I was in in Nyeri last weekend for my first out of town assignment of the year. I was looking forward to the break after a tension packed last two weeks. Life seemed to be moving slowly and I enjoyed it. Even eating and drinking seemed to be in slow motion.
I booked myself into Davis Court, a small boutique residency of about a dozen serviced flats in a serene part of Nyeri town just after Green Hills Hotel. I call that place the Muthaiga of Nyeri. It was my second visit to Davis court and they did not disappoint. Their facilities are clean and neat. The ladies working there are also very friendly and go out of their way to make one’s stay comfortable. To my delight, I’d find my car unusually clean every morning, unlike some places where they just throw water on your car and pass a rag on it. All this at a friendly price. That’s my Nyeri home away from home for now. I’ll definitely be back guys.
Our event, the Mt Kenya Championship, was taking part at the Nyeri Golf Club and to get there from Davis Court I’d have to pass outside the White Rhino Hotel. Recently there was a gentleman who met his death at that hotel. It appeared like suicide, or at least that’s the story with the local folks.
After passing there several times over the weekend, my mind went to the national discussion going on about suicide especially amongst men. I connected this with the time I spent with men at Safaricom House in November last year discussing mental health as well as my first ever counselling appointment that was to take place the following Monday in Nairobi. The Monday session was as a result of Mummy Shark’s experience at 14 Riverside. She and two other pals encouraged me to go for it as I was a secondary victim of the terrorist attack. I didn’t feel I needed it because I wasn’t exhibiting any negative signs. Or so I thought. So this session was just to confirm that I’m okay or at least getting okay. One of my friends scared me into going for counselling by narrating how his pal was a victim of the Westgate attack in 2013 and when Dusit happened he relived the torment all over again yet he was nowhere near there when it happened.
Going for my appointment felt strange, like going for a job interview. This was the first counselling session in my life (well, second to marriage counselling which I hardly recall what we were taught). I arrived at the venue at 9:55 AM and met Teddy, a pleasant gentleman who welcomed me into his small, plain office. It had three makuti seats like the ones sold on Ngong Road with African print cushions. I waited to be asked whether I’d take tea or coffee but there was none of that. We just got into it.
By this time, I was both curious and apprehensive of what he might fish out. I think counselors have the ability to see through one’s mind and bring things to the fore that you didn’t know about. I tried to fight off the stereotype that only sick folks go for counselling. Having this session now in my 40s was easier to process because am more open to new stuff than I was earlier, when I was a mjuaji.
This experience felt like I’m letting a guy I don’t know drive my car with me in it, not knowing exactly where we are going. He would ask me question after question and observe me with his penetrative eyes through his spectacles as if to confirm if my body language and facial expressions match my words. For a minute there I felt like I was at the CID headquarters doing a lie detector test.
We spoke about my fifteen-hour experience outside 14 Riverside as I waited for Mummy Shark to come out. I also added some reflections that Mummy Shark had shared since then and reactions we have had to news or reminders of the experience.
What I felt was going to be a long 45 minutes ended very fast. Teddy equipped me on how to best support Mummy Shark and my oldest Baby Shark as they process that experience. He advised that I should respond to them and not react. Many times we react to folks going through difficult stuff and that makes a bad situation worse. I took responding in this case to mean handling issues more objectively without catching too many feelings and reacting to handling an issue based on ma feelings tu. Maybe if we responded more and reacted less we would have fewer cases of good humans ending their lives so tragically and leaving a trail of grief and hurt behind them. Teddy also said that when dealing with folks who have been through a traumatic experience, we shouldn’t follow them, neither should we let them lead. We should walk beside them. That was powerful.
At the end of my session I was relieved to be told that I’m okay and Mummy Shark is recovering well. But as I was happy that my household is well on the way to recovery, I couldn’t help but wonder how many in our midst are suffering in silence. The dangerous thing about mental illness or internal trauma is that it is not easy to notice and as a society we look down on it and push folks consciously or not to get over it. Unfortunately, we learn that someone really needed help when they ended their lives or did something unexpected.
Maybe Kenyans should be doing mental or emotional checkups the same way we do annual medical checkups. We can then be small nyumba kumi counsellors and walk with more folks in our communities as we figure out together this thing called life. To achieve this, we have to risk letting someone mulika our blind spots. It may be unnerving at first but it could save a life, maybe even our own.