Going Through Changes:Inside My Valleys
Volume 02 Issue 03
July 11th 2020
I’ve put off writing so long much of the past year; partly because of my procrastination and inconsistency, but mainly because it has been tough. It’s kind of paradoxical in itself because it’s the one thing that holds me together, gives me tranquillity, understanding and most importantly, freedom. I try not to label or fit myself into the box of writer, journalist or blogger because I’m yet to feel that level of achievement that grants me the audacity to call myself such. I am only so far just aspiring to become great, but one day I saw a clip from a Masterclass by Shonda Rhimes and she explained how she hates the term “aspiring writer” because it's either you do write or you don’t and if you do, you’re a writer. Those words have stuck with me a little and given me a bit of courage to work and produce more content. Someone once important to me called writing my superpower and that I shouldn’t feel vulnerable to express it. I’m working on being fearless enough to lay out vulnerability. In some ways, I’m glad that when Ikechukwu asked me to write for Inside The Minds., I took a full year before getting back to him with a finished draft. I would write a short paragraph every now and then, but then find myself incapable finishing it, because I was still deep in the middle of my experience - my story. It was not possible to write about a huge transitional period until I felt that I had reached a point where I had found balance. It’s been a year now and I’ll be as forthcoming as I can, in expressing that things still get tough, intense and deeply emotional. However, I’m finding my ground and have gained better stamina in handling whatever comes my way.
Not So New Beginnings.
The beginning of last year, I moved to England for law school. I can definitely say that it has brought a tremendous amount of change in my life. We kept hearing that 2019 would be the year of growth, no kidding. If I were being honest, I’d say my move to England came as a result of wanting some change in my life after graduation, and by change, I mean not moving back to Nigeria to live with my parents where they controlled my every move. I had applied to a number of Law Schools in America with the intention to stay in the East Coast, but I didn’t get into any that I wanted, or any that my parents were willing to pay for. It was looking like I was getting cornered into the position many people like me have before, ‘the forced move back to Lagos’. I was determined to let that not be the case and with the post grad depression hitting me real hard, I applied to Law School in England on my parents’ recommendation.
I had my reservations about moving, based on what I’d heard from people who had gone there before; quiet, empty town, easily depressing, but great for focusing. I figured that since it was a two-year program and only a thirty-minute train ride from London, I would use those two years to map out either working in America or Nigeria by then. However, its reputation preceded itself; it is a small village north of London with a demographic of townies other than the students from the University that came from elsewhere. The culture and people are very different and although I had vacationed in London numerous times during my childhood. It was nothing like I was prepared to undertake. I was uneasy with that kind of change, partly because I was more familiar with the city life and also, because when experiencing culture shock, the change is more forceful when the culture you’ve dipped into was not your first or second choice.
I struggled to make friends the first couple months as going to school all over again was a completely different experience in England. I mostly kept to myself, not engaging in many social interactions and often wondering if that’s what it was going to be like for the next two years. Eventually, I began to put myself out there a little bit and explore different parts of myself as I formed new relationships with people. I made friends and found some form of an unconventional partner, all the while focusing on my law classes. However, my greatest difficulty was feeling out of place with myself as I would frequently get sad for no explanatory or controllable reason. Every relationship felt temporary, and I often felt that because I was feeling that for a good whole year, no one knew the real me.
Since graduating Loyola in 2018, my mental health has taken a huge decline and it became more evident than ever last year. I’ve known myself to struggle with states of feeling anxious, but all of it seemed to rise three-fold with intense feelings of sinking sadness and alienation. There came a time, and it might sound foolish, that I wanted to delete my Instagram because in my mind I couldn’t remember a time I was genuinely happy, not even in any of the photos I had posted. Of course, that was not true because I wasn’t sad every day for over a year. If you’ve ever seen that quote that says, ‘you didn’t have a bad day, you just had a bad couple hours’, that's how I chose to treat it in that I had a bad couple days, months even, but there were some good days despite the whole year feeling distressing.
