My first few therapy sessions were strange. Having usually been someone who bottled things up, this opportunity to safely let things out felt unusual to me at first. Bottling up things didn't deal with them, and I would sometimes overreact to situations, often more as a result of pent up emotions, than an appropriate reaction to the situation. Luckily, the therapist was skilled enough to make sure I was comfortable, and I didn't have to explore too much too quickly. I was eased in with fairly simple, albeit probing, questions, which were designed to encourage me to open up. I had told him that I wasn't sure exactly what was wrong, but that I wasn't feeling completely myself. This afforded him the opportunity to take a detailed dive into deeper aspects of my life.
We started at the beginning, going as far back as I can remember and then advancing through the years. Going through this step by step, and being encouraged to think deeply about things I had failed to process before, afforded me the opportunity to process things I had not before. Things I had bottled up, and was now finally releasing, was hugely beneficial. It felt like a weight had been lifted off me. By advancing chronologically, I came across memories and emotions I had experienced which I had suppressed and tried to forget about, emotions I had run from and not faced head on. I was now able to confront them and deal with them in order to better understand them, and myself.
I was introduced to new techniques of ensuring I dealt with the full range of my emotions when things happened. I was encouraged to talk about things as they happened, and not bottle them up. I was encouraged to pay more attention to my mental health.
My sessions eventually came to an end and I left having felt my mood vastly improve over time. I decided to have a few more sessions about six months ago, before my final exams. I realised that I am someone who constantly puts pressure on myself, and this pressure can sometimes lead to anxiety. I spoke to someone different this time as I had an idea of what was wrong, and what kind of help I was seeking.
I had four sessions of therapy, and these involved learning new techniques to cope with anxiety and times when I was feeling under more pressure than usual. I was introduced to mindfulness, and the amazing app Headspace. I was also introduced to breathing techniques and ways to better deal with my anxieties. The last session remains the best session I have had to date. We reviewed the progress and self-growth that had occurred throughout my journey. Realising this, I left my session that day feeling overjoyed. In the desire to get ahead right now, I had failed to stop and look back and appreciate how far I have come, and seeing and feeling the positive effects of this progress felt amazing.
Deciding to get therapy was difficult. It was not easy to admit to myself that something was wrong. It was not easy to admit to my friends that I felt like something was wrong. I had to overcome obstacles to getting help, such as a friend trying to convince me that I was fine and I had no idea what a real mental illness felt like. A common misunderstanding as problems has different effects on different people. I also had people who said I should talk to them, whilst I understand that they did have my best interests at heart, they however approached the issue in the wrong way. It wasn't so much as I did not want to talk to them but more, I did not know how to do so properly.
I had to learn that asking for help is okay. I had to learn that knowing I have weaknesses, and seeking help for those weaknesses does not make me weak. I had to learn that talking about, and embracing, emotions and feelings does not make me weak. I had to learn that mental health is just as, if not more, important than physical health.
Mental health in general is not given the prominence and importance it demands. Mental health can affect anyone, and it is estimated that approximately 48 million people in Nigeria suffer from depression, with a large percentage of this going undiagnosed. This has also led to an increasing suicide rate, especially amongst young people. Thus, it is important to catch these things signs early and seek the help we all need sometimes. It can be as easy as talking to someone about why they seem different and have had a downturn in their mood. It can be as simple as reminding your friends that you are there for them should they need you (and actually being there).
I chose the title Mental Health and Me because of the role mental health has played in my life, and plays in other people's, even if it is often ignored. I was lucky enough to catch it early, and decide to seek help before I went down the rabbit hole. Catching it early allowed me to deal with it easier than I would have, had it gotten worse. I implore you to recognise the importance of mental health in your life too, and should you need, seek help. Talk to someone if you have a persistent mood change. Accepting that you have a mental illness does not make you weak, or less of a man or woman; conversely it may save your life, like it did mine.
-Giwa-Osagie is a student at the Nigerian Law School, Bwari, Abuja.