A Light at the End of the Tunnel
Updated: Jun 24, 2020
| This is the 446th story of Our Life Logs |
I was born in 1998, in Lagos, Nigeria, a sparsely over-populated city with a mix of lifestyles and cultures. It was like the America of Nigeria, hence the popular saying, “No one in Lagos is from Lagos.”
In my early childhood, we lived in a ghetto in Lagos called Okokomaiko, full of rain-washed fading walls and stinking, poor-quality gutters on the side of every road that seemed to be falling apart. Our compound accommodated up to 10 other families, and we had to share things like water and the line for drying our clothes. And so…fights were rampant. Every week, it was one family against another; the kids were drug into it, being used as chess pieces. Let’s say, your mom was mad at a family, then you couldn’t play with those kids. This happened often, but the logic never connected in my head. They did nothing to me, yet I had to fight my parents’ wars?
Aside from the drama of our squalor, life was okay…until things got messy inside my home. My father, an accountant, was fired for mismanaging funds and being disrespectful. That day he came home crying and swore to deal with his employers through diabolical means. This put our family in a tough spot financially as my mom just so happened to be pregnant with my little sister at the time. I heard her stomach rumble as the days passed with little food. My elder sister and I went for days without eating properly, and my family tried to hide this from the other families. But instead of looking for another job, my father spent his days reading the paper and watching the TV news.
Soon after my mother gave birth, she got a bank job where she worked from 5 AM to 7 PM every day except Sundays. We didn’t see her often, and her absence gave my father a chance to be violent without consequence. He would yell at me and my siblings when we played with our toys for “too long” and he’d beat us for little things like spilling a bit of food on the floor. His rage transferred to my mother when she returned home. Most days, she was welcomed home with accusations of infidelity followed by beatings and her screams. All her money was seized by my father who spent it on frivolities such as drinking and chasing after other mjinwomen. He lived like a billionaire with the money my mother got from her job. Meanwhile at home, we had almost nothing to eat.
At a tender age, I began to feel hopeless, like life was always going to be this broken.
Since my mother’s salary was not put to good use, our landlord came knocking one morning and asked for his rent. We had driven him off one too many times, and he began paying thugs to intimidate my mother each time she went to the market to get groceries. Our family became prisoners of our home, fearful of what the landlord would do if we dared to step out. Eventually, we had no choice but to abandon our property as if we were criminals. I looked over my shoulder in fear as we fled to a new home.
We moved to the heart of Lagos: Ikeja, a simple capital that had a mix of people from all social classes. There, we briefly squatted with a relative until we got a place of our own. It was a much more peaceful environment with only one other family residing there. It felt like I’d have a chance to enjoy my youth, finally. But no—the peace broke down the walls of our home as the abuse continued. My father called us names, starved us, and beat us mercilessly. No one knew of his cruelty for he kept it behind closed doors. There was no safety.
And then, my mother lost her job. My father wouldn’t pay my school fees or those of my siblings, so, I was jumped from one school to another, each time enduring the shame of being kicked out of school and mocked because of the debt. I became ashamed of my father and ashamed of myself.
Again, we started from square one. The landlord of our new house came knocking for rent. We didn’t have it, of course, but instead of threatening us, he just cut our electric and water and changed the locks. We had no choice but to move again…and again. At each new place, we were evicted for not being able to keep up with the rent.
Shame began to affect me as my family became known as the rent debtors in the neighborhood, and I became afraid to go outside. When my family was somehow able to afford to get me into a boarding school, I struggled because I couldn’t connect socially. I couldn’t relate with my classmates and I was terrified of authority. My peers took advantage of my quiet nature and bullied me. The funny thing was, I saw it as nothing. I endured worse at home.
And then it began. I was accidentally bitten with a broken electricity cable in school. The copper string seeped into my wrist, and I started to bleed. While it was painful, it was nothing compared to the emotional pain I experienced every day. That was when I realized that I could replace emotional pain with physical pain. I thought that this was how I could do away with the injuries on my soul. There were times I cut myself to achieve this when the bullying stopped, but the emotional pain never wavered.
• • •
I couldn’t balance my emotional state with my academics. Each time I tried to study or stay attentive in class, a fresh wave of my past flooded the silence. I tried dismissing these thoughts, but it was no use. They poured with a new surge. Still, I powered through because I wanted so badly to go to college. I hoped that if I got a degree, I could leave my abusive household and start fresh on my own. That I could finally be free.
