I was a very angry kid. I used to carry with me a duffel bag filled with many unresolved conflicts. Any and everything ticked me off. And what compounded my situation was the fact that my anger made me angrier, which sent me into a downward spiral. Children learn from their immediate environment, from their parents, and the people around them.
I picked up certain traits while growing up because so many things were happening around me that I didn’t understand. I was a reactionary bot, fuming every now and then. I spent most of my days keeping to myself, only socializing when there’s an urgent need for it, exploding whenever someone tried to creep into my space.
People always just assumed that I was gentle. But I was far from being gentle. I knew what gentle was and I knew that I was the opposite. It’s not that I was gentle. It’s that I was dealing with a lot of issues for a 9-year-old. I was on an unending mission of fixing the broken clock. I am the broken clock.
I don’t mean to brag, maybe a little, but I was a highly intelligent kid. I learned things very quickly and even though I wasn’t particularly a studious child, I was among the top-ranking students. I was a natural. I was quick-witted, I had a retentive memory, and was generally a brilliant student. But my behavior was atypical. My teachers were usually confused trying to figure out how I was always so distracted yet was one of the few who could solve mathematical problems or answer questions in class.
My report card would carry at least one or two negative comments. “Ayomide is exceptionally brilliant but he gets distracted easily.” Whenever my parents read these comments, I could tell that they wished for me to do better. My mother would yell, and when yelling didn’t prove effective, she would resort to talking to me amicably, and when that didn’t work either, she would flog me with the strength of a thousand Valkyries. My father would also call me into his room to give me a series of advice. I wanted to tell them that I wished to do better too. But it wasn’t me, it was what happened inside of my brain. I was too young to vocalize the volcano of emotions that erupted inside of me.
I was mischievous during my childhood days. Whenever I fed into my distractions, I gave them my all. I would be in class doing irrelevant things while the teacher was writing on the board with his back turned to the class, stringing other students along with me. It was like there were different sides to me. I could be really smart. I could be gentle. I could be untamed.
I developed a knack for football and was very passionate about it. After closing hours, I would dash to the nearest field to play football. It was a sweet escape for me. With football, I didn’t have to spend hours in my head. It was the perfect distraction. The ultimate sidekick. It didn’t matter whether I was good at it or not. Football gave me the opportunity to express my creativity, my ferocity. I would come alive on the pitch and people would watch me, awe-stricken, screaming my name. And I would put on a show. Football made me experience the world in inexplicable ways.
My parents knew the implication of this. We lived in a rural community somewhere in Lagos. Saying rural is me putting it lightly. The community was worse than rural because the people there behaved like the Inuits. They fed on violence, gossip, poverty, and anything that threatened civilization. My parents knew that playing football would expose me to unknown perils, especially because I was good at it, and people had started to recognize me from watching me play.
Whenever I was out with my parents, kids and adults alike would call my name with a certain level of respect. My parents would question how I managed to know any of them, considering that they did everything within their means to restrict me from going outside, except for school and running errands. So when I told them it was because I had been hailed by many for my football abilities, I did so with expectations that they would be proud of me. Instead, they frowned heavily upon it. They invested extra efforts to try to keep me from playing football. They enrolled me in ‘after school’ lessons. But I continued to slip out of their hands like a bar of soap. Football had become a way of life, and there was no stopping it. It was my own way of connecting with myself.
My parents had their difficulties. They had their individual struggles. They wanted to give me a life that they never had. They were obsessed with status and how we appeared to the outside world. It was all of these that made them approach parenting in their unique way. They thought that if they gave me the best education, disciplined me the right way, provided me with all the resources I required to focus in school, that I would achieve a whole lot more than they did. That was good for status. It was good for a child who yearned to live a simple life.
Unfortunately, I came into the world wanting an entirely different life. I wanted to impact the world with my natural talent. It was almost as if I was the direct opposite of what my parents wanted from a child. I was lazy, unfocused, and unconcerned with the mundanity of life. My parents wanted me to do better, to be better. They could see the flame of potential that burned inside of me. My parents’ friends would come to the house and tell my parents that they were lucky to birth a genius. All of these continued to mount the pressure higher.
Throughout my secondary school days, I continued to alternate between average and closely impressive results. Even I knew that I could easily ace all the subjects. My teachers knew too, especially my Mathematics and Economics teachers. They would nudge me to be more attentive in class, to stop indulging in any form of distraction. If only they could see what happened in my brain. That I wasn’t the one in control of my mind. That it was the other way round and I was merely a spectator.
After writing UTME for the second time, I gained admission into the University of Lagos. It was a celebratory moment. My parents were brimming with excitement, confidently telling anyone who bothered to listen that their son was now an Akokite. For me, it was my chance to take freedom. The possibilities were endless. On the day of Matriculation, I was all over the place. I couldn’t relate to the excitement that hung in the air on that very day. My parents were really disappointed in me because every other child had their Matriculation gown except me. That particular day was an indication that I wasn’t prepared neither was I interested in going to school.
