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As far back as I can remember, my weight issues have run a circle above head like a halo of insects underneath a florescent light. I was placed on my first diet at six and by seventeen I had been through a fair assortment of diets. I can comfortably say the experience assisted me in earning my stripes in the healthy cooking arena. From Quinoa to Spelt, from Mung beans to Chick peas, I think I have cooked it all (with an exception of chicory, still have no idea what to do with it). So when I was asked to join the cast and crew of a new breakfast show on television, there were no nerves lurking around because this role I believed was built for me.

I am barely two weeks into my new side gig hosting a fifteen minute cooking segment on the HiTV breakfast show, when all everyone seemed to ask was; “have you read any reviews of the show yet?” I tell them that I have great difficulty reading comments about myself, though a friend’s earlier comment had made me start to nurse the idea of becoming a possible Nigerian Rachel Raye, or a more buxom Ms Lawson which I must admit sounded exciting. So I summon the courage and I click on one of the blogs. I scroll down the avalanche of “Anonymousness” as my name seems engrained amongst the plethora of caustic commentary.

“I find it ridiculous that an overweight person like Wana Udobang will be anchoring the cooking section!!!” one says,

“ Please why would a fat unhealthy woman WANA tell me what to eat? That’s right Bong out of order”.

“The fat woman should not present the food segment, psychologically it is off putting and could scare people.”

It goes on and on and it’s as though I am starting to hear their words in my head, until I find myself in a daze that transports me to my twenty year old self hoping to become invisible again. A time when I once entertained the thought of laying on the train track behind my house, hoping to vanish into the night like the train did.

A few weeks later, my friend Glory calls me, devastated and mortified by a recent personal experience. Her regular waxing therapist had been away for a while and she had observed that every time she went to get a treatment, the staff would toss her around, wasting her time. Irritated by the newly developed bad customer service, she decided to speak with one of the women addressing her grievance. Glory was eventually told that the staff were unsure as to whether or not the psoriasis on her body was contagious so they would rather not touch her.

I could only imagine that if the public stares, the oily door knobs or the fact that she refused to wear short skirts wasn’t good enough a reminder that she carried around extra skin that refused to flake off, practically telling her that she needed to walk around in bubble wrap with a sign labelled “Quarantine” would be their proffered solution.

I share these stories, because at different points in our lives, our insecurities, family dysfunction, fragmented relationships, abusive pasts, cultural pressures and personal failures amongst many other things have led many of us at one time or another to far edges of despair. Unfortunately, being immersed in a culture that prioritises problems and considers anything other than war, poverty and hunger as first world issues makes it even more difficult to express what goes on beneath, not to even talk about admitting to it.  Many people have come to believe that we have no right or reason to feelings of isolation, depression or suicide. As some would say those are sicknesses of affluence. A friend of mine once admitted to swallowing a bottle of pain killers, and to her disappointment, woke up to her stomach being pumped. As an adult, she still finds it difficult to articulate what she was experiencing at the time.

Coincidentally, we have no form of  proper counselling culture here and  during a conversation with a friend Nneka Obiagwu, she explains that there is a big difference between religious counselling and non- religious counselling as they both serve two different purposes. So a lot of people need both and sometimes one more than the other. I work as a radio presenter, and  we receive numerous messages from people languishing in failing relationships, whilst others are dealing with the psychological ramifications of rape and incest detailing ways in which they wish to end their lives.

At a recent book event, Lola Shoneyin the acclaimed author of the novel The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives admitted that she created the character Bolanle because she wanted to shed more light on the issue of depression. For those who have read the novel, we are perplexed by Bolanle’s choices and it seemed as though she was living through a haze until we start to uncover her past. Shoneyin explained that she had come in contact with a lot of Nigerians living in isolation and depression for very long periods and it’s never as easy as just saying “Pray and everything would be better” or “Snap out of it”.We later discover in the novel that it takes a certain person’s death to shake Bolanle out of her haze.

We have read about two publicly recorded suicides this year and one can say that these are just the stories that managed an escape from underneath the rug.

As we begin this New Year, though many of us have transitioned with positive attitudes and expectant hearts, many more still find themselves immersed in emotional pain and psychological agony unable to “Snap out of it” as some of us would expect.

Here are a few things to keep in mind if you find yourself in those dark places.

  • Recovery is a process- It may sound like psycho- analytical mumbo jumbo but it is the truth. Whatever it is you are experiencing, coming out of it is a process and at times a long journey. It takes time. Time to heal, time to learn and time to redefine yourself again and a determination to complete the journey. Don’t forget that relapse is a part of recovery, there are times when you may sink back into places of sadness, despair and fear but the more hurdles you climb, the easier the process gets.
  • Edit– I copied this from the poet and writer Bassey Ikpi. She says in her birthday letter to herself, “Edit the poem, the writing, the conversation, the choice, the decision, the life. Nothing is final. Edit.”
  • Count your blessings- On a televised dinner with Larry King, musician Quincy Jones was asked what he was thankful for. After talking about his family and work, he said, “Always let the light outshine the darkness”. Sometimes, you may need to make a very conscious effort to remember the things that you have, however difficult it may seem. I will add that you should remember to celebrate your milestones; Just a little pat on your back is good enough.
  • Discover yourself- I often argue with my friends that we exist in a herd culture so many of us live our lives not knowing who we are, why we are the way we are, and why we do the things that we do. Unhappiness and sadness can sometimes trap one into a space of reflection and introspection. A space that forces us to reflect on who we are, the experiences that have shaped us and consequently being faced with the decision of who we want to become.
  • Become the teacher- We hear that experience is the best teacher. You have the choice to turn your anger into a positive or negative force. A lot of people going through bad times respond better to people they know have been through similar experiences. You sharing or lending a listening ear can diminish someone else’s pain and to a great degree, the gift to transform someone else, transforms you.
  • Talk, you are not alone- My mother comments that Nigerian women would rather die in silence whilst keeping a plastic grin on their faces. It’s important to talk to someone about what you are going through or else you implode which is a bigger disaster. Everyone has a varying threshold for pain. Again as my mother would add “We aren’t all shock absorbers”. Just because you have been told you are strong or you think you are, doesn’t mean that you should push past your limit.
  • You are human- In the pursuit of perfection; we forget that we are flawed, impulsive, insecure, reactive and just plain human. We place so much blame on ourselves for a failing business, a failing marriage or not living up to standard of a certain family and even community. You are human. There are ups, downs, mistakes and successes. As bland as it sounds, it is crucial part of this journey that is life. Start to accept a lot of who you are, and work through them one at a time. You may later realise that some of what you consider flaws, may well become what adds character and colour to your personality.
  • Love thyself- Self loathing always seems much easier than self loving but as they say, you can’t give what you do not have and if you have no love for yourself you may not be able to reciprocate that love in the capacity that you would like.
  • You are worthy-Though I am not Oprah’s biggest follower, I found myself taking notes during her final show and she made a few interesting points. She said that the common thread that runs through our pain is unworthiness and we sometimes block out our own blessings because we don’t feel good enough. She added that nobody could complete us or fix us but most importantly, it is vital to remember that we are worthy because we are born, and because we are here. So according to Ms Winfrey, worthiness is our birthright. A good friend always tells me that no experience and no one have the right to make you feel less than you are.

After all this being said,  one is at times reminded by these stories that the ability to perform daily tasks with ease, or handle personal challenges and even nursing the thought of a Rachel Raye ambition amidst the corrosive comments and insecurities are privileges. And privileges that shouldn’t be taken for granted. Perhaps I still have a chance at my own brand of cookware or pre-marinated chicken or bottled sauce. What do you say?

 Happy New Year

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