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  • Sanyade Okoli

Mind the Emotional Minefield

Updated: Oct 26, 2020



For those of us living in Nigeria, now more than ever before is a time to take special care of our mental and emotional well-being. In the last few days many people have faced a cocktail of negative thoughts and emotions that even the most articulate have struggled to put words to. That notwithstanding, I will try. This is because I have often questioned one's ability to truly process an emotion that hasn’t been properly articulated or, worse still, acknowledged.

One of the most potent emotions we have seen both online and offline is anger. Raw unbridled anger. If we are honest with ourselves, for so many people the last few days (or weeks) have merely been the tipping point. The anger has been there. Mostly low-lying but present nevertheless. Anger at structures and systems that have kept all but a tiny minority down. Anger at a system wherein despite one’s education or experience it is difficult to truly “breakthrough”. Anger at a system that, all too often, forces your hand to compromise if you want to make progress. Anger at a system where injustice stares us boldly in the face, yet no one bats an eyelid. We all know that in most people’s hearts and minds #endsars quickly became more than that. Part of why it took off so successfully was because it was also about #endthestatusquo.

Anger is a tricky emotion. Yes, it is natural. Yes, it can spur us into action. However, if not well managed, it can quickly lead to destruction – ours and/or others. We watched it first-hand in the days following the Lekki Massacre. Innocent people lost their lives and their livelihoods. Broken people were broken further. That’s not ok.

For many people around us there has also been an overwhelming emotion of grief. Loss. Loved ones. Property. Livelihoods. Deep pain. So much of it completely needless. Heart wrenching.

Then, there’s sheer fear. Thugs on the streets, gunshots being fired, private businesses looted. Where is all this going? Where will it end? How will it end? Who, what and where is next? Will “they” come after something or someone relating to me? This fear has been overwhelming and debilitating for many.

Dare we talk about the feelings of bewilderment and confusion? No information, information, misinformation, disinformation. Agendas, counter-agendas and no agenda. Hidden. Overt. “All join”! Who do we believe? What do we believe? Lies masquerading as truths; truths being contorted to take the form of lies. The fake news is that the news is fake. Our heads are reeling. Where do we go to get the whole truth and nothing but the truth on a timely basis? Social media? Traditional media? We all have our thoughts on the matter. History will judge.

Throw in feelings of frustration and helplessness. Boxed in a corner, again. Beaten, again. Hands tied behind our backs, again. Wanting to do everything and feeling you can do nothing. Frustration with ourselves because, in one way or the other, deep down we knew something like this was likely to happen. Our trajectory was simply not sustainable.

And ooooh the disappointment; on so many levels. Disappointment in the present outcomes. Disappointment in yourself for daring to believe things could be different this time. The speech that left us speechless! Disappointment in Nigeria, again. Disappointment in God. “Where are You in all this?! How long must we pray?! How hard must we pray?! What more must we do?!”

Once again, weariness sets in.

Wait a minute; did I mention sadness and melancholy? Clouds that weigh on us; some we can pinpoint, some we can’t. A blanket that envelopes your heart and refuses your efforts to shrug it off.

So many emotions: upset, anxiety, despair, despondency, shock, horror, even trauma. In the space of a few days (or even hours) we saw enough blood and gore to last a lifetime.

And it’s not as if life was easy before! Despite what many people think, COVID “neva finish” and we are certainly still grappling with its far-reaching impact. In short, it’s a case of new stress layered upon pre-existing stress 😢. You dae cry you no know whether nah for old pain or new pain!

What do we do with all these emotions?! I would say, first of all, acknowledge them. As they say, the first step to addressing a problem is to acknowledge there is a problem. Then, very quickly, let it go. Don’t hold on to them. Negative emotions are a form of poison. They flow to your heart and kill the very life in you. Don’t give anyone that power over you. “They” have already taken far more of their “fair share” of power and influence over your life. Don’t cede more ground.

To my mind, it’s almost like these negative emotions remain trapped in our hearts until they are expressed. I know some of us may not be happy with God right now or are simply tired of looking to Him but honestly, the best person to express our emotions to is Him. There are so many reasons for this. He is the one who will not judge us for how we feel but will simply love us through it. He is the one who knows the beginning from the end and can help us to make sense of our emotions even if we never come to understand the events. He is the one we can talk to about what’s going on inside of us and we leave the conversation feeling better and not worse. He is the all-encompassing One.


So, talk to Him. Write to Him. Cry to Him. Whisper to Him. Rail at Him. Just take the thoughts and emotions to Him. And when you do, leave them there. Don’t pick them up again. Instead, take up His peace, His love, His joy, His compassion, His passion, His agenda.

Having regrouped, we go again! As I mentioned in my previous post (https://www.justasiam.ng/post/the-body-soul-and-spirit-of-a-nation), what we are witnessing is a wrestle for the body, soul and spirit of Nigeria. This is not something that can be done on low emotional reserves. Whatever we feel, we cannot allow hopelessness to take over. If not for ourselves, then for our brothers, sisters and friends. Those we know and those we don’t; the fallen heroes and the living fighters. If not for them, then for our children - born and unborn.

I pray that despite the last few days, the events of the last few weeks have sparked a flicker of hope in your heart. Hope that “something” is possible, whatever that may mean for you. Hope that we are not doomed to the status quo. Hope that in our lifetime, we can see the eventual collapse of structures and systems that are clearly broken. Hope that, should we choose to, we can be part of building new and better ones on the foundation of love, truth, unity, equity, justice, and so much more 😊.

Let’s keep hope alive! We are birthing the new Nigeria!

Postscript

So.... confession! Friday was not a good day for me. For a lot of the day, the only way I could describe how I was feeling was “somehow”. I couldn’t articulate it, but I knew I was not in a great place. My emotional reserves felt so low that my child’s school emailing us assessments for us to finish off (as they had to start half-term early due to the goings on) felt like plain cruelty. After “invigilating” one of several tests, I decided that I wasn't “doing again”, downed tools and went to bed (thank God she has a father who quietly stepped in 😊). Lord knows I needed the rest. I also had worship music playing in the background to lighten the atmosphere. I woke up feeling better but still not quite there and I felt a prompting to review my journal to remind myself of things the Lord had said to me in the past – regarding my personal life and about His wonderful plans for Nigeria. That did it! It dislodged whatever it was that was “doing me”. However, it was only when speaking to a friend later that evening that I managed to put my finger on what it had been - melancholy! With that knowledge, I could go to bed that night whispering my heart’s cries to the Lord.

Some practical tips?

  • Get some sleep.

  • If you can, step away from the news and social media for a little while.

  • Have a conversation that has nothing to do with Nigeria.

  • Play a game.

  • Go out and get some fresh air. Exercise. Sit under a tree. Take in some nature.

  • In short, take care of you!

Reflections

  • Spend some quiet moments to search your heart to see how you really feel at this time.

  • As best as possible, pinpoint the underlying beliefs (For example, “Nothing will ever change in Nigeria!”).

  • Query the underlying beliefs. What’s the basis? Are they true? For people of faith, how do they align with your holy book.

  • Hand the negative thoughts and emotions to God.

  • Spend time asking God, “What is the truth?”. “What is Your truth about what is going on at this time?” As a start, below is a file with bible scriptures relating to the various emotions discussed above.

  • Finally, ask God to come and heal your wounded heart and to envelope it with His love.


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Scriptures Relating to the Various Emoti
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