I am 30 years old today! Whoot whoot!
For the first time in a long, long time, I decided I was going to celebrate my birthday. Honestly, the last two years took its toll on me emotionally, financially and physically! Whewww! So, yes! I am in a celebratory mood this year.
To give a glimpse into my mind and why this chapter is different, let us go down memory lane to the last couple of months in 2016. It was a really bad time for me.
A misunderstanding with my mum began the start of an estranged relationship that lasted into 2018. Growing up, I learned not to speak back to adults; even when I felt they were wrong. It used to hurt me so bad when adults would do something that offended me and I couldn’t do or say anything because you know…adults. So while many people saw me as the girl who said her mind (usually in a shout), with older people, I was a girl who kept quiet. So when my mother and I were having a conversation and I felt something she said was wrong, I snapped. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I didn’t talk back to her. I just got up and left. And the silence began. You know how you keep saying you would fix things and pride keeps telling you to wait and then waiting become days and days become weeks and weeks become years? Well, our ‘fight’ lasted for nearly two years until something happened to force us into the same room.
I will get to that soon.
Also in 2016, I made a decision to walk away from the relationship with the people I considered my best friends at that time. A little context is necessary.
My friends and I had been friends for nearly 15 years at that point. Well…15 with one and 10 with the other. We were peas in a pod. I loved those girls like I loved myself and I knew I could do just about anything for them. In fact, I considered them my sisters. Even though I didn’t keep in touch often, I hoped they knew that I was always there for them.
A couple of events which happened from late 2014 to the time in question made me feel like our relationship was one sided. And at that time, I handled my anger and hurt by internalizing the problem. So rather than call anyone I have a problem with and have a proper conversation expressing my angst, I would begin to pull away from them. I would let silence become a chasm between us until coming back becomes almost impossible. And you know what happens in that time? All the offences become even more glaring; things that would normally not offend me begin to have double meanings; and worst all, the hurt and pain I feel rises to a crescendo that bursts at the top of it, leaving me quite unreasonable at the end.
When I got to this point, I wrote a long note telling my friends I was done with the friendship and I wished them the best in life.
Then I waited.
Today, I can admit that I hoped they would try to fight for me. I can admit that I hoped I was wrong and they would set me aright and tell me how it was all in my head and they loved me as much as I loved them. But none of that happened. Instead, they really got into how I was a ‘horrible’ person and how they also had things they wanted to get off their chests. I was shocked! By the time the conversation was over and the friendship severed, I was left shaking. I was so hurt that for the first time, my first reaction to a problem was not anger; it was raw, unadulterated pain. I remember crying so much that day. You know how they say losing a friend is so much worse than losing a lover? Well, I had definitive proof of that.
And even though I had felt great sadness before, I fell into a state of paralysis that was the start of what became a deep depression.
But I will get into that in a bit.
When my job search wasn’t yielding anything good in 2016, I became very antsy. I am my work and when I do not have work, I genuinely lose my mind. I already had a lot going on and what would have been my solace – burying myself in work – was no longer available to me. Oh! I had my blog and what not but I didn’t have a source of income, which meant that I needed to depend on people for my daily needs. Look! The worst feeling I can ever have is being dependent on anyone. It literally feels like my skin is being pulled out little by little with hot tweezers. I hate being broke and worse than that, I hated having to ask anyone for money for things like sanitary pads; which were about the only things I asked for when push came to shove.
If jobs weren’t readily available, I knew I had to re-strategize.
So I applied for an internship in different development organizations. I knew many organizations did not pay their interns well (if they paid them at all) but I was fine. If whatever I got could handle my transportation and feeding allowance, I would be fine. What was more important to me was that I learned structural advocacy so I could take my activism to a point where I could begin to get grants to execute projects.
Towards the end of 2016, one of my applications came through and I was invited for an interview in Abuja. A week or so after that interview, I was told I had passed and I was to start in the new year. I was excited! It was a huge opportunity with a really big organization and I couldn’t wait to delve into all the lessons I could glean from them. And even though I was told at the interview that interns were not usually kept after their time with the organization, I was optimistic that my work would so speak for me that they would have no option than to keep me.
So I started 2017 coming through like bang da dang. (I genuinely like that phrase from Speed Darlington.)
