Moriam's story: conquering trauma and mental health struggles to recovery and graduation

Moriam Kolapo

‘Your story is what you have, what you will always have. It is something to own.’ – Michelle Obama

  • 20 November 2020
  • 10 min read

Born of Nigerian heritage my name, Moriam Kolapo, carries my Black British identity. Mental health was not often talked about within my community or family, a silent taboo almost. As a burn’s survivor, bullying had been a staple part of my childhood.

The scars stretched from the tip of my toes to the mid of my thigh and they extended from my fingertips and along my hands. But the harsh words and physical attacks during school were perhaps not as painful as the sexual abuse I experienced as a child. I carried this burden silently. And as a teenager my mental health began to decline and I struggled, unable to communicate my troubles with my mother.

I became lost in the ensuing low self-esteem and depression and by the age of fifteen I had already begun contemplating whether my life had any meaning. I hid my battle with depression, creating scars that I hid behind long sleeves and once alone, I would cry quietly, tears that did not soothe nor heal. By the age of sixteen my mother had noticed, and alarm bells had started to ring. She cried frantically, her eyes lost and confused as she rushed me to see a medical professional and I was promptly put into CAMHS, the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services. This would be the first time I had entered therapy, starting with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and for some time life had improved.

My GCSE grades got me into my chosen college but soon I would tip back into the depths of depression. Colours became bleak and sounds were overwhelming and loud. I sat as complicated words blurred about my textbooks and time seemed to slow on endless nights where sleep would not find me. Again. I contemplated whether life had any meaning. One day I had decided that it had no worth and I tried to take my own life. I remember crying to my mother, and I remember how numb I felt at the hospital. 

"Why did you do this?"

"Talk to us Moriam"

"Are you going to be safe at home?" 

I had no answers at the time and the mental walls around me stood tall, suffocating me as I searched for relief. I entered therapy again and I improved, for some time.

I moved out and started university

In fact, my first year at University was one of the best years of my life and I was on track to reaching my career as a pharmacist. All the pieces of the puzzle were finally forming the picture of a bright future. But again, it came. It clouded my world. This time it hit me in a way that I was not prepared for. My thinking became irrational, I was self-medicating and again, I did not speak to anyone and I spiralled further downwards. After nights on nights of fighting with myself and the cries of my housemates as they watched my decline I reached out. 

When life descends into the pit, I must become my own candle.

Alice Walker,

I sent an application for email counselling to the Student Wellbeing Service (SWS). I was honest for the first time as I poured my struggles through the keyboard and pressing send was perhaps the best decision I made. Though I was ashamed and afraid to speak face-to-face they encouraged me to come in and I agreed. I would meet at the wellbeing service frequently, divulging in my past, my turmoil, and my worries. Their aura was warm, friendly and I felt welcome and safe. But it was as if I seesawed up and down through my depression and very quickly, I crashed down, unable to get up. The mental walls loomed closer as I began to feel hopeless, searching for an escape and my mind could only find one door out. I laid sleepless in bed as I weighed in on the decision between life and death. It was all I could see and at the time I believed it would be better for everyone. 

I took a pen and wrote a note, apologising as I said my final goodbyes to my family. I walked to the Student Wellbeing Service to say goodbye with my note in my bag before I would make my final trip. But I was at risk and the crisis team was offered but I declined and walked away.

"I will speak with the crisis team. Can they call you within half an hour?"

"I won’t be here in half an hour."

A moment had passed before the phone rang and I questioned whether to answer. But something inside of me decided to pick up the phone and decided that I would walk back and meet with the crisis team. I had broken down, an empty shell of myself as I sat facing them. I could not see myself surviving another day. 

It’s never going to get better.’ I told myself. ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ I convinced myself.

I nodded lifelessly as they spoke to me and agreed to spend some time as an inpatient on their psychiatric ward. I was safe there, safe to cry and explore my emotions and safe to question and delve deeper into my thoughts. Though I was lost, I had fought back, and I was safe. This act of rebellion against the darkness churning underneath would set the foundation for the fighter I would become.