Last August, I sought out counselling and began to see a therapist on a weekly basis because I had gotten to a point where I, nor my friends, could help to solve all my problems. I’ve always been a good advocate for mental health, but I personally had never seen a therapist before this period, partially because I didn’t have the resource available to me and because I wasn’t sure at what point to go. In the only way I can explain it, it was a gut feeling and realization that I genuinely needed professional help because I could no longer hold the weights on my shoulders and my mind was exhausted. I would say therapy helped in many ways in that it shined the light on my shadows; I reached newfound epiphanies on my life and past experiences. It was definitely one of those “it gets worse before it gets better” situations because it made me re-experience some of my problems and unfold matters which felt mentally exhausting, but I learned how to cope and rationalize moving forward. I feel it’s important to note that you can’t expect therapy to fix you. I certainly do not feel fixed as mental health illness and issues do not just evaporate. I see it as nothing can ever be perfect, it’s all a work-in-progress; the same way that your life is a work-in-progress because you’re constantly developing, it's about learning to manage things as a process.
In order to work on myself and my mental health, I’ve worked on different methods to introduce positive energy and calmness into my life, many of which were experimental in finding what works for me. I tried sticky notes with words of affirmations, reading new books with some about finding happiness and attending yoga/Pilates classes. I attributed a lot of what I was going through with my environment, so to deal with that I took frequent trips to London over the weekend to stay with my cousin and hang out with friends. I believe some of these methods worked in the beginning until eventually they no longer felt effective as it felt like a failed placebo. So far, yoga and Pilates has worked in relieving my stress and calming my anxiety. I’ve always gone for long or brisk walks while listening to music, just to clear my mind and calm my anxiousness and I’ve found that to be really helpful. My hope with sharing this, is that with anyone going through anything either emotional or mentally, know that it takes time to figure out what gets you into a better place. In my experience, it's a slow process and you don't always have to actively work on yourself; sometimes it’s okay to just ‘be’ and allow yourself to feel everything. What I’ve taken away from it, especially with the help of my support group and my friends and family, is to allow myself to feel however I feel at the given movement, realizing that it might not be rational later. It's important to always see your feelings as important and valid even if they end up being only temporary visitors, and to never let anyone invalidate them.
I coined 2019 as the year of growth for myself because I learned so much about myself from my experiences and relationships, with everything presenting itself as a learning curve. I don’t regret any of my experiences because they have gotten me in tune with who I am today. I am even grateful for the relationship I was able to experience. Not saying that I would be willing to relieve the pain, but if you take away all the hardship and pain from all my experiences, I don’t know how much the lessons would have solidified. I feel as though when the time comes and I’m able to find happiness, whether it be in my career, relationships or my environment, I would be so much more grateful for it.
This year showed me, like it showed many others, that nothing truly ends or starts out the way you want it to. There’s the saying that ‘When man makes plans, God laughs’ and that is definitely as true as the day is long. I thought 2020 would be the year of healing and transformation for myself and others, and well, the irony isn’t lost on me.
I think there is this unrealistic custom during the start of the new year to build so much expectations and hope for how the year would be moving forward and I tried my best to not be a part of that statistic. I don’t particularly believe in new year resolutions, but I promised myself that the one thing I was going to work on was making myself happy, not happy every day, but sufficiently happy. This was going to be accomplished by working to establish my boundaries that I had learned from the previous year and focusing on only positive energies which would lead to healing and transformation. I don’t think it’s too late to accomplish this, but I definitely underestimated how much of an adjustment and work it would take. We often assume ‘new year, new me’ and forget that some things from the year before would roll over to the next. Although I warned myself about this from the beginning, it didn't make it any less hard. I still struggled with anxiety and unbalanced moods from time to time and it was difficult to process the transition that took place from last year to the beginning of this year. One of the major difficulties was going home for a month and returning to an environment, the small town, that I dreaded for the past year, as it had played a powerful contribution to my mental health. Fortunately, I moved to a new apartment building at the start of the year which was very helpful in giving me the fresh start that I needed.
The Covid-19 pandemic has definitely brought about a huge change in everyone’s lives whether it be financially, spiritually, physically or mentally. In respect to me, I think I’ve been handling it rather rationally as I tend to force myself to do with situations beyond my control. During this period of isolation and quarantine, I live alone, with my roommate going back to her parents. I’ve enjoyed having my own space but there’s certainly a degree of loneliness I feel, especially having to practice social distancing, As someone who prefers to keep my friendship to a limited small group of people, and with losing a friendship right before the lockdown, things have been less bearable, having to sit alone with my thoughts. Like many others around the globe, my university has switched to online courses which has affected my motivation to do anything. I push myself into having a routine by going for daily runs and hikes while I spend the rest of the day either repeatedly re-watching shows I had already seen on Netflix (Big Bang Theory) in order not to think or focus for fear that I may not be able to handle anything too real or deep. When I’m not doing that, I’m either doing schoolwork, eating or napping. It’s been very hard to accomplish anything on the creative end, but I’ve got it in my mind that I don't have to work on everything about myself during this time.