Typical Ramat, I buried myself in work. I was balancing my own platforms and managing my organization’s platforms, among other things. I began to stay up later and later and wake up earlier and earlier. Some days, I would literally drag myself out of bed to schedule posts on my platforms and then head out at between 6 and 6:30am to the office. My body was kicking against the abuse and because my diet was comprised of bread and Indomie, my body was getting really tired and burned out.
*Funny side story: one day when I got to the office, I could barely function. My sleep deprived mind was short circuiting and I was about to crash. I knew it, my body knew it and even my computer knew it. (*laughs. For some reason, my computer started updating and wouldn’t come on.) I tried to catch a nap on my desk since I was the first at the office and no one else was around. My body wouldn’t budge. I looked at the floor and it began to look like heaven. Next thing I know, I was sleeping soundly; right there on the floor by my desk. It wasn’t until I heard people in the hallway that I woke up; with a start. When my colleague finally came in and saw me, he said, ‘you look rested’, and boy was he right!*
Anyway, I began to take up more and more responsibility and stay longer in the office. I earned the nickname, ‘Night shift’, because of how long I stayed in the office and one of my directors kept telling me to put my health first. I didn’t listen. This helped me go over and beyond on my targets but it was messing my health. It was a risk I was willing to take. I thought that definitely, if I kept at it, they would retain me when they analyze my performance. And honestly, I really wanted to stay with the organization.
So when the year began to round up and I wasn’t hearing anything, I began to panic. Was I not as good as I thought? Wasn’t my work good enough? Did I have an over-inflated sense of self? And because these thoughts were nagging me, I worked even harder. I threw caution to the wind. I really wanted to stay in the organization. I wanted my work to mean something. And because I am my work, I wanted to meansomething.
In the end, all this didn’t.
It wasn’t until the officer I was working with resigned that they offered me a consultancy role for a few months. Most people would have been happy with the offer; I was sad. Was I only good enough because there had been a vacancy or because my work was important? And the more I dwelled on it, the unhappier I became. I quickly moved into a state of depression.
Let me delve into something else that contributed to the complete helplessness I was feeling at that time. Before I do that though, let me state categorically that I am ‘gangster’ and this part of the story doesn’t change that. And…I am not mushy! We don’t do that here!
(I am not kidding. Don’t think me weak when you read this part.)
Anyway, I had been in a romantic relationship with someone I deeply cared about. (Hey! I told you I am a gangster! Stop acting weird and let me share my story! Ha!) We had been friends since we were in the university and started dating afterwards. I knew I liked him a lot, much more than I had liked anyone in the past. Usually when I like someone, I don’t show them because I used to think it was weakness to. I could be so lovey dovey with people I wasn’t dating but very regular with one I was. And deep down, because he was a good guy, I didn’t think I deserved him. I was so insecure about our relationship that I thought he would see through me and one day, up and leave. So what did I do? Everything wrong! I fought him for any and everything, rarely ever acted nice, ignored him if we had a fight and refused to commit to the relationship. You know that nasty girlfriend you heard about? I was her. So I 2017, after almost four years of dating, he was done with putting up with my, pardon my French, shit.
Hahaha! You thought I would lie and say he was at fault and I was the one who broke up with him? LOL. No. I was the one with the horrible behavior. And guess what? Cliché as it may sound, when he decided to leave, it dawned on me that I had fucked up. I was so worried about him leaving in the future that I made it impossible to be with me in the present.
Add that to the work stress, my sleepless nights, horrible diet, and the depression I was feeling and for the first time in my life, I had a panic attack.
Let me describe it.
I literally felt my heart shutting down on itself and my airways closing. I was drowning in my own pain. I wanted to breathe. I needed to breathe. I had my hands outstretched, begging the universe to let my airways clear, begging my heart to work, praying that I didn’t die. That was when it occurred to me that the term, heartbroken, means exactly that; your heart can get broken. And I was suffering the consequences.
One more thing tipped me overboard to the full on depression I talked about.
On February 24, 2018, I was wheeled into the operating theater to have the fibroids growing in my belly taken out. I had had them for almost 15 years. They had steadily grown from being pea sized to huge growths that made me look like I was 5 months pregnant. My health had really deteriorated at this point and it wasn’t until after my surgery that I knew just how bad things were.
But…that is a gist for another day.
