In this interview, Michael Osaretin, a 21-year-old serving corps member, tells GODFREY GEORGE the story of his victory after a long battle with depression
What was growing up for you like?
I would say growing up was boring and hard. I have to be honest with you. I come from a very humble background and I say this not to attract some pity, but in retrospect, as I think about how all of these things started. Things were not too good for me growing up. My mother was a trader and my father worked with the state civil service. Because of how growing up was, boys my age did make mockery of me as I could not afford the very basic things most boys had. This gave me a really negative mindset and outlook about life. Apart from poverty, I was born with macrocephaly, a condition where a child is born with a big head. This made people call me names and make fun of me. It made me to feel very inferior as a child, and that was where this mental illness started from. I felt I was not human and was undeserving of life; that I didn’t fit into what I saw regular humans look like. I wanted to fit in so badly. I blamed myself and my parents for bringing me into this world.
At school, it was a much crazier experience. The abuse came from both pupils and teachers alike. They’d make some uncomplimentary remarks and would not mention my name, but I was sure they were referring to me. My childhood was altered by this negative energy and it made my childhood something I didn’t feel I deserved. Speaking of it now, it still hurts me. I still wish I could go back to being a child to take back some of the stolen innocence of those years. I wish I had more fun, more positive experiences.
How did you slip into depression?
My childhood definitely was the beginning of this problem for me. I was picked on by everybody for something I didn’t put there, something I couldn’t change. I didn’t make my head big. I didn’t create myself, but I was blamed and laughed at for simply existing. This made me feel so inferior as early as seven years. I would look at the mirror and wished I was like every ‘normal’ kid. I would take a knife to my head and try to see if I could shape my head to what I saw on other boys. I wanted to play with my mates so badly, but the body-shaming, or do I call it ‘head-shaming,’ was too much. I cried a lot.
I started getting depression swings when I was eight years old. It heightened and got worse in 2018. Then, I would hear voices a lot; my head was very cloudy and I usually had this severe head pain. I couldn’t think well, as I was mostly confused. This made me sleepless. I would lie down in my bed for hours and would not be able to sleep. I’d be staring at the ceiling and the voices in my head would be loudest at these times.
Did you tell your parents about your struggles?
Initially, when it started, my parents didn’t see it as anything serious. I was a child, so they felt I was just being a child and nothing more. It was when I grew older and used to have serious mood swings that they saw that, perhaps, it was more serious than what they thought. I would just sit on my own and feel so down and depressed. I would feel worthless. In 2017, I was still a student of the University of Benin and I lived off-campus. I had a lot of cult guys from the Black Axe confraternity in the university send me threats so I would join their cult. Their leader, one Déjà Vu, met me one Sunday and told me my schedule for the past weeks – all the places I had gone to, when I entered and when I left, where I lived and people I associated with. This showed I was being monitored. This was an extra burden on my pre-existing condition. I almost died from fear. I would run when no one was pursuing me. I would always look over my shoulders because I felt someone was after me. It was terrible. I couldn’t sleep as I was too afraid of the voices in my head. Much later, I was robbed by these guys and I had a gun pointed to my head. For three months or more, I felt the cold sensation of the gun on my head. Whenever I did, it’d make me so afraid and I would begin to shiver. I was so paranoid. I was afraid of security operatives and would fret on seeing them. These experiences are things I don’t wish an enemy to go through; it was a really traumatising time for me. I couldn’t go out alone, especially at night. I always felt that there was someone pointing a gun to my head and ready to shoot. Sometimes, I’d scream before I realised no one was there with me. This was when I found out I was going through Post Traumatic Stress Disorders.
It further progressed into something far more disastrous. Since I could not sleep and was restless for most of the time, there was this terrible headache that enveloped me. It didn’t stop. It would pound and pound for days. No drug could cure it.
When I told my parents how I felt, they took it as a joke. They were wondering, “How can a young man like you be depressed? How?” It was just surprising to them. So, I left and didn’t say a word about this again. I told some other people, but I didn’t explain how severe it was. When it reached the point when I became suicidal, I didn’t tell them anything. If they couldn’t understand how I felt then, how would they know when it had got worse? This is why I say parents should be very close to their children. Put yourself in your children’s shoes and try to understand what they tell you about how they feel. Opening up to my family at this point was too difficult. I later opened up to a friend about it, and that was how my family got to know I was mentally ill and needed help.
