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Author

Tadese M Oluwakemi

Browsing

At some moment in our lives, something is going to go wrong, something is going to happen not the way you expected or wanted it to go, people will walk out on you, you’ll lose things and people and relationships. It’s life and these things are inevitable. But what makes life beautiful is that you get over them, you bounce back after a while.

But what if you don’t? Or can’t ?

We hear about that scary word “Depression” a lot but most people don’t actually know what it means.

Depression is a mental illness characterized by prolonged feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and sometimes self-harm. If you ask anyone who’s ever been diagnosed with depression, chances are you’ll hear a lot of different descriptions of what depression is and feels like.

Having been diagnosed with mild depression in 2017, I could give a personal description of depression as “Feeling like you’re in a deep dark hole, there’s a ladder in front of you that can help you get out, it’s right beside you, but you can’t reach it. It’s just there, you want to reach it but you just can’t muster up the energy to reach it and propel yourself out of the hole” Seems dark right?

Depression is more common in Nigeria than we think or even know. There are more than a million known diagnoses every year and think about people who haven’t even opened up about it. It’s a wonder why mental health and mental illnesses are still so stigmatized in Nigeria. Maybe because of our religious prejudices, or the fact that we lay more emphasis on physical health while ignoring mental health.

What causes depression?

I wish mental illnesses were as straight forward as physical illnesses. When you have malaria, you get tested and you know that you got it from a mosquito, or when you have diarrhea, you know it’s from eating or drinking something. For mental illnesses, it’s not that easy or straightforward. It’s much more complex, there can be a lot of unrelated things piling up to be a cause of any type of mental illness and what causes depression for might not necessarily be what causes it for B and C and D.

A commonly ignored and even unknown cause of depression, as well as many other mental illnesses, is Chemical Imbalances in the brain. When I first got diagnosed with depression and I got my drug prescription, I was confused, depression affected my mind and my thoughts, what do I need the pills for?

My therapist broke it down by explaining to me that all human beings have neurotransmitters in their bodies. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that regulates mood. Now if for any reason it starts to be produced in smaller amounts, it results in Depression. If it starts to be produced in larger amounts, it can lead to Anxiety. So what the pills do is regulate the secretion of Serotonin with the hopes of getting the chemicals balanced again. So yes, people don’t just get sad and decide to not pull themselves out of it, there are actually chemical imbalances in their brains that stop them from being able to. It’s just as real and treatable as physical sickness, if you can’t dismiss a headache, you should never dismiss anything affecting mental health.

Probably one of the most common causes of depression and many mental illnesses is Certain Life Events. Due to life is so unpredictable and unfair, anything can throw anyone off balance at any time. Death, failing an exam, losing a job, a breakup, parents going through a divorce, bullying… I could go on about all the things that could happen to you in life. I was severely bullied growing up because I was bigger than most, the fatphobic comments came early on and I grew up hearing it up until I graduated secondary school and that had a huge negative impact on my self-esteem and self-image.

Though that’s just me, other people may get bullied and not end up depressed or anxious about it later in life, it doesn’t mean one person is stronger than the other because it didn’t affect them as much. It means we are human and we are different and we may not react to things the same way. For some people it could have been bullying, for some the loss of a parent or a friend, for some a relationship ending could make them spiral and land in that deep dark hole that is depression. I know a lot of people are thinking “it’s just a relationship, why would you let it make you depressed?” Do most people forget the emotional attachment that comes with relationships, and I don’t even mean romantic relationships alone, friendships are relationships too. Having an emotional attachment be broken out of the blue can be as devastating as anything you can imagine, and that should not invalidate the feelings and struggles of another person.

Read Now: Love in the social media era

What does depression looks like?

I’d be lying if I told you Depression has a trademark look because it does not. Depression isn’t stamped on the forehead and because of how complex it is, some people can live years and years hiding the fact that they are struggling internally without you even having an idea. There are signs you can watch out for though, just some people do not show those signs and that does not mean they aren’t going through it.