My days at the University were horror-filled. In my first year, I was unable to find the energy to get up in the morning to attend 8 am classes. And on the days that I managed to go for classes, I couldn’t gather the energy to stay because of the overwhelming number of students in the class. So I stopped attending classes overall. I would wake up late and do absolutely nothing till the end of the day. Sometimes, I strolled to the school’s lagoon front and just soaked myself in the beauty of nature.
I could feel my life falling apart at an incomprehensible speed. My chest would feel like there was an enormous stone on it whenever I woke up. I had gotten angrier and petulant. Every other day, I was battling crippling anxiety, sweating in public, my hands trembling like I caught a cold. It was worse than hell. My parents would call to ask about my well-being, about school and if I was attending classes. The lies came very easily. “Yes, daddy. Everything is fine.” And then after the call, I would slip into throes of depression.
I started paying attention to my emotional and mental health. I became conscious of the fact that I was a broken clock. I researched deeply about how to fix the broken clock but there were hardly any helpful tips. The few tips I found were like trying to stop a wound from bleeding by covering it with your hands. I was crushed under the pressure of University. I was convinced that I was a complete failure hence I started contemplating suicide, but I never had the courage to go ahead with it.
I began to realize that most of my problems stemmed from my childhood. That I was the way I was because of the environment that I grew up in, that I was a victim. That realization affected me really deeply, considering that my parents instead believed that I was lucky, that I had everything I needed to come out of school a success. When I saw my first semester results, I wanted to call my parents and tell them point-blank that school wasn’t working for me. But how do you even bring yourself to tell your parents such a ludicrous thing? Throughout my time in school, I probably went home not more than 10 times.
I eventually dropped out of school. I had a major fight with my parents. My mother disowned me. My father ceased giving me allowances. I felt like I was alone in the world. My anger had become boundless, and depression had metastasized my existence. I also realized that I had been battling depression long before I gained admission into the University. Although I was living with friends, I spent a lot of time in my head, obsessing about the past, wishing I could change it, as well as thinking about my future. It didn’t seem like my future had anything to offer.
It was during that time that I discovered my love for writing. I was working in a nightclub, which left me idle during the day. So I started reading anything I could get my hands on: Novels, self-help books, psychology textbooks, articles, short stories. I started writing anything that popped up in my mind, not caring about grammar or structure. I wrote poems, essays, short stories. Slowly, I began to find solace in writing. Writing became a means of escape from my dismaying world. Writing allowed me to express how I felt.
All the while that I did this, my parents never stopped questioning the choices I made. They were convinced that I had thrown my life in the gutter. That if I didn’t immediately return to school, I would end up a colossal failure. I was like a hermit, retreating into my space and avoiding social interactions. I couldn’t stop telling myself that I was damaged goods. People had begun to notice my writing skill, some of them commending and cheering me on to take it more seriously. I did, and I was able to make something out of it. Yet the minute hand and the second hand weren’t ticking still. A broken clock. It was as though I had no place in the world. Every time I looked in the mirror, all I saw was a lost soul.
It would be an outrageous lie if I told you that all of these feelings have gone with the past. As a matter of fact, I still have days when I wake up and just hope to be obliterated into nothing. However, I’m in a much better place. Many of us who struggle with mental health challenges think we have no hope of getting better. Our depressed brains tell us that we are outcasts, no matter how many times our friends tell and show us that they love us. We spend most of our days trying to stop our minds from spiraling, trying to suppress the bombardment of negative thoughts. We find it difficult to accept that we might find happiness.
These mental challenges that burden us are a result of trauma. We don’t have to experience the Holocaust before we are traumatized. This is simply because trauma isn’t what happens to us, but rather what happens inside us. It is our response to whatever situation that leaves us traumatized. Trauma restructures our brain, thus tampering with certain circuits, affecting how we react and respond in situations, how we interact with people, and how we handle stress. You think nobody is ever going to love you because you grew up in a home where nobody treated you with love. You think you’re destined to fail because your father always called you a failure anytime you made a slight mistake. That cycle continues until you become an adult, settle down with a partner, and give birth to kids.
What I want you to know is that nobody is at fault. Your parents are not to blame. That boy who bullied you in school is not to blame. All of those nasty things that were said or done to you is also a result of trauma. It is basically a response to their own trauma. You think you have nothing to offer or that you have no place in the world because you see yourself as a victim. But you are not a victim. You are the hero of your story. A protagonist weaving through the hills of life. Beneath all of the depression, the anxiety, the anger, is that pristine soul of yours, bubbling with so much life. You have so much to offer the world.
We ought to begin to accept our trauma, to accept that it made us into who we are today. According to the renowned medical doctor, Gabor Mate, “there’s a wisdom in trauma when we realize that our traumatic responses and imprints are not ourselves and that we can work them through and thus become ourselves.” When we start paying attention to those feelings that we have pushed aside as a result of trauma, we start connecting with who we truly are. Who we want to become.