Media personality Susan Grace opens up on her difficult childhood, fierce battle with depression and losing her mother at a young age, which escalated to suicidal ideations and self-harm.
Susan beat all odds and now hosts Crossover 101, a gospel show on NTV. She narrates her story, which she hopes will inspire somebody in a similar situation to seek professional help and overcome the challenge.
“It’s very easy for someone to have one glance at me or my social media lifestyle and assume that I’ve always had my life together.
The truth is, I’ve not! One of the greatest battles I’ve fought so far is the mental health battle and it’s sad I fought it on my own. I didn’t know how to ask for help. I struggled with depression when I was in high school and it started manifesting in the form of sleepless nights. I just couldn’t sleep because I had no peace of mind and there was just so much going through my head.
Later in life, the depression manifested even more through more sleepless nights, attempted suicide and self-harm.
Evidently, none of my suicide attempts succeeded and as a result, I sought refuge in the blade — cutting myself because it, bizarrely, felt relaxing.
To most people who’ve heard my story, this doesn’t make any sense to them, and the most I get is: ‘Why would you inflict pain on yourself and say it’s relaxing?’ Well, you have never been so depressed and feel so dead on the inside that your body just goes numb and absurdly, pain just makes you feel ‘alive’.
I know there is a medical definition for the word ‘depression’ but for me I simply define it as a cocktail of unresolved stress or trauma.
My stress build-up began when I was young. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a normal childhood or rather a childhood I would have loved to have.
A lot of memories tied to events that took place in my childhood are blurry. I guess my brain suppressed them to ‘protect me’, but one of the things that bruised me growing up was rarely seeing my mother. She had left me in the care of my grandmother in Kiambu.
I wasn’t allowed to play around like any typical child should.
My grandmother was big on two things: academics and house chores. If I wasn’t doing the dishes then I better be studying and taking notes.
I understand she did that out of love and I’m glad, looking at the kind of woman I turned out to be, but I missed out on a big chunk of my childhood. I didn’t get to play with other children and if I did, I got a beating for that. I became the child others didn’t want to play with because they were scared of my grandmother. I got over it, though.
What I had a hard time getting over were the things that were constantly said to me — like being called ‘useless’ and ‘hopeless’, ouch! I hated being there and I honestly lost count of the number of times I unsuccessfully kept asking my mother to come to my rescue.
I felt like my mother didn’t care and she had just dumped me. My father has never been in the picture and it’s during this time that desperation to meet him grew. I, however, thought to myself that he didn’t care at all.
Now I felt deserted by both parents and, trust me; it was a horrible feeling. When I was done with my primary education at Gateway Primary School, I asked my mother one last time to get me out of my grandmother’s place and knowing that she was likely to ignore my request, like she always did, I had a plan.
I packed my clothes, put them in her car and told her that there was no way she was leaving me there that night otherwise I’d kill myself. That was the first time I verbally expressed my suicidal thoughts.
She took me with her that night to Embakasi Avenue where she lived at the time but the days that followed made me regret forcing her to take me with her because I could tell that she wasn’t happy that I was now living with her.
I honestly felt bad that I was forcing myself on her and I started feeling like an ‘oops’ child to her. I felt like maybe she wasn’t ready to have a child and here I was ruining her life. I was so scared of my mother.
I couldn’t talk to her because I thought she didn’t like me at all; so we barely spoke. I gradually developed a habit of always locking myself in a room. I figured that maybe if she sees less of me, she’ll be more comfortable.
So, here I am in my room: miserable, regretting my existence and feeling helpless that I didn’t have another parent to run to. You know what they say about an idle mind, right? Yes, it becomes the devil’s workshop.
The pressure of keeping things to myself started building up and I didn’t have a proper way to let out. Then the idea of inflicting pain on myself crossed my mind and I started collecting pins so that I could prick myself and feel better.
I went to Light Academy for my high school and this time had its own storms waiting for me. For starters, I had to deal with my mother’s boyfriend at the time, who had no respect for boundaries.
He preyed on the fact that he noticed my mother and I had a big disconnect. He indirectly played the ‘father figure’ card and I was sold. That is something I’d desired for a very long time and so I basked in the moment of finally having a man I could look up to as a dad.
Well, that was until he started crossing the line; touching me inappropriately. I told my mother about it but she made a statement insinuating that it was my fault. Sadly, the man kept at it; he kept telling me he loved me and that he would marry me and a whole lot of inappropriate things. I felt like I already had so much on my plate as a teenager and as the pressure built up, I stopped pricking myself and started cutting myself with scalpels.
