Editor’s note: Until recently, mental health and illness were taboo subjects in the black community. But thanks to the efforts of those brave enough to speak on it, that’s changing. In that vein, The Root team is taking this week during Mental Health Awareness Month to write about how mental health has touched our lives. Read previous posts in the series here, here, here and here.
(Sidenote: It’s going to get pretty dark in here, so I suggest you stay close.)
I became a con artist around the time I was 15. I sold dreams of high school romance to girls who wanted a boyfriend in exchange for lunch money because I wasn’t eating good then. I was a 150-pound, loud, rebellious knucklehead. As such, both my parents had given up on me. My dad was around some nights; my mom was a ghost of her raisin-bread-baking self; and in between the bills they were paying and the dreams they were chasing, I was starving—for attention, for love, for acceptance, for approval.
My height betrayed me in those years. My feet and legs stretched out like a lawn chair in spite of the fact that I didn’t want to be seen. I borrowed other people’s shirts that hung off my shoulders, and socks needed to be doubled up in order to fit shoes that were too big.
If you want to know why clothes are important for high schoolers, it’s because clothing shows other people that someone cares. Someone is taking you to get a fresh haircut, is making sure you have a clean pair of jeans and buying a winter coat that fits. Because I was borrowing from friends whose parents had enough to lend, the world could see me as a decent young man, although I was really a scared boy.
So I started doing pushups and pushing down all the tears I wanted to cry. I pushed down all the moments when I didn’t fight back. I pushed down the parents I didn’t have. I pushed down all the emotions that left me drained. I became mean. Uncried tears punish you that way. They sit heavy on your shoulders until you’re hunched down, weighted with the parts that don’t want to be hidden.
I began slashing people at 16. I