Calling someone “mad” or “crazy” is so commonplace in our society as a curse word. The quickest way to get slapped in the market or beaten in school is to say someone is mad. It is an unforgivable accusation. We are a people afraid of infirmity, just as much as we are afraid of the unknown and intangible. It is the reason religion thrives in our part of the world, the Greatest Unknown and Intangible we trust to deal with all the questions we do not have answers to.
Now, when you imply someone is sick and the illness is of the mind, an entity unknown and intangible, it is just about the worst insult you can give, save placing doubts on the parentage of someone.
Why are we so afraid to look inside or seek for help outside? Why are we so afraid to seek the knowledge that can help us break out of pre-conceived notions and superstition?
We are a society of people that laugh, people that joke, people that trivialize their pain. we are a society mired in pain and suffering and fighting demons we cannot see, and so we run to Religion. We project our problems on a Higher Power and trust it to take the burdens away. We are a people so afraid of our reality that we hide from it.
We are all mad, every one of us. It is our biggest secret and our biggest shame, and we do not want anyone to know.
There are the ones who crack under the weight of the silence, the ones who dare to speak about the darkness that suffocates them on the inside. They are not the same class of people, but they have done something we are all afraid to do: they have been heard, and they have been seen.
We hear of them jumping from bridges in Lagos, a sudden pall cast over their seemingly glamorous lives. We hear of them hanging from ceiling fans in UNN, open books of mathematics and physics forever unsolved beneath them as they sway in a breeze no one can see. We see them walking the streets naked, or clothed, or carrying babies we are afraid to contemplate. We see them talking to themselves and to everyone, running after people, laughing as they eat from the dustbins, free from the pressures that we struggle with daily. We see them and we hear them and we judge, despising them because what right do they have? What right do they have to be so free, so seen, so heard? Are they the only ones with problems? We, too, are mad, but we handle it like any good Nigerian would: we push it down with faith and songs of praise and prayers, and we laugh louder than everyone else in the world.
Some of us we express our anger in normal ways, acceptable ways no one frowns at. We take it out on our wives, on our husbands, on the children who must not be allowed to go mad too. We watch them like hawks because they carry the only hope of our sanity. We squash their deviancy, any sign of it, because who knows if that is the road that will lead them to madness? We flog them if they are left-handed, or if they like to dance when they are boys, or play football when they are girls. We do not permit moping around or displays of temper or talking about feelings. We do not permit any emotion that is not positively affirming our role as parents.
It is okay, what we do, we are after all, raising the new generation of mad people who cannot talk for fear they will never stop. It is okay that they are silent like we were. It is how our grandparents did it, how our parents did it, how they built this country. If they start to scream, then they would end up on the roads like them, and then where would that leave us?