You Good Bro? | Elaborating on my Years of Depression + Mental Health
For the past few years, I’ve been dealing with depression and other invisible issues where a lot of it would be dealt with silently. I’ve made a public post about it in the past enclosing my experience with it up to that point and since then I’ve been dead open with my life. As a black male, one of Congolese descent, the first-born and only son, there are a lot of pressure placed upon you to be many things. While a lot of experiences and issues we discuss with our friends can be shared with light-hearted intentions or to laugh about, things we may go through are no laughing matter. Now this post isn’t about black people collectively and their mental issues but more specifically about my experiences revisited, the art world and everything around it as it’s so relevent that it cannot simply go away. After Kid Cudi released an open letter in regards to checking into rehabilitation, I felt to share more of my experiences with depression over the years in more detail.
If I can be truly honest with you, my earliest memory of depression would come from the age of 14 years old, it was the summer of 2005. My mum had a new contracted phone and gave it to me to use because she knew I would benefit from the deal it had (a bucket-load of minutes and 1000 free texts to use that summer). I remember having that phone on me to simply contact friends to link up, family to notify them with what’s going on and so on. There was this one time where I lost my phone in Queen’s Creasant and I was shitting myself over the fact that it wasn’t mine and it’s a brand new phone. I headed back home and I told my mum right away that the phone went missing. This was in the evening as it was getting darker and the street-lights were illuminating the road with a it’s orange tint. My mum was obviously annoyed but maintained her composure. My dad on the other hand… got up, told me to grab my stuff and as I turned around, I was met with a sucker-punch to the back of my head and dropped straight to the floor. Now, growing up, it was common to be smacked as a form of punishment if you messed up as a child. It was always a thing where friends of mine would reflect on the past and joke about how our parent’s put us in place. However, what surprised me thoughout my life was how extreme my dad would be to “teach a lesson”. I laid frozen on the living room floor. Stunned. Only breathing and trying to figure out what exactly I did wrong to be laying there. Coming from a multilingual family, if you heard your parents raise their voice in their native tongue, then you know somebody or something fucked up. I was picked up by my collar and demanded that I put my shoes on and we get in the car. As we paced down through Gospel Oak to the hangout spot where the kids were, my dad was yelling constantly and I wasn’t registering anything that was being said especially when the majority of my Lingala is no longer in me. He parked up, yelled at the kids and I was trying to tell him that none of them took it and it was just missing. I went back to this one spot and found the phone in the grass and I remember him just saying something that embarrassed me. I had then been told I couldn’t go out for 2 weeks and without a doubt my embarrassing moment was being spread around to the point where going back to the ends or school was met with awkwardness. I was never in denial about it but I didn’t want to speak about it when all the other kids asked questions. Prior to that, I’ve been hit multiple times and can openly say I was a victim of an abusive, temperamental and surprisingly sober father but nothing was as unforgiving as that moment where a 14-year-old child is punched at the back of the head and publicly embarrassed in the local neighbourhood. Since then, I’ve compared my relationship with him to the likes of Michael Jackson and his father, Joe Jackson.. but a relationship that’s been non-existant for over a decade.
At that time, I didn’t realise what I was going through was depression or leading to it. At that time, I didn’t think I would be experiencing depression or thought depression was real for me… because I was black. Nobody talked about it in the family. The music I was exposed to pushed hyper-masculinity. Nobody created a safe space to discuss personal issues inside of a boy’s school. Nobody opened their arms and allowed a kid to metaphorically pop the bottle and I guess I was really good with bottling up my emotions. My only outlet at that time were school assembley hall where I studied and practiced drama (it was a practical form of psychology to me where I undestood character behaviours and lived every moment as that character) and the DJ booth in the music department. I would grab the keys and spend all lunchtime or after school until about 6pm spinning 12" vinyls because I didn’t want to interact with others or felt left out. I just didn’t care about playing football nor was I interested in typical schoolboy stuff like moving to girls outside of learning hours. I was on spitting bars and decks to the point where my school books had several pages torn out just for lyrics to spit for the next lunch session.