Ikechukwu: It’s funny because when I asked you to write about your life a couple years ago and I didn’t receive anything, I figured you forgot. And then just a couple weeks ago you hit me up saying it was completed. It goes to show the journey it takes as we move up in the world.
It really does and the whole writing experience was a process for me. I always had it at the back of my mind the whole of last year that I had to write a piece for you. At one point I even said by December I’ll have something in but the pieces hadn’t fully come together yet and there was still more for me to learn and experience. I think it goes to show how full circle our mind can work and how essential it is for our mind to be in a better and positive place, holistically.
What got you into the law space in general? What changes do you wish to implement? You mentioned to me on the phone that you are finding ways to make such changes outside the courtroom…
It’s funny actually because when I was little I wanted to be an actress and I was certain that I was going to be famous. After a while, as I got older it seemed like I needed to be more realistic so when there was a career fair in my high school, I thought law would be a good space to venture into. Many of my friends and family thought it was very fitting for me because apparently I like to ‘argue’ and ‘debate’ a lot. I’ve also also been very passionate about equality and breaking norms/boundaries so eventually it just stuck with me. My favourite show to watch is Law and Order: SVU with Olivia Benson being my icon and inspiration so I think many of the stories that are based on real events (even though they deny it), spoke to me.
Also I think having the integrated cultural experience of living in Nigeria and Baltimore also fueled some of the fire in me. I was able to grow up in environments that has been woven with injustices such as racial inequalities and gender discrimination, that I’ve wanted for a long time to advocate and create a conversation about these social issues. Whether it be, participating in #BlackLivesMatter protests for Freddie Gray or writing articles about sexual harassment, what I’ve found to be very noteworthy is the power of our voice and the power that’s held in knowledge. I think it was Trevor Noah who said “We’re in a culture of conversation, not change,” and I think that holds some weight. Outside of the courtroom, I would love to have a platform that drives the necessary conversations of our society whether it is comfortable or not. I would like to push the boundaries and get people a little bit comfortable with being uncomfortable by stepping outside of the echo chamber.
What social issues do you want to tackle as you are finishing your last year?
That’s a very loaded question. Looking at our current climate and the direction things are headed, I think the conversation about mental health in our communities, especially communities of colour is an issue that I would like to highlight. We’re in an uncertain time where there is a lot of suffering and mortality, and it may feel like our personal non-related issues are minute or insignificant. Contrarily, I believe that just because there are bigger things happening in the world, doesn’t make whatever we go through any less important or insignificant.
Despite these reservations that you felt in moving to England, what was that final push? Outside of not being in your parent’s house, of course ha. I know what that’s like after college.
I like this question, because I strongly considered giving up on law and just exploring another career the year before I started law school. My mom was my greatest push and I’m certainly thankful for that because her resilience is what brought me here. She reminded me that this is what I’ve always talked about so it was important to take the opportunity to go law school straight away, and have other options if I didn’t want to practice, than to give up on the possibility of the dream as because I was less likely to go back to school in the future. For that, I’m forever grateful.
You said something powerful to me the other day. “Everything doesn’t happen for a reason, but there is always a lesson that is to be learned/is taught.” Which sums up your experiences and feelings these past couple of months. And I feel as though while you are still in the valleys, once you hit the peak you will look back and appreciate these moments you are in now. Being in an isolated place to uncover yourself is different than being in a city like LA for example, where there are distractions and escapism everywhere.
As an emotional and intense thinker, I try my best to balance myself by attempting to see things rationally yet positive. I always remind myself to step outside of what’s going on for a moment and evaluate the situation. I know it sounds unrealistic but the way I see it is, I allow myself to feel and experience the emotions as they come through, knowing on the side that they don’t define me and it might eventually pass. Even though I can be dark, I tend to be a glass half full kinda girl but when I say everything has a teachable moment, it’s more to say you can learn about the world and the experiences we have, rather than ‘this is the reason for this event’. I think the notion that ‘everything happens for a reason’ can appear self-serving and entitled especially when you relate it to the inexplicable things that happen in society.
There are a lot of transitional periods in our life...I think college, post-college, career, etc etc. I feel as though speaking with a therapist was a transitional period for you. What were those initial conversations like as compared to now? I love how you also said therapy isn’t a fix, because similar to how we are working on ourselves physically/externally, the same goes internally.
