MY STORY: The aftermath of speaking out

Friday October 6 2017

Catherine Njeri was raped twice and attempted

Catherine Njeri was raped twice and attempted suicide five times. PHOTO| COURTESY 

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“Before we begin, I just want you to know I am not going to get into the topic that made my story go viral. After it was published (in a tabloid online magazine), I realised that when journalists interview me, they want to concentrate on the sensational part of my story. (But when you do that) you are all missing the point of why I am sharing it in the first place.

“I usually share my story in good faith so I can enlighten people about the effects of rape and how to deal with the resulting mental health issues.

I want to help someone else who might be going through that. But when the press focuses on the messy aspects of (how I reacted to my rape), they turn me into a subject of ridicule.

“The negative comments that result might dissuade people who want to reach out to me for help.

They might say, ‘If she opened up and received all that negativity, then I am going to keep my issues to myself’.

Keeping what happened to me to myself is perhaps what made me act out in the ways that I did.

That is why now I only want to talk about the relevant issues.

“I had a normal childhood. I sunk into depression in 2008 after I was raped twice – the first time at university and the second time at our farm upcountry.

After that, I isolated myself and didn’t share it with anyone. I started feeling suicidal. Before the rape, I had really valued the fact that I was a virgin.

When that was taken away from me, my sense of self-worth diminished. I proceeded to attempt suicide five times.

I went through a long and rough road of self-destruction and made some negative choices as a means of coping. But God had plans for me.

“Through a series of counselling sessions and support from close friends and my pastor, I can say I completely healed last year.

Then I discovered that every time I shared my story (of healing) with someone going through depression, I felt better.

Sharing helped me as much as it helped the other person.

“I don’t regret sharing my story in the media. The outcome has been both good and bad.

It is the trolling that affects me the most. Mental health is seriously misunderstood in Kenya. It is taboo to even talk about it.

That is what I am trying to demystify. Kenya is ranked sixth in suicide prevalence in Africa; we should be talking about it.

“Just the other day a guy posted on social media he was contemplating suicide and people attacked him, calling him a selfish weakling.

A few days ago I got a report of a seven year old who killed himself after a fight with another child over an avocado.

People said he did it because he was selfish. That’s not true – there are many underlying issues.

“A suicidal person needs to see and hear hope, not ridicule and judgment.

They don’t want sympathy either – they want to speak to someone who understands them. At that point, suicide feels as if it is the only solution.

But luckily, I have recovered enough to realise that it is not. My failed suicide attempts were life giving me another chance.

“There has been some positive outcome as well. As misguided as that online magazine’s story was, three ladies who were on the verge of suicide reached out to me as a result.

I get so many inboxes and calls – some people ask me whether I can meet them for a chat.

People actually think this is what I do 24/7, but I have a job at a human resources management firm. It can get hard to separate both sides of my life but I try.

“My colleagues are very understanding – some have remarked that I am a strong person. Some wonder at how I manage to hold my head up high.

It can get overwhelming. But if I manage to help even one person, that is good enough. It’s also helpful to know I am not the only person who goes through this.

I feel fulfilled when I am having coffee with a depressed person and I watch hope return to their faces and they manage a smile.

“There are moments when I feel like I want to switch off– especially when I was getting trolled. Also, dealing with other people’s issues is not easy.

But I usually think what if I switch off my phone and someone who is about to commit suicide can’t reach me? What if that phone call is what determines whether they do or don’t kill themselves?

“Being in this space has also taught me empathy. For example, I grew up being taught that sex was for marriage.

Before (the rape) I would watch young girls in campus getting picked up by older men and I would judge them. But because I was raped by my age-mate, for a period of time I didn’t trust them so I assumed that it is better to go out with older men. Today I am less judgmental. 

“As much as my loved ones appreciate that I have turned my scars to stars, I also want to protect them (from offensive public analysis).

I have been dating someone for three years now and I have had journalists ask if they can do a story with him.

He doesn’t deserve to be dragged into all that drama. Those who need help can reach me via my Facebook page, ‘On Preventing Suicide – By Catherine Njeri Gikuya’.