A Look In The Mirror: I'm Thankful (The Unpacking)
Updated: Feb 10, 2020
The other day, I saw someone on Twitter say that depression is a choice. Easily one of the stupidest statements I've ever seen. It can't be the #1 dumbest statement I've ever seen. Not as long as Donald Trump still has the mental fortitude to put together sentences. It's up there, though. It's strange to me that we're existing in the 21st century, the age of information, and people still live their lives deliberately choosing to ignore the ability to simply Google the truth. The fact is, depression is no choice. The imitation of depression can be a choice. The decision to drown yourself in your depression can also be a choice as well, but that's a choice that should be void of judgment as the depression itself can keep you from addressing and nullifying it. Depression itself, though...it is not a choice. It's a medical condition. A chemical imbalance that causes behavioral changes. It can be treated with medication. It can be treated in non-chemical methods such as psychiatry and emotional therapy.
2017. The year I finally broke down and accepted the fact that I needed help. For years, I've ignored my mental/behavioral health. I've semi-successfully masked the need to address it in full by coping through writing, mostly via songs and poetry. I told myself that venting through my art was good enough. I mean, I've dealt with depression and anxiety since my childhood. Who better to express my grievances and fears to than myself? Why should I pay some therapist who could care less about me than a simple paycheck and a possible subject of their next off-the-clock story at the bar with friends? No, I'll keep what I'm feeling to myself. Now, at almost 30 years old and coming to the tail-end of a year where I dealt with the loss of my last living grandparent to dementia and death, along with two friends who also passed untimely, and fought health problems for the majority of the year between prediabetes and obstructive sleep apnea, I'm finally unpacking this year as we approach Thanksgiving in a matter of hours.
Before I go into my own journey, I want to go into a story that gives me hope. Part of what really made me think about this was not only my own issues, but things I've noticed in public figures I happen to look up to. In this case, Kain Carter (a former YouTube comedian/actor known by his username of HotDamnIRock on YouTube and his other social media). Myself being a YouTuber (even though I'm not NEARLY as known as them), a Black YouTuber like him, at that, I've always paid attention and admired his talents over the years. Over the span of 2016 and 2017, though, I noticed a change.
I'll give a quick summary. Kain is well-known on YouTube for making funny relationship advice videos (usually challenging the conventional outlooks on how men and women should act/react in relationships, sometimes in brutally honest fashion) and dark humor skits related to pop culture (i.e. his "Brotherly Love" skit above that pits Mario vs. Luigi in a debate on whether they should save Princess Peach anymore, along with his yearly Santa Claus videos that vaguely resembled "Kill Bill", in my opinion). Over the past year, Kain took an unannounced hiatus from YouTube. No big deal was made about it on his end. He just stopped uploading videos and nobody knew what happened. There were rumors, of course, but nothing confirmed. Well, until Dec. 10, 2016.
On that day, the video above was uploaded. Kain goes on to explain the multiple events that kept him away from YouTube - a car accident, the death of a cousin, the near-death of his dog Keiko (which is also quite popular on the channel), a chronic disease that attacked his skin and digestive system, and finally, the suicide of his best friend. The tone of this video was the complete opposite of any video he'd uploaded in the past. He was usually upbeat, optimistic, even if sometimes arrogant, and always humorous. This video...he was somber. He was hurt. Every word was said deliberately. Even when he would try to make jokes or chuckle, there was pain in his eyes and voice. Whether me and other viewers knew it, at that moment, we watched the death of the Kain Carter we knew in that video. Ironically, today...