Usually, depression symptoms can be persistent sadness, loss of appetite, lack on interest in what the person is usually interested in, weight gain or weightloss, reclusiveness, flaking out on people, signs of self harm or talks of suicide and lots more.

But some people don’t show these symptoms and that’s why mental health is very important because you may never know what is happening in someone’s head before it’s too late.

Read Now: What does happiness mean to you?

Why don’t depressed people open up about it?

This is probably the most frustrating part. Why don’t they tell you about it? Why do they take so long before they open up? For some it’s already too late and their family and friends end up feeling bad that they weren’t aware of the struggle.

It took me ten years, yes, TEN whole years before I could open up about my mental health and actually seek help for it. Not because I liked feeling like slitting my wrists or I liked crying myself to sleep every night, I had a few reasons. I think I speak for everyone who’s ever gone through this when I say, it is not easy to talk about.

Finding the courage and the right words to open up was probably the hardest part of seeking help for me (even worse than group therapy and the mood swings I got from Prozac). Depression is so complex, sometimes you can’t even string up the right words to use when trying to explain what’s going. It just doesn’t come that easy because sometimes even you don’t know what’s going on in your head. You just feel that overwhelming slam of sadness and despair and you can’t exactly point out what’s wrong or why or what exactly triggered it. So people, speaking about mental illnesses is HARD.

Another fat reason why people don’t really speak up is How stigmatized mental health is. In more open-minded societies, it is still not easy for people to open up, now think of how hard it is in the Nigerian society where people will easily chalk up your struggle to non-existent “village people” or invalidate you using the crappiest statements ever. In Nigeria, mental health and talking about it is so stigmatized, there’s that fear that people won’t understand you or they won’t take you seriously enough. I remember telling someone just a little bit about my depression and all they said was “Stop behaving like those white girls” and really that’s probably one of the worst things you can say to anyone who has come to open up to you. Mental health and mental illnesses are so trivialized in Nigeria, yet we express shock every time we hear someone has jumped off a bridge or downed a pack of pills, then we exclaim “He should have spoken up”.

Nigerians see therapy as such a huge deal, it’s almost like you’re crazy to have to go into therapy for your own health, some even tell you to just pray like an angel would come to you in the middle of the night and give your head a shake so your serotonin levels gets balanced again.

People also don’t open up because they are scared. It’s like being on a wall, you don’t know what’s on the other side, you can only hope that it’s something good and helpful. That’s how it’s like talking about your mental health, it’s either the people you tell understand you and they offer help or they don’t. And there’s that fear that keeps them from speaking up. People are scared of being ridiculed or undermined or just told to “Get over it” or the typical Nigerian; they tell you how they have it worse or how other people have it worse and make you feel entitled to having feelings.

How do I make people open up to me?

The most important thing you have to do is make yourself open to people. Open meaning that they know you will listen and understand. When you create a friendly and understanding atmosphere for people to feel like they can share their problems with you, they will. Creating an environment that makes people comfortable is very important.

You also have to let them know you are trustworthy and you won’t judge. There’s nothing more hurtful and regrettable than being judged for speaking about something as delicate as mental health. So two things, create a warm and friendly environment and let everyone around you know you don’t judge, and everything they tell you is safe with you. No one likes a blabbermouth Also an occasional “Hello” “How are you today?”, a smile and a hug goes a long way even if it seems cliche. Back when I was still in that dark hole of depression, a smile would have gone a long way. It made me feel cared for in a way. Even if they don’t tell you what’s going on at that moment, a smile or a hug will make them feel like you’re open to listening whenever it is they want to talk.

Life is so short and everything we do has an impact, no matter how little or how big. We have to be there for each other, be kind and caring because you never know what’s going through in a person’s mind and head, so be kind with your words and actions.

For anyone going through anything at all, open up. Speak up, it’s hard but it gets easier after that. In the end, you will be happy you opened up in the first place.