Suffice to say that it the years from 2016 to 2018 took their toll on my spirit, body and soul. I was in a funk that left me crippled emotionally and affected me physically and financially.
But something happened in September 2018 that completely changed my outlook on life.
My consultancy with the organization came to an end in July, 2018, after two extensions. It was obvious that they weren’t going to keep me on as a staff. I had lost three of my closest friends and so it made me look at myself and say, ‘hey! Maybe you – Ramat – are the problem. Maybe you really are a shitty person. Maybe you do not deserve good people in your life.’ And my personal favorite, ‘maybe you do not deserve anything good in your life.’ With my ex, I knew I messed up. With my friends, I didn’t think I did. But the feeling of worthlessness made me re-evaluate myself and I didn’t come out looking pretty. Add that to the fact that I didn’t have a job or any savings from the previous one and you had a ticking time bomb.
So in September 2018, I let myself blow up.
I was at home, nude as a newborn, curled up in bed, and hugging my pillow when I told myself, ‘let the dam burst baby girl. Let the emotions pour out’.
And so I cried; and cried. I didn’t stop till I felt the cleansing of my spirit and soul. I didn’t stop till my tear ducks said, ‘we cannot produce anymore tears, baby girl. We are all cried out.’ Then I accepted my faults, viz;
1. I really should have talked to my mother as opposed to staying away. Now that I am older, I understand how much she has had to go through and sometimes, when she seems cutting, it is usually the pain she has faced lashing out. I could have listened to my sister – Sadiya – and used love to solve issues as opposed to anger. As a result, we lost two years of our lives not speaking to each other when a simple, ‘what you said hurt my feelings’ could have ended things;
2. I could have handled the situation with my former best friends better too. You don’t cancel people because they hurt you; at least, not until you have tried everything to make things work. Friendships are different from acquaintances because, in spite of what you go through, you should be able to pull through. And as much as I thought I was a good friend, their statements about me were valid; I was in some ways, a horrible person. I could have been better, as I expected them to be. And even if we needed to end things, it could have been organic as opposed to sending them a long letter listing their faults;
3. My ex was a good man. And I had pushed him to the wall. No one should be treated poorly because they love you. And he was within his right to walk away from what I now accept is toxicity. But I was not the only one wrong in the relationship. That is the biggest thing I came to accept from its end. While I had done wrong, it was a two way street. Having said that, I should have done better. There are no excuses for what I put him through;
4. I expected too much from an organization that already told me they were most likely not to keep me. And because I sold myself short, I took on more work than I should have based on my contract. This set a precedence that led to my health woes. It came off as desperation and like fear, people zone in on desperation. There are things I should have never put up with that I did and its toll on my health and emotional well-being was bad. I needed to learn to stand up for myself and put my well-being first;
5. My worth wasn’t tied to the people in my life or the job I did. Even better than that, my worth wasn’t tied to the things I had. And finally, my worth wasn’t tied to the mistakes I made or the past I lived. I should never have put my worth in those things because, when they were gone, I remained Ramatu Ada Ochekliye.
When I was done doing my reflections, I forgave myself. Yes; you read that right! I forgave myself and made a promise to me. From that day, I was going to be more positive about my life. I was going to be optimistic. I was going to be free. But the best part is that I am going to begin to live! All the negativity, the self-doubt, the constantly selling myself short and putting myself down, and the emotional dependence had to go. I am a good person. In fact, I am an awesome person! I have made mistakes and acted wrong but overall, I am a good person and I deserve so much love and joy and happiness. I deserve the good things of life and I am worthy!
In that moment, a friend sent me a message. As we chatted, he asked me how work search was coming along. I told him slow, but that at the end of September, I would have a job. I didn’t know how that was going to happen but I was sure it was going to happen. I had already decided that I would only work for organizations that handled issues affecting women and children, and human rights in general. So I had been sending out applications to these types of organizations.
The next day – a Saturday – something niggled my mind to check my Yahoo mail. While I check my Gmail every day, I rarely ever check my yahoo mail. So I listened to my gut and lo and behold, a family planning organization sent me a pre-qualifying test for an interview. I was asked to submit my test by 12pm that day. I saw the email at 2pm. Because I am big on respecting time, I said, ‘toh! This one don pass. Lesson learned; check your Yahoomail often’. Then I closed my computer. I tried to sleep but my instincts kept telling me to respond to the email. Out of frustration at 3pm, I opened my computer and took the test. Then I apologized for how late I was responding and hoped they would still consider my application. Then I forgot about it. On Monday morning, I was informed that I passed the pre-test and I was invited to an interview on September 26; which was two weeks away. Long story short, I not only passed the interview, I was hired immediately. I started work on October 2, 2018.
