Mary Osabouhien, a graduate of Mass Communication from the Lagos State Polytechnic, and content creator from Abia State, Mary Michael, tells MOTUNRAYO AKINRUN how social media changed her life after losing her right forearm at 24
What is the most important thing about your experience as an amputee?
My experience so far shows that the general public needs to be more educated about persons living with disabilities because we see that there are all types of stigma, even in schools. This form of enlightenment should be included at school for children because I understand that kids always act as kids. However, if it is something they are being taught to shun in school, I don’t see any reason why a 10-year-old or nine-year-old would see me and start crying; that has been one of my bitter experiences. And it has not been easy generally being an amputee living in Nigeria because there are no amenities in place for people like me; rather, society expects us to be beggars and that’s why I often get trolled on social media when I’m probably just living an average life every normal human being should live. So when people like me do normal things, they take it as if I’m doing too much because they expect people like me to be like beggars.
You know we are privileged, as people living with disabilities, to board a BRT first because of our physical conditions, even without paying. That is one of the things that the governments have given us, but society expects me to look dirty for me to be able to claim my rights.
How did you lose one of your forearms?
I had a malformation in the early stage of my life, so after trying to save the forearm, I had to opt for the amputation. In my case, the malformation lingered on for a very long time. I bled for a very long time and with time, I could no longer stand the bleeding because I had over seven surgeries trying to save my hand, but with time I could no longer continue treating the hand, trying to patch things up. That was why I decided to go for the amputation. So for me generally, it was more like a decision, because I could no longer stand the pain and that was the only solution. Despite leaving the country to get a solution, the thing kept affecting me.
Where did you go when you left Nigeria?
I went to India for a corrective surgery and came back but the whole thing got really bad. That was when I decided to just take off the arm.
Which of your forearms was amputated?
It’s my right arm that was amputated.
How old were you when this happened?
I was 24 when I had the amputation.
Many people struggle with negative thoughts and emotions during challenging times. Did you ever feel overwhelmed to the point of considering negative actions against yourself?
Yes, I have, but that was in the earliest stage of my surgery procedures when my parents had spent a whole lot trying to make me better and it did not yield any result, rather it kept getting worse. I was not happy for putting them under stress. At that time, I attempted to take rat poison to just end it all and be free. I was tired of the stress I was giving to my parents. I felt like a witch and a bad person, and as if I was making my parents go through the pain they did not deserve at that stage in their lives. I thank God my mum came on time and saved me from that state.
Do you regret attempting to end your life before the amputation?
Yes, I do regret attempting sucide and I thank God I didn’t take that step.
How do you think your parents would have been affected if you had taken your life?
My parents would have been hurt because having been sick for years and given them a tough time, as the only daughter, they would have really missed me.
When did you meet your husband and how did he support you?
When I met my husband, I had already lost two of my fingers before I finally removed my forearm. He gave me the go-ahead for the amputation. He was in support when I told him I wanted to go for an amputation. He said he wanted to tell me but he didn’t know how I would feel. At that time, he was my fiancé. However, you know men can be funny; even if a man promises to marry a lady, his family can oppose the marriage because the lady has a disability. The family can still influence his decision. But when I told my husband, he said he had no problem. He stood by me; he was with me throughout my stay at the hospital, and even throughout my recovery stage after the surgery. We got married three months after I had the amputation.
What were the reactions of his relatives when they learnt about your physical condition?
They might have reacted in their own way because I wasn’t there. He probably showed them my picture, but I wasn’t there. Before my amputation, they already knew that I had a physical condition, so they probably might have reacted. However, his family members are caring; they accepted me. I have no problem with them; everybody is okay with how I look.
How did you handle other men?
No guy wanted to marry someone that has one hand. Sometimes, when I go out and they see me on a bike, they make passes, but immediately they see my right hand, they run away.
If there are insights you have gained from your relationships that might be helpful to others, what would they be?
I don’t seek social media advice because they would say men like beans, but when you get home, your husband might like rice and you will be wondering why he doesn’t like beans. So, we all have different personalities. I would, first of all, say that my husband doesn’t treat me like an amputee. It’s only when you meet me for the first time that you may see me that way; when we align, you won’t see my hand again because I won’t give you any reason to see me that way. I live my life to the fullest; I live my life as a normal person. Forget what you see on social media; forget social media hype. I’m a content creator myself, and we know what we do to create content. We set up a camera and all that. However, for marriage, I would say work with your partner, and know what is good for you and your partner. If you know what works for your home, stick to it. Don’t overdo things. Be loving. I would say tolerance is important in marriage because you would see different characters.
What inspired you to share your story and experience on social media?
From the onset as a content creator, the plan was just to inspire people living like me. Also, it was something to just make myself happy at that time because it’s not easy to lose one part of your body. If I had been born this way, it would have been a different situation. I just had to let go of that part of me. I was also documenting my journey to encourage people.
How did social media change your life?
Social media really changed my life because now, I have friends and people who truly care about me. Also, it is a source of income to support my family.
Balancing a career as a content creator with being a wife and mother of three can be challenging. How do you manage your time?
I would say I am a full-time housewife but my job outside being a housewife is content creation, so I time myself. When I wake up in the morning, I prepare my kids for school before I start doing my job. It has not been easy. Content creation doesn’t take a whole day. It is just minutes and when I finish my morning duty, I edit and then post out the content. So, I know what to do at the right time.
What do you think is the future of content creation on social media and what goals do you have for yourself in the coming years?
One thing I’m doing is bridging the gap between people with disabilities and ‘normal’ people because there’s this segregation between them. So, I want us to be seen as ‘normal’ people; I don’t want that segregation. Ever since I came out on social media as a content creator, I noticed that a lot of people with disabilities are no longer shy; everybody wants to come out.
Everyone has their struggles. As sweet as I am, people troll me. You may wonder why anyone would want to troll me, but people troll me. So, I have had my share of bad days which I still get. However, the only way I can overcome it is by turning a blind eye. Instead of letting the hurtful words get to me, I just pretend not to see them and go on with my everyday activities. So I would just advise others with disabilities to ignore, overlook, and endure.
How does your family react to your online presence and the work you do as a content creator?
My family members do not have any problems, they are very okay with what I do.
What can communities, and institutions do to create a more accessible and supportive environment for people living with disabilities?
They should consider us in whatever they do. That’s what I will say generally. They should take people living with disabilities into consideration. Not everyone will beg, and not everybody will be dependent on people helping them. They should consider us while creating policies or laws; they should create space for persons living with disabilities as well.