I had so much anger towards my biological father because he had deserted me. The abnormality of locking myself in my room and doing literally nothing but gazing into the wall had intensified and my mother got concerned and insisted that I normalise taking walks in the estate.
I hated taking the walks because I always bumped into a group of boys who would make fun of me and laugh at me because I was super skinny and, in their words, not-so-good-looking. I literally felt like there was no room for me on Earth and suicidal thoughts started to creep in. My school had amazing people and I got a sense of belonging. Not so much; but enough to keep me going.
The last few months of 2014 at Daystar University were great because I’d begun to gather some confidence and enthusiasm to face life. I was pursuing Mass Communication, where I specialised in Electronic Media.
However, come 2015, my mother, my only parent and remaining pillar of hope, died. I had only done one semester when this happened.
Nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, could have prepared me for that 4th day of January 2015. My mother had been struggling with a flu for a couple of days and like any other flu, we knew it would eventually go away. Some relatives took her to Nairobi Hospital that morning and were back in the evening.
After they had all left, I heard my mother coughing downstairs and it didn’t sound normal. I went to check up on her only to find her throwing up blood. I had never seen that much blood in my life so I needed to get her to the hospital fast. Even before I could get her to the car, she told me, ‘Don’t even bother, I don’t think I’ll make it.’ Those were her last words to me. I still rushed her to the nearest hospital, Shalom Hospital in Athi River, with the help of a neighbour and on our way there, I could feel her body growing stiffer and colder. But I hoped she was slipping into a coma. Unfortunately, she didn’t make it.
Things seemed to be moving too fast and I just never seemed to find the right time to process everything and allow myself to just cry. In the midst of processing my mother’s death, I had to deal with being body-shamed. I was very skinny because I was carrying so much weight on my shoulders for years, without asking for help and that had taken a toll on me. I wasn’t sleeping well, I was not eating much, I was constantly contemplating ending my life. I mean, there was no room for me to gain weight. With all this happening, I kept asking myself: What’s really there for me to live for?
Notice that I keep using the past tense? That’s because by God’s grace, I pulled through and here I am.
When people hear my story and how I struggled with depression, one of the questions that arises is: ‘Did you seek therapy?’ The answer is no. Here’s why I was hesitant to seek therapy: I always thought to myself, ‘If my mother doesn’t take seriously the issues that I bring to her, how then can I trust a stranger to care?’
I grew up scared of telling people what I’m dealing with because I thought that; one, they really wouldn’t care; and, two, I feared I would be judged harshly. When people ask me how I got out of depression, I tell them, ‘I prayed my way out of depression.’
I remember one particular evening I smashed a glass ready to slit my wrist and bleed to death. Before I did it, I said this to myself, ‘This is the cut that either puts me to my grave or the cut that makes me seriously call out to God for help.’
Fortunately, the cut didn’t kill me and I remember waking up the next morning and bursting into tears because the scar was a reminder that God wasn’t done with me. That right there was the beginning of my journey out of depression and, for the first time in years, I was breathing a new lease of life. I was so desperate to be redeemed because I had become a slave to depression. I wasn’t eating well, I wasn’t sleeping well, I was faking happiness, I had lost so much weight and I had no hope left in me.
For the next couple of days, I was consistently on my knees asking God to quickly get me out of that dark place. Within no time, there was a light at the end of the tunnel and things had started to drastically change for the better and here we are.
God has continued to walk with me and even opened doors for me in different media houses and, to be honest, working at NTV has been the highlight of my career so far. God opened that door when I least expected and He has been guiding me through.
When I was in university, some students told me that I wouldn’t make the cut to work for media because, and I quote, ‘Media ni ya watu wako na nyama si mifupa (The media is for people with a bit of flesh, not the skinny type).’
But see what God has done. I appreciate NTV for allowing my light to shine bright and I’m so grateful to my producer, Diana Etabale, for believing in me. To some people, ministry means standing on a pulpit every Sunday. To others, ministry is through their uplifting music, but to me, ministry is using my story to inspire and speak hope to those on the verge of giving up.
I know that sharing my story might not be enough.
That is why, in the near future, I hope to do more by starting mental health campaigns that will help create awareness around mental health. I’m very passionate about young people. Those are the people I would love to primarily have the greatest impact on.
I also intend to create safe spaces for people to just talk about what they’re going through without the fear of being judged and I would definitely be open to partner with other people who share the same sentiments as I do. If God did it for me, He can and will do it for you too.
Finally, let me share two Bible verses that just speak to me. One is Exodus 14:14, which says in part: ‘The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.’ Then there is Philippians 1:6: ‘And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.’”
If you feel you need help for any mental health issues, contact the Kenya Psychiatric Association on 0796161087 or a qualified professional at a facility near you