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BN Reader, Miss E.O.A Shares Her Experience Living with Mental Illness

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The BellaNaija family is a thriving community of beautiful souls. A BN Reader, who has chosen to be identified as ‘Miss E.O.A‘ read an article by Doc Ayomide and she was inspired to share her own story.  She narrated her experience of what it meant living with her father who was dealing with mental illness. 

If you’re going through a difficult situation, please know that there’s someone here who knows what you’re going through. We encourage you to be strong and optimistic.

Please read on and be inspired.
***

I remember vividly spending Saturday nights watching Nigerian movies with my mum and dad. Those were the days of the VH cassette which had the advertisement intervals. Although many characters in those movies were always similar. One character that stood out was the crazy person. It was never gender specific. The script would tell the story of the ‘madness’ happening due to a curse, witchcraft or the persons wrong doings. Ironically the mannerisms of these characters would be loud, imbalanced and extreme. One moment the character was living a normal life, having fun and the next day his behaviour was erratic – eating things from the floor shouting at strangers walking around with no clothes.
Whenever those scenes would come up, I would feel really uncomfortable and glare at my father from the corner of my eye. I would intentionally start complaining the movie was boring if I felt the ‘madness’ scene was being dragged for too long. At that stage in my life my feelings were perplexed. What was being portrayed as a curse and a joke on TV is something I had come to understand was in fact an illness and my reality. Twenty five years later this illness is still part of my reality.

For as long as I can remember both of my parents have suffered from mental illness. No one ever spoke to me about it directly, or explained what it was, I just knew. However it wasn’t until I became a young adult that I desired to learn and understand the intricacies of the illness. At the age of thirty my father was diagnosed with what is now referred to as bipolar disorder. Bipolar is a serious mental disorder that is characterised by extreme changes in mood, from mania to depression. Between these mood episodes, a person with bipolar disorder may experience normal moods. The symptoms of the “Manic” mood are irritation, confusion, anger, talkative, reckless, feeling trapped, violence, lavish spending sprees. Whilst the “Depressions” stage reflects the opposite symptoms such as, sadness, crying sense of worthlessness, loss of pleasure, sleep problems, loss of energy or suicidal.

For those who are diagnosed with mild bipolar they are able to continue their normal life by regularly taking their medications with continued family support. Whilst in the case of someone like my father who has extreme Bipolar disorder the illness can drastically disrupt the regular patterns of life and requires the person to be monitored to ensure they comply with taking medication.

One would think after living with my father for so long I would have become accustomed to the illness. Living with someone who has bipolar at times can feel like sleeping next to a dead corpse. They are present in body but absence in spirit. For many years my father would only be well for three months of the year. He would then be admitted into hospital for the rest of the year. It becomes tiring and gruesome. You hold unto the happy moments knowing deep down it could all change at the blink of an eye. That is the painful reality with mental illness, it is unpredictable.
The last time my father relapsed I had to call the police to arrest him and take him to the hospital. His behaviour had changed dramatically and I was scared he would hurt himself. I had to hide when the policemen came as I couldn’t bear to watch them take him away. It felt like a blur, a week before we were planning his 73rd birthday party and discussing who he wanted to invite.

The Nigerian culture doesn’t always lend ears to difficulties like mental illness. Unlike other illnesses you can’t see mental illness. With the lifestyle we have in Lagos people’s erratic behaviour is often concluded as stress and bad behaviour. It is important we understand that going “crazy” is indeed a mental illness. It is not caused by a mother in-law or a wicked sister. Although doctors have not been able to conclude the direct reason for Bipolar disorder, it has been suggested that a traumatic experience can be the catalyst. Personally I agree with the latter. I have spent many hours grilling my father about his child hood and trying to decipher what occurred that could have caused him to become ill. At the age of seventy two, it was only six months ago that he finally opened up about the loss of his favourite brother dying when he was 18 years old. As I probed him with further questions he was reluctant to talk. However I kept pushing and he explained how his death was not spoken about and silenced within the family. His eyes shed tears while explaining the story.

No words could ever quantify the emotional pain and isolation felt watching ones father deal with a mental illness. However, this is my normal and it is all I know. My father is privileged to be in a position to live in a country where help and medication are widely affordable and available. Sadly many family members have cut him off for many years because they did not understand his illness. To them he was an embarrassment and a disappointed. But to me he is my father and the only love I know. I am not angry, for I know they did not know any better.
The next time you see someone not behaving normally, I hope you don’t look down at them but consider that this person maybe ill. As for that family member whose behaviour maybe embarrassing I pray you don’t cut them off, but consider trying to get them help. Have you noticed irregular behaviour in a friend, husband or wife? Consider talking to them to address the issue. That person may need to visit the doctor for an assessment. The sooner we become a community that learns to discuss things the easier it is to deal with mental illness. Mental illness does not disqualify, whether you are rich or poor. Fly in private jets or walk for miles. It can happen to anyone. To those who have a family member dealing with mental illness, please remember you have nothing to be ashamed about. You are not weird, or alone. Try and remember the good times. It is an illness that effects many people. Continue to shower that person with love and support. They need you more than you think.

