Oladotun Ola-Egbinola on how a family Covid19 diagnosis inspired her to become a mental health advocate following her own brush with anxiety.
I had just finished my first year in the university and had had a hard time with social anxiety and school work in general, so when the Nigerian government shut down schools and businesses to curb the spread of covid-19, I was relieved to get a respite.
Life went on smoothly until the second day of August when my cousin, who I'll call Onyinye, received confirmation from her co-worker at the hospital that she'd tested positive for covid-19.
Since the isolation centre in our area had exceeded capacity, Onyinye, a veteran nurse with experience managing covid patients, had to quarantine at home. As such, the rest of our household had to wear face masks and protective coverings, keep our distance from her at all times and disinfect the house regularly.
In the two weeks Onyinye was ill, I battled with anxiety; restlessness, worry, sweating, exhaustion, hyperventilation and fear that I would lose her. I struggled with basic tasks at home and realised I needed help. Since therapists are scarce in Nigeria, I turned to the internet in search of tips to ease my anxiety, beginning with the nonprofit mental health organisation where I volunteered.
On days I was restless or haunted by worry, lying on my back and humming a tune to calm my nerves. Mindfulness, the practice of paying attention to one’s environment, thoughts and breathing brought relief even though it wasn't easy concentrating and calming myself down at first.
Listening to R&B music, physical exercise and dancing comforted me, even though I have two left feet and can’t move gracefully to the rhythm. Furthermore, I derived pleasure in connecting with friends on social media and sharing jokes and memes. Knowing that I wasn't alone in this struggle gave me the courage to share information about mental health and my own experiences on WhatsApp to help others who might be down in the doldrums because of the lockdown. While sharing didn’t come easy to a private person like me, knowing it might help someone else made it a lot easier. Consequently, the inspiring feedback I received boosted my mood and eased my anxiety.
After Onyinye's second test came back negative, she resumed work two days later. Although I felt she wasn't ready to return to the war front, she assured me she would be more careful with patients. So far, she has gone from strength to strength and I have paid more attention to my mental health and mental health education.
Now I know that anxiety does not disappear in a moment, and that mental health should be taken as seriously as physical health as they are interconnected. One can’t live life to the fullest without the other. If there's one thing the pandemic taught me, it is that mental health discussions need to occur in the full glare of the public until it is regarded as what it is, a normal issue, not a taboo subject.