At age 16, I felt myself letting go mentally; I wasn’t on school anymore. I still attended but my performance wasn’t as good as it was the previous year. I’m dyscalculic and it wasn’t raised up to my maths teacher, who dropped me from Set 2 to 5 (the penultimate set around — meaning you will not pass your GCSE for that subject), my French teacher dropped me from the top set to 4th all because I corrected her French (with French being my first two languages as a child). Because of those two things, it had impacted me so much that I left school with only a few GCSEs. Knowing African parents, they expect you to pass with flying colours (especially in your mother language; my parents always questioned me when I got a B in anything as it was never enough for them so imagine how they felt when they discovered I passed with barely nothing (minus music and drama). The year after that, I took up BTEC Media Studies and finished with a Distinction* and they still questioned it because they didn’t see a traditional A*. So all of my hard work and effort still wasn’t being recognised unless it was something they understood and when I decided not to attend university a few years later, I was considered a disgrace to family. But you have to remember that when you’re the first-born, you have high expectations placed above your head so therefore unversity for them was a must. However, my younger sister went to university and it was those years when she went away that they made me feel like shit. Knocking me down and comparing me to her, making her the “glory child” all because she decided to carry on with higher education and I’m totally proud of her doing so. It was at this time when I’m looking for anything to get by on with no help whatsoever, when you’re actively looking for jobs for 5 years straight without success yet constantly told, “get a job!” I didn’t want to resort to being a shotta or anything like that. I held back from it completely. What some African parents don’t understand is that education after age 16 IS. NOT. COMPULSORY. They don’t fully comprehend why you wouldn’t want to go especially when you explain to them that you’ll be in debt by 9k per year over something that could be learnt without oweing anyone a penny for a subject that’s far too practical, that there’s no point of being in a classroom to learn something when you could be out in the field picking up as you go. But I was still this flop to them. I was this black sheep of the family because of my decisions. If it were a different family, things would’ve probably been different. Things would be fine, the child would do his own thing and get support. I haven’t had any support from them and baring in mind the attack my dad pulled on me, there was no relationship between me and him despite living under the same roof.
As for finance and support, I was hungry for anything to come my way. I won’t get specific but I got involved in a serious crime which could’ve seen me being trialed in court and possibly serving time. As I was 17, they could’ve easily waited for me to turn 18 to try me as an adult for this particular act. I remember gettng a phone call from my dad telling me the police were at our door and wanted to take me for questions and the words that stuck the most was “if you go to jail, I would never in my life go and visit you.” That night, I bawled so hard on my bed, the hardest I had done in years to the point where I was shaking. The moment that front door opened was when I was struck with fear. That event is now a blur but I remember just being neglected and not being given any support, even to protect and defend me with this case.
In 2010, at the age of 19, I created a Tumblr account which grew in popularity.. by accident. I had no plan for it.. I simply shared what I cared about, who I was listening to and that was it. Suddenly it picked up and gained attention from a number of people including folks that did live events, involved with independent record labels and everything around it. The people that tuned in to read what was published assumed I had a team when really, this job was all done by one person (flying through emails, writing critical reviews on artists and doing promos and posting no less than 15 articles a day from my bedroom) all laced in with shoots and dance. The work-rate was the norm for me while broke, unemployed and depressed, which added more fuel to the flame the more it went on with people shutting doors in my face or turning me down because I had no work experience or that my vision was “too big” or “unrealistic”. That was around the same time I had my first spliff and it was the first of many. At first, it was a relaxant that was well-needed but heavily affected my education but gave my dance a bigger boost. Creatively, I felt free but I was never reliant on it but I found myself constantly intoxicating myself almost every weekend to the point where I just felt like shit the morning after.
In 2011, I was almost killed: not by illegal substances, but by a group of 5–6 white men by Southbank Skate Park around 11:00 pm. They had robbed a friend of mine for his phone and then turned on me to take what they thought was an iPhone. I told them it wasn’t an iPhone but they could take it. They didnt care about what I had but instead threw my hoodie over my head and all I could see was one of the guys standing in front of me from the waist down. He pulled out something from his tracksuit bottom and I told myself I was going to get home that same night. What happened then was I was struck over the head several times with a Jack Daniels bottle full of alcohol; they had intentions of knocking me unconscious as I remember hearing, “It’s not breaking. He’s not going down.” They ran off and I was left drenched all the way down to my shoulders with blood. The police simply didn’t bother with following up on the case and I made my way home not knowing I was lowering my survival rate by doing so. The attack had left me severly traumatised, extremely depressed and left permantently scarred at the back of my head. The true reason for growing my hair out is due to hiding the scar so I avoid all conversations so I will take offence when anybody tells me to cut my hair because I’m left invunerable and exposing what I’m now stuck with.
