“Young Nigerians involved in the politics of 2023 should avoid mental collapse”
Chioma Fakorede is the founder of the Olamma Cares Foundation, an NGO that supports people living with mental health issues. In this interview with ADEWUNMI ADEDAYO, she explains how the foundation raises awareness and supports people living with mental health problems, among others.
You are an advocate for mental health, disability inclusion and a yoga instructor, why did you choose to tackle all of this?
I started this whole journey in 2015; I was just the kid who wanted to give back. I always say that mental health and special needs chose me because I remember when I started I was going to see a lot of people, especially people with disabilities and people who were already there wondering why I was so interested, but it’s something that feels so special to me. Something must not affect me before I say I want to make a change. And if in the future something happened to me like I broke my leg and I had a decision to do a staircase or a ramp and I chose to do a staircase, it would affect me. But people forget that after this moment there is a lifetime ahead of them and many people can benefit from what you started today. It was just a call I had to answer and I did and I’m glad I did. I am also happy for the families who have benefited from everything we have done. It kind of moved into the mental health part because we realized that when we were helping autistic kids, I had a group of over 100 parents and they needed help too. Some of them were depressed, just going through a lot and it tied up the mental part. The NGO organizes an outing for the parents. We’ve been doing this ever since. The yoga part was more about myself, I started doing yoga in 2019, when I was having bouts of depression and I would just go to Jim’s and do yoga and I’m someone who likes to learn more. So starting yoga and being a yoga instructor was because I wanted to know the intricacies of yoga. It wasn’t really about teaching, it was more about knowing and I guess that’s where I’ve been since.
In an ever-changing field, what have you done in terms of personal development in the past year?
I would say that the last two years have been my years of change. Starting in 2018 when I first received my diagnosis, I continued to go in and out of therapy. 2019 I started having suicidal thoughts and eventually I had to see a psychiatrist because my psychologist said it had been too often hence the psychiatrist. I was placed under medication; I didn’t like the way any of the drugs made me feel, I had a lot of changes. I started doing a lot of self-care practices; I meditate, exercise and drink water. There was a mind shift because I was very intentional with myself and it kind of spurred a moment of personal growth, where I started to realize what traumas I needed to heal. For me, it was a life-changing experience. I would like to say that if I hadn’t lived through 2020, I probably wouldn’t have gotten married or married the person I married because before that time I was in a relationship out of convenience for the wrong reasons. I feel like the journey helped me dig myself out, so when I found the right person, I knew he wasn’t someone who would suck my life, but someone who would add more to my life. I believe that in a world where people don’t live their authentic selves, I live my most authentic and authentic selves. I can’t be happy all the time, but am I satisfied? Yes, I’m actually very pleased. I’m happy to be where I want to be. So 2020 has been a good year; 2021 was a year to test what I had achieved in 2020 because I got married, got pregnant and all the things I thought I had overcome kick in again but I thank God 2022 was a bit both ; a new phase in my balance and i think that’s where the intentionality comes in. it’s been amazing, full of ups and downs, but i have no regrets.
What is your most stressful experience and how did you manage to overcome it?
I was diagnosed with actual bipolar disorder and trying to live in a society where we don’t have enough specialists on hand can be very stressful. Mental health support in Nigeria is very expensive but I don’t blame them because it is very limited and you know the whole issue of scarcity; when there is not enough, the price is high. My most stressful time was the first time I had a panic attack. maybe i had other panic attacks but i think that was the one that really shocked me and that’s when i decided to go get some help because there was a lot going on with me; I was struggling, I was crying and I was so emotional. I had to ask for help. It has been my most stressful experience. Fortunately for me, I was already in the field of helping people living with autism, so I had access to specialists. As soon as this happened to me, I realized that I needed help. So I contacted someone who put me in touch with a psychologist and I guess that was the start of my own mental health care story. I did several therapies and had to take medication several times. To heal is not to deny; with sanity, you kind of have to deal with it every time, be intentional with yourself. If you need to take medication, please do so. I struggled through it all and here I am today.
How do you manage to juggle between work, family and your personal life?
It’s not easy, but like I said, I’m a very intentional person and one thing you’ll hear from me is that I don’t like to stress myself out. As soon as I feel like something is stressful for me, I don’t do it. If I’m juggling everything and I start to realize these things are stressing me out, I just call my mother-in-law or my husband to help me with the kid I need a day off to go to school. spa and everyone respects that. And that’s also with work too, when I start to see that I feel pressure, I know it’s not from God because I know God is peace, he’s all calm. Fortunately, I have good support; I have people who help me, my friends, my family and his healthy life. For me, the small gestures of these people are enough for me, I don’t need everything. I think having the right support system and a beautiful husband, parents, in-laws was wonderful and I was able to try to deal with it.
What do you think has been your greatest accomplishment as a woman doing great things?
There’s been a lot of that and it’s in all ramifications, in my career, it’s helping families in need and that’s not even a big deal. It’s when I write and someone sends messages like “Chioma, it was timely”; “I’m glad you sent me this”; “Thank God you wrote this,” among other things. People send me messages and tell me their life story and the feeling that I am even worthy to hear these kind of messages; like the level of trust they have in me. I get the deepest things like things they wouldn’t want to share with their family. They trust someone they’ve never seen in their life to share these things and I think that’s such an honor. Big things, yes, are good, going around the country for projects. It’s just being able to have an impact. I live a life of impact and am happy to thrive. I tell myself that if I die today, I have lived a full life. I am happy to learn and learn hard. I love healthily, speaking my truth healthily; I’m nice because I can be. I try to do things that make me happy and I think I’m fulfilled.
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There are many mental stressors around us. What to do to avoid a nervous breakdown?
Everyone will experience it at some point in their life. The difference is that some people have more resilience than others. As a general rule, what might affect me and break me might not affect another person. It varies, but what we can do is find out what your triggers are. It’s more about living intentionally, taking care of yourself, meditating, exercising and drinking water. Live a life of impact too. Kindness does you a lot of good.
What advice would you give to young people who are actively involved in the campaigns of the next general elections in terms of protecting their mental health?
Nigeria is a trigger in general; the kind of trauma we experience is not insignificant. There is so much going on and with politics everyone has their opinions and stuff but after the election there is still life and what have you done for yourself during this time. Did you get triggered the most? Each young person who gets involved in the campaign must honor themselves. When you start to feel like it’s too much, take a step back and come back. Like I said, beyond that, Nigeria will still exist, so don’t do anything that will put you at risk in the long run. Be easygoing, graceful, and kind to yourself, and eventually everything will go as planned. I believe we have a designer orchestrating all of this and it will work.
What would you tell people to take care of their mental health?
Be like Chioma who talks about it all the time. I don’t know why people lie about themselves. Speak because you have nothing to lose. Shame on those who would use your pain to hurt you. For young people, we need to be authentic with ourselves and start being honest with ourselves. Establish useful relationships; keep your priorities under control. Be kind and empathetic. Put yourself first. Only by doing this can you put others first. If you have a mental health problem, get help; forget the stigma. When you don’t speak, you always suffer, so it’s better to speak frankly. Love yourself enough to get help. Beyond stigma and discrimination, there are still nice people. You’re not alone.