This was the beginning of my recovery

After speaking with a psychiatrist, I was offered treatment under the Adult Mental Health Services (AMH) and soon entered therapy. It took three years on the seesaw of depression till I returned to University to complete my pharmacy degree. In this time, I kept contact with my university tutor who was supportive and allowed me all the time I needed to reach stability. I developed a good relationship with my GP who helped in monitoring my progress and managing my medication. Once I returned to University, I received support from the Additional Support and Disability Advice Centre (ASDAC). I would find myself becoming overwhelmed with my workload and my mentor at ASDAC would help me break down my work into manageable tasks. They even provided equipment such as my dictaphone which proved crucial during difficult days where I struggled to maintain my focus through lectures. 

Life had improved and would continue to improve from here. Without reaching out, I fear where I would be. Those three years away from University serve as an important reminder for me; that it is possible to find your way out. Though the lows and highs of the seesaw still continued for some time, I was able to find a sense of stability and I learned to cope with life. I worked hard for my mental health because I wanted a better life.

Stand up straight and realise who you are, that you tower over your circumstances.

Maya Angelou,

I went on to graduate with a 2:1 and no one could be prouder, well perhaps my mother could. During my recovery I had spoken more with my mother. As someone who had not experienced depression my mother read on the topic and listened to my experiences as I opened up. I spoke of my difficulties and she was very much a strong part of my recovery. My family was there for me, they spoke with me on tearful nights and embraced me as we smiled happily. These moments told me that I would never have to struggle alone. After graduating I travelled to a new city to undergo my final training year to become a qualified pharmacist. I worked hard that year and successfully passed my registration exam first-time and I am definitely prouder about it than my mother is.

Overcoming my struggles has been a worthwhile fight

I currently work as a pharmacist at an excellent hospital. I live in a beautiful part of the UK and take part in regular walks; air is refreshing, and I believe that is good to keep moving as it plays a part in keeping me stable. As important as moving is, it is also good to unwind. I spend my evenings working on my fantasy novel which has been both fun and therapeutic for my busy mind. I would urge everyone to find their own healthy vices. It can make a big difference when you have a hobby to look forward to at the end of a busy day. Although, sometimes for me, a book and a candle are all I need.

Though my mental health difficulties will always linger, I am confident in saying that I will always overcome it. I have learned to reach out and speak to people. I have learned how to rationalise my thoughts and to seek help if that becomes impossible. And I have learned how to care for myself now that I know I am a person worth taking care of. Ultimately, I have begun to understand who I am and have recognised that I can always rely on my resilience to overcome hard times. This is the resilience that I see inside of everybody.

After my difficult childhood and my traumatic bouts of depression, I wanted to understand how I see myself living in the future. I thought as most people may, that I wanted to be happy. But happiness is a fleeting emotion as is sadness. I decided that I wanted to be content and satisfied, I wanted to have a healthy support network around me for my dark moments and I decided that I would never give up because depression does not last forever, and therefore there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. I take it day by day and each day I can look back proudly on how far I have come.

Reach out when you’re struggling and never be afraid to speak up because your feelings are valid, and you deserve to live a life of contentment and satisfaction.

Moriam Kolapo,

A note from Pam Ringland, former Disability and Wellbeing Coordinator in ASDAC

Mo contacted the Student Wellbeing Service to request help when unable to attend lectures. She expressed issues with difficulty sleeping, lack of energy and very low mood, alongside poor motivation and concentration.

Initially Mo was too nervous to meet in person, unable to meet in person, let alone talk about her problems. She said that she found it hard to ask for help, felt guilty about how she was feeling as she thought that she had no reason to feel so bad. 

A counsellor contacted Mo to explain any information disclosed was confidential and would not be shared with anyone else without her consent. Mo understood that this was how Wellbeing operated unless there was a severe risk of harm to her or others. Counselling helped Mo to realise how her current issues were linked to her past experiences, causing negative self-critical thoughts, doubts about her ability to cope, hopelessness about the future, lack of trust in others and feelings of guilt about these feelings.

The first goal on Mo’s recovery journey was to raise her self-awareness of her own inner reserves of strength. She had survived serious, life-changing injuries and made it to University against the odds. This provided evidence of her personal courage, endurance, resilience and determination.

Trauma creates change you DON’T choose. Healing is about creating change you DO choose.

Michelle Rosenthal,

Moriam Kolapo graduated with a Master of Pharmacy (MPharm) honours degree from the University of Portsmouth in 2018.

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