UNDERSTANDING THE LGBTQ+ COMMUNITY IN NIGERIA

To understand the LGBTQ+ community, you must first understand love. Have you ever been in love? You know, felt that heart thudding, ragged breathing, mind disorienting feeling that is love? Yeah, a large number of us have. Also ever heard of the expression, “The heart wants what it wants”? No not the song, the expression. The one that means you don’t choose who you love, your heart is just an independent organ who selfishly picks who it wants you to fall in love with and when to fall out of love with them. Odds are you’ve probably heard it, or not. But what I’m trying to say is, Love is genderless.

We can characterize love with a lot of things, patience, kindness, it does not envy or boast (yes I am quoting 1st Corinthians). But why do we leave out a very key characteristic of love, the fact that is genderless…and the fact that we can fall in love with anybody and everybody.

WHAT DOES LGBTQ+ MEAN?

The LGBT community exists virtually everywhere in the world. Literally everywhere. And contrary to plenty and wrong belief, the LGBTQ+ community does not only comprise of homosexuals. Yes, when you see that cute colorful flag 🏳️‍🌈 it does not only cover gay people. You’d be surprised at how wide the community is and just how many people comfortably fit in it.

L stands for lesbian. A lesbian is a woman who is attracted to other women. I choose not to use the term “sexually attracted” because that would be meaning only a mere sexual attraction to other women would constitute lesbianism which is in fact totally wrong. There are lesbian couples who believe it or not are not having sex. Does that mean they are not lesbians? Definitely not. A lesbian woman is a woman who is attracted to women, attracted to being an all-encompassing word for love, affection, romance, emotional attraction and then sex.

G Gay is an adjectival word that encompasses the whole term that is homosexuality. But since we already gendered the word by using Lesbians for women, Gay here means a man who is attracted to other men. Just like lesbians, this does not connote only sex, it encompasses everything that is felt in a heterosexual relationship and sex.

B Bisexuality basically is any individual who has the ability to create or have romantic, emotional or sexual attraction to either of the sexes. A man or a woman can be bisexual, the term is not gender specific like lesbian. Fun fact, bisexual people don’t need to have had any actual or specific sexual experiences to identify as bisexual. Know why, just like straight people don’t need to have had sexual experience to know they’re straight, they don’t either. Crazy right?

T The more complex and most often misunderstood member of this community are the Transgender people. It’s an umbrella term for people who are gender non conforming. Often mixed up with trans sexuality, it’s important to distinguish between gender and sex.

Let’s have a little sociology cum biology class. The two terms are very similar as well as very different. Sex is the physical trait that distinguishes males from females; so like a man is a man because he has a penis and a woman is a woman because she has a vagina instead of a penis. Gender on the other hand is a social construct, like many other things( virginity) but I digress. The main difference therefore is sex is your physical construct while gender is a social construct. A good example would be, using our very interesting and sometimes vexatious Nigerian society, it’s often believed a man should not be seen wearing certain types of clothing because it’s not “manly”.

Transgender people are people whose gender identity does not conform with the sex they were assigned to at birth. A worthy mention is The Billy Porter. While Transexual people are individuals who have actually undergone surgery to change their sex to the gender they conform to.

Q Queer people are people who do not exclusively identify as heterosexual but see the terms gay or lesbian as too limiting to describe what they are.

+ Because the LGBTQ community is very large, there are a host of other terms under them. The plus symbol encompasses them all in their entirety, the Asexuals, Pansexuals, Intersex and, Questioning, to mention a few.

THE LGBTQ+ COMMUNITY IN NIGERIA

When you mention the LGBTQ+ community in Nigeria, the chances are you’ll be met by either a frown or some snarky remark which is almost always homophobic. It’s crazy and completely ludicrous to think that in a country as diverse as Nigeria, home to more than 200 million people, there will be not one single person who is gender non conforming or homosexual. Yet as crazy as it sounds, some people legitimately believe this. Nigeria is a country deeply rooted in homophobia and hypocrisy at the same time.

