Dr Chloe Timothy, 59, grew up in Queen Street in central Durban and was 9 years old when she was molested by an older cousin.
That was the start of her journey on dealing with trauma, which she coped with by creating an imaginary friend called “Counsellor”.
Timothy, who now lives in New York, is an executive coach at a blue-chip company, as well as a Christian-based counsellor and certified health and wellness coach.
She is also an author and accomplished jazz pianist, and her book, Memoirs of a Counsellor – My Life in South Africa, was released in the country this week.
Speaking to the Independent on Saturday from the US, Timothy said her book covered her real-life experiences and how she used a third person self-talk counselling strategy from a young age.
“I was a shy young Indian girl with four siblings and good parents. But my parents travelled a lot and when they were away, we were looked after by my granny and an older cousin.
“My book details how I was first molested when I was 9 years old. It was all done very quietly. I didn’t know if I was doing something bad, but I was terrified to talk about it, so I shut down.
“I was always artistic, creative and would fantasise, and that’s when I created this person, this imaginary friend, who I called Counsellor. He was a man and it was someone I could talk to and feel safe.
“He became my best friend and he’s lasted me all my life, he’s still there,” she said.
Timothy explained that an imaginary friend is a form of self-talk, a counselling therapy used to combat stress and trauma.
“Third person is when you talk to yourself as if you are someone else. That’s what helped me and that was the biggest intervention tool on my journey,” she said.
After leaving school, Timothy went on to study music at the University of Durban-Westville (UDW), completing her undergraduate degree, before moving to the University of KwaZulu-Natal where she specialised in jazz under Professor Darius Brubeck, renowned in the jazz world.
“I was the first woman graduate in jazz studies.
“I play by ear and I was also the first Indian woman music director at the Durban Christian Centre.”
But she also faced racial discrimination and violence in the apartheid years of the ’80s with police raids at UDW.
“We went to a friend’s for dinner one evening and when we arrived, the building supervisor answered the door.
“He came down with a gun, called us c**lies and told us to get out of the building.
“He held the gun to my head as we left the building.
“Along with my story, I provide suggestions on how readers can move toward wholeness and healing despite any atrocities they are forced to face.
“The book describes my way of navigating the struggles in life and rising above life’s challenges.
“I do a lot of well-being coaching, dealing with anxiety and burn-out, especially now during Covid-19.
“To talk to yourself with a healthy narrative, this is the tool I want to share and this is what the book can take to people,” said Timothy.
Having lived in the US since 2002, she said her next book would focus on her life in America.
Timothy said she had moved on from being that “shy young Indian girl”.
“I deal with other people’s challenges all day and hear about their journeys.
“I am passionate, intuitive and confident and I have no bitterness towards anyone.
“This book is about hope and resilience, especially during this time of Covid,” she said.
*By Tanya Waterworth