More importantly to the new generation, my generation. I pray we become couples who learn and encourage their husbands and wives to talk about their feelings, thoughts and fears. I pray we learn to encourage our children from a young age to share and discuss their inner thoughts and emotions. Lastly I pray we create families with values focused on the importance of talking and communicating. Only then can we really be the Nigeria of change.

Bipolar definition reference: http://www.webmd.com/

Photo Credit: Dreamstime | Michael Zhang

25 Comments

  1. I understand

    May 18, 2015 at 6:25 pm

    I join you in prayers my dear, I can’t say I understand full hand what it means but I have witnessed a very close male friend of mine battle with mental illness, for this reason his parents don’t let him do much without close monitoring, he doesn’t even drive yet and this is someone that is close to 25. All i can do is take him to God in prayers and hope that should he be alone when he has an episode, that there be understanding people around. It’s really scary. I commend you for pulling through. It must have been difficult. God bless you.

  2. TA

    May 18, 2015 at 6:39 pm

    The world over, the biggest problem with mental illness is the stigma that the sufferers have to live with. Even seemingly educated people call all mental illnesses ‘madness’. Not only is that description incorrect, it is derogatory. Just so you know, depression is a mental illness. It is not something to be ashamed of. How many people are ashamed to be asthmatic? Think of mental illness as an illness that can be cured because even the ‘darkest ‘ mental illnesses like Schizrophenia can be managed. Thank you for sharing your story miss E.O A. Best wishes to your dad

    • Anon

      May 19, 2015 at 5:58 am

      I have to correct something here, being a doctor of public health, depression is NOT a mental illness, it is a mood disorder. Thanks a lot!

  3. Myne Whitman

    May 18, 2015 at 6:41 pm

    Very touching. Thanks for sharing and encouraging others. I agree with you about community support, and being open with each other as couples. So therapeutic!

  4. tish

    May 18, 2015 at 6:46 pm

    Wow! This gave me chills. Such a strong character. I need to go read up about the disorder. I don’t know anyone going through this so I’ve never bothered with it. The things we take for granted sha, I read about Alsina’s eye disease, and for the first time I thanked God that I can see. Stay strong and God be with you.

  5. Pat

    May 18, 2015 at 7:13 pm

    Thank you for this educative information you have shared. Many people suffer from mental illness or have loved once who do but just don’t discuss it. Its not easy for some people to do so. I am moved by your emotional and mental strength. Continue to stay strong. You are a blessing.

  6. Ovine

    May 18, 2015 at 7:15 pm

    This is so informative and encouraging. Thank you for the piece. I sincerely hope that our attitude towards mental illness will change for the better. Thanks for being there for your father. God bless you richly.

  7. Esi

    May 18, 2015 at 7:22 pm

    This is really powerful. Thank you for sharing.

  8. Naomi

    May 18, 2015 at 7:59 pm

    Trust me, its not easy. You live in fear and pain every day. The fear of leaving your sister alone in the house and not knowing what was next, not knowing if she was screaming or just trying to get out of the house. You see your parents tears unending. As a sibling i lived with a stigma of my own, i get the looks of “that’s her sister”. Fast forward some years, she better now, through prayers, medication and love from family. she’s working now, making new friends, still on medication though, but we thank God in advance for total miracle.

  9. Nia

    May 18, 2015 at 8:03 pm

    Bless

  10. bruno FIERCE

    May 18, 2015 at 8:05 pm

    first of all I’m so glad u didn’t take ur dad to a pastor or a rev father.

    they will make matters worse. they will blame the victim,they will make it look like it’s the person that is making him or her self bi polar or even worse, they will say the person is possessed with demons.

    it has been proven many times prayer can not solve anything but many nigerians wouldn’t listen.u will make matters worse for the person. tb joshua and all those con men who parade themselves as men of God cant solve anything.

    ur father is so lucky that he has loving family memebers. you are a good person and a good child for being there for ur dad for understanding what he is going on.

    most nigerian family members are terribly selfish. many of them can only see them selves. they don’t take time to look at others or try to know what others are going thru. if its not about them, they don’t care.

    to me I believe the cause of mental illness is the person’s encounter with vile horrible people, that is what’s responsible for someone to get mentally ill.

    its usually very kind nice people that using get mentality ill. I can tell miss E.O.A ur father is a kind person who doesn’t like problem or confrontation but its people around him that alway want to f**k with him and trigger his bipolar illness and make him act out violently.

    oya start saying bruno “FIERCE” is mentality ill. u wish.

