11 Nigerian Women Share How Their Mental Health Affects Their Romantic Relationships

May 25, 2021

Living with a mental health condition affects different parts of our lives in many ways. In this article, we asked Nigerian women how their mental health affects their romantic relationships. Here’s what 11 of them had to say: 

Bisola, 24

I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety in 2017. Since then, my relationships have never been the same. My partners complain about me not being present. Whenever I get sad, it helps me to disassociate from everything until I can’t anymore but it’s hard to keep relationships like that. Most people can’t stay till I come out and that sends me into another spiral. I don’t blame them though — no one wants an emotionally unavailable partner. It’s hard to show you’re in love when you feel empty inside. Everyone wants a partner who’ll meet them halfway but I don’t even have 50% to give myself talk more of to give another person. My last relationship just ended because of the same reason. 

Tomi, 23

In 2017, I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder. This means that I fluctuate between mania and catatonia. As a result, I tend to ghost people because interacting can be quite hard for me sometimes. Before I would disappear without saying anything but it’s been frustrating for people in my life. Everyone wants to be that person everyone knows they can always talk to — to be a safe space, but the reality of it is when people see you in a manic phase about to cut yourself, they realize it’s not just love and light. That’s when most people realize they can’t deal with it anymore and they check out. My last relationship ended because they saw me trying to cut myself, and within a week, we were over. 

Ivie, 26 

I live with chronic depression, which means I am often suicidal. Whenever I get a terrible depressive episode, I want to hide from the world and this makes being in relationships harder than usual. I try to talk about it with my partners but they don’t understand. They always think I should be able to snap out of it and be happy. I try to perform happiness even on my worst days because I don’t want to ruin things but that only makes me resentful.

Living with chronic depression also means that sometimes when things are going great with a guy I like, I get worried that he will run away from me because of my mental illness. So I run before he runs. I tell myself that it’s for the best and I won’t get hurt, but it still hurts. Knowing I might never be able to have love is one of the most painful things I have had to live with. 

Aima, 30

I live with Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder. I have known this for about a year now. I am a doctor and one day at work, I was complaining to a colleague that I was depressed. I was suicidal even though I didn’t think I had any reason to be. Work and my ageing parents were the only things keeping me going. She asked a few questions and asked me to observe when I feel better and when my mood dips. I did that and I realized that almost like clockwork I start feeling low for no reason about a week to my period and for the whole duration of it. It turned out that it is actually a medical condition that is commonly missed in patients but thanks to my colleague we had a diagnosis. 

Knowing doesn’t make it easier though. I hate my antidepressants because it makes it difficult for me to function at work so I tend to skip them. I get irritable around my period and I snap at my fiance — sometimes I don’t want to speak to him. Initially, we fought a lot because he would get frustrated with me when his efforts to make me happy failed —  buying food, sending money, cracking a joke, etc. Recently, I explained to him that I feel like I’m not in control of my life for those 10-13 days every month and he would have to be patient with me. Also, I let him know when it gets bad so when I’m crying, he knows how to support me. Last week, I discussed feeling suicidal with him and he didn’t judge or ask unnecessary questions. He reaffirmed his love and stayed on the phone with me until I slept off. When it gets bad, I take my antidepressants in the evening. Every month is a different journey but having a supportive partner and knowing what’s happening to me makes it bearable. The upside is knowing it lasts a few days and I’ll get a break. 

Yemisi, 32

I was diagnosed with a mix of Bipolar Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

I never know when to disclose this information to someone new — I don’t want to scare the person away. A lot of people don’t understand it so after I tell them, they start to pull away and I can’t blame them. Then there are the ones that want to change me — they think if I were more positive, I’d be fine. 

When I had depressive episodes in a relationship, it was hard to manage it without making the other person feel like they are the problem. I also have to help them understand that they are not responsible for my moods. Sex triggers me so I always have to explain that. Most of the people I have been with have been gracious during the sex but they usually come back to ask questions, wondering if they caused it. It can get stressful for me. 

Vowhero, 33

I wouldn’t say I have a mental illness but I have trauma that keeps replaying in my head and makes me push the people I love away. Sometimes I can smell the first person that molested me. I was 6 when it happened. I have also been raped three times so sometimes when I am having sex with someone I love, I get triggered by their movements or their smell. People don’t understand that when my mood switches to fear, I would want to distance myself from them. 

Sometimes, I wake up crying from a horrible dream or screaming until the person beside me wakes me up. My ex broke up with me because of that — he said I was too dramatic. I also don’t cuddle my lovers as much as I would like. After sex, I leave the room because I can’t have body contact yet. Some days are good and I don’t experience all of this but on other days, it can be difficult. I have seen a therapist and I think there has been an improvement so far. I am still scared of enjoying a good time though, but I hope that changes soon.  