This positive outlook on life thing was working!
I got a great job in an awesome organization, the surgery brought me and mother back together and we mended our relationship, and even though I lost some friends, my relationship with others improved and I made new ones. Romantic relationships are the hardest relationships for me because I let a lot of fear rule how I handle them; the fear of commitment that is. Plus, I hate being vulnerable. But guess what? We are dropping all that in the past y’all!
Before I get to that though, here is why I decided to share my struggles leading up to my 30th birthday.
Most people who have been reading my blog usually only see the strong Ramat, the one who has things figured out, the one who can fight for herself (and others) and the one who is independent. Once in a while, I throw in a little vulnerability but never enough to crack the wall I have built around my emotions.
Also, depression is real. For months, I was riding through my emotional roller coaster alone. I had shared my frustrations with my closest friends for long. But I didn’t share my depression. I didn’t want to look weak in their eyes. How could I explain that I had panic attacks for almost a year? How could I explain that I spent every single night crying myself to sleep because I was heartbroken? How could I share that I was at the lowest point of my life and every time I thought I had hit rock bottom, the ground opened up again to swallow me into an unending abyss? Because you see…these things are not easily explained. Putting them into words is not something that can be easily done. This is why I am thankful for my friends – Triqx and Shade – and my sisters, Enigbe and Sadiya, who constantly called to check up on me, gently coxing me to share my sadness until I was able to get through it.
This is hoping that you are inspired to check up on your friend; especially the friends whom you think have it together. Many millennials are drowning in depression and are unable to articulate it. And you know the years between 25 and 30 are usually the hardest for people because they are trying to figure out work, relationships, their career and their future. A simple, ‘hey, are you okay?’ can go a long way in helping someone pull out of the quicksand that is life.
And this might sound tripe but a positive outlook to life works. It isn’t a magic wand that wipes away all your problems or magically gives you opportunities. It is workinghard, every single day, and believing that your work matters and you matter. It is looking at life every day and choosing to say, ‘okay. Let us take a fun ride today’. It is accepting that some days would be better than others and consequently, some worse than others. And it is believing that anything can happen as long as the mind can phantom it and you can work towards it.
So for my 30th chapter, I am choosing to live!
First, this is the year where we start to travel; internationally and locally. I want to visit Rwanda, Namibia, Ghana, South Africa, Madagascar, Seychelles, Santorini, Ibiza, Jamaica, Barbados, the Virgin Islands and more. If I am being honest, I want to visit every country in the world! I want to bask in the cultures and peoples of the world and enjoy our humanity. I want to lie on the beach with a mocktail while I am served elaborate meals. I want to become a proper baby girl! And trust me, I am so ready!
There are two mistakes I made with Shades of Us. In 2017, I registered it with the .co.uk domain because it was more affordable and I desperately wanted to have my own domain name. And in 2018, I registered it as a business; which it isn’t. My work is advocacy and activism. In all honesty, I could care less about making money from it. I am more about making impact and changing lives. So I should have registered it as a non-profit organization; which is what it is. So this year, I am going to just keep putting out content until I can afford to have a proper overhaul of the platforms and I can pay for a website and domain name that I am comfortable with. So I will keep speaking out about issues affecting Africans and people of African descent, especially as it affects women and children.
And going forward, when I love people, I will show them! No more trying to hide behind being a gangster – though, if you test me, ama be all up in your face. I will work on relationships and address issues as opposed to running away and cancelling people. This is the year when we tame the rage! Somebody shout hallelujah!
Best of all, this year is about positive vibes only. I will have fun because I can. I will try new things, meet new people, live new experiences and generally be more open to the beauty and essence of life.
So if you haven’t met me, I am Ramatu Ada Ochekliye, the founder of Shades of Us and a human rights advocate. But beyond that, I am big, bold, black, beautiful and brainy and I am about to enjoy the baby girl life!
Happy 30th to me. Let us make the next 45 chapters a blast!