We Interview: Adebola Rayo on Mental Illness, Life and John Boyega

I've probably known Rayo since we were about 7 years old. I never wanted to be paired up against her during primary school debates. She was the one person I thought could easily outshine me. 

Co-incidentally in 2009, we had to compete against each other again in Uni, at a public speaking event.  We both sort of lost. 

It was only few weeks ago, I learned of her condition. It's often hard for people to share such stories, especially in Nigeria and wider Africa. I'm extremely proud of her for constantly willing to share.

Rayo's been suicidal, she considers herself a Feminist, has a huge crush on John Boyega... but still may not take his surname!


You type / write your name with the Yoruba intonation marks? Any special reason why?

  • When I’m writing in Yoruba, I try to include the tone marks because one Yoruba word can be pronounced half a dozen ways with half a dozen meanings. I think I carry over that to my name sometimes. 

Would you take on your husband's last name?

  •  I don’t know if I’ll take my husband’s name, honestly. I don’t even use my father’s name except for official purposes. I go by my first and middle name.

Take us back briefly. How did you find out you suffered mental Health issues?

  • Officially? 2012. Unofficially, it’s one of those things you kind of know from when you’re a child/teen.

What exactly do you suffer from and how does it affect your daily life?

  • Borderline Personality Disorder, with a side dish of bipolar. The former mostly affects my interpersonal relationships; the latter has more of an impact on my daily life. They overlap in many ways though. I think the most common symptom in my daily life are the mood swings: whether it’s being really hyper for no reason, or being depressed (many times for no tangible reason).

Heels or Trainers? Skirts or Pants? Weaves or Natural Hair?

  • Trainers or 2-3 inch heels. Pants. Braids.

Last time you laughed so hard you cried?

  • I laugh a lot at work and at home because my colleagues (one of whom is my flatmate) are a hoot. The last time I cried was from laughing really hard on Sunday. My flatmate parodied Patoranking* while we were watching The Voice Nigeria. 

Favourite Nigerian snack?

  • Puff-puff.
We totally think she rocked this TwentySix skirt. 

We totally think she rocked this TwentySix skirt. 

You've actually tried to take your life. How did that happen?

  • It was 2012, and I’d spent the second half of the year mostly depressed and writing suicide notes then postponing it. I got so scared of how I felt that I went to the hospital and finally got diagnosed and placed on meds. Then, a few weeks later, my meds weren’t working anymore and I got depressed again, saw another team of doctors who realised the first diagnosis (by one possibly overworked doctor) was only a partial diagnosis. I tried to kill myself the next morning because I was tired. For months, all I knew was that I was tired; I couldn’t articulate why, but I wanted it to stop.

Do you believe in the afterlife? If yes did this affect your decision?

  • This is really complicated because when a person is suicidal they aren’t thinking about what comes next; they just want the current pain to stop. One time, I remember writing a note about not wanting to become a burden (emotionally) on the people I cared about. I genuinely believed they’d be better off without me. You want nothingness, because it seems like nothing could possibly be worse than the hollowness and the darkness. But to answer your question, I believe in a loving God who is aware of what suicidal people are going through, and who validates their feelings. Last year, I read a Tumblr Post that articulates my feelings about suicide and God. The original poster is off Tumblr, but my repost link still works. http://adebolarayo.tumblr.com/post/131510759244/gods-compassion-for-the-suicidal 

Books or Shoes? Best fiction book ever!?

  • Books. I own less than 20 pairs of footwear, including slippers and sandals—I’ve been told this is abnormal.
  • ‘The Book of Night Women’ by Marlon James.

What's your happiest memories of childhood?

  • Weirdly, hiding out in the toilet to read books or daydream or just escape everyone else.
Rayo's Shelfie!

Rayo's Shelfie!

If someone thought they had mental issues, two steps to take?

  • Talk to a good psychiatrist. Read about other people overcoming mental health issues, to help you feel less alone and hopeless.

