Njeri Mucheru has been through dark times     Photo:Courtesy
Njeri is was famous for her blog 'highway to heaven' where she revealed about her husband's cheating ways She is also dealing with Bipolar disorder Her mother also had a mental illness

Kenya was waking up to a new dawn, ready to go about its business as usual, but, not so fast. On this new day, Kenyans both at home and abroad learnt of a scintillating, new blog; it was called Highway To Heaven.

The blog was written by a wife who was struggling in her marriage, and who had decided blogging was the outlet she needed to channel her frustrations. For this, she received applause and condemnation in equal measure.

At the time, Njeri Mucheru identified herself with her marital name. Now,  she proudly and comfortably carries herself without a hyphenated identity.

Njeri and I agree to meet at the Dusit D2 hotel. When I arrive, I find her already seated and I panic a little, only to realise that she is 20 minutes early. I’m extremely impressed.

For the sake of free expression, I ask for a corner table. Njeri, a vegan, moves with me as she tells me a little about what her day has been like so far.

Njeri, an advocate of the high court of Kenya, is one of the most successful ones in the country. She was born to her father, an excellent golfer, and her mother, who suffered from mental illness, and was casually known to many as a “mad woman.”

As Njeri speaks, and as I listen attentively, I silently wonder about my next questions, I worry that they may offend her, that they may be too personal, intrusive even. But Njeri, who graduated with a law and politics degree from England, (thankfully) sees through this.

Njeri gives me what turns out to be a lesson I’ll always carry with me into the future.

She says, “Yvonne, there’s a reason you get the calibre of guests you get. There’s a reason we say yes to you. Ask whatever you feel internally compelled to ask. As to whether we respond to those questions or not, that’s a different story.”

And so I ask, I enquire about everything including her being bipolar, and get into other even more sensitive topics like  HIV/AIDS. In this tell-all feature, Njeri responds to everything, not turning down a single question.

This, I quickly realise, is her truth. This is the life she’s lived, these are things she’s been through, and this is the story she has to tell.

Here is the rest of Njeri Mucheru’s story:

***

Was it always your plan to become an advocate?

No, it was my dad’s dream. Because I was a very bright student, my father figured I should get into it. He told me that to become one, all a lawyer needed was a pen, a piece of paper, and their brain.

This was as opposed to something like dentistry, where professionals in the industry need huge, expensive machines to practise.

What part of the law do you enjoy the most?

Interacting with my clients, that’s what I enjoy the most. It doesn’t really matter what their case is about, I like getting to know them.

Also, I find that Kenyans are not mentally as corrupt as we think they are. From what I see from my many well-meaning clients, Kenyans practise corruption by force. Our systems are faulty.

Speaking of corruption, Kenyan advocates have a reputation of being very corrupt, and are said to predominantly live on loans and debt, is there a valid basis for this reputation?

Yeah, there are so many snide jokes made about lawyers based on those kind of things. And I have to admit, when I first started practising, while still in employment, I saw a lot of it, and it seemed like the only way out.

However, let me also defend lawyers by saying, it’s not the lawyers and judges alone, the clients also actively participate in these things. I don’t think we should point fingers at any profession, the issue is not with the professions, it is with the very fabric of our society.

Tell me a little about your siblings?

We are six, from two homes. My father first married my mother, had three children, my two brothers (including ICT cabinet secretary Joe Mucheru) and I.

And then when he left my mother, he got married to someone else, she already had her son, and with my father, they had two daughters (including former The Apprentice (US) contestant, Liza Mucheru).

What kind of home did you grow up in?

My siblings, from my biological mother, were so young, when my father entered his second marriage. So when my father left my mother, we were all lumped together under his second wife.

You have, in the past, described your biological mother as mentally ill, tell me more about this?

My dad had just decided that there was a more beautiful woman who he was interested in, and he didn’t give my mother any reason as to why he was leaving. They were married for 19 years.

When you invest so much in a relationship and then someone just tells you one day it’s over, you begin to wonder, you try to understand it, you try to make sense of it.

How exactly, were you separated from your mother?

It just happened one day, my dad took us, took our things and we left. My mum came looking for us and he told her to keep off, I think he called the police on her and things like that.

She was just never allowed to see us. Imagine losing your husband and your kids immediately, one flash. It was terrible.

What did your mother struggle with mentally?

I think it was depression. You know, thinking about it now, I get it. Because when my marriage was falling apart, I also started going mad.My mother and I have very logical minds. Very logical. For us, everything must make sense. If it doesn’t make sense, we have to find a way to make it make sense so that we can live with it.

I was married for nine years, and in that time, everything my husband did, I interpreted it as love, even if it wasn’t of love. I would always make excuses for him.

Let’s go back a bit, where did the two of you meet?

In court actually. I was standing, waiting to get into the chambers of a judge. At the time, we were doing a case with him, so when he passed by and asked me out to lunch, I agreed. I thought he wanted us to discuss the case. I’d never met him before that.

We went out for lunch a number of times and I thought, “Wow, what a nice guy,” and that was the biggest mistake of my life. (Sighs amid laughter)

Apart from lunches, what other activities would you do together while dating?

We used to exercise together. We would run together around State House, and, eventually, I’d go with him to visit his mum upcountry, in Oyugis. But we dated very fast, we were married within a year of getting to know each other.

When did you realise, at first, that your marriage was coming apart?

Oh, I think it was pretty obvious when I started losing my mind because of his cheating. I was really losing it at that time, and I was admitted in hospital because of it.

