18 Jul #RaiseTheSilence: A New Beginning
I was eight old the first time it happened.
The first time I was sexually abused, it was my uncle. Then when I was 17, I was raped by a family friend and then when I was 19 I tried to kill myself. This is my first time talking about these experiences, and much as I would rather take them to my grave, I have realised it is more beneficial to speak than to hide.
Growing up in Nigeria, I had no concept of what it meant to be sexually abused. So there I was, an 8 year-old girl blissfully unaware of the danger the people closest to me posed. I am now 22, and no matter how hard I try to repress the memories or pretend it never happened, I remember the exact night my father’s brother first sexually violated me.
Both my parents had gone to work and my uncle was in charge of my siblings and I. There was a football match that day so he had invited a few friends over. It was during this match that he took me away to the toilet and locked the door behind him. He then proceeded to take off his trousers, pull down my pants and touch me inappropriately while stroking me with his penis.
I didn’t understand what was happening but I knew it wasn’t right but I was too scared to tell my parents; I thought I had done something wrong and I didn’t want them to punish me. After that incident, I started sleeping in my parents’ room because I knew he couldn’t get me there. Whenever they weren’t around though, he would creep in at night and pull the covers off me and touch me again. Fortunately for me, the routine only lasted 2 weeks before he had to relocate. But by then, the emotional damage had already been done. I’ve only recently begun to process it.
During my teenage years, I had this very close friend. He was 5 years older than me but we had always got on really well. So the first time another girl-friend and I went clubbing, I called him up to accompany us. He was our “trusted” bodyguard.
By the end of the night I’d had a bit too much to drink but I felt completely safe because he had been gentlemanly the whole night. On getting home, he told my friend he wanted to stay outside with me for a few minutes to make sure I got some fresh air and sober up before I went to bed. She agreed to and went inside. The next thing I knew, he put me in the backseat of the car and drove off. I was disoriented but still slightly aware of what was happening. At that point, I still felt completely safe but then he parked the car, opened the door to the backseat, pushed me on the chair and pinned me down while kissing my breasts.
All of a sudden I became alert, I tried to push him off me but I was too weak. I kept telling him to stop but my voice came out as a mere whisper. Eventually I gave up struggling and let him do what he wanted. The worst thing about this particular experience was that I trusted him. I had known him for years and never thought someone who made me feel so safe could violate me so deeply in just a matter of minutes.
I don’t remember ever crying about the rape. I only went to the doctors a few days later to get myself checked for STDs and pregnancy. I never spoke to him after that incident, but again, I was consumed by shame and guilt.
I was convinced it was my fault for putting myself in that position.
Fast forward to a couple of years later. I was 19 now and going through a really rough time. I had problems with my relationships, education and family. I was under a lot of pressure and constantly down, but I never thought I was depressed. In my mind, black people couldn’t get depression and as far as I was concerned if I had even mentioned that word to my parents I would have been sent off to fast and pray for healing.
But each day I felt worse about myself although I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what was making me unhappy. I would wake up feeling really low and wanting to lie in bed all day crying, but I had to drag myself to work. At work I would go to the toilet as often as I could to cry, when I got home I cried. I never felt like eating, I didn’t take my calls or reply my texts. I spent most of each week wallowing in my misery and if I was lucky, I would get a day off where I felt nothing. Those days were bliss.
This went on for about 3 months, everyday, until I just couldn’t take it anymore. I decided I would rather die than live with my current situation so I went into my parents’ medicine cabinet and took about 20 random pills. I felt a bit happier as each one slid down my throat. That sounds strange but I was happy at the idea of finally closing my eyes and never opening them again.
The next day I woke up with a mild stomach ache. I wasn’t dead so there and then reached a resolution within me that this must be a sign from God. I saw it as a blessing.
My story doesn’t offer solutions, but I just want to let others like me know: you are not alone. Our mental health is an extremely important part of our well-being and if we do not address it the way we would a physical illness, the damage is much worse in the long run. I suffered a lot more than I should have because of the stigma that came with suffering from a mental illness and I have only just started to address it. I still have a long way to go, and from time to time I have bouts of extreme anxiety. But I have started seeing a counsellor and receiving treatment.
If you ever want to talk or ask me any questions you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Expert Notes (by Doc Ayomide)
Depression is a beast. And this writer captures it perfectly. Of course not all depression is like this, but when the writer shares how she got to the point of wanting to take her life, she describes the symptoms of depression nearly to the letter. All the way down to how it can seriously turn a person’s life inside out.
Although the depression, in her case, appears connected to the sexual abuse, it’s not every instance of depression that has an identifiable trigger. Many times, like she describes, nothing can be identified.
She talks about anxiety attacks too, and these are common in people who experience depression. (It can sometimes be tricky to separate if the problem is mainly a depressive or an anxiety disorder, or whether a person even has both.)
What is most important is what she says at the end: you are not alone, and there is help available. By pointing the way as she does, she offers at least the beginnings of a solution, after all.
For more on depression, how to recognise it and what you can do to help, check out my articles on depression.