Was it a full-blown mental illness?
We visited the doctor and I was diagnosed with mental illness.
You were in school when all of this happened. Were your grades not affected?
Yes, they were. Though I was sound academically, this came from a place of fear. If I didn’t fit in here; I should fit in there. I wrote my West African Senior School Examination at age 14. I wrote the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination at 15 and got admitted at 16. I was even supposed to be admitted before then if not for my family’s financial constraint. All these changed in the peak of the illness between late 2017 and 2018. Since I couldn’t concentrate because of the voices in my head, my grades were deeply affected. If I tried to read, I would still hear those voices constantly talking and talking and talking. In my 300 Level, my grades dwindled. I didn’t do very well at all. This made me too anxious. I knew what my parents were going through seeing me through school. I couldn’t afford to fail.
You keep speaking of the voices talking in your head. Could you recall what these voices said?
They said very incoherent things. It was like a rewind of the events of the previous day or of a life I’d never lived. It was a constant reminder that I was not good enough and I should quickly end it all. These are things I wouldn’t want to recall at this time. They were terrible times.
How did you feel when you were depressed; what was the worst that could have happened?
It felt like my world was going to end. For me, there was no reason to live anymore. I couldn’t continue living, especially when those voices came. Every day, I encountered a fresh battle I knew I couldn’t win. It was like I was running around in a maze with no hope of coming out. It was like a never-ending struggle. I had to fight and fight.
What were some of the things you did to fight the strange feeling?
During my internship, I attempted suicide by having a drug overdose, but it didn’t work. This was my first attempt. The internship was at the laboratory, so I planned that by the following week, I would take a much stronger mix of drugs and just end it all. I took about 30 pills of the drugs and forced it down my stomach. Before that week, my parents invited me for a church camp and I felt that after the church camp, it’d be my last day on earth. I told a friend there about how I felt and that friend reported it to the camp authorities. They didn’t take it lightly. They called my parents and I just had to tell them everything I felt, what I had done and what I planned to do. A doctor in camp attended to me. After his diagnosis, he found out that I was mentally ill and needed urgent help.
When you met the doctor for the first time, what was the thought you had on your mind?
I knew drugs could work but I had tried many counsellors in my school, and nothing really worked. In fact, they were even more confused than I was. So, when I met this new doctor, what I wanted were just drugs, not some motivational speech as I was used to hearing all that before then. I had lost the will to live. I had to consciously struggle to live through every day, so then, I didn’t see the need.
At these times, in 24 hours, I would think of ways to end my life for more than 28 times. It got so bad that I was placed on house arrest when the depression got really bad. My siblings were made to watch me so I wouldn’t hurt myself. But whenever I saw my mom, it would just weaken my zest to take my life. I looked at the ones looking up to me as an elder brother and it made me so weak. Then, for a short moment, I would begin to think, perhaps, there was something I had to do in this world. But those moments were flitted so quickly even before it lasted.
Was social media a factor; did it help or worsen the situation?
Whenever I went online to check if anyone felt the way I felt, I saw thousands of complainants talking of how they were tired of life and wanted to just go. I didn’t see anyone who came out of it, so I knew my verdict was fixed.
What changes did you notice when you started taking drugs?
When I took drugs then, the voices calmed down. Though I still had the headaches, it helped. When I became suicidal and began displaying some erratic behaviours, it helped me relax my brain and calm me down for some time. I was one of the liveliest persons in my class. I went to class and I had to pretend to be okay in the eyes of others, but I was dying deep inside.
When was the turning point for you?
I was on antidepressants for more than a year and I couldn’t imagine myself living on drugs for the rest of my life. I hate taking drugs, so I had to tell myself that enough was enough. I told myself I needed to fight more, to make sure I won this fight against suicide and all the things I felt. I took God seriously; I read my Bible and I prayed like I never did before. One time, when I was reading my Bible, the many voices ceased and I heard just one voice – the voice of hope.
Source: The PUNCH
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