Finding Self-Love When Surrounded By Abusive Voices
Listen to Executive Director Gabriel Nathan read this post aloud:
Living in a country where you will be mocked if you dare speak of being suicidal, I was suicidal.
In my country, Nigeria, people boast of being religious and believe suicidal people are selfish and worthy of being scolded. You are considered sinful if you ever mention you’ve had a suicidal thought. It isn’t abnormal for a person who’s died by suicide to be mocked. Some say the dead have disgraced their families.
We neglect to speak about our mental health and sometimes it feels too taboo to talk about how you’re feeling at all.
I was a victim of our culture. I struggled with depression for a long time and was ashamed to admit that I was depressed and needed help. I wore my struggles with a smile hoping I would get better someday.
I was told by my parents, teachers and church leaders all my life that depression is a myth and doesn’t exist, so I pretended I was fine and didn’t need help. I believed the lie that it’s only a spoiled child who becomes depressed. I wasn’t a spoiled kid and didn’t want to be called one so I endured the pain. I grew up being called demeaning names, “ugly face”, ” smelly”, and “good-for-nothing,” just to mention a few and it harmed me.
I believed I was all they said I was, I looked down on myself and felt I was no good to anyone. My self-confidence was almost zero and I felt anyone who took a liking to me must have been doing me a favor because who wants to hang around a mess of a girl.
I attended a boarding school and was severely bullied by senior students. I was told it was normal in a boarding school for the senior students to oppress the younger ones. I was made to act as a maid for some of them, I was forced to do their dishes, clean their bed spaces, and they even forcefully took my belongings. I was expected to not complain or show disapproval else I would be flogged mercilessly.
I didn’t have anyone to talk to and in our society, you are expected to serve your elders and it is seen as disrespect if you voice your displeasure with anyone older than you. The experience caused me to develop a negative self-image.
My mum worked very hard and wasn’t emotionally available for me. She had her demons to fight too. She had to deal with the pain of an absentee father and an uninvolved mother. The pain she experienced growing up made her see me as a privileged child. She didn’t have the privilege of having her mum live with her but she was living with me and taking care of me
What more can I need?
I was scared of her losing her temper all the time, she believed she was already doing more than enough for me so I shouldn’t be asking for more.
I felt lonely even though I was surrounded by people. As long as I had food to eat and clothes to wear, they didn’t care if I was depressed because they believed I was too privileged to complain.
My parents tried their best in providing for my physical needs, but my mental health was deteriorating and they couldn’t understand how much taking care of one’s mental health is important. Once when I was 16, my dad read through my dairy and saw the entries I made expressing how depressed I was and how I had been battling suicidal thoughts.
He laughed at me and went on to tell me a detailed story of what he suffered while growing up and how I didn’t deserve to be depressed if he wasn’t. I was flummoxed and I couldn’t defend my feelings. How could I? He had made it clear I had nothing to be depressed about so I simply had to shut up.
My dad was obviously dealing with depression but was in denial. He, just like the rest, tries hard to mask the need for help. I was broken inside but my parents couldn’t see it and I think it’s fair to say we were all broken. I realized this later in life.
It might sound absurd, but I was constantly beaten by my parents who believed the rod shouldn’t be spared—they would slap me at the slightest provocation. I couldn’t tell anyone because they would take the side of my parents and say a child should endure the beating from their parents, as it is believed a child who is not beaten by the parents will never turn out right. The beatings are largely because of their unresolved pain and anger.
I remember my dad flogging me because I refused to let him use my money to satisfy his needs. He didn’t care to ask for my opinion. He felt he had the right to my money and I shouldn’t refuse him.
Not to mention dealing with my parents’ overly religious regulations which I was mandated to follow if I didn’t want to be disowned.
My battle with depression became fierce when I got sick. I was a healthy 16-year-old but unfortunately I was told by the doctors my sex hormone level wasn’t normal and I had to start hormonal therapy. My body changed a lot during that period; I gained a lot of weight and looked completely different from how I looked before. I had to deal with gastrointestinal issues as I was always bloated and constipated. The therapy was hurting me but I had to continue it since I needed to get better. My blood pressure and sugar-levels were elevated causing me to be afraid for my life. I was laughed at and mocked for being overweight, and even though I tried explaining my situation, I was painted as a caricature by my bullies.
With my health not improving after many medications, I got increasingly depressed all my life. I was resigned to believe I had to live with people speaking poorly of me. I cried and attempted several times to die by suicide. I was done living not because I was overweight or was sick, but because the verbal abuse I received from everyone around me was messing with my mind. No one around me could feel my pain.