...he uploaded a video called, "The End of HotDamnIRock". When the notification hit my phone, I immediately assumed the worst. Was he going to quit YouTube? He'd uploaded more videos since the one I detailed in the last paragraph, but none of them were comedy videos. They were deeper than that. They talked about life and his perspective on life through situations he were experiencing. Conversations with fans at the gas station. A lady with cancer asking him for a cigarette. Making the decision not to visit his best friend's grave anymore. I'll be honest: I personally love the new direction he's going in. While his previous videos were definitely hilarious, I didn't always agree with them. They sometimes went into the area of being misogynistic or ignorant. Still funny, but sometimes a little cringeworthy. Not that there's anything wrong with that, because I feel like an artist has that right to push the envelope. They have the right to put out the material they want and deal with whatever the response may be. I can't knock that. But the new direction of his videos....they show growth. Not as a comedian or actor, but as a man. I'm always going to support personal growth. So as I watched his new video, it was explained on his end that anyone that is subscribed to him and supports him should be aware of the fact that there will be no more videos made under his former style of content. It's not the end of his story. Just the end of a chapter. The depression he went through and the turmoil he dealt with has allowed him to find a new purpose in his platform.
As I dealt with my own depression this year, I thought a lot about Kain and his situation, as mine mirrored it quite well. I don't own a dog, admittedly (I'll change that one day - always wanted one, but pops wasn't with it), but the absence from YouTube, the deaths, the health issues, the depression...it definitely felt mirrored around July of this year. I didn't have the energy to make YouTube videos. I had just dropped a video at the end of March about the new LG G6 that had amassed almost 10,000 views. The first of any of my non-music videos to ever get views of that nature. The plan was to give consistent videos on mobile tech in the same fashion of people like Marques Brownlee, Kevin The Tech Ninja, etc. A couple weeks after that video, my grandmother died. This was the grandparent I had the closest relationship to. My other 3 grandparents had already passed over the years, and while I had my bonds with them as well, the loss of this grandmother hit me particularly hard. Since childhood, me and her were tight. Every day, from elementary school through high school, it was her house that I went to every day after school while my parents worked until 6 or 7 PM before picking me up. She was the one that paid for me to go to driving school (a wasted effort, as I passed driving school, then let my certificate expire without getting my license as I was too preoccupied with my freshman year in college going horribly wrong). She got me my first cell phone. She was the one that always gave me extra money just for stopping by to visit her, something I gladly did for free.
Over the past 4 years, though, that relationship was rough, as she slowly dipped into dementia. She developed Sundowners Syndrome in 2013. She started becoming afraid of everything as soon as the night fell every day. My family started asking me to watch her in the evenings until my aunt or father (who both were living with her to help her pay the mortgage and cut their own costs of living - my parents separated over a decade ago) would come home and take the helm from there. That wasn't too bad, honestly. I would handle my music stuff during the day, go over there for a few hours around sunset, then go back to recording music or performing. After my father had a stroke in 2014 that paralyzed his right side, I had to spend most of my time there to watch both him and her while my aunt worked during the day. This is when things would take a turn for the worst. Over time, her dementia got stronger, to the point of not only being determined by the omission of sunlight. It was all day now, causing mood swings. I could get there at 7 AM and she'd be the sweetest lady in the world. Then maybe around noon, she'd look at me as an enemy for absolutely no reason at all. This tiny, fair-skinned lady would be cursing me out for nothing, to the point of kicking me out of the house WHILE I was taking care of my father a few times, left to walk home down Good Luck Road from Lanham, MD to my home in New Carrollton. As time passed and my father's health progressed, I eventually stopped my routine of coming over to watch him and started my former full-time job at a medical non-profit organization that shall not be named.
As 2016 was ending and 2017 started, she was in and out of the hospital. She kept falling around the house and injuring herself. She was too old and frail for her legs to even really hold her up anymore. She broke her leg and ended up hospitalized. As tragic as that situation was, one positive came out of it all, and I didn't realize it. It was October 2016 when me, my father, my uncle, and my brother went to visit her - that trip was the last time she would recognize me. The last time I saw her before that, she hadn't remembered me at all, and I expected the same. Strangely enough, we got in the room, and she was automatically energized the moment she saw us. This was the woman I knew. She was cracking jokes, talking about how she was going to break out of the nursing home and get a new car. She put the Skins game on the TV. She talked about how her cooking was way better than the food they gave her there, but she'd take it. It was the happiest I had seen her in forever, and it was the last time I got to see her that way. Shortly after, she came home then took another fall in the middle of the night and broke her hip. That injury and hospitalization...that one did her in. She became a shell of herself. During the rest of 2016 and all of 2017, her dementia hit its worst stage, a state she stayed in almost completely until her passing - she no longer recognized me. I'd see her on the holidays and she wouldn't know my face or name. Wouldn't really speak to me. Logically, I understood it. I worked in the medical industry. I know how dementia works. At the same time, my grown ass would go home from those family events, I'd go to my room, and I'd cry silent tears. The woman I spent most of my life with, the woman who played a secondary mother to me - she no longer knew me. That was a tough pill to swallow.
