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The Trauma Behind Being Called ‘Strong

The person I was in 2014, 2017 and 2020 struggling with suicidal ideations is not the person I am today.

The three years came with different triggers.


An excruciating heartbreak was the start. I got into a relationship in which I stopped thinking for myself. I made sure that all there was for me to do in life, my partner had to know. The only time I stood by my decision was when he kept trashing my jewellery business but when he realized that it made me money, he gave me an idea about branding it and opening a Facebook page for it. I took time for myself. Found a name for it. Drew a picture to make up for the brand’s identity and opened a page.

I told him about it at the end and he said that he would not follow the page because he wasn’t part of the process. I knew what I was punished for but I stood by my decision. I had poured my heart into it.

A week or two before everything in me crumbled, he had suggested that in the future, I’ll have to do surgery on my boobs to make them smaller. I was supposed to be a perfect sculpture for him.

There was a time when his brother called him out for his unfairness to me and he responded “Aaah this one is strong. Those things don’t phase her” I clenched my jaw, let out a soft breath and kept my face straight to prove to the brother that I was indeed a strong woman.


2016. An old man claimed to be interested in helping his daughter to make book sales. He handed the girl to us, the event volunteers and before he left, he asked the daughter to make sure that she collected all her new friends’ phone numbers. The young author she was, and I had helped her make some sales at an event. I played her unhired spokesperson. She must have told her dad. He called me just as soon as the event ended and expressed interest in meeting me.

Fresh out of the university, I was excited about landing my first job offer. It wasn’t it.

At the hotel where we met, he told the waitress to ask me “his girlfriend” what I thought he should have. Girlfriend? In shock and confusion, I chose to laugh it off but I knew surely that I wasn’t safe. This man said that when I approached him to buy the movie night tickets at the event, I had a special interest in him. It didn’t matter that I talked to everyone, he just knew I was interested in him. That when I helped his daughter to make book sales I wanted him to notice me.

He promised me a good life and I was just so confused about where he got the idea that my life wasn’t good. It hit me at that moment that he was one of the sugar daddies we often studied about in school. I’d met some of his kids and surely, our ages weren’t far from each other. So many unsettling things that he said but I kept remembering him saying that he could tell I was raised by a strong woman and that it is for that reason that I am strong. I wanted to be strong and strong, I was. All the shock. I suppressed it because I didn’t want to look like a coward. I mean, I’m strong. I also never wanted to express my disgust because I thought I would look like I was disrespectful to an elder. He wanted to kiss my lips but I looked down and his lips landed on my forehead.

I got home and I felt impure. My body felt impure. I wanted to scrape my skin. I felt disgusted to belong to such a body. I wanted to dip myself in some form of bleach.

I reached out to a friend who had ever been sexually ab.u.sed. I needed to speak to someone who would understand me. While I spoke to her I felt like I was overreacting because there was a me who hadn’t been ra.ped seeking emotional support from the one who was. I felt guilty and apologized for my overreaction. With her in Nigeria and me in Uganda, she assured me that what I was struggling with was as real as I felt. And that it is not news to her that someone who has survived tends to downplay it.

Months went by and at the sight of every old man, I had to spit. There was a time when I was in Mombasa. An old man walked into a restaurant. Saliva collected in my mouth. I wanted to spit but had nowhere to. I wanted to attack him and call him out for abusing young girls even when I didn’t know him. Not even his name.

2017. While talking with one of my lecturers, he said that I am strong. Lucky for me, he was marking papers so he didn’t see my sudden tight grip on the chair I was seated on. My brain kept screaming danger and yet I wanted to convince myself that I was safe. But I knew quite well that the last time I had heard the word “strong”, I convinced myself that I was safe yet  I wasn’t. I felt deeply disappointed in him. I blinked back at my tears. My heart pounded like it had been squeezed in a very foreign place. It seemed to be protesting. I wanted to run but I did not want to cause a scene or even explain things I did not understand. How was I supposed to explain that I knew that he wanted to cause me harm? I tightened my grip on the arms of the chair, to help me keep my body still.

I don’t know how I walked away from the lecturer. I just remember myself in my room with fresh memories of all the times I was called strong. Every emotion I had repressed between 2014 and 2017, came to the fore. The word “STRONG”, for me, became my cue to fight or flee. The moment I got to my room, I cried like I’d been freshly bruised. I was tired of playing strong and yet I didn’t know how to be vulnerable.


2020. It all came from self-reflection. I was preparing content for that year’s suicide prevention awareness month. I wanted to know why I am so invested in mental health. Where could it all have started? Year by year, I had an idea of every storm I’d weathered. I got to 2009 and it dawned on me that I’d been placed with a psychiatrist. Bruhhh!!!

Because I’d already mastered the skill of suppressing emotions, this woman never found a reason as to why I’d been placed with her. If there be anything she asked that was shocking, it was whether I was sexually active. What??  Sexua… why? That question seemed to be something she snatched out of the blue sky. Weird to me, even.

It must have been the same day that she said to me “Stop wasting your mother’s money, get off that medication and focus on your studies”

I’d been on medication for about a month or two and no one ever mentioned why I was being medicated. It’s the first and possibly the last medication in my life that I’ve had to take without clear information about the disease that was being treated.

When the school holiday came and I was told that I could always go to her to talk, I knew I had gotten a new friend and because my friends do not see me struggling emotionally, she too didn’t. She dismissed me from her office with some kind of anger. I felt so sad that I’d lost a new friend but I also didn’t know why she was so angry. That left me perplexed.

I still know both of her names. I looked for her on the internet to express my disappointment in how unethical she was but I couldn’t find her.

All the emotions that had emanated from suppressing the torment I suffered from a specific girl in school, came alive in 2020. How a doctor, who should have known better,  dismissed me with my unspoken wounds, made me terribly sad.

For two weeks, everything that had broken me terribly started to spill over. My physical health is also one of the heavy tolls I have to carry daily. I was tired of trying for anything. I’d be going about the day at work and I’d go back to the crying teenager who used to put her head on the desk, cry her heart out, sit up straight to go on with the school program and lie about painfully itchy eyes. They were red most of the time.

Looking at these years, I’ve noticed that there’s a 3-year gap in all my suicidal struggles. It is 2023 and I cannot be more thankful that I’ve come this far, with an improved stress threshold. I often prayed for joy because I was tired of being sad almost every single day and heck! I’m happy for all the times I laugh heartily. Humour finds me a lot and often, when I have a peal of hearty laughter, I feel like it is an answered prayer.

This isn’t one of my “smiling” pictures but within me, is a grateful heart.

PS: I still feel uncomfortable with being called strong because it was my flawed idea of strength that broke me over and over again. I just want to be someone who can easily cry when I want to; and ask for help when I need it.

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Written by Nabuguzi. Kiwanuka (0)

Lawyer. Founder, Director, CEO at Equate Foundation. Podcaster - Hash Time with Nabuguzi Kiwanuka. Drawer. Dance lover. Music lover. Risk-taker. Daily learner.

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