...we can only be human together...
...we can only be human together...
...we can only be human together...

I've lived an interesting life, filled with joy and pain, and am now on a mission to lead an army of the healed

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19 February 2023
22 minutes read
I've lived an interesting life, filled with joy and pain, and am now on a mission to lead an army of the healed

The thing around my name

When I was born on 10 January 1979, the first child of my father, Amos Adenisinmi Omopeloye, a native of Ile Oluji, Ondo State, Nigeria, he was then serving in the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme, at Auchi (in the present Edo State).  

In Yorubaland, children born when their fathers are away are called Abidemi, but my dad did not want that.

In 2021, at my dad's funeral, his best friend, Uncle Gabriel Oluwakotanmi, now a pastor in the United States of America, revealed in his tribute to him, that three years before my birth, my dad had decided, without stating the reason,  that his first child would be named Oluwatunmise.

I also understand that, before my mother, then Miss Olawunmi Dorcas Oladipupo, met my dad - they married on 26 March 1978 - she had said that her first child's name would be Oluwatunmise. My mum just said she liked the name. 

She is also dead now. That happened on 16 March 2017. Bless their memories. 

And, Oluwatunmise is the only name I have. My dad's older brother, I am told, had tried to give me Victoria, but my grandmother did not like it, so that did not stick.

Today, by virtue of marriage, I bear Oluwatunmise Oladapo Kuku - my husband does not want it hyphenated, even as he is the Oladapo. 

What's in a name?

While conversing with my mum in the last six weeks of her life, she had said she wished that I had not been named Oluwatunmise considering the trajectory of my life, where things had to first go bad before they turned good.

Personally, I believe that the name is a prayer.

My life embodies my name and my name embodies me. And, I have got to a point now that I wear the name as much as it wears me.

The basic transliteration from Yoruba to English is: God, repair me. But if you begin to put it in existential context, it then becomes a prayer. So, whenever I get to a point where it is so dark and the tunnel seems as if there is no light, I say my name, and as my mum would say, the light comes and the name becomes a sentence, which seems like God is saying to me, 'I am God. I am in the business of a continual renewal.'

My experiences, good and bad, from the womb

My mum told me that she suffered from tuberculosis throughout her pregnancy with me. The whole nine months. She was then working as an auxiliary nurse in the hospital of the New Methodist Christian Church, now called Kingdom of Heaven and Earth Mission, in Akowonjo. By the way, I was born and bred, except when I went to secondary school, in Akowonjo. 

I am wearing glasses because of the tuberculosis. With the radiation of the x-ray and all that, they were not sure I was going to ever see.

I was also born with no hair on my head. 

I later - I do not know how many days or weeks that was -  grew seven strands of lock, and my mum said she tried seven times to cut them, but they grew back and she gave up. I still have them. Even when I permed my hair, they grew back.

I do not know what that meant but I questioned, and still question, everything. 

So, I grew up being perceptive or inquisitive, if you like.

It was at the age of six that the biggest questions started for me.

For instance, I questioned why we had to remove our shoes before entering the church (the New Methodist Christian Church).

Our house was always filled with people, extended family, church members, neighbours. It was a communal living. 

Please note that I speak about this now from a point of healing. It was at the age of six that I had my first exposure to sexual abuse by one of such people, who was then eighteen years old. I knew that it was not right and reported to my parents and their response was not favourable. I was told my imagination was wild and that I played too much, which was true. I did not see the result of the examination conducted by our family doctor - no hymen seen - confirming that I was sexually molested, until I was thirteen years old, and it was while sneaking through my mum's things.

From hindsight, I think that my dad, who was an engineer in the employ of the Lagos State Government - and later the Federal Government - was carrying me around from home to primary school (A-Z Ajao Estate) further away from home and to his work place and back home together - to prevent further molestation of me. I was always with him and, basically, we were building roads in Lagos together. It was how best he thought of responding.

