It is one of those evenings where I switch between various social media apps irrespective of the tasks I have to complete. I have just finished reading Rahma’s PCOS article and it urges me to study my face in the mirror. PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome), a hormone disorder, affects female reproduction and causes abnormal hair growth in unusual places.
As I stare at my face, I notice a thin line of hair, barely visible, lining my upper lip. I reel over my memories to discern when the hair grew, how, why! Nothing. The next few days, I notice more hair on my face, chin, chest, and tummy; I cannot stop touching my neck because it feels hairy. The mirror in my brothers’ bathroom sees me an average of seven times a day.
Naturally, I have hairy arms and legs but they now look hairier. I have become more critical of my body even though I feel I am (probably) exaggerating. My search query results range from Hirsutism to PCOS. What if I have PCOS? What if it is the PCOS that’s causing the Hirsutism now manifesting on my body? But the other symptoms do not match. Regardless, I panic — internally — until my Aunt, a doctor, tells me the excess hair is probably genetic.
“Hi Aunty…good morning,” I frantically type into WhatsApp.
“So…there’s another issue…”
I contacted my Aunt because of the allergies I developed. This would make it the third time I’m relaying my worry about something wrong with my body. It’s about me lactating even though I know I’m not pregnant. I’m unnerved. Why has life chosen to squash me? First, it was the hair, then the allergies — I can no longer eat beans, milk (just kill me) or egg without developing hives — and now this, a lactating 21-year-old (now 22) still contemplating if she wants to marry and reproduce.
“Galactorrhea…It can happen sometimes,” my Aunt reassures.
“Everything about a woman’s body is driven by hormones. Sometimes those hormones play up and basically have a mind of their own”.
I read that stress imbalances hormones in women. Symptoms include mood swings, acne, hair loss, galactorrhea (aka lactating woman, my term) and abnormal hair growth. I’m a little relieved that it is not major, but this change, this unsolicited occurrence scares me.
“Do you think you might be under stress because of the ASUU strike?” She asks.
And then I notice that I have been stressed, unusually. Not because of the ASUU strike — they’ve called it off but ASUU and the FG can go to hell — but because of the emotional abuse and anxiety, I’ve had to endure since the strike lingered.
These past few months have trapped and strangled me.
I’ve experienced my body change because of this exhaustion and it started when:
- X began to emotionally abuse me because I questioned their addiction and refused to let them confine me to the stereotypes that often restrict women.
- Y told me to inure myself to X’s abuse even after I expressed my willingness to leave.
- I had my anger trivialized, labeled petty.
- I began job-hunting (not as significant as the other reasons but you know how it goes).
When X’s emotional abuse commenced, I felt trapped, alone, distressed, empty, and scared. X’s behavior nearly combusted into physical abuse. And it hurts. Very much. Because X is someone I care about. X is someone I’m trying to prevent from hurting themselves. I feel pity for X. Because X has poisoned their behavior so much, I can’t remember the real X. Behind the thick layers that clad X is a bare person: unadulterated, unpoisoned. I can no longer find that person.
Since the night X came into my room to tell me that I took away their peace, that I, a woman, would have to bound myself, suffer as they did, my memory, acuity, and willingness have fallen flat. I’ve felt stagnant and unqualified at what I do and want to do. I’ve felt trapped. That was when I understood how women dependent on their abusive spouses feel. Despondent: the need to leave with no support yet the compulsion to stay and endure. If I had the funds, I would have left this condition long ago. But I didn’t.
The feelings are palpable. It has been challenging to complete my tasks and achieve my weekly goals. I am now in school to submit my undergraduate dissertation. Thank goodness I finished it eight months ago because my flow is suffering. I have not been following my routine religiously because, on some days, they feel pointless. I am innately lethargic. Sometimes, I want to isolate myself. It’s a miserable feeling. Yet, strangely, acknowledging it makes me feel a little bit better.
Add my job hunt to all this. You know how stressful and frustrating it can get 🙂.
Who knew that all this emotional turmoil, abuse, mental exhaustion, and frustration would cause my hormones to skew? Who knew that my imbalanced hormones would cause my body to change the way it has? Certainly not me. Circumstances change you. This was so spontaneous; I have let out anger I would have never imagined myself letting out. I’ve heard myself weep uncontrollably. I reached breaking point on a Friday morning. They say crying makes you feel better, but when I did that morning, I didn’t feel better. What did I get for all this? Y told me to be strong.
The ASUU strike didn’t bother me much. I knew it was going to linger. What it did was take away my escape from all the abuse I should not have faced. If being strong means enduring abuse, I don’t want to be strong. I needed someone to talk to desperately, to confide in but I knew Y would either not listen to whatever I had to say or would be curt about it. And I feel, forebodingly, that this is just the start.
Now, X is suddenly nicer to me. I think X is pretending. My Aunt thinks X might not remember their actions towards me or they might feel guilty about what they did. She urged me to forgive X. Regardless, X’s respite will not last. I feel pity for X. I crave the authentic unpoisoned X. But until they come, it is time to prioritize me. It is time to be selfish. I am optimistic about my job hunt. I am not there yet, but getting closer.
It’s my birthday, I am 22 and I have a life ahead of me. But here’s something I have learnt from these experiences: there is absolutely no point in tolerating abuse no matter how little, especially if it threatens to strip you of your identity and confine you to the suffering of another. But what do we do in situations where we must make trade-offs? I do not know.
Even though there’s nothing concrete to celebrate today, I celebrate my little wins and my resolve to not let myself go.
I hate spontaneity but I’m learning to dance with it. I’m learning to accept drastic changes. And at least when circumstances go awry, as they have these past few months, I know how to better handle them. I know how to prioritize myself and fight for what I hold dear.
I’m 22 today. As vain as it feels, I have to thread my journey. Mine, no one else’s. I have resolved to prevent anyone from transferring their suffering to me. I will not settle into the stereotypes that often bundle women. My ambitions will speak for themselves and no one, not even X, will define them. My identity is not hinged on anyone but myself. For long, I’ve been subconsciously comparing my path to others. I will stop now. I am me. Funmilayo. I have a life ahead, a mix of my career and social adventures. And no one gets to define it, only me.
I am 22 today, young, ambitious, still anxious, yet trudging along.