Members of the LGBTQ+ community in Nigeria are met with hostility and constantly live in fear of being lynched one day by some homophobe who believes homosexuality is against his religion.

But that deep rooted hatred for the community, where does it come from? I,like many people, often wonder, why do we accept that one can be born straight but one can’t be born  gay? Why do we accept that there are certain things that can remove the “manliness” out of a man or add “manliness” to a woman? I’ve had multiple discussions with many people and ten out of ten people are against the community because of Religion, Laws, Colonialism and “I just don’t like gay people”.

RELIGION

This comes first because this is every homophobic go-to answer when asked why they are homophobic. A rather weak point because not everyone confirms to a religion. Not everyone is a Christian or a Muslim ( I mention these two because they are the most practiced religion in Nigeria).

Yes, the Bible is homophobic, yes the Koran is homophobic but it can’t be binding on everyone if there are still some people who do not conform to either religion. This emphasis on religion is based on deep-rooted hypocrisy. I once had a conversation with a guy who once used religion as a premise to justify his homophobia. When asked if he found the idea of two girls getting it on exciting or sexy, he gave a definite “Uh yeah, what guy doesn’t?” And when asked what he thinks about two men getting it on, he replied with a nasty comment. The fact that a large chunk of Nigerian men fantasize about watching two girls get it on and even them joining in on the action but frown at two men getting it on borders highly on hypocrisy. Using religion to justify why two men can’t be together but praising two girls being together smells like that putrid air, what’s it called again…Hypocrisy!

When we see people who vehemently use the umbrella of religion to go against the LGBTQ+ community, it doesn’t take much digging or investigation into their lives to see that they are far from “perfect”. You see men and women who are sexually active (don’t get me wrong, sex is beautiful and you can have sex if you want to (as long as you’re being safe) coming out to bash members of the community because they feel it’s against the tenets of religion. Having sex outside of wedlock which is more beautifully called Fornication is a sin if we’re going along with religious tenet, so why should any one who’s fornicating think he’s a better follower of a religion than a member of the community? Also I’m not trying to say every one fornicates but in a day, every individual commits at least one sin. When your mum asks how many cubes of sugar you added to your cup of tea and you say three instead of six because you don’t want her to yell at you, you’ve lied, that’s a sin. Also when your talkative friend calls you and you say “I’ll call you back, my mum’s calling me” just because you don’t want to talk to them, you’ve committed a sin. When you take your sister’s dress and keep it because you like it and you know she wouldn’t give you if you asked, you’ve stolen and that’s a sin. When you kiss a woman that’s not your wife, you’ve committed a sin which is adultery. The list could go on and on. Bottom line is, you can not use religion as a premise to hate or discriminate against gay or trans people if you’re doing all these things yourself. You also should not because not everyone practices the same religion. In the end, we do not know if religion is real or not. It’s all about our faith and in the end, it may have just been a fabrication made to keep all humans in check.

LAWS

Homosexuality is against the law in Nigeria. It’s in the criminal code, the penal code and there’s even a whole act that stipulates jail time for them. It’s commendable that people know these (despite not being able to even state their rights as citizens and where it is stated in the constitution). Jail time is ten to fourteen years which is very appalling and nauseating when you think that rapists don’t even get that amount of jail time neither do pedophiles. Even more upsetting is the fact that less than fifty people in the whole history of Nigeria have been convicted of rape. Yet, we all know that rape occurs ten times more in the country.

I ask myself, why should homosexuality even be a crime in the first place? When you think of a crime, you’re thinking of something that  has adverse effects on the well being of the populace and the society like murder, theft, rape, treason and the likes. So how exactly does homosexuality fit into that? Why should the sentiments of a group of people constitute what is law and what is not?

