I used to know a girl called Ode. When she was 7yrs old her parents offered no explanation to her and her sisters and wanted an a-list performance act. This performance expected Ode to move on from a sudden loss and live with her Aunty. Ode was 9yrs then and had to shoulder the responsibility of looking after her younger sister. This implied Ode had to grow up swiftly to fit into that role. Again with no words or explanation, she put on an a-list performance and plough on with no time to acknowledge the loss.
Not long after that, Ode’s mum passed away. Now, Ode did block memories about her and her childhood as a way to cope. Ode was forced to learn to live with loss, shame, pain, and all the hardships she faced growing up. “You have to be grateful!” The society also said to Ode, “You are alive - Thank God for it!” She put on an a-list performance that did not stop the loneliness, the sadness, the depression, the anxiety, and panic attacks. These feelings consumed her. Ode’s past influenced her decisions, leaving her exposed to poor relationships and friendships.
Ode is now a mum and will continue to stay in unhealthy relationships because she does not want anyone to leave her or would hold on and try to fix it even though it hurts. Ode’s children are now growing up in an unhealthy environment and she recognises the patterns. She can’t protect them, how can she when she can’t even protect or heal herself. But Ode always thought of what life will look and feel like without the pain: “If only I can just feel ease in my body, my mind, my being, is it even possible?”
Ode aspires to be the mum she never had to her children.
Ode hopes to protect her children, to stand up for them, to never ever leave.
Ode wants more than anything to truly be fine instead of acting fine.
Ode knows she needs to find a way out for herself and her children though she grew up in a culture and society that expects a woman to keep it together, to depict that all is well on the outside. This a-list performance will now take its curtain call.
I am Ode, I am resilient. I made it to the other side.
I can talk about mental health because I am no longer ashamed of my past, my losses. I decided that my anxiety and panic attacks needed to stop for me to be the best mum for my children and the best version of me. I allowed my inner child to heal.
Deborah Oniah - Photo by John Minihan
As I begin to heal, I’d like to share that to recover, one needs to feel safe. If a person with mental health issues never gets to that safeplaceit will only get worse and the end is drugs, addiction or maybe suicide. I have sought out help since the past year - be it counselling, engrossed in group work, signed up for further education and training. My morning starts with spiritual practice be it prayers, meditation, a walk in nature or journaling. Earlier, I failed to have my own back and now I affirm myself - “I am doing the best I can, I am a great mum.”
Healing takes courage and we all have courage even if we have to dig a little (or a deep) to find it. The body is not designed to retain pain so as to function in its full capacity. When you start the journey to recovery, it is important to surround oneself with the right people who believe in you, really see you and people who help you feel safe. It also helps people if they are in a similar growth journey.
I highly recommend therapy and counselling. It's important to live this life happy to be at ease within yourself, you deserve that gift to yourself - to truly live life fully.
Deborah Oniah with her son - Photo submited by author
"It’s possible only if you make the decision to heal and only you can take that first step."
Deborah Oniah with her son - Photo submited by author
Counselling has saved me. I have learned that as life goes on, most of the pain we carry is not for us to carry. Of course, it takes time to truly understand the significance of this insight and feel its power. It has taken me a good while to feel empowered to let go of my loss, anxiety, pain, the panic attacks. I am in a better place now physically and mentally and that’s why I am very passionate about mental health. The truth is healing is possible - if it is possible for a Nigerian girl, who decided to turn her life around at age 37, who moved to Ireland 4 years ago, then rest assured much more is available and possible for everybody.
It’s possible only if you make the decision to heal and only you can take that first step. When you do, there are many people along the way to hold your hands, to cheer you up because you are not alone, you are never alone, you are never the only one going through even if the voices in your head tell you otherwise.
I read Padraig O'Morain’s ‘Daily Bell’ to help me grow everyday. I am pursuing courses at UCC and College of Commerce to keep my head occupied..nourished even. I listen to Joe Dispenza a lot during the week. I highly recommend the SHEP courses because the SHEP personal development course helped move the needle for me. I have also recently finished ‘Pathways’ in Mallow offered by National Learning Network (NLN). NLN has offered me effective support in my learning journey.
In my experience, Ireland has offered me great support and helped me feel safe. Please make that appointment and do something for yourself today. I have been on both sides and I know it’s possible for you too.
If you need help please contact the following:
Jigsaw Cork: Free non-judgemental youth mental health support
Contact: 021 2452500
Friendly Call: Free phone call service for those feeling lonely, isolated.
Contact: 021 430 1700