Ebose, 24

I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder because of a traumatic childhood. In 2019, I was in the only relationship I have ever been in. I was quite insecure — I had low self-esteem and chronic mood swings. My ex made everything worse by emotionally abusing me. He would never compliment means it triggered my insecurity. One time, he told me he has dated more light-skinned women than dark-skinned women. It hurt because I am a dark-skinned woman. I didn’t love myself enough to walk away from it. I used to check his phone and I was also clingy. After we broke up, I realized I was too insecure to be in a relationship. My ex was a shitty person but if I was healthy, I wouldn’t have even dated him. I believed no one could love me because there was no affection in the home I grew up in. I was so desperate for him to love me that when he cheated on me, I went back to him. I went to therapy earlier this year and it has helped me realize a lot of things so I know I am getting better.

Zainab, 31

I live with severe depression and I distance myself whenever I have episodes. Although this makes my lover feel weird, he understands and gives me space but I know it bothers him. My ex-boyfriend called it mood swings and I broke up with him immediately. When I am experiencing a depressive episode, I start thinking the absolute worst and I say things like, “don’t be too sad if I go.” My boyfriend gets worried but when I feel better, I reassure him that I’m okay. I am also seeking help so I know I will be fine. 

Farida, 25

I was diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder and the thing about this illness is that everything makes me worry. I found out this year and everything started to make sense. I realized why I could never fully open up to anyone or allow myself to fall in love because of that lurking “what if” thought. It’s a struggle, especially when you’re a hopeless romantic like me. 

After six years since my first heartbreak, I finally let myself fall in love again but it’s difficult when my mind keeps giving me reasons why the relationship should end. Every day I am in a battle with myself — I remind myself that this man is good for me and my fears are irrational. The most difficult part is that my partner doesn’t know about my disorder. He encourages me to talk about any worries I have and that causes me to worry too — what if he gets tired of listening to my worries? I am not comfortable talking about it yet. It’s one thing to say, “I’m worried about something” and another to say, “I have a thinking disorder.” 

When I go to his house, I have to hide to take my drugs because I’m not ready for the conversation. I am afraid of what he will think of me when I tell him. I find it difficult to express myself the way I want because I keep thinking that he may realise that I am a fraud and I lack confidence. When we’re having sex, I can’t have an orgasm because I am wondering if I smell good or if he likes what he sees or if he actually enjoying or just faking it. It’s a never-ending loop and I really wish it would stop but even therapy doesn’t help. The only way is to end this beautiful relationship of mine.

Onyinye, 28

I have been sad for a long time. When I was in university, I went to therapy but I don’t think it helped. In my service year, when I had started working, sadness became worse. I would cry for hours and some days I want to be in bed all day. My relationship at the time was two years old and it was all fights and arguments. We tried until 2018 when I started self-harming and I had to seek professional help. I started therapy and medication but my ex wasn’t getting better in his attitude. To make things worse, my sexual desires died — we would have sex and I won’t feel a thing. Some days, I would get into depressive episodes that would make me stay in bed all day and he wouldn’t call to check on me. Sometimes he’d say I enjoyed being depressed and that I use my depression for attention. Eventually, I found out he was cheating with his friend but he was convinced I was the one cheating. When the relationship ended, I realized he was a big trigger and slowly my drug doses were reduced. 

I have tried to date again but the truth is not a lot of people want to do the work to help you through it. Everyone starts off saying they understand but after one or two episodes, they switch up. Also, my libido is still low — I am hardly ever interested in sex and most men don’t understand that.

Amarachi, 28 

I was diagnosed with chronic Anxiety, Attention Deficit Disorder and bipolar depression eight years ago. I have been to a number of mental health hospitals in the US and I also went to rehab. After I got out of long term mental health care, I started talking to my present boyfriend. He does not express emotions with words and I did not want to date him in the beginning because I was still trying to adjust to a lot of medication but these days, he is more compassionate. He understands how anxiety can make me seem self-absorbed. He is also African and he wasn’t raised to understand these things so we learn together. 

When we first started reconnecting, I had to go back to another institution because I was suicidal again and didn’t want to get to the point of an attempt. He walked to my house and waited outside for me the day I returned. One time, he helped me pay for therapy when my dad and I were having issues. Being bipolar means there are times I have intense depressive episodes or extra energy and lack of focus. When I feel depression coming, I tell my boyfriend so we can adjust our plans. Sometimes, he picks up on the high anxiety or mania and will check in to make sure I’m not falling off my tasks. He tries to keep me entertained so I don’t get too hyper. So far, my mental health has been a way for us to be more considerate of each other. 

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Mariam Sule

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