600-level Medicine & Surgery
University of Ilorin
Hello, Amira. Thank you for speaking with me today. How are you doing?
I’m doing fine. How about you?
I’m well, thank you. How has adjusting back to school been?
Pretty crazy actually.
I know right! I would like to add that this is a safe space. Please share only what you are comfortable sharing. Let’s use ‘Banana’ as our safe word. So, just yell ‘Banana’ whenever you like and we’ll stop, okay?
When did you know something wasn’t quite right?
It was 6/7 years ago when I was in SS2/SS3. I found myself writing a suicide letter and everything felt terrible. Nothing felt right.
My goodness! You must have been so confused…
Yes. I thought I was a shitty human being for feeling that way. I thought, “that’s just the way I am”.
Did you ever share with anyone what you were going through back in secondary school?
Not really. Although I did share with a ‘friend’ who laughed about it with other people behind my back. I got bullied a lot. People said I had seen too many movies and was trying to be ‘American’.
What? That’s horrible. I’m so sorry.
Thank you. Since then, I didn’t tell anyone else until I met another friend who said they felt the same way.
At what point did you tell your family?
They found out three years later when I was in my third year of university. A friend called my mum during one of my episodes. So, I told them.
I can’t imagine it was easy dealing with all that by yourself for all those years.
It was quite hard.
Why didn’t you tell them?
I felt they had enough things to worry about. It felt unfair to add that burden to theirs as they provided everything I could need. I didn’t know how to tell them without seeming ungrateful.
When you told them, how did they take the information?
I don’t know actually because we had the conversation over the phone. My siblings told me they were sad about it. In the beginning, they didn’t think it was serious. They thought I was just sad. After that, I went home for a break and we had a conversation. I had a huge fight with my mum because she thought I was being dramatic. I told her something drastic doesn’t have to happen for me to feel the way I do. I explained to her how many times I had tried to kill myself. Eventually, it settled in and they realized it was serious.
How would you say they have evolved over the years?
My mum has been supportive since then. Whenever I have an episode, she is really supportive. My dad hasn’t spoken to me about it.
When did you know for sure that it was depression?
I searched online to find why I felt the way I did, found a self-diagnosing test and took it. All my symptoms were in that test and I realized there was a name to all that I was feeling.
Did you get a professional diagnosis?
No, I didn’t. I tried to see a psychiatrist once and I was told to remember that people have it worse than me. I didn’t expect a professional to say that so I just stopped trying after that. I might in the future but for now, self-therapy has been working for me.
That sucks. Self-therapy?
Yeah. I found out about self-therapy and that has helped a lot. It’s lifestyle changes such as exercising, journaling and expressing how I feel more, tidying up my space, doing my chores, taking walks and stuff like that. Renovare Mental Health Initiative has also helped me with counselling.
Have you ever had to use medication?
When you get depressed or feel suicidal, what helps you feel better?
Expressing the feelings make me feel better. It could be writing in my journal or on social media. Someone almost always reaches out to talk and this helps immensely. Listening to music helps too. I’ve learned to sit with what I feel; if I feel sad, I say it.
Is depression the only mental health illness you struggle with?
No. There’s also anxiety. I have so many triggers. It could be as simple as my meal plan or when I’ll take a shower and I would go into full-blown panic attacks. I get really cold, my heart starts racing, and I start crying and hyperventilating. Medical school has made it worse.
Wow. What are the challenges you face being a medical student with a mental health illness?
Oh gosh! It’s a lot. I’m not able to study well, and I lose interest in studying, classes and clinical activities. Some days, I can’t get out of bed, and when I do, it’s difficult to pay attention in class.
Did you think medical students would be more welcoming of the fact especially with their background knowledge?
Yes, I thought that but unfortunately, that’s not how it is. Many medical students think mental illnesses are far-fetched. I speak with some of my course mates and they see it as something I should just suck up and move on from. It’s quite sad actually. There’s also the stigma I face from the medical community.
I’m so sorry. What do you think the medical community should do better?
Be more aware. The actual understanding of mental health illnesses and more counselling units should be provided in schools. I just recently found out that there is a counselling unit in my school; I’m pretty sure so many others don’t know about it. I want our lecturers to be more understanding.
Who is your support system in school?
I have a top-notch support system: my best friend, my roommate, my circle of friends and a couple of senior colleagues. They are pretty solid. I’ve also made a few friends in class and on Twitter who show support when they can.
That’s awesome. How easy is it for you to reach out when you’re having a difficult time?
Not easy at all. I hate appearing weak and vulnerable, but it’s something I’m working on. I’m learning to ask for help more.
What do you wish was different for you growing up and understanding what was going on?
I wish mental health was taken as seriously as physical health. I wish more people knew about it and how to deal with it.
How have you navigated romantic relationships?
I’ve never been in one. I have had a bunch of ‘almosts’ and it’s usually because I feel they wouldn’t be able to handle or understand the switches between my happy and depressed states.
Tell me about your mental health advocacy.
I post about these things on my social media. I try to reach out to people and volunteer when I can.
That’s awesome. I’m so glad you are doing better. We all have a collective role to play in mental health advocacy and generally doing better. I hope we do. Thank you, Amira, for speaking with me.
Thank you for having me.
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