Written by: Mutshidzi Kwinda
When I walked into the bookshop, I was welcomed by the sight of the following words: “What Happened To You?” I was deeply moved as these words resonated with me. Moreover, these words made me curious and eager to discover what happened to me.
The first thought that came to my mind with those powerful words was grounded in the past seven years of my life as a cancer patient. And although I knew I had had a challenging upbringing before those seven years, I didn’t think any of it would account for any of the personal challenges in my present life. But it did. This book dug out deeply rooted and unresolved traumas I never thought existed.
From as early as I could make sense of my world – the surroundings and background, I was already asking questions ranging from why don’t I have a father (or at least a “father-figure”) like most of my peers did; to why did I have to walk 5km barefoot, passing through the most dangerous isolated forests and crossing rivers to and from school. At the same time, everyone else went to school with their parents in a car while others used buses. And, of course, I knew the answers to all those questions. My father had passed away right after I was born – leaving my unemployed mom to fend for seven children by herself. We were amongst the poorest of the poorest in our community. But as you can imagine, a six/seven-year-old child’s mind couldn’t comprehend all of the chaotic experiences and make sense of it all at such a petite age. Nevertheless, it was all I knew, and it somehow felt normal.
Now, if you are like me, you probably think or might have already guessed that the word trauma is a synonym for horror-related experiences. Before I read this book, I associated trauma with adults who have once served in combat or individuals who have witnessed someone die in a tragic event like a murder, a fire, an accident, and so forth. However, reading the book “What Happened To You” has truly broadened my perspective and understanding of trauma and healing. And beyond that, this book has helped me understand myself on a profoundly intimate personal level.
While incorporating real-life stories of people (including children) who have suffered from trauma, Oprah Winfrey and Dr Perry, a trained neuroscientist and a psychiatrist, explain how the brain plays a big role in trauma-related behaviours. Not only that, but since it is the brain that helps us think and make decisions, Dr Perry also details the importance of brain development in the early years of a child’s life and how the first five to seven years of a child’s life is vital for creating the outcomes of his/her life and beyond. The conversations in the book basically challenge us to shift from focusing on “what’s wrong with you?” to asking “what happened to you?” (This was a brilliant way of redirecting the narrative).
I would highly recommend this book to every adult irrespective of age, race, gender, ethnicity, religion, profession… etc. If you are planning to have children, or you already have young children, or you are a teacher, a police officer, healthcare worker, this book is for you! I would also recommend this book for any of you who have experienced traumatic events, or if you had a troubling childhood, or you are unable to understand your children’s behaviours.