I retook my Senior School Certificate Examinations after two years of struggling fruitlessly, I passed. It was a huge success, more so, because I was changing from the sciences to the humanities. I connected and understood it better. Now, in my country and society-at-large, the humanities are seen as a field for time wasters, people who are lazy and confused about what they want to do in life. I was told everywhere I went that it would be hard for me to achieve success through the humanities. My parents highly discouraged me; my father rained abusive words on me. “You won’t amount to anything,” he threatened. But still, I persisted. I refused to let my father or anyone get in the way of my happiness and success. I thought life in college would be better.
Ah, if only it were that easy.
The issue of insufficient funds still plagued my family. So, I was left with no other option than to reside in the worst of accommodations on my college campus, a place where studying was almost impossible. There were up to 20 students packed into a room that was made for five. One could merely breathe in a room and that was about it. I simply wanted to be alone and avoid human interactions, but that was difficult to do in such a cramped space. I was called names, like “anti-social” and “sociopathic” because I always kept to myself, but I had little idea how to properly interact. I was emotionally handicapped with no single friend I could call mine, and had little idea of how to get one.
I thought getting away from my family would help but I was just tossed into another toxic environment. It began to feel like I would never be happy anywhere, and nothing would change. I contemplated suicide many times, but never went through with it.
I began wondering if something was wrong with me. Most nights, I would ruminate on the days that passed, pledging to become a better person, socially and emotionally, only to then ponder why it evaded me. In the summer after my first year, I decided to stop wondering and get some answers. I went on a deep search. I started with what many do when they have unexplained symptoms. I Googled it.
From there, I spent weeks comparing how I felt with specifications put forward by different websites for various mental illnesses. Finally, I found one I felt at home with. Avoidant Personality Disorder, AvPD for short. Symptoms included shyness, fear of ridicule, low self-esteem, and avoids contact with others out of safety for themselves.
You would think finding a name to what I was dealing with would have been a relief, but the discovery plunged me into a new type of depression. I had a personality disorder because of my past. No matter how hard I tried, my past would not leave me. It all really troubled me, and I kept asking God, “Why me?” For weeks, I felt angry with God for “afflicting” me with a personality disorder, then I discarded the possibility of a God altogether because I felt cheated. I saw it all as intentional, a conspiracy between God and the world.
I sulked for weeks over my new discovery, and even talked about it to my close acquaintances, who I felt might be going through personality disorder issues too. I was encouraged to get help if I wanted to live a fruitful and productive life. But I knew what “help” meant, and I feared that I would be called crazy or confined to a psychiatric home. Even if I wanted to, I had no money to fund it or where to even look.
I continued to feel afraid, ashamed, and bitter. I knew of a few psychiatric homes in Nigeria, and each day, I planned to walk in and declare myself mentally insane and seek help. But I never did. Because one day, I realized something.
A stigma had been placed on me, making me feel lesser just because of my past trauma. That didn’t seem fair. Society trying to mock a change out of me was not right. I had to stop letting people around me determine my happiness and self-worth anymore. I couldn’t change my past and how it made me antisocial, but I could learn to live with it and love myself despite it.
And then just a few months back, one of my acquaintances whom I talked to about my mental state committed suicide. At first, I was so afraid, worrying that I was next. But then I reminded myself of how far I’d come. I reminded myself that all the abuse and bad things that happened to me were not my fault. I needed to start believing that I was worthy before it was too late. I am still breathing with more reasons to live than just the fear of death. On most days, I want to die, but I found a way to counter “most days” of my life by setting my mind on a higher purpose.
Today, I am in my second year in college with a 4.0 GPA, fighting, and resolute that I will not succumb to my personality flaws. I’m working relentlessly towards my dream to become a great author, and I am learning to love myself.
I believe all I have suffered was not my fault, and there is a better definition of who I am. My past cannot hold me back from the happiness I am determined to get. Each day, I live—actually live—because I believe in lights at the end of tunnels, and mine is just beginning to take form.
This is the story of Ebuka Evans
Ebuka currently resides in Lagos, Nigeria, where he is in his second year of college. From an early age, Ebuka faced turmoil and hardship in his home. From job losses to abuse to evictions, Ebuka grew up with anxiety regarding conflict and socializing which led to difficulties in school. It wasn’t until he went searching for answers that he discovered just how important it is to love yourself despite your past and mental health problems. Today, Ebuka strives to be positive and look for reasons to live, even in the darkest of times.
This story first touched our hearts on October 21, 2019.
| Writer: Ebuka Evans | Editor: Colleen Walker |