Veteran Nollywood actress, Nse Ikpe-Etim is one of the most successful stars in the last decade but she has been on the grind since she was a teenager.
Earlier this month, the award-winning actress held an event “Conversations with Nse” where she opened up on being diagnosed with Adenomyosis, a medical condition in which the inner lining of the uterus breaks through the muscle wall of the uterus.
She was then advised to get a hysterectomy. “My world had crumbled. I had died a million times. It was something,” she told BellaNaija in a recent interview.
She’s choosing to speak up now because it’d help others and it has also helped in completing her healing.
“It seems like I’m the only one that has this issue. It’s fine. Make me the poster child. It’s fine! My point is, would it help someone else? Yes! Has it helped me? Yes! And I choose me, and I choose life and that’s what it is,” she says.
The journey to healing was tough, she said. “I think the only reason I’m holding back on saying how long the struggle has been leading up to this point is because, it’s too harrowing to go through. It’s not just the physical pain, but the emotional, psychological pain. Everything.”
She continued: “But I don’t know how I’m thankful for it. It makes me who I am today. It was tough, but that moment when I knew that I wasn’t going to have children again and the doctor recommended a hysterectomy, my world had crumbled. I had died a million times. It was something.”
Nse got married in 2014 to her high school sweetheart Clifford Sule who she reconnected with years later.
Clifford has been more than supportive to her as they went through the trying times, including when she mentally quit acting and continuously put herself down. Now she’s healing and is ready to live her life to the fullest.
“(Clifford) is an extremely private person so I don’t like talking about him in public. This I’ve done? (Talking about him publicly) I know what it’s done to him. But he understands the larger picture and he knows it’s freedom for me,” she said. She continued:
The healing cycle has just been complete. So now, I’m ready. I’m ready to do my work. I’m ready to go back to work. I quit! Mentally, I had quit. It was over! Because society said so? That’s not right. It took a lot to get here. Constant waking me up at 3am to remind me that “You’re never happy unless you’re working”.
I quit acting! And I never said anything that I took a break, so each time something came up, I wasn’t really interested and that’s what depression does to you. You see nothing good about yourself. I’m speaking up because I know that people go through these things. And you must get out of it. Try, speak to someone. It’s real, it happens. Find something in you to give you strength to move on.
You see, I don’t like saying “my husband”. My friend, kept pushing. The only reason I don’t talk about him, I needed to preserve his privacy and I think he deserves it.
Nse’s family was also there for her too, giving her the needed support.
“If I have to come back to the world, it’ll be the same family. Everyone’s so cool. My mother? Pillar of strength. With my sisters, the bond is too good to be true. We fight hard, we argue about a lot of things but is there love? Yes. Is there light? Yes. And that’s all that really matters,” she said.
She shared parts of her journey with us, with hopes that it helps someone out there going through the something similar, or the same challenge, as it affects millions of women across the world.
The journey has been a long and harrowing one, she said. “I can’t really start from the beginning because that’s too long a journey. I’ll start from when I started healing.”
Nse shared with us how she was able to come out stronger.
Because of where we’re from, societal pressure, after you get married, everyone expects you to have a baby. The pressure of getting married is over and everyone is waiting for you to have a baby.
I was talking to a friend of mine the other day, herself and her husband do not have any children together, but they have kids and they have people saying to them: “you should have one together”. They have children!
In my own opinion, I just think we should learn to live and it took me a while to understand what it was to just live. I guess my journey in life, my struggles have helped me to appreciate that the gift that keeps on giving is life. I’m here. Have I chosen to live it? To the fullest and yes, I’ll enjoy it too.
After getting married, the pressure set it. It wasn’t family pressure. It was outsiders and the constant barrage of questions. You have someone come up to you and say: “Hi Nse, so when?” When what?! You know, and if you ask “When what?” they’ll say you sound rude. But you’ve just come into myself and you’re asking me personal questions and they’re supposed to be “well meaning”. How well meaning is that? How about you ask, “have you eaten?” Or “are you having a good day”.
You see, those things pressurise you and you start to ask yourself if you’d every be “complete”. Now that’s another kind of pressure again. That’s mental.
Challenges with Giving Birth
And then the struggle comes, I’m not one of those who actually wanted to be in it. But then, I changed my mind because I’ve seen my friend, and he gets me and we start the journey together. And it’s not happening, because I’m struggling.
I think the only reason I’m holding back on saying how long the struggle has been leading up to this point is because, it’s too harrowing to go through. It’s not just the physical pain, but the emotional, psychological pain. Everything. But I don’t know how I’m thankful for it. It makes me who I am today. It was tough, but that moment when I knew that I wasn’t going to have children again and the doctor recommended a hysterectomy, my world had crumbled. I had died a million times. It was something.”
Clifford’s Amazing Support
Someone asked me, “how did you get him to agree?” Hehehe. It was funny because you actually think I got him. He got me to accept! You see. So, yes it was more of a case of “I’d rather have your life than have you dead.”
