05.06.2018 Opinion

Revisiting My youth – Teen Depression

By Kojo Osei-Ghansah
Photo credit - DreamstimePhoto credit - Dreamstime
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These few days, I have been hearing a lot of talk about suicide and depression. The jokes make me sick, but at the same time, it made me realize that its because these jokers have no idea what it is they are looking at. Noboby they know shares any expereinces with them, so they are too disconnected to care.

let me tell about how I became depressed as a child. Maybe it will help those who are making a mockery of the current suicide situation understand how real the struggle is and how it is more common and closer to home than they would like to believe. Maybe it will make someone feel better, or give them the courage to share their story too.

A lot of the time, depression goes unnoticed, even by the sufferers and a lot of the time, it goes unattended to. Luckliy for me, I survived it. For a lot of people, it is always one step behind them, haunting them.

It has taken me 16 years to share mine… and you know I talk about almost everything, so you see, even for the loud mouths, its hard.

Here goes….
Around the age of 6, I was brought to Accra from Takoradi to come and live with my uncle and auntie and the rest of my siblings.

So here I was, lowly ,plump little me, moved from Tadi to Accra. Essentially, that was like from the village to the city, this was in 1996, so we were no Oil City by then.

When I got to Accra, I was taken to one of the best schools in town at the time. It was good enough to have 2 of the sitting president’s children there, so it was that good, and one of them was my classmate.

Generally, this would have been a good thing, and it was, academically, but it turned out to be one of my worst social nightmares till date.

It was so bad that I buried it deep inside my mental filing cabinets and this is about the first time I am talking about it in detail.

This school was essentially, rich kids academy,half of my class had either traveled abroad, or had parents who lived there. The other half were living so large, they didn’t need to travel abroad. They had all the new sneakers, the new SEGA’s and gameboys, all the Nintendo’s and brick games, they had it all.

Their parents threw them elaborate birthday parties and they came to school with more pocket-money than all the money I had ever seen in my entire existence, and they never had to be sent back home for not paying their fees on time.

Now my family was not piss poor, but this was 4 or 5 notches above our current level. On a normal day, I may never have been able to attend such a school, but as fate will have it, I ended up there because my uncle that I moved in with had certain “affiliations” (let’s leave it there).

Anyway, if you have never had the “privilege” of dealing with rich people’s kids who know their parents are rich(when you are not one of those kids), well let me tell you, it is everything they tell you it is.

Now that I am older, I know that my mates really meant no harm, they just didn’t have any other way of dealing with that situation, but it sure did sting when I was a boy.

They just didn’t have anything to talk to you about if you were not bringing a street fighter cartridge to swap for the Contra. (sorry if you are too young to understand what a cartridge is…) and the girls couldn’t really talk to you about nothing else if you didn’t have a Barbie doll or if your parents were too poor or too rigid to allow you to come for the parties or the fun fair as they used to call it.

But the little Kojo back then didn’t know, he felt like a deer caught in the headlights. From the first day of school, he learnt the hard way how social segregation and classism works.

When he walked into the classroom, it was either nobody noticed him enter, or everyone will giggle because he had on shoes 3 times his size, or had a bag sewn from pillow cases, or his shorts were torn and had to be patched up.

When the boys were talking, they never included him because he had nothing to contribute, he didn’t have the new Nike air force or the Jordan air, he wasn’t inviting anyone to a party because his first and last birthday party till that point was his 1 year birthday. He wasn’t coming to the children’s park or the national theatre too for the jams. So there was really nothing to talk to Kojo about.

When the girls were talking, well, they couldn’t talk to him either, he wasn’t part of the “cool” boys in class, so even if you wanted to talk to him, well, you will think twice about it because you had to deal with the backlash from your “real friends”. And he didn’t have the confidence to walk up to them and say anything, so that was also there.

So here I was, stuck in the middle of here and there. Poor kid stuck with rich kids all week from Monday to Friday.

Every single day, I will wake up and not want to go to school.

I was not a bad student academically, but then again, I was in a school where the quality of education was so good that if you had 95%, you stood the risk of being 21st out of 30, so I really didn’t get to “shine” there. I managed to stay afloat, but never up enough to tip the scales.

And for those of you that know only the macho me, whew, lucky you. I wasn’t fat fat, but I held my own, I’m not going to bullshit you, as a boy, I could eat. Maybe it was my coping mechanism, maybe I just like to eat, but I could eat. And that was another issue I had to deal with.

I never really did any sports until I started to lift weights years later, so that was another place I couldn’t shine. Like they say, all the girls love the guys on the courts. The footballers and the “basketballers” got all the attention.

This is not to say I didn’t have any friends at all, I did (one of my few friends I had back then will surely be reading this right now), a few boys and a fewwwww other girls will throw me a smile once in a while or chat with me in those weird moments that you don’t even get to enjoy because you are shell-shocked that someone is even talking to you and before you know, it’s over. And then the ones I exchanged books with, they were cool too.

And once in a while, I had a moment of glory…

it was just, well let’s say it wasn’t enough to make it OK.

Anyway, so at this point, I was dealing with the semi-cultural shock from the change of environment, plus the shock of having to see and deal with so many children who come from a totally different planet and speak an entirely different language as well as my “no father” issues.

