By Ashabi Idris

A lesson in stress management

As I turned in my application for OPT in the summer of 2016, I knew I needed to start mentally preparing myself for Lagos. Back then, I really didn’t want to come home. But with time and options running out, it was inevitable. I talked about it with my close friends, coworkers, people I had just met; I let everyone in my life know what was to come. Eventually, my reluctance to go home started fading away and solid grip on reality began to take its place. So I decided year nine of nine in California was to be my most memorable one. And boy did it turn out to be, but not for the reasons I had hoped.

In the summer of 2017, a series of unfortunate events came charging at me, striking me one after the other, and leaving me shaken to the core. One left me with serious injuries. Following these events came depression, anxiety and panic attacks on levels I had never experienced before. The anxiety was so debilitating, I couldn’t leave my apartment for days on end. To make matters worse, I was alone and realized I really needed my family. I wasn’t just dealing with packing up and leaving the life I had built. Now I had mental health issues to deal with too. So I sought therapy to try and piece my life back together. It didn’t cure me but It helped. Although I made a lot of progress within a couple of months, I was just a shell of my former self. My therapist was concerned for me. With her brows furrowed, she asked “Are you sure you can handle being in Nigeria?”

The first few weeks back were marked with discomfort, stress and a constant “oh my goodness, I can’t believe I don’t have a return ticket” swirling in my head. The heat that smacked me when I came through the doors at MMA, was the same heat that smacked me every single day. I actually took it personally whenever NEPA decided to strike. It felt abusive. I remember gasping the first time I turned to tap on and water didn’t come out. It didn’t seem like a real thing that could happen. Within the first month, my phone had gotten stolen at an event. I was beyond shook.

The Lagos lifestyle was getting too chaotic for me to process, especially in my then fragile state. The whole cocktail of issues began to stress me out and I felt my anxiety steadily getting worse. Tired of my incessant complaining, family members were quick to remind me “Naija la wa.” And they were right to do so. I kept looking at my situation through a First World lens thus blurring my ability to see things for what they really are. Yes, this is Nigeria. Yes, we are all cogs in a less than well oiled machine perpetually on the verge of breaking down. So should I come and kill myself because of that?

For me, being home has truly been a lesson in stress management. It has been a test of my will to take control of my mental health. I decided the challenges of the Nigerian way were not going to drive me off the wall.  A huge change in perspective was what i needed to finally calm down and accept my reality. For everyone’s sake, I had to learn to not stress myself out over things I couldn’t change. I try not to focus on the past, fantasize or worry about the future. Instead I keep my eyes on the now and all it has to offer. I am aware of how corny it sounds but it has helped me see bright side of being home. Here I am living in the same house with my parents, cousins and family friends. I’ve never been happier to wake up in the morning and catch the sunrise.  I’ve had more laughs, more stimulating conversations, and rekindled more relationships than I could have imagined. It’s what I wish I had when trauma came guns blazing. Though I don’t have much of a social circle and I don’t even know what a club in Lagos looks like, I feel very content with life right now.  As it turns out, Lagos was what I really needed to start my healing process and slowly be myself again.