My constant battle with depression started at a very young age. Growing up, I witnessed my mother get beaten by my father. I vividly remember the image of my father being placed in handcuffs by the police. Unfortunately, at six-years-old, I was the mediator for what would become an ugly divorce between my parents.
After my father left, I had to grow-up rather quickly and became the man of the house. I was working my first job at 14-years-old and worked two jobs in high school. During this time, I always gave my mom half of my income. I even worked three jobs throughout my college years. It was a tough pill to swallow, but I noticed all of my classmates were able to rely on their parents. But my situation was different from others. I was on my own.
I did not have anyone to console me. Crying was my only solution but with the hope that no one ever saw my pain. As society teaches us, crying is not what men are supposed to do. Very few people know this, but in my senior year of college, I was on the brink of taking my life. While in my apartment, I was ready to pick up a knife and slit my wrist to end it all. Fortunately, my inner consciousness stopped me before it was too late.
Crying was my only solution but with the hope that no one ever saw my pain.
Fast-forward to 2011, after being a college graduate but unable to secure work, I decided to join the United States Army. Looking back, I now notice I was unconsciously attracted to what is considered hyper-masculine environments. To seek help, I tried my hand at therapy when I was 22-years-old. Unfortunately, I still felt alone and voiceless because she [my therapist] was unable to relate to my plight and struggles as a Black man in America. It was probably because she was a 30-year-old white woman the Army appointed to me. To hide my pain, I became one of those people wearing a big, bright smile on my face, but internally, I was dying deep down inside.
Never once did I believe that being transparent on social media would turn me into an advocate for Black mental health, but I have learned not to fight what the universe wants me to do! Although there are discussions taking place, people tend to talk more about other topics EXCEPT for the importance of the mental health of Black men. We [Black men] have so much to live up too, being the provider, and the expectation of being viewed as strong. To further add fuel to the fire, we are at high risk of having targets on our backs in America because of the intensity of racial violence. But yet and still, we can never show an ounce of emotion while navigating daily challenges.
Throughout my upbringing, people, including my mother, always told me to suck it up. Do not show emotions because people see you as weak. It wasn’t until the second suicide attempt that I knew something had to change – it was a genuine cry for help. This time I was on the verge of swallowing a bottle of antidepressants the Veterans Affairs (VA) Clinic prescribed to me.
What finally changed my perspective was saying goodbye to the states and leaving behind the toxic, materialistic environment I was accustomed to. I could finally be myself! I was tired of the competition, whether internally or externally, with my peers. From the clothes, I was rocking to my job. The amount of money spent at the club, and even down to the damn car, I was driving! It will [literally] make you crazy, and I could no longer handle it.
Naturally, I’m a minimalist, and I don’t need a lot to survive. By living overseas, it makes me whole, and I can be myself without judgment. I come across people without material possessions, and still, they have an authentic smile on their faces. In the United States, that’s impossible because people hate their lives when they are poor. I’m on the opposite end of the spectrum. I hate money because of what it does to people. It warps their way of thinking. I only need enough money to eat and maintain a roof over my head. This thought process stems back to my childhood because I didn’t grow up with a lot. I was raised in a small mountain town in the countryside of Jamaica. There was no running water, and most of the time, I didn’t wear shoes, but I was still at peace. I was happy, and I wanted to feel that way again.
I felt that I was on the edge of a cliff, ready to jump. My life was over, and I wanted to die.
So in January of 2018, I decided to set out and explore the world in search of that inner-boy filled with joy. I still vividly remember this day as if it were only yesterday because it was another one of my breaking points. The previous year I applied for a job with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and I was [im]patiently awaiting their decision. Following college, I applied to several positions within the law enforcement field. Still, I was consistently rejected because of the stupid things I did as a child, such as shoplifting, car break-ins, smoking weed, and accumulating numerous speeding tickets.
I held onto high hopes; the FBI might notice my character and service record and give me a chance. While awaiting their decision, I was in a work meeting at a job I absolutely hated. I was only working at this place because that was the only opportunity I could find following my tour in the Army. Most veterans understand it’s hard to find a job after serving in the armed forces because you’re unprepared for the real world. I finally received the call from the FBI, but it wasn’t the response I was anticipating. The recruiter said I “didn’t qualify.”
Instantly, my heart dropped, and I felt that I was on the edge of a cliff, ready to jump. My life was over, and I wanted to die. The daily pressures of the world had taken a toll on me once again. I questioned this God that everyone seemingly has faith in. The one who answers all prayers, but I wondered, did he have beef with me or something? Later on that day, I went home, sat in the corner of my apartment with a bottle of wine and a bottle of pills. I finished the entire bottle of wine but didn’t take any of the pills. Similar to the knife, I was ready to grab during my senior year, my inner-voice saved me, and I knew I needed an immediate change, not a temporary band-aid but a life-altering change.
I took a closer look at my finances and soon realized with the monthly $1,700 stipend I received in disabilities from the VA and that I will continue to receive for the remainder of my life, I made the decision that I was leaving! At this point, I wanted to go on a permanent vacation and never, ever come back. However, there wasn’t anything that could’ve prepared me for the backlash I received from my so-called “friends.”
After leaving the states, I finally learned to love myself, and for the first time in a long time, enjoyed looking at myself in the mirror. Traveling around the globe this last year has done so much for my soul. As Black people, we have layers of generational trauma that we refuse to deal with, and this journey has made me deal with my past suffering. I’ve learned the key to life is honestly and wholeheartedly to love yourself because if you don’t love yourself, how can you possibly love someone else? Since I was young, I hated myself and couldn’t stand the person I was, but I sucked it up and pushed forward the best way I knew how, because that’s what I was taught about maneuvering through life.
I finally learned to love myself, and for the first time in a long time, enjoyed looking at myself in the mirror.
I visited Southeast Asia at the beginning of my travels, and being there taught me to love my blackness. Although I’ve always loved my skin, seeing the anti-blackness throughout the region made me gain a greater appreciation for the skin I’m in. As a Black man in Asia, I was a demon in their eyes. The scary 224 pounds, tattooed brown-skinned man with locs that Asian parents told their kids to fear. From the staring to the touching of my hair, to being looked over by women, because they preferred white men, my time in Southeast Asia really made me love being unapologetically Black, even more. It made me take an introspective look into past racial traumas, personal demons, and emotional triggers.
If there is a moral to my past and current life story, it is not to hold back. Be yourself. DO NOT worry about other people’s viewpoints of you. Speak up when you are hurting insideand follow your DREAMS. If someone calls you crazy for going after your dreams, who cares! The reality is they’re the crazy ones. If I had listened to them, I would not be writing this right now. Instead, I would be in a box six feet underground.