Earlier in this article I mentioned how homosexuality, bisexuality and the likes are not only about sexual attraction, it has to do with emotional, romantic love and affection between two individuals just like heterosexuality is. So why should two consenting adults face jail time for loving each other the way heterosexual people love each other? Some people are of the opinion that because this has been criminalised in Nigeria, it is automatically a just law when in fact it is the exact opposite. As Nigerian citizens we all have the right to dignity, right to personal liberty, right to the freedom of expression and movement. It is a complete contradiction of these rights to implement a law that mets out jail time to two people who love each other. It is also hypocritical that we have serious crimes that go unpunished in Nigeria but everyone is suddenly up and ready to be law abiding once it comes to the idea of the LGBTQ+ community. In fact, the implementation of these laws have become legalised homophobia which is more dangerous than most people would like to admit.

COLONIALISM

If I had a kobo for every time someone told me “being gay isn’t in our culture. The white people brought it when they colonised us”  I’d have thirty billion sitting comfortably in my account. Really, I’ve heard this so many times, I wish I could get some money each time someone said it to me.

The white people did bring a lot to Nigeria during colonisation, like religion (the one that people use as a premise to be homophobic, they forget it is also not our culture when they use this argument. Quite comfortable isn’t it?) , the language we speak, some of the foods we eat, a lot of the clothing. But one thing I know for a fact that wasn’t brought by white people is homosexuality and gender non conformation. You know why, because being gay and gender non conforming is not something a person learns or is forced into, it is something an individual is born as. History has receipts and records of homosexuality in Africa that dates back as many years before the penetration of Europeans into the continent. Several tribes like the Nupe people in Nigeria, Azande in Congo and Sudan, the Tutsi people of Rwanda all practiced same sex relationships for ritual purposes and for spiritual purposes. Literally a thirty minute Google  search  into the history of African before colonialism would do a lot of good. It’s just plain ridiculous to think that in a country of millions, it is impossible that before the white man came, no two people of the same sex have ever tried or experimented with something sexual or even non conformed with their gender. The possibility of that being a reality is very slim. And that putrid smell is here again, oh what’s it called…hypocrisy! The colonialists brought us so many things in Nigeria. The suit and tie we wear even under the scorching Sub Saharan sun, the English that is not our indigenous language was also brought by the colonialists, why have we not rebelled against them and labelled them “not our culture”?

“I JUST DON’T LIKE GAY PEOPLE”

Another statement that could have easily fetched me thirty billion in my account. After having conversations with people and exhaustively debunking their premises for homophobia, they result to this and I have to say it is the weakest point. People often say that it is not by force to like the LGBTQ+ community. And that pop culture has tried to force it down their throats. Now the thing is, members of the community do not need you to like them. Liking them really does not if we’re being honest. But you don’t have to the or discriminate them. You can either be for or against something, there is no in between. Earlier this year on Nigerian Twitter, a young man was lynched after being tricked into thinking he was meeting up with another gay man. The problem with this is that idea that “I don’t like gay people”. It breeds discrimination and builds into hatred. I have spoken to gay people and effeminate men in Nigeria who cannot leave their houses because they get yelled at, stated at and even stoned when they go out. Yes, people literally hurl stones at them. If you can like straight people, why can’t you like gay people or people who do not feel like they gender assigned to them by society is the gender they choose to conform with? What is the point of hating or just not liking people who have no issues with you and whose personal lives do not affect yours in any way?

THE WAY OUT

On a concluding note, I’d like to remind us all that gay or straight or bisexual, gender-conforming or gender non conforming, queer, pansexual, asexual, we are all humans.

Deserving of giving and receiving love. Love is love and as the Bible we all love to quote so much says, it does not discriminate.

Every individual deserves to live life without the fear of being lynched by someone who believes their way of life is superior to others. In Nigeria and in the whole world, members of the LGBT+ society are beat up, hanged up against and even killed because of homophobia. There should be no room for hostility. And members of the community in a cold blooded country like Nigeria need our help and support to fully incorporate them into the society free of discrimination and prejudice.