You are not a victim for sharing your story, you are a survivor setting the world on fire with your truth. And you never know who needs your light, your warmth and raging courage.Alex Elle
Read part one here
Read part two here
Read part three here
Grandma’s funeral was a family affair from hell. As soon as we landed in Kenya, mum hired thugs to kick my great uncle and his family out of our family home. He was now my great uncle because mum demanded it, “he isn’t really your grandfather!” According to Britishism 101, and since we were now British for all intent and purposes, “your grandmother’s brother/sister is your great uncle/aunt.” I protested though, “mum, we don’t have a name for that in our language!” By now you all know how she responded to that, and I didn’t have enough emotional energy to argue with her.
Later that evening, a group of people converged in grandma’s house to mourn her death together and pray for her soul. Mum was having none of it. The leader of this group said they’d been meeting there every evening as was custom, and mum exploded. “I don’t care about that! I can bury my mother all by myself!” she screamed. ‘This was not good. She was losing her mind,’ I thought. “Mum, it’s ok, let them do their thing… please,” I pleaded with her. It was the first time in a long time I was nice to mum. I could see, despite what she wanted everyone to believe, she was devastated by the death and was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
“But I don’t know these people…”
I knew I had to be the voice of reason.
“Mum, it’s ok. People want to comfort us, please let them.”
She glared, lost in her grief, and couldn’t comprehend how the kindness of strangers could possibly comfort us. I realised, she needed me more than ever.
“I know I haven’t always been a good mother to you but hearing you now and seeing how much you’ve matured; I know I did something right!” she said amid tears. That was my mother’s way of saying thank you. I smiled at her desperately fighting the urge to strangle her. I think I love my mum, but there’s something about her I hate and at the same time I want to care for her, I want to protect her, I want to look after her while fighting the constant need to strangle her.
I realise now that it’s ok to have high expectations of people but more importantly, it’s ok for me to adjust those expectations accordingly. It is not self-love to admonish myself when people disappoint, part of me understands why grandma was the way she was or why mum is the way she is. Grandma believed she came from a line of strong independent women – that much is true, but I don’t believe it was a smooth transition from one generation to another. Mum’s attempt to detach herself from ‘independent’ women who relied on men for validation, went to the extreme of denying her culture and embracing another on a misinformed premise that it was advanced and superior. For example, mum has a picture on her wall depicting the ‘holy family’, and when I say I’d never hang such art on my walls, she calls me a devilish child. Maybe I too, have gone to another extreme in a feeble attempt to educate myself on the impact of colonialism and its consequences.
Grandma was born in the year our country regained independence from the British (ironic): her parents were young people recovering from a major colonial hangover while starting families and mourning the deaths of those who fought for this independence, and I think mum is ignorant of that or doesn’t care. She, on the other hand, was born out of wedlock in a decade where young unmarried mothers were ostracised by society and the Christian church. I was born at the turn of the century, not out of rape as mother likes to believe, but out of curiosity and innocence because she was young and naïve. I must make peace with that.
At the age of 18 I left mum and her poxy flat and moved in with a man. I wasn’t in love, I just needed to fly that nest before mother hen pecked me to death. She’d become increasingly needy and pushy since the funeral and my kindness to her during that time translated, at least in her mind, that she was my burden henceforth.
You can’t see people’s mental health problems like you see broken legs. As I write this, I am in a mental health facility because asking for help does not make me weak, it’s bravery when you recognise you have a problem and ask for help. I need to venture into adulthood with a clear mind, a forgiving heart, a confident body, and a kind soul.
I haven’t spoken to mum in a while because the last time I called to say I was in hospital her reaction floored me. This is how the conversation went:
“Hi mum, how are you?”
“Herro, where are you?”
“Oh my God, what’s wrong?”
“Ahhm, it’s ahmm, I haven’t been feeling right in the last few weeks, so I came here for help….”
“Yeah… yeah… but what’s the matter?”
“I’m not entirely sure, mum, I’m in a mental health ward in ……”
“Oh noooo! Are there Kenyans nurses there?”
“Don’t tell them you are Kenyan! I don’t ….”
“Oh oK, bye mum!”
I hang up, devastated at the realisation, yet again, that mum cared more about her image than my wellbeing.
My story is not to place blame, however, evidently, my upbringing had an impact on my mental health growth. I can say mum was under pressure to conform to societal norms, but I can’t say who put the pressure on her. Did she do it to herself? Did society unwittingly do it? In her mothering efforts to conform me, she pushed me into another extreme; first I was rebellious, then helpful, then resentful, then hateful, then regretful, then confused, then indifferent, and before I knew it, I was facing being 21 without a manual on adulthood. Did the fact that my mother, and her mother, and the generation of women before them had anything to do with my present mental health problems or the uncertainty of adulthood? Needless to say, my mother won’t be visiting me here, however, Robert has, and promised to convince mum into coming for a family session.
For now, I wait in trepidation because I am not sure how willing she will be in addressing some uncomfortable truths. Maybe, she too, need to calibrate her mental health.
Grandma’s wish for me was to re-ignite the fire of the women before me, and I am doing that by addressing my mental wellbeing first and foremost. If I ever become a mother, I hope to have sons first and break the cycle (or maybe that just my mental illness speaking).
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