When Fear is Your Only Companion #OurCovid19Stories

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” — Nelson Mandela.

Growing up was an adventure for me. In some ways, my childhood was good; but in other ways, it was sour. I have a lifetime of experiences from my past, but, if there’s one part of it that tailed me pass my adolescence, it was how clearly my mother had always been ill. It was just that, for a long time, I did not understand what she was ill with. Her illness made talking with her feel elusive. I could ask her about her days back when she was in nursing school and my mother would reply dryly, "It was in Ibadan(pauses). Around Eleyele." Suddenly, like on some inaudible cue, her attention would veer off: "Sorry, my leg is aching me. Excuse me". As I grew older, I came to understand that this was not deliberate in any way; it was just how my mother was; her mind could not dwell on one thing for too long.

Sometimes, her sickness made life difficult for everyone in my family. There were days when our neighbour would come to inform us that our mother had begged for as little as twenty nairas (#20) from him. Even as a child, shame would fill me anytime this neighbour insulted us because of her. Whenever my mother returned, my whole family would rush around her to plead with her to stop begging. She would assure us that she would never beg again, only for us to return to our knees every two weeks or so whenever the neighbour comes complaining again.

My mother was an unusual woman. Sometimes, with me and my siblings as her chaperones, my mother would go into town wearing her clothes in an odd fashion. It was this and other twists in her behaviour that made me aware of her sickness which I later came to know by the term schizophrenia.

I have always been scared of inheriting my mum’s illness. Ever since her first diagnosis years ago, I never had the time to really think about my fear deeply until coronavirus forced the entire country indoors.

I expected our time at home to be just like another normal school break having returned home from the university before the lockdown. What I never imagined is that being at home would stress me. My life was more complicated than I had admitted to myself while I was still in school. At home, whenever I was in a room with either of my sisters, I would feel alone because of my poor relationship with them. Little by little, I slowly carved a space for myself in our home away from everyone I called family.

Thankfully, there was social media. Although I was always on WhatsApp and Twitter, I could not ignore how heavily the lockdown burdened my life. At a point, I preferred my own company to that of the world. Away from everyone, I would hide in a secluded place where I could be alone with my thoughts even when my life was hurting.

To make matters worse for me, I shared the grief of a friend at a point. One morning, his father had woken up with pains in an arm and in his chest. He died before his family could get him to a doctor, not too long into the day. I became completely withdrawn; that was the peak of it. I thought about the afterlife often in our grief and constantly wondered whether the pandemic would be the end of the world or push us to a condition just as bad. I got so scared of death in so strange a way that my fear got to a point where I was trying to see death itself. I almost wished to die. I would laugh at myself for thinking such, only to cry about it later. I would make up scenarios in my head about what would actually happen if I died—I would cry after this too.

Beneath all my emotions, I was also really worried about my mum. She had been on different treatments for so many years to help her get better. Although my sisters and I agreed that she was improving, though really slowly, I was secretly tired of the optimism. As a woman, it’s unfortunate that I could barely do some things properly on my own since my mum wasn’t always there for me. Also, I couldn’t talk to my mum about anything. She was just there and I was here, on my own.

Feeling sad and alone during the pandemic, I got close to someone eventually. I had met him during my industrial training as a mechanical engineering student in 2019 but we became close during the lockdown. However, I still never opened up about my inner struggles. I never tried to talk about the whole thing because it just makes me really moody thereafter. I felt like a sick person living without a diagnosis. I was terrified of confiding in anyone and finding myself in a room talking about whether I was also sick like my mother.

One Sunday in church, someone had noticed that I was not myself anymore and walked up to me. Carefully, she pressed me to share whatever was affecting me this badly with her in confidence. There was really almost nothing to explain so I asked her one thing — to pray for me. Truthfully, it was not something just anyone would notice. I was always jovial so I was impressed with her show of concern.

That attempt to reach out to me was the beginning of my turnaround. I forced myself to talk to people and not just write down my thoughts on my notepads. When I got pissed off by almost anything my siblings did (even when they didn’t actually offend me but I implied that they did), I tried to talk to someone about it. I chose to talk to people I wasn’t so close to to avoid discussing it extensively in future. Then I committed to caring for others rather than expecting care from them all the time. The more I poured out love or concern, the better I became. As the long break gradually came to an end, I recovered myself too. I took a break from the activities that were smokescreens for my ordeal. I had committed to too many activities but I didn’t really have time for myself which I think contributed to everything. I took a break and communicated with people more often. It was worth it in the end.

“That attempt to reach out to me was the beginning of my turnaround.”

Written by Titilope Banji, a 500 level student of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Ibadan.

#COVID19OurStories is a series curated by Asido Campus Network, we aim to highlight the experiences of young people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Do you have a story to share? Kindly send an email to asidocampusnetwork@gmail.com.

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Asido Campus Network

Asido Campus Network

Asido Campus Network is a student led mental health promoting club and the youth arm of the Asido Foundation dedicated in ensuring optimal mental health