Attending Command Secondary School, Abakiliki, from 1990, was like an escape to the land of peace: it was a welcoming setting. I was always afraid to return to our house.  I would forever cherish my experience at Abakiliki. Though I finished with the 1996 set - I repeated SS2 because I had appendicitis in 1994 - I am more at home with the 1995 set. This is a huge shout out to Mariam Enahoro. She knew much, much later about the burden I was carrying. Really, because, I had a everything-is-fine facade, which I inherited from my mum, and my set mates believed I was fierce, which was their interpretation of my stand against injustice and oppression that I demonstrated in school, especially when we had to protest against acute lack of water on campus. Mariam knew how to stay in one's face. She stayed in mine. An extra extrovert, she knew how to get me out of my introverted self. She held my hands. At some point, I carried knives to ward off any invaders and Mariam wondered why I had to do that.

I was so much of a scrap, academically. But in all of my reports from primary to secondary, my teachers expressed that I was intelligent but I needed to pay attention.

After secondary school, I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. I had no answer to what I wanted to become in future. All I knew was that if you asked me as a child to go and sit down at a corner, it was not a punishment because I would pick a pen and write or doodle. I enjoyed my audience of one.

So, my dad and I had this impasse after secondary school: he wanted me to go for law and international relations. I did not see that fitting me. For instance, I knew that I would go back to dreadlocks or wear my hair natural because I hated salons and still do. I hated hair relaxers and makeups. I hated to wear skirts.

So, after finishing secondary school, I was at home like forever, doing salesgirl with supermarkets in the neighbourhood.

My first contact with the media was through my cousin, then Miss Lola Omopeloye, during her national youth service with the African Independent Television (AIT). So, I always went there to see her and we were in a room where I could write. That was in 1997.

Mr. Femi Babafemi, a family friend, now in the NDLEA (National Drug Law Enforcement Agency) was at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU). He helped to get me to enrol for a two-year diploma programme in local government studies. I had sat for JAMB (Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination conducted by the Joint Admissions Matriculation Board) for law and international relations and I passed well but, thankfully, I was not given admission. Thankfully, because I would not have excelled or pay attention. So, while on the diploma, I sat again for JAMB, chose law at OAU as second choice and mass communication at the University of Lagos as first choice. How OAU admitted me for English for first choice remains a mystery till date. I terminated the local government studies - I already did one semester - for English at the same university.

In my first year as English student, I was on auto-pilot: I attended classes but I was not there. That is where I would agree with my teachers in primary and secondary schools who said though I was intelligent, I needed to put in more efforts. When I got to Part Two and till the end of the course, and we had courses in phonetics, socio-linguistics and psycho-linguistics, it began to feel like home and that is how I found life. Yes. Yes. Yes.

I had some great teachers including Prof Dipo Salami who taught us socio-/psycho-linguistics; Prof Chimaroke Anyadike, who taught us literature; and Prof Bidemi Okanlawon, applied linguistics. There was Ms Akande, who taught us stylistics, and because she was just a renegade, who did not care, that is why her first name was hardly known. I identified with her so much. She did not care what her name was or who she was. All she wanted to do was give of herself to serve the next generation. That was my perception of her which many of my classmates did not see. I did not see her as a person but saw the essence of her beautiful aura which she carried well.

I graduated in 2004.

I practically financed myself because during an eighteen-month strike by the lecturers in our Part One, in 1999, my dad used his connection with the owner of MiTV, Alhaji Murhi Gbadeyinka, and I was attached to a show producer and got paid for scripts I wrote. In 2001, again through my dad's influence, I  became a contract staff as a producer with the Lagos State Radio Service. I worked with the likes of Tokunbo Ojekunle, Niyi Ojemakinde, Tope Ayoride and Omololu Olubode - he was a producer. I would come to work from school, do my shows and go back to Ile Ife.