It was definitely a transitional period for me as I knew I needed to go. It was just difficult for me to get to that level of vulnerability. To some extent, it was easier because it was a stranger, so I felt less judgement and in other ways it wasn’t. The initial conversations were very slow and it involved long-winded sentences to avoid getting to the core of the topic. It’s funny because therapists see right through and mine was able to call me out on it. My breakthroughs came when I least expected it because I’d be talking about something entirely different then I’d just spit it out. Unfortunately, I haven’t been to therapy as much this year because of complications with getting an appointment and now our current climate so I’m trying to use other methods. It’s constant work and realising you have to apply different things to your life to help your mental health. That’s why I don’t see it as a solitary or immediate fix.
What type of writer do you want to be/are you?
I’ve always enjoyed writing and telling stories, and if I were to best describe the type of writer I want to be, it would be the kind of writer who tells stories that are true. I’ve dabbled a bit in fiction but I’ve come to realize that I’m more driven by stories that are true and are able to move people. I think so far, I’m slowly accomplishing that, especially with stories that are more personal to me, because although there’s a high level of vulnerability involved, those are the stories that come easily to me. I would like to cover more news stories, particularly topics of advocacy and social justice but I’m a bit of a perfectionist with stories that are of other people or something even bigger than myself. I feel I owe a duty of care to make it as accurate and as thorough as possible.
New year, new me is so interesting to me. Every day is a new day, so why does a stamped date have to be when change occurs? I hope those sentiments change over time…
I really do hope that type of reasoning changes because it can be harmful as it sets out unrealistic expectations. I haven’t believed in New Year resolutions for sometime now because I’ve gone on the principle that you can make changes to your life at any point in the year. I do understand the sentiment because when the year ends you reflect on everything you’ve done, and you see that there are some changes and revisions you would like to make about yourself as a new year starts. The danger with that is you end up working on the assumption that everything that occurred the previous year is left there, when on the contrary there is this transition process that takes place. Things trickle over from the past and it takes a lot of resilience and practice so it takes time and new year doesn’t fix everything. I’ll confess, I did make one New Year resolution and that is to be happy; not all the time, but to make sure I keep my happiness in mind and truly do things for myself. Last year was hard and I know I won’t be happy everyday (I’ve already cried a couple times this year), but I have it in my power to do something to make me feel good.
Do you ever see yourself going back to England or London?
Funny because I’ve thought about this a lot. I don’t think I’ll ever return back to the town that I studied in, but I can definitely see myself going back to London. I have family there like my cousin and my aunts so I am likely to go back and visit. Given a real reason to move to England with great financial benefits, I would live there for a time.
This quarantine has definitely reset the world. We are all facing ourselves in the mirror; there’s nowhere to run but inside (metaphorical and literally). What have you come to learn about yourself during this time thus far?
I was talking with a friend of mine the other day and I realised that the slight advantage I have from this lockdown is that I’ve been facing myself for a better part of a year now and I am comfortable with being on my own. With that said I feel like I’m in a different phase, I’m slowly realizing that I’m better than I give myself credit.
What have you learned about yourself these past couple of years, if you could sum it up?
Looking back on my past, if I could sum up what I’ve learned about myself over the couple years, even if it may not be apparent to others, is my tenacity to keep on going, work on myself and complete things. Whether it be my educational career, or things that I’m passionate about, I push myself to finish in spite of the difficulty because I have come to realise that I would like to have something to show for the things that I’ve started. Sometimes people may not have high expectations of me because they see me as an entitled, privileged millennial. I am aware of my privilege and the investments people put in me so I’m willing to do the work and sometimes underestimation can be a drive.
Tell me more about your blog!
Lol, I have a love/hate relationship with my blog. I’m still working on building it into widely woven content. At the moment, I write stories that are authentic to my experience through all the phases of my life but it’s tough getting the drive to write all the time. Add the anxiety of posting it online for people to read, it can be really difficult to be that vulnerable with strangers and people I know. It’s funny whenever I post on my blog, I just shut my laptop and phone because I don’t want to think about it anymore. I think there’s something worth saying about being afraid to do something and doing it anything. I hope that eventually my stories will become a blueprint for others who may be going through similar experiences and if it does become that, then I guess it wouldn’t matter that I was afraid.
There is that notion, especially in American society, that we have to constantly be working whether on ourselves or on our career. So I am glad you are taking the time to just “be.” And allow yourself to feel and sort through your emotions. We are being planted, not buried, right now.
Photography - Kamilia Arroyo