Chioma Fakorede is the founder of Olamma Cares Foundation, an NGO that supports people living with mental health conditions. In this interview by ADEWUNMI ADEDAYO, she talks about how the foundation creates awareness and support people living with mental health conditions, among other issues.
You are a mental health, disability inclusion advocate and a yoga instructor, why did you choose to go into all these?
I started this whole journey in 2015; I just was the kid who wanted to give back. I always say that mental health and special need chose me because I remember when I started, I’ll go to a lot of people, especially with disabilities and people who were already there questioned why I was so interested, but it’s something that feels so special to me. Something doesn’t have to affect me before I say I want to make a change. What if in the future, something happens to me like I break a leg and when I had the decision to make a staircase or ramp and I chose to do a staircase, it would affect me. But people forget that after that moment, there’s a life ahead and many people can benefit from what you started today. It was just a calling I needed to answer and I did and I’m glad I did so. I’m also glad about the families that benefitted from all that we did. It sort of moved into the mental health part because we realised that when we were helping children with autism, I had a group of over 100 parents and they needed help too. Some of them were depressed, just going through a lot and that kind of bonded the mental part of it. The NGO caters for an outing for the parents. We’ve been doing this ever since. The yoga part of it was more of myself, I started practising yoga in 2019, when I was having in and out phases of depression and I would just go to the Jim and do yoga and I’m someone that likes to learn more. So, starting yoga and being a yoga instructor was because I wanted to know the intricacies of yoga. It wasn’t really about me teaching, but more of knowing and I guess that’s where I have been since then.
In an ever-changing field, what have you done with regards to personal development in the last year?
I would say last two years were my years of change. From 2018, when I first had my diagnosis, I kept going in and out of therapy. 2019, I started having suicidal thoughts and eventually, I had to see a psychiatrist because my psychologist said it had been too often, hence the psychiatrist. I was placed on medication; I didn’t like how one of the medications made me feel, I had a lot of changes. I started to do a lot of self-care practises; I meditate, exercise, and drink water. There was a mind shift because I was very intentional with myself and it sort of spurred a self-growth moment, where I began to realise what traumas I have to heal. For me, that has been a life-changing experience. I would like to say if I didn’t experience 2020, I probably wouldn’t have gotten married or married the person I married because prior to that time, I was in relationships out of convenience for the wrong reasons. I feel like the journey helped me brood myself, such that when I found the right person, I knew that he wasn’t someone who would suck the life out of me, but someone who will add more to my life. I believe that in a world where people are not living their authentic self, I am living my most authentic and genuine self. I can’t be happy all the time, but am I fulfilled? Yes, I am actually much fulfilled. I am happy I am where I want to be. So 2020 was a good year; 2021 was a year to test what I had achieved in 2020 because I got married, got pregnant and all the things I thought I had gotten over are getting triggered again, but i thank God 2022 has been a bit of both; a new phase of me balancing it and I think that’s where intentionality comes in. it’s been amazing, filled with up and downs, but I don’t regret any of it.
What is your most stressful experience and how were you able to overcome?
I was diagnosed with Bipolar Effective Disorder and trying to live in a society where we don’t have enough specialists at hand can be very stressful. Mental health support in Nigeria is really expensive, but I don’t blame them because it’s very limited and you know the whole scarcity thing; when there isn’t enough, the price is high. My most stressful period was the first time I ever had a panic attack; maybe I’ve been having other panic attacks, but I think that one was the one that really shocked me and that was when I decided to go and seek help because there was a lot going on with me; I was struggling, crying and I was just so emotional. I had to seek help. That has been my most stressful experience. Luckily for me, I was already in the space of helping people living with autism, so I had access to specialists. Immediately that happened to me, I realised I needed help. So, I reached out to someone who connected me to a psychologist and I guess that was the beginning of my own mental health care history. I’ve done therapy several times and I’ve had to be on medication several times. Healing is not denial; with mental health, you just sort of have to manage it everytime, be intentional about yourself. If you have to take medications, pls do. I struggled all through it and here I am today.
How do you manage to juggle between work, family and your personal life?
It’s not easy but as I said, I’m a very intentional person and one thing you’ll hear from me is that I don’t like to stress myself. The moment I feel like something is stressful for me, I don’t do it. If I’m juggling everything and I begin to realise that these things are stressing me, I just call my mother-in-law or my husband to assist with the child that I need one day off to go to spa and everybody respects that. And this is also with work too, when I begin to see that I’m feeling pressure, I know that it’s not of God because I know God is peace, he’s everything calm. Thankfully, I have a good support; I have people helping me, my friends, family and its wholesome living. To me, the little gestures from these people are enough for me, I don’t need everything. I think having the right support system and a beautiful husband, parents, in-laws have been beautiful and I’ve been able to try to manage it.
What would you say has been your greatest achievement as a woman doing great things?
There’s been plenty and it’s in all ramifications, in my career, its helping the families in need and it’s not even a big deal. It’s when I write and someone sends messages like “Chioma, this was timely”; “I’m happy that you sent this to me”; “Thank God you wrote this”, among others. People sending me messages and telling me their life history and the feeling like am I even worthy to hear these kinds of messages; like the level of trust they have in me. I get the deepest things like things that they wouldn’t want to share with their family. They trust someone they’ve never seen in their life to share those things and I feel it’s such an honour. The big things, yes, are good, going around the country for projects. It’s just being able to make an impact. I’m living a life of impact and I’m happy that I’m fulfilling. I tell myself if I die today, I’ve lived a fulfilled life. I’m happy I’m learning and learning hard. I love wholesomely, speaking my truth wholesomely; I’m being kind because I can be. I’m trying to do the things that make me happy and I think I’m fulfilled.
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There are a lot of mental stressors around us. What can one do to avoid a mental breakdown?
Everybody is going to experience it at a point in their life. The difference is that some people have more resilience than others. Typically, what might affect me and break me down might not affect another person. It varies, but what we can do is to know what your triggers are. It’s more of intentional living, doing self care practices, meditating, exercising, and drinking water. Live a life of impact too. Kindness does a lot of good to you.
What is your advice for the youths who are actively involved in the campaigns for the next general election as regards protection of their mental health?
Nigeria is a trigger generally; the kind of trauma we are living is no small. There’s so much going on and with politics, everyone has their opinions and all, but after the election, there’s still life and what have you done for yourself during that period. Have you triggered yourself the more? Every young person getting involved with the campaign should honour themselves. When you begin to feel like it’s too much, just take a step back and come back again. Like I said, beyond this, Nigeria will still exist so don’t do anything that will jeopardise you in the long run. Be easy, gracious and kind to yourself and everything will turn out eventually the way it’s meant to. I believe we have a creator that orchestrates all these and it will work out.
What would you say to people out there about caring for their mental health?
Be like Chioma who talks about it all the time. I don’t know why people lie about themselves. Speak up because you don’t have anything to lose. Shame on those who would want to use your pain to hurt you. For young people, we should be authentic to ourselves and start to be truthful to ourselves. Make useful relationships; have your priorities in check. Be kind and empathetic. Put yourself first. Only when you do that will you be able to put others first. If you have a mental health issue, get help; forget the stigma. When you don’t talk, you’ll still suffer so it’s just better to speak up. Love yourself enough to be able to get help. Beyond the stigma and discrimination, there are still kind people out there. You are not alone.