Okay…

We were in the casualty area when I had a lucid moment, I asked him to please get rid of the girl, and let’s just work on our marriage, that that was what was going to save me. I asked him if we could just do that.

He looked at me and told me, “No, I cannot do that. How can I do that? If I leave this girl, she’ll kill herself. Just imagine living with a label like that, that someone killed herself because of me! No, I can’t do it.”

That’s when I realised he didn’t care about what happened to me at all. And, I,  lost it.

How?

I started screaming, shouting, walked to the main doctors’ place, continued shouting, until I was restrained and they tranquilised me.

When you were losing it, were you conscious of what was happening, or were you just in a completely different space?

Oh, no, mental illness, (shakes head) it just takes you to a very different space, a new level of thinking. Again, you start wondering, “This guy is still sleeping with me, we are still a family, surely this must mean he loves me, or doesn’t he? And if he doesn’t, what exactly does this mean?”

I really tried to understand it. But, let me tell you, the worst thing you ever want to attempt to do, is to read minds! (Bursts out in laughter)

Is that what many struggle with in friendships, relationships and marriages, trying to read minds?

Yes. And it happens a lot, and to the best of us. This person does something that is clearly meant to hurt you, but when you receive it, you somehow manage to turn it around, translate it with laughter, and then call it love.

And even if it’s not love, we manage to find whatever other kind of excuse we can give. “Oh, when I ask him for money he gives me, so it must be okay.” It’s very unfortunate.

Why do you think people stay in relationships they know they should walk away from?

I think it’s largely a conditioning of the mind. This is often influenced by those who’ve gone before you and those around you. If all you see are people who are being treated less than they deserve and they still stay, you begin to think that it is normal, that it is okay, and so you stay.

But if you are someone who has grown up with lots of self love and self assurance, there are things you won’t tolerate, you know your boundaries, you know when to walk away, and you are not afraid to do so.

Are there other things he said that really affected you?

(Laughs) You know, so much was said. I remember he told me once that he is the best husband I’ll ever find in this country. That I’ll never find anyone like him. And even though we were married, he was always seeing other people. And he was just giving me a chance to prove myself as more deserving than those other women.

In terms of mental health, what do you struggle with?

For me it’s bipolar. I know it is bipolar. It was diagnosed as such.

Do you take medication for it?

Yes, I do. I take medication daily.

Describe to me what it’s like living with bipolar?

Bipolar is a condition that is, how can I explain it, (thinks) it’s like having a rash, once you apply something on it, you can get on with your life  (Laughs). So you just learn how to manage it.

In your case, how do you manage it?

For me, to help manage it effectively, I’ve learnt to be very careful with my relationships. I don’t appreciate being taken for granted.

I got rid of people who I realised I give more to than they even think of giving.

So if you’re a close friend of mine and yet you are not interested in showing it, out you go.

So many people in Kenya, and Africa, are reluctant to talk about mental health, why are you open to talking about being bipolar?

I’ve never been a secretive person, that’s why. From a young age, I could never keep secrets. I think secrets are bad for me. So for me, I’m okay talking about it.

Have you ever met your ex-husband’s girlfriend, the one he left you for?

Yes, she called me once and we met. They were still together at the time, I don’t know what happens now.

Did you worry about being HIV positive during all this?

Yes! Certainly. I cannot pretend not to have been worried about it. I was terrified!

I remember going for the tests one day prepared. I was ready for any news, I was ready to see an expert and find out what my next steps should be. And then when I was told I was negative, I went into my car and screamed! I thanked God. I really thanked God. He worked it all out for me.

Are you still married to him or did you get a divorce?

Mmh, it took a while, but the divorce finally came through.

Are you happy now?

Very! Because a divorce marks for me, the reality of our relationship. We were never meant to be married. He was one person, and I was a completely different person.

Do you miss him sometimes?

No.

He is a completely different person to me now. The one I was married to doesn’t exist, and never did.

He made that clear. He actually did tell me, that he only married me to please his mother.

Have you forgiven him, and her?

(Long pause) You know, I think that, when it comes to forgiving someone, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you forget. I have forgiven them, but the fact that they are not willing to repent, or even show some kind of remorse for their actions, still leaves a gap.

How would you like him to show that?

I don’t know. It’s up to him to figure that out. But without repentance, we cannot be friends.

What would be your encouragement to anyone struggling with bipolar and or any other form of mental illness?

Get help if you can, be receptive to it. However, I also strongly believe healing comes with changing who you are and how you think. Get to really know yourself and get rid of anyone and anything that doesn’t let you be yourself fully.

If you could give some piece of advice to your younger, 20-something year old self, what would it be?

(Thinks) Be willing to give and take. Don’t just give, make sure you are receiving too.

Any other advice?

No sex outside marriage. (Laughs) Oh, no sex before marriage. I mean, I waited quite a while before I lost my virginity. I had gone to study in England, came back, and had never slept with anyone. I was about 21.

But I’d still say, no sex outside marriage. For any 20-something year old virgins out there, well done! Stay that way! It is the best decision you could ever make for your life.

The guests in this series share their stories voluntarily. They hope that in sharing their stories, the process will be cathartic for them, give comfort to fellow survivors and help show that anyone is susceptible to mental illness . If you suffer from depression, suicidal thoughts, addiction or any other form of mental illness, please reach out for help. You are not alone.

Yvonne Aoll is a writer who is keen on telling people's stories. You can read more of her work at  http://www.yvnaoll.com/