My state of depression was increasing so high that I put on weight and rarely left the flat. It’s the key reason why I stopped the blog as well as other people trying to mess me over with it. I brought it to a halt because of my physical and mental health. My depression was also the reason why my face was never ever shown on social media; it heightened all of my insecurities to the max from weight-gain to loneliness, feeling undesired in a way where nobody showed any interest in me and it led to me considering topping myself off because of all of it. If you‘ve ever seen a black screen for an avi on my socials, just know that I wasn’t in the right place mentally but literally had nobody to turn to. A few months back, I attended an appointment with a psychiatrist in Euston and she asked what was my reason for attempting suicide and I answered, “Isolation. Failure. Rejection. Being ignored. My lack of fulfilment..(despite my achievements)”, that if I “checked out” of the life hotel, I’d want a silent death with very little traces for people to ever know. When asked why I didn’t do it, I joked and said “Because there’s too much unfinished shit to do.”
Prior to getting help, only a very few people sensed that I wasn’t ok; I was teaching a free dance class for a few months to an open group of people who wanted to learn krump. I met some great people there but there was one moment where someone said that I seemed too positive, as if something was being surpressed but I maintained a very good poker face and that I must’ve experienced something or perhaps still was going through some complicated moments. They weren’t wrong. The second time was when I was approached by some form of psychic who stopped me in the middle of Brixton and told me a lot about myself but the second thing he mentioned was that I was depressed followed by “you dont’ have a good relationship with your father.” He continued by saying, “He just doesn’t understand you; he expected a typical alpha-male, rough-neck son but he’s got the complete opposite. He is scared of you because he doesn’t understand you but he will never admit it.”
Depression has touched every aspect in life from ceasing opportunities to presentation to being open and intimate with other people; it’s prevented me from allowing people to get close to me or even thrown people off because I’ve turned to them just to let them know that I’ve been going through something. Depression made me deactivate my social media accounts (and reactivate them several times). I blocked and muted several accounts and turned off my notifications just to give myself some space (I hate notifications and still have my mentions muted as they are big distractions — apologies if I’ve ever responded to messages days later). Despite all of that, depression still lingers like a crook or a shadow so it’s always nearby but now it’s how I cope with it. It will never go away. I repeat, IT WILL NEVER GO AWAY. How many times have we heard music artists talk about it, whether it be Kurt Cobain or Tupac Shakur or Cudi himself? We can’t deny that depression exist. However, depression, mental health issues and suicide is so much of an undiscussed subject matter (especially amongst those of ethnic backgrounds) that when Kehalni is laying in a hospital bed because of it, she’s considered to be an attention-seeker or “crazy” but the same thing was never said about the late Robin Williams. Yes, the struggle is real and no I’m not targeting the late actor. What I am saying is this is a serious issue that needs to be discussed very carefully regardless of who it is, especially amongst people of colour. It’s not all about trying to respond with an answer that dismissses them because they have “daddy issues”. It’s simply about listening.
Depression isn’t a one-size-fits-all hat. What a friend may experience would be totally different compared to another person so you can’t go around assuming it’s over the same thing. It’s a very sensitive matter where people have to scrap their ignorance and push their egos aside, especially in regards to race (apparently depression is a “white-people thing” to a lot of people). Anyone can experience depression and it’s not something to neglect based on the colour of your skin or your background.
Up to now, I’ve been feeling mentally refreshed and charged up; I’ve visited Amsterdam and started a new job where the employers were so understanding of my mental health that I feel as if I’ve found inner peace, but I can’t take that for granted. Depression, for me, is a daily battle from within where you don’t want to let your inner demons dominate the fight but sometimes it’s overwhelming. I’m just tired of deciding whether I want to win and having to fight hard for it or to just procrastinate in bed and figure out how to die in my room and not be attended to for days. Like those going through it, I just want to win. I simply want to wake up and feel normal. Feel human. Feel happy and accepted.
All it takes is a simple “you good, man?”, “you alright, sis?”, “you ok, hun?”, text message or a DM if you suspect something is wrong with someone. If you’re concerned about someone, please reach out to them. It’s totally fine to check up on your friends or even those you follow and support.
I don’t know if I’m blabbing via this post but I do hope people do take that one step to help others going through anything. Ask to help out with favours, with tidying up, with their vision or simply lend an ear or a shoulder. These gestures can do so much for somebody and you might not know exactly what it means.
I’ve left some links for those who want to read more articles related to the subject matter. Please feel free to read, share and contact me if need be.
Peace + Love