Of society, mental wellbeing and the survival syndrome
A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a suicidal Twitter thread by someone very familiar. It was literally a countdown to his impending suicide. Under it were a series of responses and I strongly resisted the urge to contribute mine for two reasons. Firstly, I wasn’t convinced 280 characters within an already convoluted thread could quite capture my response. Secondly, I feared for its misinterpretation or negative trigger. I’m particularly wary of how even well-intentioned tweets end up going South on Twitter’s streets. I did eventually manage to pen a mail from my heart which I hope made a positive impression. Last I heard, he’d found help, thanks to organizations and individuals who managed to reach him. But I couldn’t help reflecting on the subject relative to society and mental wellbeing.
Mental wellbeing is a phrase I wouldn’t say meant much to me prior to the last two years. That’s probably because when you’re in a situation where you’re doggedly pursuing one course of living or work routine with fewer options, there’s very little attention paid to your psyche. In fact, other than trying to maintain a basic diet, little else counts in your quest to just make your sole option work. Bear in mind that survival is itself relative. For one, survival may mean just getting by with the barest minimum. For another, it could mean ensuring your existing resources doesn’t deplete no matter the middle or upscale income class society ascribes to you. For yet another, it may mean hoarding whatever income comes your way as a business while still trying to grow against the guiding principles of business And so, you grind and grind continuously looping around in survival syndrome without even knowing it. Therein lies one path to mental breakdown.
It reminds me of a casual conversation with a friend where I asked after her hubby and she replied jokingly, “He’s in Naija chasing one contract. You know, in Naija, you’re either chasing something or something is chasing you.” Upon hearing that, I laughed so much at how apt it was.
Given my contrasting experience of different living and work environments, I do believe that society plays a huge role in our mental wellbeing. In fact, I shudder at my own ignorance and sheer lack of understanding at different subjects that I’ve now come to know. There’s a lot that society brings to bear in our lives than some of us know. Granted, no system is devoid of challenges but one may never know how much the contrasts impact how different people develop in different systems.
I imagine the self-disappointment of a gifted or well-educated person not living up to his or her potentials. This after the peculiar challenges of passing through an educational system with the same survival syndrome firmly ingrained — fighting for limited seats in cramped lecture halls, going to class at night armed with mosquito coils, living in cramped hostels etc. In one society where options prevail, I can leap from a venture that isn’t working to paid employment or better still, combine a venture that’s in a promising state with a well-paying day job. Contrast this with a system where it’s do-or-die-trying at whatever cost because options are genuinely lacking or in some cases, undervalued. It’s only a matter of time before the pressure eventually gets to you. Or as I believe in many cases, it’s there but many just don’t know until much later.
At what point does a grown man then settle down to married life, bring forth kids, save, invest among other normal pursuits? Better yet, at what point does one go from simply striving to thriving? I believe that these issues form the backdrop of what eventually cripples the sane mind.
In what I’ve come to know, even productivity depends on the mental state of one. Hence, a mind that’s continuously teetering between mundane tasks like on-ing gen to fighting public officials bent on extorting you will have little to devote to productive thoughts to advance his or her cause. While there’ll always be exceptions, it would seem like the norm than otherwise.
I don’t have to imagine what many go through because I’ve lived it. Also, I speak with families and friends regularly. Notwithstanding, I hate to speak of Nigeria’s systematic failures because it simply means looking myself in the mirror. Admittedly, Nigeria’s a pure reflection of my own docility and seeming helplessness. And even when you’ve long departed her shores, Nigeria never truly leaves you.
The physical ties aided by the connectivity of our time means we’re forever greeted with these issues. It haunts you almost daily. However much I’ve restricted my social media use, the news creep in via WhatsApp messages or during regular conversations with families and friends. And so, the cycle continues. Issues of mental breakdown as with my friend’s reflect how close to home it is, thus breaking your self-erected bubbles.
I think of the pressure many are going through. The pressure to maintain dignity even as reality bites in the real world where there’s little to nothing in terms of social welfare. Who really dreams or expects to beg for survival? Not the majority of folks who are seeking support for medical reasons on Twitter. Yet, that could easily be me given the thin line between income classes. I used to tell a friend that thought otherwise of my financial state that I was one illness from slipping into poverty. To put it more clearly, if I was ever in a state where I needed to pay 10 million Naira for a medical procedure, o pari! Even now, we pray and hope for close families not to fall ill let alone require expensive medical procedures. These are the very things that test our mental breakpoints and through a sustained attack eventually lead to a breakdown. It’s hard to excuse the society we live in from that relationship.