    • cindy

      May 18, 2015 at 9:22 pm

      Bruno shut up!! I said shut up!! Must you always divert attention away from what is more important just to get cheap points?! Why are you always this irrational? Or maybe this is what the op is talking about, do we need to get you help? It seems like you have demons of your own that need to be dealt with before you become a nuisance to the society at this rate. I just read about a 19yr old boy that couldn’t be charged for the murder of a 2yr old boy because of mental illness (autism) and then I come here and read this article. He might have started like this always spewing so much hate. So tell us Bruno, do we need to get you checked. Even the op says they pray so what exactly is your point? Get out of here please!

    • bruno FIERCE

      May 18, 2015 at 10:09 pm

      an intelligent person will attack my comment and not me as a person.
      thats one thing about many of u mumus, u always attack me as a person, not once has any of u attacked what I write.
      I always speak the bitter truth and many of u can’t stand it. the truth is very bitter but it must be spoken. if I don’t say it, another intelligent person will say it.

      I know someone like u is angry cause I blasted ur favourite pastors. its the truth, no amount of deliverance can solve mental illness or physical illness. all these so called deliverance are part of the problem. instead of the parents to take their child to a trained professional they carry their child to a pastor.

      I read a story abouy a nigerian graduate who committed suicide. his parents said he had no job and he was depressed. he was keeping to himself and he was always in a corner lamenting. instead of them to get professional help from a trained doctor, they said it was spiritual attack and they took him to church. at the end of the day, the guy killed himself. his parents till this day believe it was spiritual attack. assumimg they took him to a trained professional this boy will still be alive today.

      say NO TO nigerian pastors
      say YES to professional medical treatment.

  11. Intheknow

    May 18, 2015 at 8:14 pm

    I could relate with your experience on mental illness in the family and the challenges that comes with it….. I had a breakthrough in understanding the illness when i watched the movie ” beautiful mind” as it helped to explain and communicate in a better way what was happening to him, what he was going through which helped us to know how to manage it.

    There is help and support in Nigeria too, so my people at home, try not to manage it on your own, speak to your doctor who will direct you to a psychiatrist. Trust me, its easier when you seek help from people who are in the known.

    There should be no shame and/ or stogma in managing and treating mental illness.

  12. Fix it

    May 18, 2015 at 8:37 pm

    Dear Bruno, as shocking as it may seem, everything is NOT all about you and your diva fierceness!!

  13. MuuVeen

    May 18, 2015 at 8:44 pm

    This is an interesting write up. Quite touching. I so much admire the fact that you are bold enough to share this experience on this platform. I also love the part you mentioned that issues like this are often attributed to one form of witchcraft or spiritual attack. It’s very sad that our movie industry thrives on this fallacy (ie witchcraft theory) thereby making it difficult to tackle the issue from the proper perspective. Nevertheless, I urge you to keep up with the enlightenment about this health condition. God will give you the grace to persevere and reach out to many more people who are dealing with such health challenges. More power to your elbow. Thanks for sharing. God bless

  14. Leah

    May 18, 2015 at 8:48 pm

    Cheers to you for being patient, supporting and understanding father’s condition and I hope your children do the same for you. If you live in the US though, be mindful of the police situation because they have zero tolerance or compassion when dealing with black men or the mentally ill. I saw a video of a mother who called for help for her son and they wasted no time shooting her son to death right in front of her. There is also the case of the young man who was naked and was dealing with some kind of mental illness and the police also gunned him down because they were “in fear for their lives” over naked man with no weapons, and many more cases like it. In the US if you must call the police next time, please don’t hide no matter how hard it is for you ( and I can only image). Be out there first and explain everything to them before they get to your father and do your best to keep him calm.
    I applaud your courage and strength Miss E.O.A 🙂

  15. always happy

    May 18, 2015 at 10:03 pm

    Plenty “craze” people dey everywhere, even without diagnosis by doctor there are several men, women and children are under the radar kolo cases. Depression sef is a form of mental illness, not equipping or learning how to properly deal with loss can cause mental illness, that same mental illness could be the reason you cannot enjoy intimacy properly with your wife or husband. Traumatic event or not, bi polar or not, you must always make sure you monitor your craze quotient just like high blood pressure or diabetes, early detection saves life, saves misery and saves reserving heartache for those who are directly affected. Remember a functioning mentally ill adult/child is still mentally ill.