One thing you look forward to doing in 5 years.

  • Being able to travel more.

Most recent travel destination and why we should visit?

  • Dakar, Senegal for the Dak’Art Biennale. I think everyone should visit because it’s so culturally and historically rich, and the colours there are brighter (I swear).
Goree Island, Dakar

Goree Island, Dakar


What's the worst reaction you've received as a result of your diagnosis?

  • I think what has stuck with me most hasn’t been reactions, but the ways someone I dated for years tried to take advantage of it to cover up his shortcomings. So, it being a gaslighting tool in someone’s hand has been the worst thing.

As a society, (particularly in Africa) how can we re-define our approach to mental illness.

  • I think we’re scared of mental illness because we don’t understand that people with MI can lead very functional and pretty normal lives when it’s managed properly. So, we see the extreme cases and chalk all mentions of mental health issues to that. I believe education will play the biggest role in redefining approach.

3 things/people that makes your day to day life absolutely worth living.

  • My best friend, Tolu; watching TV series; my quiet time. Favourite TV show at the moment is 'Fresh Off The Boat'. 

Two women who make you think you can have it all.

  • Mindy Lahiri
  • Chimamanda Adichie.

What would you tell your 9-year-old self?

  • Look at you now, ha! You finally understand it.

Feminist or Nah? If yes, why and what does it mean to you? 

  • Feminist. For me, it’s simple: if I want to do something and I can, I shouldn’t be prevented because I’m a woman—this covers everything from work to family. I also shouldn’t be told I ought to do anything because I am a woman. I really think feminism is about letting women be… be whatever they want to be or do not want to be. Just let them be.

Do you consciously seek to empower women? How?

  • I try as much as possible to empower women in the ways that I can. Sometimes, it’s in little ways like giving advice that helps a fellow woman to feel less helpless, or recommending them when I know they are capable and just need a boost.

I know you have a crush on John Boyega. What is it about him and tell us how this dream wedding would be?

  • He’s such a joyful person. I think his joy shines through in everything and that’s infectious. So, when we date, we won’t tell anyone. We’ll be like a super secret couple and we’ll get married quietly then start flooding all of your timelines like John Legend and Chrissy Teigen (who are super awesome). Also, we’ll be BFFs with John and Chrissy. Ok, to be honest, my tweets at John are mostly just for laughs. We can't have my husband thinking I'm a delusional stalker. I kid, I kid.

Which woman do you think we should interview next? One question you would ask her?

  • Ozoz Sokoh (Kitchen Butterfly). “How are you so awesome at everything?”

What everyone reading this should know about Mental Health issues and how we can help?

  • It’s manageable. Also, empathise and be emotionally supportive without showing pity, if you know someone who has a mental health issue.

You ditched Law even after studying it for six years. Do you regret studying it in the first place? 

  • I don’t know if I would have made better use of those years, so I no longer regret it.

I know you've recently launched ArtyLiving. What's that about? 

  • I started ArtyLiving in 2013. It's really just a platform to chronicle and share the books/articles, music and visual art (that I personally enjoy). And also sometimes news about upcoming events or awards.

I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it.

What do you think of mental health illness and it's perception in Nigeria / Africa? Please feel to leave any comments or questions below. And don't forget to share. 

Rayo also wrote an interesting and more detailed piece in 2013. You can see that here. Sometimes she shares her personal thoughts at www.adebolarayo.com.

Instagram/Twitter: @adebolarayo. Artyliving: www.artyliving.com. Twitter: @artyliving. 

See the idea behind the 'We Interview' series here, and If you're a woman, or know any woman who'll like to be a part of this holla here.


KacheeTee... Xx

pS: Did you see those tweets to JohnBoyega! I really hope they met up when he goes to Nigeria.

ppS: I have such a funny picture of Rayo and I from that 2009 event. Maybe I'll share on Instagram. 

*Patoranking -Nigerian Musician