My first solo production was on 1 October 2001 when the presenter of a football quiz show, Top Striker did not come and I was asked to stand in. To be sure, I did not have any urge to present, because I did not like my voice, and I still do not. So, I scripted and presented the show when the producer, Olubode, insisted. The second day, Lekan Ogunbanwo, who was then the general manager of the service, incorporating Radio Lagos and Eko FM, came to me and said what has stayed with me till today: 'Tunmise, what you've done, a lot of people go to school and spend many years to learn. But I will tell you this: do not let the praise get to your head and do not let the censure get to your heart.'  Of course, I am human and sometimes want to hear that I am doing good.

I later co-presented the show with the lady for a long time afterwards.

I went for my NYSC in Benue State. When I finished, I returned to Lagos and became a permanent staff and a presenter with the Lagos State Broadcasting Service.

I was seconded to Lagos Traffic Radio when it started on 29 May 2012. It was fun but it was also one of my most trepidating experiences, because though we had radio broadcasting experience, but not so much of transportation reporting experience. 

I am an existential, cerebral person, so the question was how would I engage the audience without being over their heads. 

So, everyday, before I said anything on air, and this had been throughout my career, I would say a prayer: 'Who am I going to hurt today? What song am I going to play today? Whose heart is breaking today that I need to help? Who is it today that you would want me to help?' One day, an intern came into the studio and saw me with my head bent over the desk. When I raised my head, she asked what I was doing. I said I was praying and she asked me why? I answered that it was because I did not want to hurt anyone with what I say; that I had to be careful not to aggravate anyone who was hurting. Because I have seen so much pain that I do not want anybody else to go through same or a fraction of it.

The journey of repair

When that first sexual invasion - I say this with a high degree of sensitivity because I do not want anyone to be triggered -  happened, at the age of six years, I knew that the response from the people in authority in my life had to be better than it was.

That made me to shut down.

I had no one to talk to but to God whom I was used to early in my life.

If my mother did not gift me anything else, she gave me the pointer to talk to God.

I had insomnia because I was actually sleeping when the first invasion happened.

Yet, I am highly functional. This is why many people would not believe, for instance, that I am an introvert.

But when I am not in a place where I have to show up, give energy, or perform, I am a totally different person.  I completely shut down. When I am pushed to the wall, I get into extreme explosive anger.  I try not to cross into that space.

Despite all I have suffered in the hands of men, I have never been  afraid of men, and never will be. Do not also forget that I am the only girl among boys and I love my brothers who are also so protective of me.

In December 2007, I got married, I had my first child, a girl, and suffered Postnatal Depression (PND). The type I had was the one where I wanted to have my child but not any other person. I think that came from my experience where I was not protected by the people in authority in my life but I wanted to protect my child. God bless my mother-in-law who was in the medical line; she always kept the people away by telling them I was asleep and all that. I did not have my second child until about four years after. But during the four years, I was available at work and to my child but not to my husband. God bless him. When I was at work in the studio, I was at my creative best. Or while, say, conducting the Daystar Christian Centre choir. I started that in 2000, one year after I joined the church. So I craved for depression. 

In 2015, I was watching a Nigerian movie and I saw my first invader. He was playing the gangan. I started shivering. My husband came to me and I was pointing at him. That led to my first-ever major breakdown. I was given the injection to relieve my anxiety but it did not work. Nothing worked. Everything began to spiral. It got so bad that I would lay down in the living room and I would be hearing voices to go and take a knife and do something bad with it.

Mind you, I was still going to work every single day. I went through my seizures at night but in the morning when I went to work, I would do my best and go back home and draw blank.

Tests upon tests were done. They checked my thyroids, I was not losing or gaining weight. So the family physician told me this seemed like a psychosomatic case and that I needed to see a psychiatrist. What? That was my first reaction. I engaged her to find out why I needed to see a psychiatrist. We went over everything and she said we needed at that stage to knock out what what was worrying me, after all the tests had not been indicative. 

I was referred to Dr Atere on the island.

We engaged and he allowed me to diagnose myself.

All the questions asked and we hit at the final answer: I had manic depression or bipolar disorder - they can be used interchangeably.