  16. Ayo

    May 18, 2015 at 11:18 pm

    OMG!!! Thankk you sooo much for sharing this..im shaking as I write this. My story is exactly the same as yours, but with my mother. This has been the family secret for soo many years. Living with a mother with this illness has been the hardest thing Ive dealt with all my life. For years they used to drag my mum to pastors who would say she was cursed by her grandmother and she was trying to stop my dads success.. they would make her drink weird things and fast and pray..my father nearly threw us out of the house. I still struggle dealing with it. But I just block it out..friends dont understand..all they say is I’ll pray for you and pele…it gets so loneley…not one hour goes by when I am not worrying her. she is such a wonderufl woman,educated two masters four lovely children…but somewhere the illness just came over her…I miss her so much..I can so relate to what you said about living with a dead body..I get so scared to think what would I do when I get ,married…I dont want to leave her..the burden is a lot for my father..thank you for letting me know this is actually a illness…you have made me feel so at ease ..thank you for inspiring me to not give up

  17. mama dazel

    May 19, 2015 at 5:22 am

    God bless you!

  18. Naked

    May 19, 2015 at 7:26 am

    It is high time the nigerian society begins to pay more attention to mental illness issues. My older sister works with one of the psychiatric hospitals in Nigeria and she talks a lot about this people. I have been opportuned to visit the hospital and u’ll be amazed with the way they treat the patients. They train the members of staff to see the patients as normal individuals who just have a little defect and no one is allowed to call them “Mad people” as long as u’re in the hospital premises, you can only refer to them as patient.

    I was also shocked to see wealthy individuals, state house of assembly members, accountants, lawyers and all sort with mental illness, both old and young who come to the hospital pharmacy to purchase drugs by theirselves but u’ll never know they have mental illness. This people still live their normal lives as long as they take their medications and listen to doctor’s advice. It was quite a memorable experience.

  19. mrs chidukane

    May 19, 2015 at 8:56 am

    Very touching article. I could sense your strength and compassion from here. I pray your dad gets better. Stay strong.

  20. MrsVee

    May 19, 2015 at 10:09 am

    This is a really touching story which I can relate with.

    My brother is going through the same thing, he struggled with school from when he was quite young and managed to get admission into university. On a fateful day, he was brought from school that he was sick, we took him to the hospital and after some days he felt better. But his behaviour was different. I taught he had high fever. But we were told he is suffering from mental illness and was been treated for Schizophrenia.

    He has been experiencing this illness for some years now, he is on daily medication for the illness. I thank God he has now finished his university education and he will going for his posting for the NYSC soon. My prayer is that he should be able to live a normal life where he will start his own family, get a job and be a great son and brother to the family.

  21. bolaji

    May 19, 2015 at 12:43 pm

    Bella Naija thank you for this right up, my family has been battling with this for years, we the kids became more aware of the issue as we got older that mummy has been going through this for years, dad says he discovered after a year marriage, so for 30 something years together till date dad has stood by prayerfully as mom has been in and out of hospitals. As we grew older, we did not understand, we were angry, thinking she was embarrassing us, why us! but now with every one almost 30, thriving careers and some married, we know better, its a daily struggle. we love mummy so much, she is one of the most beautiful women in the country(she has an award to prove that… lol) but has been isolated by her own family, we her immediate have stood by her, its frustrating at times, the sleepless nights! some people can never understand the struggle, but with treatments, prayers, love, care we try our best. there are months like now she relapses and doesn’t take her meds. poster i can relate with you, i know the days i have WEPT MY EYES DRY watching strange people come in with force to take the most caring, beautiful, loving and caring woman to the hospital, i have to be strong for my father as i am the only one at home with them, but it hurts. The stigma attached to bipolar in Nigeria is ALARMING, no1 wants to be associated with it, some family members tell you sorry i cant deal with this in my life. A time in my life i was so ashamed but now, mummy even in her illness, we have some funny conversations and i try to let her see i don’t think anything is wrong with her. the funny thing is, with this illness, the ones that love them the most are the ones they despise the most… BIPOLAR ISNT MADNESS OR INSANITY, ITS ACTUALLY REAL. bella naija, go beyond posting an info, if there’s a group or center families can reach out to for counsel, please make it known to this community… thank You

  22. Iou

    May 20, 2015 at 5:31 am

    I can’t help but notice that in virtually every comment on this matter the husbands stood by there wives and wives stood by their husbands, even the comment about the dad that discovered about the illness a year into the marraige but still he stood by his wife. We have excellent and commendable men and women in Nigeria. Thanks everyone for sharing……hugs

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