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It's been some years, so excuse me if I struggle to uncover these memories from the debris I tried to bury it under. At the time, I had no understanding, no preparation, no idea what the hell was happening to me. But, as I know now, there are mental illnesses passed down genetically that have a trend of first manifesting themselves during your late teenage years. So, 17 years old during my senior year was the perfect storm. These genes, passed down from my father, held more than I hoped for. But what doesn't kill you makes you strong...
When do you think you first felt it?
If I had to pick one day... there's no hesitation or debate. There I sit, in my father's Nissan Altima. In the back of the school parking lot, as far as I remember, no one else was back there. I don't know if it was after track practice or if there wasn't any practice that day, but either way, I was supposed to be home by then. There I leaned back in the driver seat with my girlfriend Jocelyn (she never got the title, but she more than deserved it). I assume we were talking. Somehow she found herself trying to comfort me, but I was too far in my own head to be reached. Leave a message and I'll try to return them when I regain some small sliver of my mental.
4 Missed Calls... Dad. "Why Don't You Just Answer Him?"
Well, that's easy, because home is the last place I want to be. Or, anywhere outside of this car, to be honest. Anywhere not with you. You. The release to everything that I'm supposed to be. From the expectations, the... Message: The car is ready. They close soon, so come home as soon as you can. Let me take you home, so I can pick up this car.
What's wrong with this image?
In my household, things were more strict. Staying out when no one knew where you were—no. Ignoring calls from my parents, hell no. Walking in the house after all that, without so much as a word or simple explanation. It must have been my lucky day or something. No, they knew I was already about to bust at the seams. They've known. But still, they couldn't prevent it.
Did you know how deep in your mind you were?
No. Not when I was in that car with Jocelyn. Not when I was ignoring the world. Not when I took the back bumper off my dad's Altima with that newly serviced Acura. Not when I spent that hour or two in conversation with my parents, scratching the hell out of that service key tag until nothing was left but dust in my hands and bed.
"You can't do it all. Something has to give."
Wise words from a wise mother. Unfortunately, I was doing the bare minimum at everything. I was completing my 20 hours a week at my good government job in the most awkward hours, so that I could barely make it to three practices a week as the most invisible team captain. The other two days, I was there after practice completing workouts myself.
Meanwhile, it seemed my coach wanted me off every relay possible, a coveted position for us track athletes. Since the year before, it seemed whatever relay I was on, was the relay where we had runoffs every other week to decide who made the team. Yes, I was hardworking and a great leader, but I wasn't the star athlete in his eyes. And, relays are for the star athletes, not the athlete I leave behind at the Penn Relays Stadium for 4 hours while I do everything but come back. Different story for a different time.
It's as if Senior Year wasn't hard enough when you're trying to choose a school, even when you don't even want to go to college. After a lackluster Sophomore year, I'm still working to keep this GPA above 3.5 unweighted with these 3 AP Classes. But, remember your blessings. I'm 17 with a government job, and it's giving me a meaningful experience. Captain of an Indoor and, hopefully, Outdoor, State Champion Team. And a mind that somehow could find natural understanding in Calculus and Physics.
Don't let your blessing weigh you down. Well, currently, mine were drowning me. A feeling to learn from and, eventually, make peace with. I just didn't see it then. I didn't see what it meant, or the future ills it signaled.
What would you have done differently?
At the moment, there wasn't much we knew. In hindsight, it's important to know your family's history of mental illness. Our fault was ignorance. My father didn't know what lied further back in his family history. But knowing is difficult, especially when black families have the tendency to either downplay or deny mental illnesses, especially in older generations. It's such a taboo that the information is more guarded than secret family recipes. It's more like trying to get the family nuclear codes. But, this can't be the case anymore. In the 10-year period, from 1993 to 2013, suicide rates for black male adolescents have almost doubled, while white male adolescents saw decreases in their suicide rate. The direction we all should be going.
We all need to become more aware. Awareness is the best way to be prepared. And preparation can make all the difference. Preparation can save a life.
So how did this story end?
I made it. I can't really speak to how, to be honest. I have a bad habit of mental suicide, as I learned in therapy. Purposefully, but subconsciously destroying memories to remove the pain I failed to handle. I can't tell you if I feel like that is all the way wrong. I remember a great outdoor season, contributing to an Outdoor State Championship, but not much else. School: no, not much. Home: no, not much. This was the only year I was home with my brother in college, so it seems I should be able to pinpoint those memories, but when I try to think back to them, I'm met with this half euphoric-numb feeling in my head. The space is blank or covered in smoke. That feeling is just the lack of oxygen coming with trying to make it through the smokescreen. I can't make it. So, I'm left with these basic facts. I finished the internship. I graduated, held on to that relationship and loved everything on the track. That was the one place nothing had to be erased. But, on the outside, I'm sure everything looked fine to most of everyone. My GPA was pretty good for the year. I ran faster than anyone expected. And everything seemed.... perfect.