She awoke with a start. It took about five seconds for Torera to realize that the high pitched song she was singing in her dream was actually her alarm clock going off. It had been ringing for more than 30 minutes. With a sunken feeling settling in her stomach, she breathed deeply and fumbled with how to explain to Tega, her course rep, that she had overslept again and missed Dr. Adagun’s MED 201 class. The class was expected to turn in an assignment today, which would form part of their continuous assessment towards the end of semester exams. She had missed yet another class! This is the third time this week and it was happening again today,.... Thursday. She listened for any kind of sound in the house and was relieved to know that her mom was not back from her early morning Aswani market trip, where she got the ankara fabrics and tailoring materials she retails in her medium scale shop, in front of their house.
To an outsider, Torera didn’t seem like the kind of kid who could be depressed. On the outside, everything about her life appeared wonderful, almost idyllic. She was raised in a nice suburb of Shogunle by a supportive mom, with a close extended family network, had a great circle of friends, and was known as a hardworking student and talented athlete. While in secondary school, she had been a star athlete, playing three sports (football, track and field and volleyball) in IGS Grammar School, a good public secondary school in the area. Athletics were more than extracurricular activities for her - it was a large part of her identity and she always had plans of pursuing it in the University too, if given the opportunity.
Her emotional health struggles began, when she got to her second year in senior secondary school, just as she was turning 15years. She had suffered a series of injuries that prevented her from participating in sports for months. The void left by the activities that once gave her a sense of belonging and so much joy set off a chain reaction that triggered her present day realities. Torera then began to struggle with her personal identity and started isolating herself from family events. She even stopped talking to her friends, she felt like she did not belong in their circle seeing as they still represented the school in sports, debate and other competitions. She still remembers now, how it all began, the dark, rapidly swinging moods, the feelings of anger targeted at any and everything, oversleeping and not wanting to get out of bed, overeating, a drastic drop in her self-esteem and the struggle to follow the train of conversations around her and concentrate on the teachers delivering lectures during the subject periods. She had also started self-harming (tiny cuts on her thighs and other hidden body parts), since then till date.
You see, being an athlete offered Torera a strong sense of self; without which life became uninteresting, and the feelings of isolation were only magnified. She had most importantly, used athletics to cope with the unhealthy marital relationship of her parents. Her inability to compete, following her injury, began the spiral into depression and the recurring thoughts about hurting herself. Eventually, her internal symptoms found a way to come out and she began cutting herself as a way to relieve the constant suicidal thoughts that were taking over. Before now, she had a way of silencing them but these days, the voices were becoming louder.
Torera’s early childhood environment had been a very toxic one. One many occasions, she witnessed her dad hit her mum over the most trivial things, like the temperature of the food served on the table or returning home late from the shop in the front of the house. However, things got a bit better, when he moved to a different state for work. Coupled with all she was feeling, her dad had started to beat her mum again. Last weekend he came home, he had expressed dissatisfaction with his food complaining about the lack of taste, when her mum tried to pacify him, things escalated and it soon became a wrestling match. She desperately needed an escape for this life -her life.
Back to present day reality, She desperately needed to get to Tega, to submit her assignment, She showered and dressed quickly, while making sure to choose a long sleeve turtle neck top and jeans to cover the cuts on her arms and thighs. She knew she had to talk to someone, perhaps her mom but she didn’t want to add to her mum’s worry load, plus anytime she brought it up, her mom always told her to snap out of it, that she was too young to be talking about Depression . But these emotions she was feeling had been with her from secondary and now that she was in the Uni, they have graduated into self loathing and lack of concentration. She needed to find a neutral person, who would understand but didn't know who.
Her father worked as a Laboratory Scientist in a State owned University Teaching Hospital in North-central Nigeria and was the one that encouraged her to be a doctor so she could save people’s lives like his Ogas at work. He came home sparsely on some weekends in the whole year. Being an only child also really sucked.
It was while in school that day that she saw Fadilah again, her classmate who always wore a smile whenever they exchanged greetings. She really wished she had the kind of life that allowed her smile at people for no reason. After their second class, Fadilah asked if everything was okay with her and asked why she had been staring blankly into space for the past 20 minutes. When she opened her mouth to answer, she burst into tears and could not stop crying for what seemed like forever. Fadilah held her in a comforting hug, she didn't ask why she was crying, didn't say she should stop; just rubbed her back and let her cry it out. When she was done, Fadilah took her to her hostel, sat her down, looked her squarely in the eye and said she needed to talk to a professional that she had noticed that she does not talk to anyone, was always moody and stared into space in class. That she wasn't going to be a doctor if she continued like that. Something about the way she spoke really connected with Torera, she could only just nod as response to all Fadilah had to say.
Fadilah was a mental health enthusiast, a budding mental health advocate and very active on Instagram. She remembered seeing a post for a Mental Health organisation on BellaNaija, she retrieved the email address for Dr Kafayah who was the Founder and Lead Therapist of the organisation. It was time to book an appointment for Torera.
The day of the first session, accompanied by her mum, Torera could not stop talking; it was as though a faucet had opened somewhere and she spoke continuously and freely too. She tried to articulate everything she was going through; the fact that Dr. Kafayah was so empathetic, also helped.
Dr Kafayah recommended to Torera’s mom that she be admitted to a mental health facility for in-patient care and be placed on suicide watch for a few weeks. Transitioning back to day-to-day life after her hospital stay caused some anxiety for Torera, but she knew she had to return to normal life, to integrate the coping skills and all she had learned. Her father was learning to make peace with her mum and Dr. Kafayah told her parents without mincing words that they were contributing badly to their daughter’s mental health.
To ease her transition back into school, Fadillah was able to enlist the support of Mrs Ishola the school counsellor, so she can continue to receive the treatment and support she needed, whilst still attending lectures. Today, Torera is a happy and thriving second year medical student at the College of Medicine University of Lagos.