And I really felt for my husband; that part of me of not getting others hurt. I wondered how and what I have to put him through again in the journey towards recovery.

I was referred to the Neuropsychiatric Hospital at Yaba. My first visit to the General Ward and seeing people with the different manifestations of mental health challenge got my head spinning. Soon after, my condition was diagnosed as bipolar affective disorder. I was placed on medication. The date was 26 February 2016.

From then on, I was fine, until the medication started making me gain weight. I was warned that would happen. For a self-conscious, fitness enthusiast and someone with social anxiety, confidence issues and self-esteem questions,  being fat was not an option. I did not think that I was pretty, much less beautiful, but being fat was not an option. By the end of 2019, I had gone from ninety kilogrammes to one hundred and forty-four. I went to Dubai and I could barely take a picture. I felt horrible. Do you know what I did? I went cold turkey: I stopped my medication. I did not tell my psychiatrist. I did not tell my husband.  I did not tell anyone. That was November 2019. I went down back to almost eighty-four kilogrammes. I was doing so well and I assured myself that I no longer needed the medication. I assured myself that eating well, fasting and prayer would fix things permanently. 

At the station, when I felt things were not right, I would shut myself down. I would just keep playing music. I performed well: I did my job and went home. 

I later told my husband about stopping my medication when he noticed my weight loss. 

I kept performing, wearing my masks. Things appeared fine.

Soon after, I began to have suicidal thoughts. 

My psychologist, Dr Akin Gabriel, came to the rescue: he would talk me through to calmness. 

What has been my saving grace during my four suicidal attempts is that I am a positive person. I was able to talk myself out of them. The last one made me get back to my medication happened. On 27 August 2020, I picked my phone and wrote to everyone but my friend in Ilesha, Anna Joshua Lamikanra, and Dami Ajayi, a psychiatrist and poet based in the United Kingdom, talked me through to return to my medication, therapy and psychotherapy. 

I quit my job at Lagos Traffic Radio in October 2020.

Wellness is my new life

I am now on a new assignment, mission, if you like, to lead an army of the healed.

It so happened that I got connected to Healthy Minds Foundation. 

The doctors have done well for me. 

One of them advised me to tap into my strength of being an empath. Because, in my sessions, I would say I do not want anyone to go through what I have gone through. 

It is in giving back that I started taking courses as a transformational life coach and last year, I became a Senior Certified Professional Coach of the Coach Transformation Academy.

I have also written my first book Living Mindfully: The journey to Being. The public presentation is scheduled for this year's World Bipolar Day on 30 March at The Rembrandt Hotel, Ikeja.

I have been digging deep into meditation, worship, journaling and really studying and getting to the name Oluwatunmise, to enhance my journey to repair or renewal. I have significantly reduced my urge to wear masks any longer. The routine: Stop. Breathe. Reflect. Resolve.

I would rather people understand that the story might be painful or horrible but you can navigate it. The story is Sovereign and the writer of the story is also Sovereign. The players could have done better but there is nothing they can do about it. But you do have power over it. That is what I have learnt.

One of the books on this journey that absolutely changed my perspective is Don Miguel Ritz's The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom.  Agreement 1: Be Impeccable With Your Word. Agreement 2: Don't Take Anything Personally. Agreement 3: Don't Make Assumptions. Agreement 4: Always Do Your Best.

For me, Agreement 1 is easy: I am impeccable with my words. Of these four, the one that appears most difficult to me is Agreement 4. Why? Because when I listened to it - I had the audiobook - he says, even at the point of a gun to your head.  The question is not with you, it is with the person who is pointing the gun. It is never about you but the other person, for instance, the invader of your sexual privacy. 

Could the abuser have done better, yes, but it is not the abused who should be responsible for that.

…So help us God.

NB: You can buy Oluwatunmise's bok on Roving Heights and Amazon

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Many thanks.
Taiwo Obe, FNGE
Commonwealth Professional Fellow
Founder/Director, The Journalism Clinic
+234 818 693 5900