How Living With Depression Influences My Personal Growth
by Onome Erikewe
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The Missing link
The neediness for love and validation pushed me into depression. At twelve, I started noticing that I was miserable. I began to experience several feelings of rejection, and it affected my self-image. This was due to the kind of environment I was in. Growing up, I lived in different parts of Nigeria and Ghana. My father, a missionary, toured the world. He first traveled abroad when I was eleven years old. I was in my first year of junior high school. He later got back when I turned fourteen. Life became difficult. Often, my dad shuttled between Africa and the United States of America. He was mostly absent in my formative years. I’m a daddy’s girl and not having my father around in my early years tore me apart. I desired his presence. I wanted his advice when I wanted to make decisions. Due to his absence, I began to develop a need for a father figure in my life.
Within the period of his absence, I changed schools a lot in my early years, which felt exhausting. Schooling in Nigeria and Ghana is much different from the States. I enjoyed the learning culture in these countries, and I fostered new relationships with students. I maintained loyalty to my friends at school, yet I was severely bullied. I remember making new friends in class and seeing them speak against me the next moment. Some students with an extroverted nature made fun of my quietness. They said words like “Foolish girl,” “Weak,” “Poor.” All these words translated to difficult emotions. I later developed a negative self-image; I felt I wasn’t good enough and that I did not deserve love. Even though their words were untrue, they pierced deep into my soul. I became angry at the world and I had little confidence in my abilities. I became withdrawn and hid my feelings from everyone.
As the first child of my parents, I tried to be strong. But I couldn’t find the inner strength to maintain my sanity. Each time I needed to be affirmed of my individuality, my mum passively encouraged me. If only she knew how much I needed her love and affection, maybe my world wouldn’t have been a nightmare. She provided my material needs. But it wasn’t enough. My mum treated my siblings and me to outings during weekends. She didn’t want us to feel the absence of my dad. Still, I longed for his presence.
At home, my mum encouraged my siblings and me to love each other and make friends with one another. My parents believed we didn’t need to mix with other children to have a good sense of self-worth. To them, we were more than enough for each other. We are a family of six. My dad, Mum, three siblings, and I. I have two amazing brothers and a sweet sister. Although I experienced a lot of love and affection from my siblings, something felt missing. All I felt at the time was anger, coupled with self-hate, and bitterness for everyone around me. I just had a lot on my mind, and I wasn’t ready to reveal my emotions yet.
I felt numb with my emotions. I couldn’t express myself freely, and I felt like a victim. I wanted to escape from my pain, and I used music and writing as escape routes.
My father was in the United States doing missionary work, he was to return after two years. At this time, I was fourteen years old. If he was around, we would have discussed my feelings at this crucial time in my life. I remember coming back from school without my dad. I would normally narrate my experience at school with him on the way back home. But now, my mum picked me from school, and she was always distressed with her struggles. I didn’t want to place my burden on her so I traveled as we traveled home from school. I had no room to express myself.
I pushed through every limitation and decided I was going to focus on my studies. I was determined. So, all I needed was to get good grades and get into University. I knew I’d heal from my past experiences. This was my anchor.
The Depth of Pain
I later relocated to the United Arab Emirates to begin my freshman year in college. Then, I realized I had full-blown depression. I woke up in the mornings to feelings of helplessness. I felt I was under a dark cloud. I hated myself and everyone around me. I desperately wanted to hide from the world. I couldn’t mix with anyone. I couldn’t tell if it was the culture shock of the new country I was in, or my past resurfacing. I lost hope. I began to derive pleasure in food to release stress. I often bought junk food on my way home from school. An order of fries and a burger did the magic for me. I needed to eat foods that would release my stress. I could eat two burgers a day. Gradually, I began to lose control over food. After I ate, I felt foolish for allowing food to become my companion. I had a roommate in my sophomore year who influenced my eating habits. She was the only one I spoke to about my situation. To save some money, we decided to cook together. I started eating healthier meals, and my eating habit has improved since then.
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The worst part was, my grades were decreasing. I tried to keep up with the lie that I could handle in my mind. But I was losing it. From an anxious introvert, I became the girl who wanted to be noticed. I managed to make friends, but they were all a bunch of crappy people. I attracted the wrong people because I wasn’t operating from a place of authenticity. I started to vent my anger on anyone I met.
I started to reject people. When good people came, I felt inadequate to let them in. I thought that they’d find out how broken I truly was, and abandon me. I thought they were only pretending to like me but eventually that they’d hurt me and leave me wounded again. So I stayed alone most of the time, and I continued the cycle of self-hate.
I remember one of my friends inviting me for a bible group discussion. We were a group of four, and we discussed faith, relationships, and school life. I started to feel the butterflies again. But I wasn’t able to commit to the relationships. When they invited me to programs, I felt too tired to leave my bed. I was also fearful of being hurt again.
In my Junior year, I requested to see my University psychologist. After explaining my experience, he advised me to take some medication. As he said, I was experiencing symptoms of Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) with depression. But, I was scared of taking pills. I heard about the side effects, and I wasn’t mentally prepared to take a chance yet. My parents were also unaware of the situation because I decided to be silent, a pattern I learned in childhood. I tried to fight my depression on my own, its awful claws tore apart my joy, peace, and self-esteem. Since I didn’t feel comfortable taking medication, I needed to use therapy as my tool. But, I was in huge financial debt and I could barely feed myself. Therapy was expensive. For three years, I had to rely on coping strategies. I exercised, journaled, and even tried healthier meal options, in hopes that this would aid my depression. I coped well but I needed professional help, my tools were no longer enough.
How To Triumph Your Pain
I moved back to Nigeria in October 2020. I decided to leave the United Arab Emirates after college. I started therapy. I’ve been in therapy for three months now, and I am noticing positive changes in my mental health. These days, I feel secure in who I am, and I’m gaining confidence in my abilities. I’ve lost the need to seek people’s validation, and it is freeing to my soul. I eat healthier meals because I recognize the benefit of a healthy lifestyle and its impact on my well-being. Therapy might seem daunting at first, but it does wonders. Many times, I’ve relied upon the beauty of speaking with my therapist. It feels validating to share my thoughts with someone who gets me. Money can’t buy this feeling.
On some days, I feel trapped in the body of that twelve-year-old girl who was bullied. However, I have learned to trust my judgment, and also make better decisions. Once I feel stuck, I remember I am enough. And I can crush all my fears and battles with depression. I’ve learned to love my imperfections. My body, mind, and soul. These pieces of myself are priceless.
I’ve learned that I can only find trust in myself and God. If I was able to survive my greatest pains, I had a greater source backing me up. I’ve learned to be kind to others, and love others in my life. Now I see people through the lens of empathy.
I express my feelings more now and share my deepest hurts. And I feel a sense of bliss. One that comes from self-love. I smile more often these days, and I’ve also learned to appreciate myself more. My condition has only made me stronger and purposeful. And that’s one accomplishment I need to constantly remind myself of every day.
EDITOR IN CHIEF: Gabriel Nathan | EDITOR: Laura Farrell | DESIGN: Leah Alexandra Goldstein | PUBLISHER: Bud Clayman
See Related Recovery Stories: Anxiety, BIPOC Mental Health Recovery Stories, Depression, Mental Health Aloud, Mental Health First Person Essays