It was time to find a coping mechanism
Like I said earlier, I liked to eat. So I did that, now, I would like to give my younger self a pass because when I draw a timeline, I see that my obsession with food diminished as my self-confidence rose, so there surely was a connection.

But my prime coping mechanism was anger. I was an angry child. Dear Lord. A strong and angry child who will lash out at anyone and anything at the slightest provocation. When I came home from school, all I wanted to do was find a corner, open a book, and disappear from this planet. I didn’t want to have social contact of any kind. I grew up in the same house with 9 other males and I hardly know how to play football. That how anti-social I was becoming. Sometimes my siblings will hide my books just to get me to raise my head.

And the sedentary lifestyle was doing wonders for my hips by the way.

I had a deep-seated hatred for everyone aside my mother, and although I smiled a lot, I was almost always sad.

The other coping mechanism was reading. I became a worm. Always reading, always.

Back in the day, we had Asterix, TinTin, The Hardy Boys, The Famous, the Secret 7, the adventurous four, all those Enid Blyton books, I ate them all up. When I was done with the male books, I will read sweet valley, nancy drew, Harlequin romance, anything that had text in them, i would read. It was during that time that I read the entire bible from start to finish, I think class 5 or so. Then I turned my attention to the books in my “father’s” book shelf, I read almost all of Shakespeare’s work before I was in class 6 – This habit though was my biggest gain from that period of my life. In many ways, I am grateful that I developed that habit, even if I had to go through hell in the process.

The last one was crying, on the outside, when everyone was looking, I was a strong and fearless boy, but when no one was looking, I cried. I cried sometimes because of a comment someone would pass at home or at school, I cried when I saw other people’s parents come for them after school, I cried when I saw how I looked compared to the people I sat in class with and other times, I just cried.

My anger became so terrible that one day my “father” who is my uncle sat me down and told me, “young man, if you do not find a way to deal with this temper of yours, there are 2 places you are likely to end up soon, dead or in jail.” And this was before I reached JSS 2

All this while, I was putting up a brave face, and I always had enough people around me trying their best to make me feel loved. I come from a family where discrimination is a worse crime than stealing so that helped a lot because there was no point in time where I was made to feel like the outside although everyone there was my aunt, uncle or cousin. Looking back, I see that this is one of the things that kept me off the ledge.

Here however, is where I got lucky. I think providence knew that if my situation didn’t change, something else will change.

At JSS 2, I had to leave my school and accra behind to the Volta region. Initially we went to Togo, but we couldn’t school there because tuition was in French and we couldn’t afford private schools, so we had to come to school in Ghana, I ended up in a school in Aflao.

So my tables were turned once again, only this time, in my favor. First, I moved from what we will call a village to City scenario when I left Takoradi to Accra. I also moved from a regular school in Tadi to what you can call an “ivy league school” in accra. Now I moved from Accra to the Volta region and from an “ivy league school” back to regular school.

The school I attended in the volta region was by all standards the best or one of the best when I was there, but by comparison, the one in accra was on a “wholenother” level.

So suddenly, from George of the jungle, I became the Accra boy who moved to town. By this time, my features we finer, and that ivy league education had made me into a sharp minded, well spoken young fella.

Suddenly all the girls were smiling at me, all the boys were hollering at me and all the teachers knew my name.

I was still getting my 95%, but this time around, I was in the first 5 or first 10 a lot more than before.

I started smiling more, and even got me a female best friend (I’m sure she will read this). She was one of the cutest girls on campus, with her slang and her smile…. and that was my best friend…

you have to be me in 1998 -99 to even begin to understand the wonders that did to my ego.

By then, I had amassed a huge collection of books and even some of my teachers swapped books with me.

And just like that, the dark veil started lifting, my temper got better, my emotions became more stable and my self-confidence rose so high, it is still yet to find its way to the ground.

I never paid it any mind growing up, but now that I look back, I think I had a case of adolescent depression. Fortunately for me, I got my cure without needing any medical or professional help and before it got out of hand. My social status changed and my mind was still intact enough to recover.

A lot of people reading this may know someone who went through this or is that someone who also went through a similar situation.

At 33, I have never drank alcohol(only some wine after my wedding),never smoked or done any type of drugs, never had trouble with the law or school administration, and I would like to consider myself as someone who has not over indulged in women. and never even been to a night club . ( I like a party once in a while though, or a pool)

That’s pretty lucky for someone who had to deal with these issues at such an early age.

A lot of people are not that lucky, it follows them much longer and the scars they pick up are deeper and take longer to heal.

When help doesn’t arrive or doesn’t arrive on time, it can lead to a lot of things, including taking their own life or becoming misfits who never find their place in life.

Lets not take these things for granted people. I always consider myself one of the few that got away with just a few bruises, but depression is real and can be fatal if not addressed properly.

Whenever you feel tempted to make a joke about someone, remember that not everyone is a strong as you are or as lucky.

Some people are dealing with some really dark issues that they cannot talk about because society will not allow them to, or because they do not have the courage to.

A simple smile or a hug from you can work more wonders than you know

But at worst, if you are not going to contribute positively,

just keep walking, don’t make fun of it
Writer- Kojo Osei-Ghanasah
Writer's Email- [email protected]

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