Depression happens to a lot of people. It is that feeling of being inadequate and weak inside. Dr. Olaokun Soyinka defines it, as “overwhelming feeling of pointlessness,” while Kadaria Ahmed says, is “a serious mood disorder, which affects how we feel, think and act.”
You wear confidence on your face and walk around in pretense that all is well. That’s what you get from Dust to Dew, veteran journalist and publisher of Genevieve magazine; Betty Irabor’s a memoir.
Betty seems to have it all: A lucrative career, loving and supportive family. Everything looks perfect. She equally has all the love and affection of friends and colleagues. None of these matters, as she’s pulled into the belly of depression and sinks deeper in into the black watery hole with no light in sight.
With lots of money, which she squanders on quack psychiatrists and therapists, who only succeed in making the situation worse, by pumping her with anti-depressants, sleep-induced medications and anything they assume as cure to her ailment, Betty battles the complexity of life.
All she knows and longs for is to hide away from rest of the world under her velvety covers.You can sense her pain as she declares, “despair stretched its jaw wider and wider to consume more of me each day.”Published in 2018 by Quramo Publishing, Lagos, Dust to Dew is Betty’s second book.
In the book, she describes her experience battling clinical depression, her many years of buried hurtful emotions, brought to the fore by the whirlwind of menopause at 52, in 2009, and dramatically narrates her journey to recovery, which is as complex as the disease, laced with tidal healing process: one minute fine, the next moment she relapses and sinks further in.
Written in a complex plot typical of a play, with other dramatic techniques such as, flashback and dialogues, Betty brings her years of being a columnist and publisher to bear in this account. Her background isn’t left out of the equation, as her account is made more interesting with code mixing and switching between English and Bini, English and Yoruba, being a Lagos-born Bini girl.
Not only these, but Betty deploys allusion as a technique, making reference to the late doyen of Nigerian theatre, Hubert Ogunde, the bombing of Casino Cinema, Lagos, as a consequence of the Nigerian Civil War and the struggles of the biblical character, Job, who goes through a ‘process of travail’ and comes out victorious at the end.
Written in 13 chapters, each chapter details her experience in a way that connects subplots together. There is a prologue that captures a song by popular gospel artist, Nicole C. Mullen and an acknowledgement at the end of the memoir that captures her favourite hymn.Dust to Dew opens with an account of Betty’s ability to hurdle as a kid, where she wins a government scholarship and goes off to Jos to participate at the national competition. The track is her safe haven, especially the sound of gun and crowd chanting her name.
Readers encounter Betty’s battle with low self-esteem from this point. But she always finds a way to keep this battle locked inside, hence, the track is a place of escape.
“The track was my favourite place as a young girl. It was where my long, skinny K-legs were a plus, not something for me to be self-conscious about,” she says.In the book, Betty is not only conscious of her appearance, she lacks confidence in herself and feels inadequate, especially when she remembers how her father abandoned them —- she and her brother, Fred, in front of their barrack home, driving off and leaving a cloud of dust in its wake.
“I had not felt like I was good at anything. In the years following my father’s absence, I had become shy and withdrawn in my classes,” she says.As the years go by, she finds another safe haven in her magazine, Genevieve, “a validation of my courage, my determination. It had been the only thing that gave me succour.”
With series of stories within a story, Betty details her experience from her parents’ divorce, when her father abandons her and her siblings with their mother, the journey from that point till she meets and marries her husband, the famous Soni Irabor, becomes an iconic figure and successful with children.She concludes Dust to Dew with some life lessons, which include, the decision to avoid those things that trigger depression, an incurable mental health challenge that can only be managed.
Betty talks of her battle with insomnia, which seems to be hereditary. Her mother also struggled with insomnia for years. For Betty, her siblings take turns to give her foot rubs, which becomes her lullaby. Betty is the only one who inherits sleeplessness as a ‘trait’ from her mother.She also gives an account of her addiction to sleeping pills and anti-depressants, obviously naming herself a pharmacist with no appropriate qualification. If you need to know what medication to take for insomnia or depression, Betty is the go-to. She appears to have tried them all in her quest to find answers to what she suffers. And halfway through the book, the answer comes from an emotionless-Prof psychiatrist.
After years of visiting therapists, psychiatrists, a hypnotist and a health spa at Kettering, Betty finally meets Dr. Naya Ndupu, who leads her through a healing process and who, through talk therapy, for the first time in her quest for a solution, “was more interested in how to wean me (Betty) off the meds.”The cause of the depression gets uncovered. All the buried hurts, hidden feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness that have taken deep roots in Betty comes to light, as she talks and talks with Ndupu. Betty discovers she didn’t properly deal with her father’s abandonment, because even when she receives news of his demise, she feels ‘nothing’. When Fred dies, she throws herself on the floor, digs her nails into her skin, but sheds not a tear.
Throughout Dust to Dew, Betty informs readers of the poor state of Nigeria’s health system that seems to deteriorate with time and advancement in medical practices the world over.From piles of dusty books, curtains that had seen better days, rickety old fan, clueless doctors, who lack empathy and knowledge of diagnosing and treating depression as a mental health challenge, and the despicable nature of hospital staff in handling patients and stripping deceased patients off of their personal belongings, as it is in Fred’s case.
In the book, you are brought to the realisation that it is okay to ‘feel your feelings’. Cry if you have to, and most importantly, find someone trustworthy and empathetic enough to listen, so as to pour out your inner struggles. Don’t lock them in, pretending that all is well. Don’t try to play the hero. Take a break; free yourself from unnecessary burden and pressure.Betty also makes you realise that healing is a process. Alluding to the biblical account of Job, she makes light of the Christian belief of ‘instant’ miracle, tagging them ‘hogwash’.
Dust to Dew is beautifully written, with a complexity of plot structure that reminds the reader of Helon Habila’s Waiting for an Angel.With the statistics of suicide attempts and successes on Third Mainland Bridge in Lagos and other places within the country, and the death of celebrity chef and author, Anthony M. Bourdain, who committed suicide at 61 barely a month ago, Dust to Dew’s relevance is registered.
The memoir is a wake up call to the managers of Nigeria’s health sector to refurbish and make necessary improvements in the system to provide better healthcare services, especially as Kadaria Ahmed in the foreword notes, “World Bank reports that 22 per cent Nigerians suffer from chronic depression,” approximated to 33 million.This statistics was taken from an earlier report in February 2018 from the Mind, Behaviour and Development Unit of World Bank. However, a revised report was released in April, stating, “22 per cent of Nigerian respondents – 74 per cent who are household heads, 27 per cent who are females – have depressive symptoms.”
Whatever the case, having depressive symptoms still indicates the presence of depression. Therefore, policy makers in the health sector at every level of government would benefit from this book.It, therefore, comes as no surprise that the spokesperson to Nigeria’s Vice-President, Mr. Laolu Akande, in an earlier report in The Guardian, spoke of the Vice President’s decision to partner with Betty to create awareness on depression as a mental illness.This is a must read for everyone, celebrity and non-celebrity alike. After all, everybody is equal and none is more equal than the other.