8 Tips for Telling Your Own Story
Do you have a story to tell? Chances are, you do. This free guide will walk you through our Editor in Chief's top suggestions.
I wanted to just end it and disappear from a world where no one would miss me or care that I was no more.
Nigerians do not care about how you feel when they say a hurting-word to you. From a young age, children are taught a slogan which says, “dirt can’t kill an African.” With this bullet-proof attitude, this indoctrination, anything can be said to you and if you mention that your feelings were hurt, you will be ignored.
So, I resolved to start a fitness regime as my weight gain was becoming a health risk. I knew the drugs were responsible and I needed to combat my ever-increasing body weight, but I was inhibited by my parents who didn’t think it was godly for a lady to wear pants, which I had to wear while exercising.
I told them how I was feeling but they didn’t care, their reputation in the Christian community was more important than my health. It was a depressing moment for me. I was down in health and all my parents cared about was their reputation, it became clear to me that my death probably would not matter to them.
Fortunately, I didn’t stop, but started a rigorous home work-out and diet plan which yielded massive results. Improving, but still in my depressed state, I got accepted into college. I wasn’t as excited as expected because I was scared of facing the world for fear of being ridiculed and abused more. And just as I feared, I was badly ridiculed.
I later joined a bible study group, where I decided to make new friends, but was met with more people who verbally abused me. I became friends with one man there who I thought saw me as a friend, but my relationship with him eventually made me more depressed. He treated me like trash, and made sure to emphasize I wasn’t his type and he would never date me—I didn’t even care if he wouldn’t date me, all I needed was a friend.
One might have expected me to stop being friends with him, but alas, my need for validation got the best of me. He once told me that I would never be beautiful even if dressed by the best fashion designer. I was so used to a verbally abusive environment that I didn’t expect more out of a friend. These days, I wish I had stood up to him. I should have at least told him how toxic he was, but it’s too late.
I decided to start my healing journey when my need for validation caused me to go on a date with a man I shouldn’t have been on a date with in the first place.
I had a gut feeling he was dangerous, he gave me bad vibes, but I wanted to prove that I could be desired too. After the date on our way home, he attempted to rape me in his car but failed, I was shaken by the incident as it showed me how much I needed help and brought to light the issues I was dealing with ranging from low self-esteem, to poor self-image, and to an ever-increasing need to be validated.
I became intentional about my healing all the while seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, so I decided to take the long painful route to recovery. It is said that knowledge is power so I spent time reading books on mental and emotional health and personal development. I read those books with a deep longing to understand clearly why I was where I was emotionally and mentally and how to be better. Reading and applying the principles learnt was a great healing to me.
I became intentional about the people I surrounded myself with. I was keen to detect those who would sabotage my healing. Knowing how important speaking to someone about your problems is, I also became intentional about whom I chose to open up. Quitting relationships that put me down is by far the biggest investment I have ever made.
I spent time writing down all the negative words I had heard people call me and though uncomfortable, I rewrote them next to the positive words I would like to be used on me.
I also had to accept I wasn’t being ungrateful asking to be treated better. My journey to self-recovery was painful, I had to face my demons squarely. I had days I cried, regretting how I allowed people to treat me or let their opinion decide how I viewed myself. But on other days, I was proud of myself, seeing how much I had grown by coming to terms with my problems.
I didn’t realize how much more colorful my life could become. I became sweeter and developed a soothing disposition, and how did that happen? By going through the painful journey of healing. I’m still in active communication with my parents and will always be as they are also victims of their past, but this time, I know when to draw the line and cut out the comments that could pull me back into the ditch.
I’m still learning more about myself and the value I carry. My experiences taught me that I can’t control how others might treat me, but I have the responsibility and power to ensure what they say or do doesn’t get to me. Learning this has been worth it as not all people have changed how they treat me, but the impact of their words has changed greatly.
Before therapy and my recovery journey, I used to believe I was not good enough and needed to let others validate me. I thought I was destined to be unhappy and struggle for people’s love, but not anymore.
Living in an environment as mine made it difficult for me to see my worth, and it was difficult to heal but I am so glad I didn’t kill myself then. I can see now that my life is worth living as every one of my experiences has molded me to be more compassionate to people and to extend to others the grace I wished I had received.
If you or someone you know may be in crisis or considering suicide, please call, text, or chat the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988.