“The joys of childhood are endless. We revel in the simplicity of life without caring where our next meal will come from because we know daddy will provide. But for me, my story is different. My childhood was snatched even before I could start appreciating it. I have struggled with pain and heartache almost my entire life. Nonetheless, I decided to live again: to let go and let God. Here is my personal account…” Thitu Kariba
“It all started when I was six years. Dad’s lucrative job with an international organisation took him away from home most of the time. Our gardener provided the attention I needed from a male figure. He won my trust and admiration. I spent a lot of time with the gardener watering the flowers and tending to the gardens. Once we were done with watering the flowers, we would start playing what we called doctor – patient game. It entailed him running after me, my mock accidental fall, him being the ambulance crew to rush me to hospital. He turned into an examining doctor. He would perform a thorough ‘medical examination,’ opening up my blouse and skirt to check the heartbeat and any bodily bruises. With crucial garments off, he would take advantage and molest me.
It took a bit of time to realise this wasn’t a game any more. I fully trusted him and in my childhood innocence, didn’t expect he would hurt me. It wasn’t something I had been cautioned against so I didn’t know whether it was good or bad, all I knew is that it was different and uncomfortable. My mum was unaware of what was going on. Most parents don’t realise that child abusers are very crafty. They provide their victim with love and attention not forthcoming from parents. For instance, my father wasn’t around most of the time so the gardener stepped in.
Secondly, children love attention from adults – an uncle, an auntie, or a relative. It is very easy for the child to take to that person. The child is also apprehensive of telling on the person for fear of losing the friendship and attention. There could also be threats of harm to the child or her parents by the abuser.
Moreover, the child may not be sure of what the abuser has done to her. For instance, I wasn’t even aware that part of my body existed in that sense until I was abused. I recall often feeling itchy during short calls. Several times I was taken to hospital, given some prescription and returned home. When I got older, I started asking myself; didn’t my mother wonder why my private parts had a problem? Why didn’t the doctor tell mum I was suffering from a sexually transmitted disease (STD)? If he did, why didn’t she mention it to me?
The mental block…
The mind has a way of blocking what we can’t deal with and that’s what I did with the pain and trauma of the childhood sexual abuse. I never talked about it to anyone. I lived in denial, but deep down, I sensed something wasn’t right. At adolescence, I was a very angry girl and blamed my mum for not protecting me. And then by a twist of fate, I was sexually abused whenever I visited my teenage friends. I felt dirty as if there was something weird or evil that attracted men to perform evil things to me.
I believed rape wasn’t bad; I was the evil one because of my femininity. I figured out that if I weren’t seen as a girl, the evil would go away. I took a strategy to do everything un-female! I denied my female sexuality, turned into a tomboy – cutting my hair short, wearing T-shirts, shorts and faded jeans, and would also hang out with boys and play basketball with them. I earned the nickname Wanja Kihii (tomboy) from upper primary to high school and beyond.
I deliberately did my best to be unattractive to the opposite sex. I didn’t mind when the boys noticed and teased other girls who appeared attractive. I was branded a lesbian. My attitude was that a relationship led to sex, which to me equated to pain. I indulged in activities such as sports and arts to forget the agony.
When I was around 21, the lid blew off! All the suppressed emotions of rape manifested in a severe depression. I hit rock bottom and soon lost the mental capacity to function. I can’t really remember the sequence of events but one day while at work, my heartbeat raced and I couldn’t breath. I must have collapsed at my desk as when I regained consciousness, I was in hospital. The doctor did check-ups and diagnosed panic attacks as a result of a psychological trauma.
I was unable to continue functioning normally and had to quit employment as a staffing officer. The setback pushed me deeper into depression. It progressed to what doctor’s termed Schizophrenia, a mental health condition that causes a range of different psychological symptoms, including hallucinations – hearing or seeing things that don’t exist, delusions and unusual beliefs not based on reality. I was mentally ill. I was admitted in a psychiatric ward and went through a horrendous electric shock therapy.
Therapy went on for three years with little improvement. The electric shock therapy was meant to wipe out the traumatic memory. However, the brain is not an office cabinet where you remove a specific file. You can’t guarantee what you wipe out. I ended up losing a lot of memory. For instance, I used to meet people in the streets who would greet me and appreciate that I had given them jobs in my former work place. I could swear I had never seen them in my life! This became another problem for me and that led me deeper into depression.
In love with my doctor…
The stigma attached to mental illness is so high that a patient loses friends and sometimes family. I was no exception. I yearned for love and attention. It was in that state that one doctor at the hospital went beyond professional help and showed me undue care and love. For the first time in three years, I felt someone was treating me like a human being. I clung to him and a relationship sprung. I became pregnant.
The doctor made an about turn and invoked his professional ethics. He would lose his reputation and job if this came to light. He was firm about a safe abortion in a hospital that he would finance. Everything was so puzzling as I was still a mental patient. It was terrible. He made arrangements with a certain city hospital for the abortion. I cried all the way to the hospital theatre. Then before the male doctor and his theatre attendant sedated me, I said the Lord’s Prayer for the first time in years. It was when I woke up that I found the two men all over my private area touching me unfittingly.
It was a devastating experience. Dawn of a new light… I hurriedly and weakly sneaked out of the hospital bearing a lot of guilt for what I had just done. I committed to celibacy and became withdrawn. My attitude was mistaken for salvation. I became very depressed as I mourned my lost baby and decided to seek medical attention. My doctor introduced me to a new medical technology. When I got depressed, all I needed was to press a button and the gadget would secretly release some hormones to calm me down. I, however, discovered I was being used as a guinea pig to experiment on the latest technology.
With no signs of healing, I purposed to be the driver of my own recovery. I flushed all my medicine down the toilet and resolved to try and conquer the panic attacks step by step.
Conversation with God…
However, the abortion distress persisted and I attempted to commit suicide. I believe that was the day I encountered God. I was used to hearing voices, but this particular one was different.
‘If you take your life, I will hold you accountable…’ I openly asked God where He had been all those years when it all started. I told him He was coming when I had nothing to offer Him having lost my job, my friends and my mental capacity. He assured me that even if I was giving Him nothing, He was going to give me everything. Coincidentally, I felt an inner strength. I started by quitting smoking as I was determined to conquer the addiction.
I found time everyday to pray and talk to God and appreciated that He wasn’t human to always remind me of my past ills. This proved to be very therapeutic. I found solace in one particular verse: Isaiah 61:3 “I will give you a crown of beauty from ashes where even if everything is burned to the ground I can raise you up…”
That’s what God did to me. I got the strength to live my life again. It dawned on me that my experience was meant to strengthen and make me a pillar for those in similar situations. I studied counseling psychology to help others deal with their suppressed emotions and lead a healthy life. I do talks in schools, churches and other groups along with sharing my experience. I also help pregnant girls abandoned by their families. I have been there and understand the magnitude of pressure and condemnation they go through for no fault of their own.
With that kind of stress, it’s easy to resort to an abortion. I teach them to take full responsibility of their action. Thankfully God gave me a very supportive husband.
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