On September 9, 2007, Flora Igoki Terah, a former Kenyan Parliamentary candidate for the North Imenti seat in the Meru district of Kenya, was attacked and tortured by three men on the outskirts of Meru town. All the while, her attackers repeatedly warned her against running for the Parliamentary seat.
In March 2008 her only child, a 19-year old footballer, was murdered in Nairobi in an apparent attempt to silence his mother.
After that, Flora Terah went through hell and back trying to come to terms with all she had undergone through the election period.
Despite the hardships she underwent after her cruel ordeal during the 2007 Election period, Ms Flora managed to overcome the grief and depression to tell her story as an inspiration to many in the society.
Flora talked to Standard Digital’s Brian Ukaya
I moved to Canada as a permanent resident soon after some horrible experiences. Life was moving very fast. New country, new culture, new environment and extremely warm people.
Since psychological wounds were still fresh, I didn’t know how deep they were, I cried myself to sleep.
I was surrounded by people who did not understand what I was going through.
They kept telling me to seek professional help but I didn't understand what that help meant. Coming from a cultural background that believes mental illness is a taboo, and landing in a culture that believes one has to be in touch with their community to help in recovery and the journey of life, I was left in the middle trying to figure out which way to go.
I was sandwiched between two different beliefs. Do I go to my community and get judged or do I remain in this other community and feel isolated?
A couple of organisations engaged me in public speaking engagements. I won the hearts of people in North America, wrote books, and addressed meetings attended by the most influential leaders in the world. I had a one-on-one with them in green rooms but still, I felt that bitter taste of death. My son was the anchor of my life, nothing can replace that.
I didn’t have any financial constraints and there was so much love around me, but inside I was rotting.
I finally decided to seek the professional help which my Canadian friends kept talking about.
My diagnosis was Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression and grief which took a toll on me during anniversaries and holidays. I just kept relapsing and getting into isolation mode which was an early warning sign that things were not going well.
My turning point was 2015 when I had just been discharged from hospital after a second suicide contemplation.
None of my friends saw this coming. I had called my pastor early in the summer of 2015 to come and pray for me and not take me to the hospital. But when he arrived, the situation wasn’t so good. He had to rush me to the hospital.
Looking back, it was like a Hollywood movie.
So many immigrants come to this part of the world with suitcases of cultural beliefs and hopes for the future. Some come as economic immigrants and others as protected persons.
Those like me who did not want to migrate but were forced by circumstances found it very hard to adjust.
For instance, I had a very successful career back home, I joined a political party because I wanted to redeem the suffering of the most vulnerable members of our society.
That is why I chose to run for office in North Imenti.
The Constitution at the time accommodated stubborn taboos as ‘customary law” like Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
While I believe there are extremely good cultural practices within our societies, I knew and I am a firm believer that FGM targets little girls, fragile angels who are extremely vulnerable and helpless.
Mine was a good fight for constitutional change and in particular the clause that allowed this outdated culture of chopping off private parts for no reason.
We could not change the Constitution in street protests or board rooms. I had to run for office and join the House to become a Member of Parliament who could then introduce a bill to change it.
Soon I was among the top 25 women that were going to get into Parliament in 2007, which the opinion polls reported.
I was later forced out of politics by violent attacks in North Imenti, Meru, three months to the 2007 General Election.
I came face to face with cruelty after I was attacked in the outskirts of Meru town.
A gang of three men attacked me, shaved my head and tortured me.
As my physical wounds were healing and psychological wounds raw, my only child was murdered in cold blood. They had put the last nail on my coffin.
They wanted to leave me as a shell. They broke my backbone. They knew who the anchor of my life was. They knew I could not live without my baby. This was like touching a live wire with wet hands. They had finally gotten me.
That is where the journey of wanting to check out of the world began. 'Checking out' is the word my friend Barb used when I attempted suicide.
Over time, I decided to take responsibility for my own wellness and I embarked on a mission dubbed ‘Operation Save Flora’.
Education was the process that had to accompany me on this journey, so I had to learn self-advocacy to get what I need and deserve. I needed myself back. I needed to convince myself that the little me that wanted to bring change to the world could kick back and do so. And I empowered myself with education and soon after I had seen myself engaged as a mental health advocate.
Day by day, life got a little easier in the group we shared. I had joined this group to hear what others were going through and how they overcame. It is here that I was invited to join the ASR Community Advisory Committee to share ideas and expertise with doctors, lawyers, and top suicide interventionist in Canada.
Participating in the committee had a tremendous impact on my recovery. I was supported so much in taking steps to create my sense of self and to be where I am today.
Recovery is not a walk in the park. It’s a work in progress and I am willing to open my toolbox of wellness whenever I feel like things are going wrong. I also have told my supporters to watch me closely and have told them the early warning signs.
This is why I spoke about it when I last visited Kenya two months ago. Am willing to start pilot projects on mental health awareness to help fellow Kenyans understand this invisible disability, it is like flu, cancer of diabetes.
I want to share with Kenyans the lessons I learnt through my experience in the pit of depression and the two suicide attempts. I want them to create a whole new world and get to know life is sweeter on the other side of the pit.
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