First of all, I’m thankful for having a friend that understands. Forget what ever relationship exists. But having someone who can get how you’re feeling without actually knowing the pains you go through, is worth it. I think that gave me a bit of a push to accept it. Even though accepting was not in my books. I’d pass snide comments about myself, I’d put myself down constantly, until I finally was in a really dark place.
I wanted nothing, really. And what is even weirder is, I decided that for someone else to be healed, I’d donate what’s left to science. And that’s fine! That’s fine. Because it makes me feel better. It makes me feel like I’m helping someone out there and that for me, was the beginning of my healing. For some people, they say “have faith”.
I’ve got faith that I have peace and that’s everything. I’m not bound by what society thinks, I’m not bound by what anyone feels because after all said and done, I’m here on my journey, I’m walking the path no one else is walking with me.
But, when I look back and see how many women have gone through these things and will never speak, because of shame, the stigma that comes with it. People would even call up verses from the Bible: “We should go out and multiply”. But do you also forget that it did say that “We would have trials and temptations?” There will be things that put our faith to test. Are you willing to accept it?
This is to those people who insist I should grab onto a cloth of a man that’s like me, I think that’s not fair on me. Don’t push anything down my throat. I have made my peace, and I want women to make peace with themselves. These are conversations we never have. Things we hide under rocks out of shame and we no longer have voices because we think that the world would crucify us. Okay fine, crucify me, but hear it! I suffered and I chose life. I’m thankful that I’ve got the best support ever and that’s all that truly matters and it’s happening everywhere.
You have to talk to someone. You don’t wish it away. You need to talk to someone.
You know, sometimes, it’s easier to talk to people that don’t know you. They’re not judgemental.
It’s always best to seek out a professional. They know how to deal with it.
People are actually beginning to understand that depression does exist…. Because there’s been a string of suicides. We shouldn’t be reactive. We should be proactive and the only way to be proactive is to talk about things and once you do that, it won’t be a case of “I never knew, I never heard about it”. It’d be a case of “I heard it, I chose not to listen”.
Sometimes, our friends do things that are a cry for help but we don’t just know. Someone just goes off, and never talk to you for years, it’s a cry for help. Seek them. I’ve been through that. You just lock up and say nothing. And the mind can create and recreate all kinds of things in that time and that needs a different kind of strength to get out of, even when talking to someone.
It’s not a case of “it is well”. It’s not really well. You need to talk to someone about it.
When we talk about “societal pressure,” women are the ones who are mostly affected. How do we move the needle forward? Nse said:
I think people need to start the conversation with their kids at an early age. You need to tell the boys that you don’t need breasts to wash your plates. Wash your plates. Because you’re going to ask the girl child to wash her plate. Now you put so much pressure on the girl child and she gets out and he’s waiting for a girl to wash his plates. And tomorrow, if the girl doesn’t wash the plates, then he says “you’re rude” and would probably raise his hand and strike her. That’s how it starts.
If you tell the child, “both of you are equal,” they’d learn!
There’s so much pressure on the boy child: “you’re a man. you cannot cry.” He’s a child. He’s got feelings. He’s in touch with humanity. He can cry! And you put so much pressure on him. That on its own, is demoralising!
And then you do the same for the girl child: “You have to be a good wife. You have to be this”. “Okay Daddy and Mummy. Can I live?!
So, the conversation starts from when people have children. You expose the kids to what life should be and not what cultures and traditions have bound us by.
We will change the narrative, we will start the discourse, we will have conversations. That’s what should matter.
Dealing With Trolls on Social Media
The block button works. You see, If I’ve seen something, I can’t pretend to un-see it. It’s amazing how hurtful some things can be. Somethings actually make you cry but then you tell yourself “this person is faceless, they don’t even have the guts to write a name. So why are you hurting me? You have no power over me.“
Truth is, someone who trolls you online, without a name, isn’t worth the trouble. So, you be the bully. Come on let’s have a conversation, you’re not going to. That’s your life. Is it happy? I don’t think so.
I’ll be living the best years of my life. I’ll go through my struggles with smiles and it’ll still be okay.
I don’t expect everyone to love me, because it’ll very worrying. I do appreciate those who say I’m not up to their taste. I guess they make me work harder.
Nse is back on the big screen, YAY! She stars in the movie “Heaven’s Hell” which is currently in cinemas across the country.
“It’s a true story. It happened to someone and she told us her story. She’s a much older woman. She also didn’t want her name out there, she just wanted the story to go out,” she said.
On her acting inspiration, she shared: “My inspiration comes from my experiences. I also read a lot. Most of it comes from my experiences and travels. I’m also a very weird person. I literally can walk into a restaurant, sit down and begin to study everyone. I used to do that very often. I still do that. I study and I listen to my co-actors.”
Nse is back to work and she has a couple of projects that she working on, with one to be announced in the next few weeks.
She said: “So, my sisters and I are working on something, called ‘The Ikpe-Etim Sisters’. And that’s it. We’re doing something. I’m also trying a new genre in film. It’s paranormal. I’m going that way because I feel like life’s deeper than we think and there’s so much of African culture. That’s my next project in a few weeks.”