I’ve always been a quiet person. Even as a kid, I was soft-spoken and sensitive, and I questioned everything. But mostly, “Why am I always sad?”
I grew up in a household where mental illness wasn’t talked about, and in a world where black men are stereotyped as aggressive and unemotional. It was traumatizing, feeling like I had to walk on eggshells just to prove that I didn’t fit that image.
I had a hard time making friends – I was socially anxious, and afraid of saying or doing something that would give the “wrong impression.” I was afraid to talk to people, to be in groups… even just to have dinner with family. I tried so hard to be okay with myself, but I didn’t know how.
In high school, I did whatever I could to try and fit in, but it just made my mental health decline even more. I didn’t even know what mental illness was at the time, I just remember thinking, “I don’t feel crazy.”
Of course, having a mental illness doesn’t mean you’re crazy, but everything I knew about it, I had seen in movies, which often doesn’t portray mental illness well.
When I was getting ready to go to university, I decided that I had to figure out what was going on in my head. I remember going on the internet and searching the question I’d been asking myself since I was a kid: “’Why am I always sad?”
I printed off articles and information about anxiety and depression to take to my parents, but it was hard for them to come to terms with the fact that maybe I needed help. They raised me under the notion that if you have faith, you can get through anything, but faith wasn’t a miracle cure for me.
Eventually, my mom took me to see a psychiatrist, but something was still off. No one taught me how to deal with the side effects of my medication, and the doctor failed to mention that leaning on others is a crucial part of recovery.
So, I continued to isolate myself, and after my first year of university, I came home feeling defeated. Then, my granddad died and I hit rock bottom.
I was in shock. I couldn’t feel happiness or sadness – I was numb.
I started to wonder if I even wanted to live anymore. So, on my break at work, I went to the pharmacy, refilled my prescription, went home and swallowed all of it.
As I laid in bed, remembering what led me to this point, I thought about my granddad and how he always told me to persevere. He’d say to me, “Don’t give up. Keep going.”
I thought about all of the people who love me… all of the people who saw me as resilient… my parents, who needed me… and I knew I’d made a mistake. So, I got myself to the hospital and got the help I needed.
I started seeing a therapist that understood me and truly wanted to help, and she taught me how to accept myself for who I am. She taught me to be vulnerable and she gave me the confidence to face my fears. I knew that before I could change anything, I needed to change what was in my mind.
I started speaking publicly about my struggles, and even though it scares me to stand if front of you all, it’s become an obsession. It gives me confidence. During my darkest days, my depression would make me feel worthless, but helping others reminds me that I’m meant to be here.
I also started making short films on YouTube about my mental health struggles, and about growing up burdened by black male stereotypes. It took a long time for me to realize that I didn’t have to prove to anyone that I don’t fit those labels. I know who I am, and being myself is enough.
And all of you here are enough, too. Don’t let anyone tell you who you should be and never be ashamed of what you’ve been through. I’ve learned to love myself, and I want you to do the same.