Navigating life as a woman in the world today is interesting. From Nigeria to Timbuktu, it’ll amaze you how similar all our experiences are. Every Wednesday, women the world over will share their experiences on everything from sex to politics right here. This is Zikoko’s What She Said.
The subject of today’s What She Said is a 24-year-old woman who has a very rocky relationship with her stepmum. She talks about how she misses her mum, the ill-treatment she got at the hands of her stepmum, and the medical condition that messes up her self confidence.
What’s your earliest childhood memory?
It’s driving down Allen road with my biological mum, strapped into the front seat. We were around the roundabout, and I could see a basket of tomatoes. I had to at least be three.
That’s a very random memory. Why is it so important?
It’s one of the three memories I have of my biological mum, and it’s the only one I see clear as day. I was young when she died, so I don’t have a lot of her to hold on to. This is one memory that’s mine and not influenced by anyone else’s stories — I can see her face, and hear her voice.
I’m sorry about your loss.
It’s okay. She died when I was three months away from turning four. She died from breast cancer. In a way, I’m glad it finally let her go. She had been struggling with lumps since her early twenties.
Once again, I’m sorry that happened. You kept saying biological mum. Do you have another?
Yeah, I do. My dad remarried the year after my biological mum died, before I even turned five.
How did that make you feel?
I resented him for it a lot. I liked my stepmum before they got married, but after, the relationship went left. I think my resentment grew when I was in secondary school, and I found their Valentine’s Day cards from the year after my mum died. I was consumed with anger, but in my house, we’re not allowed to be angry towards our parents, so I turned that anger inwards.
My mum died in August, and for him to have already been in a relationship with my stepmum by February of the next year felt disrespectful. Some family members say it’s because he didn’t want me to be without a mother. I call bullshit.
What do you mean by your relationship with your stepmum went left?
It became the classic stepmum and stepdaughter relationship.
It’s a relationship built on wickedness. I’m not saying I was a perfect child, but she treated me like there was no child worse than me on earth. I was beaten with belt buckles until the buckle broke off the leather or I bled. I was doing frog jumps almost every day, and sometimes I couldn’t climb the stairs. She made me drink my own vomit once because I had issues with eating. She also used to poke me with a safety pin until I bled.
It was a lot, and I was miserable.
That’s absolutely terrible. Where was your dad in all this?
My dad was a very busy man who was always travelling for work. He used to talk in the beginning, but I guess in his eyes, I became the person his new wife said I was, so he stopped complaining.
I also think he wanted to keep the peace because his wife gave him other children.
I’ve said I’m sorry a lot, but I’m really sorry that happened to you. Nobody else could stop her?
Well, I have an aunt who thinks my stepmum is insane. She’s my dad’s sibling but was very young when I was born so couldn’t do anything about it. Now, she’s very vocal about how I was treated. She’s like my big sister and best friend.
I’m glad you have someone on your side. How’s do they treat you now that you’re older?
I don’t get beatings anymore, but my movements are heavily restricted. I can’t leave the house without permission, and if I do, they’d know. There’s also the occasional verbal abuse that sends me on a downward spiral.
These days my stepmum focuses on my body. She hates how fat I am and makes sure I exercise every single day. She even got me an apple watch so she could monitor how many calories I’m burning.
They’re still strict, but nothing as intense as when I was a child. I recently got a work opportunity that would’ve helped me so much, but they didn’t allow me to go. Then and there, I decided I was done. It was either I commit suicide or leave their house.
I’m too scared to kill myself, but that doesn’t stop me from carrying a bottle of poison in my bag. If it ever gets too much, I’d drink it on the spot.
If you could leave the house, where’d you go to?
Ghana. That’s where I attended university and it was the most freedom I had in my life. For the first time, I was happy and free. Things genuinely started getting better when I was there, but since the universe hates me, everything went south.
I looked in the mirror one day in my room in Ghana, and I noticed intense discolouration, dry skin and scabs. I had to see a dermatologist, and they said it’s seborrheic dermatitis.
It’s like eczema on drugs, and it has no cure. You just have to manage it to avoid flare-ups. I’m still yet to figure out how to manage it.
It makes me completely tired because people comment on it like I didn’t look in the mirror before I left my house.
It’s like you can’t catch a break. What do flare-ups look like?
It’s when patches of my skin become lighter and scaly, like the skin is flaking off. If I scrub it off in the morning, the skin turns pink. In an hour or two, it’s back to flaking.
It looks like huge patches of dry, discoloured skin on my face, hairline, ears, eyebrows and even my scalp. On my head, it looks like dandruff, but it’s actually the seborrheic dermatitis.
How does this affect your life?
It stops me from meeting people. At home, I’m not allowed to wear makeup, so I can’t even cover it up. I don’t make too much of an effort to hide it anymore simply because of how much it exhausts me.
Also, people don’t try to move to me romantically. It might seem vain, but it’s true. It’s made me give up on my looks in general, and I haven’t looked or felt like myself since I left school. My low self-esteem is very high.
I’m so sorry. What’s life like now?
My general mental state is in the gutter. I plan to do better for myself, but it’s hard. I know I’m a beautiful, smart, caring and funny girl. It’s just difficult to remember these things because I’m in a place that doesn’t allow these parts of myself to shine forth.
Would you say you hate your stepmum?
No actually. Her life was difficult, so she doesn’t see anything wrong with what she did. She stands by everything, and in a way, I understand.
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