In 2017, Mary Wanjiku Gichuhi was completing her PhD at the University of Nairobi, was a well-known mental health advocate, and founder of Depression and Stress Society, an organization that was actively creating awareness on mental health.
She worked with youth at different universities, leaders from various organizations in both the public and private sectors, was frequently featured on different media platforms, and was a mental health activist who led processions to help change policies surrounding mental health.
Mary was passionate about helping people, and messages from strangers flooded her inboxes on a daily basis.
Part of what drew people to her was her infectious personality. But what no one knew was that she was battling the same issues privately due to an abusive relationship.
“Here I was, a public figure, being beaten by this guy,” Mary told The Weight She Carries. “Every day people were coming to me from this station or that station wanting to interview me about my work. I didn’t want to expose myself and let people know what I was going through. Everyone looked at me as this strong woman. It was very traumatic for me.”
Mary kept the abuse a secret and continued her advocacy work.
“It began with him belittling me and devaluing my achievements. Those were warning signs, but he was very charming. After mistreating me, he would be on his knees begging for forgiveness. It got worse from there, but I didn’t want to believe I was in an abusive relationship,” she said.
The abuse went on for over a year and got so bad that Mary feared for her life.
“One day he hit me in my head with a padlock and then pushed my head into the corner of the TV. I will never forget that day. He made me hate myself. I knew then that he was capable of killing me.” – Mary Wanjiku Gichuhi
When she discovered she was pregnant, she assumed the violence would cease, but she was wrong.
“He hit me when I was pregnant,” she said. “I decided it was not about society anymore, or who would laugh at me. I had to leave, and I left everything I had worked for. Everything.”
Unsure of her future and the consequences of her leaving, Mary fled Kenya. All she had was her passport.
“I was tired of all the threats and the beatings. I didn’t tell anyone I was leaving. I just booked a flight and left. I didn’t care about the consequences. All I wanted was to be safe, and I believed that fleeing Kenya was the first step to me being safe. I’m sure that if I had stayed, my baby and I would not have survived.” – Mary Wanjiku Gichuhi
She was 5 months pregnant at the time. When her flight touched down in Netherlands, Mary was taken to the hospital and stayed there for a whole month where she was treated for her physical and psychological conditions.
Her family and friends did not know where she was or what had happened to her. It was a difficult time. Not only did she not know anyone in Netherlands, she didn’t speak Dutch either.
“When you are in a situation like that, you cannot even think for yourself. What kept me going were the many Facebook messages I would receive from the many people I had helped. They were unaware that I was responding from a hospital bed; they had no idea where I was or what I was going through,” she said. “But in helping them, I helped myself.”
Once her health was under control, Mary made the brave decision to share her story.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 1 in 3 women around the world have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner or sexual violence at the hands of a person they were not intimately involved with.
Globally, up to 38 percent of murdered women die at the hands of a male intimate partner.
Suicide.org states that 1 in every 4 women who are victims of domestic violence attempt suicide.
The more she shared, the more people opened up to her about their own stories of domestic abuse.
“Although this experience was a setback for me, most important is that I’m happy I survived. Not everyone survives domestic abuse. That’s how I look at it,” she said. “I may have had to restart my life again in a new country, but I am glad that I don’t have to wake up any day scared about what may happen to me or my son in the hands of an abuser again.”
Now she takes every opportunity to speak out against domestic violence and is in the process of writing a book on her journey to reinventing her life. She speaks at universities and media platforms, and is very vocal about the issue on her Facebook page.
To connect with Mary Wanjiku Gichuhi, reach out to her on Facebook at:
Vimbai E. is a content marketer, ghostwriter, and the founder of The Weight She Carries. With hundreds of articles and stories publishing online, in print and for broadcast, her love of language and storytelling shines through every piece of writing that bears her name.