom’s breathing became labored, heaving heavily, and her frail body revealed the struggle to stay alive. She gave it her best shot and then, I watched her breathe her last. I didn’t cry. Her older sister couldn’t bear to watch the body. It was an abomination for the elder to bury her younger sibling. She had to leave. My mom’s younger sister was inconsolable. Everyone around me cried, and I couldn’t shed a single drop of tear. I walked to her sister and consoled her. I told her that a bucketful of tears would not bring my mom back. I went to lay beside her still body. It was warm at the time. Her eyes were expressionless. She had given life her best shot.
The following day, the hurriedly made coffin arrived. She was cold now. The veins were popping out underneath her dark, stretched, and glowing skin. I didn’t know her age at the time. That sort of detail doesn’t matter to a child who felt his mother would live forever. They asked me to leave her side. By the time of her burial, my elder brother, who was in college at the time, joined us. Still, I didn’t cry. I felt nothing.
When she was lying in state, I looked at her lifeless body. I realized she wasn’t coming back. The dam broke. I cried a little, but inside, I was crying a river. Then, it was time to put her in the ground. After the priest had preached, my older brother was handed the shovel. Dust to dust. Ashes to ashes. Then, it was my turn. I could hardly hold the shovel to throw one scoop of sand. The dam collapsed. I felt deep sorrow and sharp pain in my heart. I cried until I was weak. Then, we buried her. My aunties made sure the guests, neighbors, and passersby had something to eat.
Afterward, I went to live with my mom’s younger sister. I dealt with many things. The transition was strange, and everything was different. I started missing my mother. Part of coping with her loss was losing touch with my feeling and the fear of death. It was around this period that I decided to end it. Leading to that day, I would randomly say I wasn’t afraid to die, and my aunty would tell me to stop talking like that. One day, I tried to do precisely that—take my own life–and in the middle of it, I realized I wanted to live. Many more realized that fact a little too late because their chosen method of death could not be reversed. I was fortunate. I survived. Many won’t because they give in to that overbearing weight and that shadow that reduces everything to nothing. When you hear the story of a girl who took her life because her boyfriend left her, could you not call her a fool? We are not all wired to take betrayal and rejection kindly.
Many people couldn’t explain why they’re depressed. Some find themselves in shockingly unexpected circumstances that at that moment, the only solution they could think of is to die and not have to deal with the mess. If you haven’t been in that spot, you probably don’t have the language to deal with it. Some have spent a long time in therapy. That is not an option for many, especially in Nigeria. Please, don’t try to explain or insult the memory of the dead just because you can’t make sense of it. For many of those who took that option, their actions didn’t make sense to them as well. They find themselves in a void, a space of existence and decided it wasn’t worth the fight to stay alive.
If you’re reading this and you’re suffering from clinical or undiagnosed depression, please, seek help! If you fit the description, don’t give up on life. No matter what you’re going through, your life is not worthless, even if you convince yourself to believe it is. Depression comes in different forms. For me, as a thirteen-year-old, I couldn’t process or understand it. Now, I know better. It’s been decades since that experience, and I’m I glad to be alive? Absolutely! When you’re in that dark place, nobody understands, ask for help. If it doesn’t help, seek therapy or support. Don’t shut yourself out to the world. Suicide is never the answer to depression. Get help.
If you’re in the business of making jokes out of other’s misfortune, stop it! Close your mouth and pray that you’ll never find yourself in that void. Be supportive. If you must lend a voice, put yourself in their shoes. Otherwise, SHUT UP!