Names have been changed.
Emotions are very powerful and they should be respected, not ignored. I learned this lesson the hard way.
When I was in high school I was placed in a group home. I didn’t know the real reason why I was removed from my parents. All I knew was that being separated from my family made me feel a deep sense of loneliness and abandonment. I felt as if I were the last person left on the planet.
There were very few people to turn to in the group home, and not much room to show my emotions. There were gang members living in the house, and many of the residents, including myself, were into drugs and alcohol. I was full of hurt and pain, but I could not open up to any guys because I didn’t want to be viewed as a crybaby. I knew that being perceived as weak was not a good idea. If someone wanted to fight you, you honestly had no choice.
Girls were the only ones who really listened to me and reacted to what I said. However, I realized by my junior year that no girl, at least in my high school, wanted to be with a guy who was depressed and emotional. So, when I was 14, I changed my persona.
I began playing the “bad boy” role. I wore baggy clothes and skipped class. Before, I had been emotional and concerned with how others felt. But now, as the bad boy, I repressed my true nature. For example, after I found that an ex-girlfriend had cheated on me, I pretended not to care. My old self would have cried, complained, and done anything to try to get her back. But now, every chance I got, I showed her how happy I was without her so she’d know that she had made a mistake. I wanted her to believe that what she’d done didn’t hurt me. As long as I did not appear weak to other people, I felt OK.
The older I got, the better I got at hiding my emotions. Instead of dealing with my issues like an adult, I resorted to personal attacks when someone hurt me. I’m really good at reading people, so I had the skill of knowing exactly what to say to hurt them. I was sarcastic and I learned not to care how others were affected by my words.
A New Family
“I’m going to be honest with you and tell you right now that I am a jerk,” I said when I first started talking to Marline, the girl who would eventually become the mother of my son. “I know that young women like jerks so I thought I’d just put that out there.” I don’t remember her exact response, but I do remember that she laughed.
Despite my warning, we started dating. I warmed up to her and overall the relationship was good, but I still kept my real emotions hidden. Because of my past, it was scary for me to open up to anyone, even Marline, even after we had a baby boy together. I transitioned right into fatherhood with my bad attitude, and continued to be haunted by my fear of abandonment.
In fact, I was so concerned about being abandoned that when Marline wanted to pursue a nursing career, I thought that she was going to neglect me and our son. So instead of supporting her, I would say everything I could think of to get her to skip class.
I didn’t realize how important her life outside of our family was; I was so afraid of being alone that I didn’t realize my behavior was ruining the relationship. After we’d been together for two years, my sarcastic and disrespectful remarks started to take their toll.
Marline and I could not get along—which was mainly my fault—so we sent our son to her mother’s house in Louisiana, where he would not have to be in the middle of our problems. I realize now that this would have been a great time to redefine my relationship and try to get things back on track with Marline. But at the time, it still hadn’t occurred to me that I needed to change, or that my inability to be in touch with my emotions could cost me my girlfriend and my son.
Little did I know that when we went to Louisiana to spend Christmas with our son, it would be our last Christmas together. I returned home to finish up my junior year of college, but Marline stayed behind. She decided to move in with her mother and stepfather and start a new life—without me. (She knew her mom and stepdad wouldn’t let me live there.) In a blink of an eye, I had lost my family.
The Lowest Point
Marline had been the constant in my life for a long time, and the moment we broke up I felt like I was back at square one. It was terrifying. I was staring down the deep, dark, abyss, trying to figure out what to do next with my life.
For a few weeks, I really bottomed out. I took a leave of absence from college, which meant I was adrift without a family, a home, school, or much money. I slept in a park or at my school library when it opened or, when I had money, at a hotel. I started getting migraines every day.
Things continued this way for a little while until, with the help of a few friends and some faculty members from my college, I managed to return to school and move into a dorm. It was good to be back in school and with a stable place to live, but I had fallen into a deep depression.
Things got so bad that I contemplated suicide. I had too many things going on: losing my son, the breakup, no job, no money, no family, but most importantly, no hope. I wanted to be liberated from the pain I felt. I believed that the suffering I was feeling was worse than death. Death would be my liberator, I thought to myself. I made a plan for how I was going to take my life one March night.
I texted a friend to say my final goodbye. When she realized I was not OK, she called the police and then called me. “Go to the police station,” she urged. I made some excuses and tried to get off the phone. “I’m going to stay on the phone with you and if you hang up, I’m just going to call you back,” she said. We talked for a little while and she convinced me to get help.
I told a couple of people in my dorm what was going on, and they drove me to the police station. From there, I checked myself into a psychiatric hospital. At the hospital, a nurse asked me a bunch of questions about what had happened and my family history. When she asked, “Who can we contact in case we need to get more information about you?” I shook my head and began to cry because I felt so alone.
Time to Heal
Something happened then. I began to consider what was important in my life. I started thinking about my son and the sort of example I’d be sending to him if I really did kill myself. If I took my life, he would never know I was his father. He would never know I loved him. I realized I needed to get better for my son. In spite of this, I still felt ambivalent. I understood that killing myself was not the right decision, but I also knew the road to recovery was long and daunting. It would take motivation that I wasn’t sure I could muster.
Getting to such a low point and being in a hospital was a wake-up call. I stayed there for three days. During that time, several other patients told me their stories and encouraged me to really make an effort to change. They also said there was one thing that I should remember: Change takes time. For some it may take months, for others it takes years.
I realized I was the youngest person there, and that other patients had been there four or five times. I promised myself that I would never end up in such a place again. When I’m 40, I want to be with my son, not in a hospital. That was part of my motivation to begin transforming myself.
I also started to have a little bit of hope. The beauty of being at the lowest point of my life was that the only way I could move was up. I promised myself that I would start seeing a therapist to prevent me from getting back to that point.
In the months after I left the hospital I continued my therapy. Actually talking about my problems was new for me, but I knew I had to do it if I was ever going to get better or feel less depressed. I started to be open about my experiences and everything I had gone through.
One reason I ended up depressed was that I had bottled up my emotions for so long. Repressing my emotions made me a rotten person. My defensive bad boy attitude caused me to be immature and not think about anyone but myself. That selfishness caused the very thing I was so afraid of; it caused me to be alone.
Although it was painful, getting depressed has had a silver lining. I started to understand myself. The process has not been pretty, but I can feel myself becoming more mindful. I am better at expressing my emotions in a healthy manner—though I have a lot to work on. I am able to be more open with people. And instead of reacting to everything like I used to, I try to control my temper and what I say. Of course, I’m not perfect and I still say things that I shouldn’t say, but I remind myself that change is a process. I have to be patient with myself.
As I write this, it has been about a year since I lost my family and about 10 months since I got out of the hospital. I have made progress, even if it’s not as much as I’d like. For the first time in years, I’m talking about my feelings in a real way. I think I’m over my clinical depression, and I have a better outlook on life.
I still go through the daily pain of regret and guilt about the mistakes I made that caused me to lose my family. I still have daily arguments with Marline on the phone. In spite of this, I have more love and appreciation for my son than I did before and it breaks my heart that he’s so far away. I try to focus on the long term and continue to work hard. I try every day to be a better person and a better father.
If you feel like killing yourself, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
See Group Activities for Youth for a lesson on dealing with painful emotions and important advice about talking to someone suicidal.