Mental Health: Mariah’s and Mine
Mariah Carey is forever intertwined into my life. Her voice has ebbed and flowed in the background of my thoughts since childhood, and many of her songs have come to represent distinct memories.
From as early as I can remember, I have always experienced the unwelcome companionship of unrelenting worry.
For a few years my sisters and I spent our weekdays in a town not too far from where my parents lived, in order to attend what at that time was recognised as one of the best schools in northern Nigeria. Our days were filled with learning phonetics and Arithmetic and other fundamental subjects, Wednesday ‘ice cream’ sold off a bicycle that had a cooler in the front, and Friday morning chapel. Afternoons were spent exploring the area of Rayfield, where we lived, boarding in a lovely house with few other children and two house parents.
One evening as I scooped up water with a plastic bowl from my bathing bucket to wash my eight-year old body, I suddenly began to let out blood-curdling screams. Every single person in the house ran to the bathroom to make sure I wasn’t being killed. They, adults and children (including my big sisters) dried my tears, averted their eyes from my naked body to spare my dignity, and did their best to persuade me that the ‘weird patch’ I had seen on my arm wasn’t in fact a horrible outbreak of fungus. You see, my dad treated a lot of patients with tropical skin diseases. I must have overheard him say something at some point about ‘fungal outbreaks on skin’.
Still, it wasn’t all bad. In fact it was mostly fun.
There were the times my big sister would take middle sister and I to the garden where we would fill our hands with rose petals then race up the hill a short distance from the house. She told us that if we scooped the petals close to our mouths and whispered words into them then threw them into the air, the petals would relay our words to the grass as they touched the ground. The bending grass, she said, would carry our messages along the path from Jos to Bauchi, where mummy and daddy would receive them.
There was also Mariah’s voice playing from my sister’s recorded cassette tapes …
Through it all, when you tell me I’m the only one you need
Sweet and tenderly
And your love
Breaks away the clouds surrounding me
All I have I want to give to thee — Mariah Carey ‘Music Box’ 1993
News in 2001 that Mariah Carey was suffering a mental breakdown broke my heart. My own anxiety had already gained a stronghold. Particularly, sleep anxiety. I remember reading a Nigerian tabloid that stated that Mariah had been ‘calling her friends to sing her to sleep’ because she had sleep problems [I have been unsuccessful in my online attempts to trace this exact 2001 story, so have no way of knowing if that claim was in fact true]. However, reading this report was the first time I would have a sense of relatability to a celebrity in terms of mental health. We were both facing issues with sleep, even if the root cause of hers was completely different from mine, and she had my complete empathy. As my phobias incubated in my mind, my hope began to crack. Thankfully, broken hope can be rebuilt…
I’ve always longed for undividedness
And sought stability
A flower taught me how to pray
But as I grew, that flower changed
She started failing in the wind
Like golden petals scattering — Mariah Carey ‘Petals’ 1999.
Mariah has come a long way. She has bravely opened up about living with Bipolar II disorder, and is currently on medication and in therapy. She has placed an emphasis on living with balance, and shared that she sought and received treatment because the burden was too heavy to carry on her own:
Mariah Carey: My Battle with Bipolar Disorder
In this week's PEOPLE cover story, Mariah Carey reveals for the first time her battle with bipolar disorder
It is deeply moving for me to see this woman whose voice has meant so much to me over the years use that same voice towards de-stigmatisation of mental illness.
I too have come a long way in the past few years: I went through my own battle with shame, gradually becoming comfortable with sharing my story, then made a commitment to mental health advocacy. After years of pain and mental struggles, I got the help that I needed and have accepted that while mental illness is something I will likely always have, this in no way means that my life, my purpose and my being need to be diminished in any way.
I also feel so proud of Mariah Carey for becoming her own self-fulfilled prophecy.
Please remember that you are loved and needed. Help is available if you struggle with your mental health. Check out these links. If you are completely lost please send me a private message and I will do my best to signpost you.
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