My grandmother, my cousin Nicole, my father (in the background), and myself (in her arms)
When she finally passed in April, I did what most Black people do with pain. I packed it away. I played tough. I pretended I was okay with it. I hung on to logic with dear life.
"This is what happens. People die. She was over 80 years old. She had dementia. She was physically hurting. She's in a better place now. Be strong for the rest of the family. You're fine, Rob. Life will go on."
But I wasn't fine. I was deeply hurt. I never got to tell her goodbye. Not with a response, at least. I visited her twice in the hospital with the men of my family before she passed. She was asleep the whole time during both visits. I said my prayers and goodbyes over her during the first visit because I knew she was going to go soon. Every time she went to the hospital before, there was this air of hope that she'd be fine. Somehow, I just knew that wasn't going to be the case this time. I had never seen her like that before. She was a fighter and she was well-known her entire life for it. I could look at her, even as she slept, and could tell there was no more fight left in her. Having her leave this earth physically as someone that no longer knew me felt like a punch to the chest cavity. When my other grandparents passed, they at least were cognizant of my existence and what my place in their lives were. My grandmother on my mother's side passed from cancer when I was a kid. Through chemotherapy and all, I was still her "Robbie", as she affectionately called me. My grandfather on my father's side, nicknamed "Box", I was in my adolescence when he passed. He was strong and quiet. Intelligent and infamously stubborn. But when he passed, he knew who I was. I was still the third incarnation of his namesake. When my grandfather on my mother's side passed away, I also missed my chance to say goodbye to him. I actually made reference to this on my song, "The Soul", where I mention coming back home from New York City, where I was visiting frequently at the time, a day late and learned about his death. I actually got back in time, essentially, getting back in town a day before his death, but the bus broke down in New Jersey and the 4-hour trip became a 6-hour trip, causing me to get back to DC after visiting hours were over. The plan was to go to the hospital the next day so I could see him, but the morning of, we got the call from the hospital that he passed away. A week before that, my family went to go visit him while I was still in NYC and he asked about me and how my music career was going. My grandfather passed knowing who I was.
So having that disconnect with my grandmother, as she was the one who was closest to me - I didn't take too well to that. I forced myself to push through it, though. I took my grievance leave from work, then forced myself to go back once it was done. I hadn't recovered, but life had to go on, right? Two weeks later, two of my friends died on the same day. That was the day that I broke. My entire spirit broke that day. That was also the day I made my first appointment with a therapist. I'm not going to go into detail on that experience. I'm just going to say, if you have something bothering you and you feel like you have nowhere to turn, please...please...please go see a therapist. I know there's a stigma that's placed on it...but do it. It's the reason I'm able to even grasp what this year has been and type this article to you. When I watched Kain Carter's "The End of HotDamnIRock" video, he made a statement that spoke directly to me. He said (in reference to his YouTube channel)...
"I want this to be home for people that go through things and have a tough time navigating their thoughts. Muh'f**kas who think about 'weird' stuff and wonder, 'do other people think about this kind of s**t? Do other people Google 'painless ways to kill themselves'? Or is it just me?' That's who this is for."
This quote stood out to me because the morning that I called out of work and made my first therapist appointment, I did that same exact Google search 2 hours before making that call. I was working a job that I hated (and finally left in 2018). I had no inspiration to create anything, which had been the driving force of my existence since a child (I've always been a creative - I started playing trumpet when I was 8; started creative writing, from stories to raps to poetry at 9; got into photography in high school, etc.). Everyone around me was dying. I felt pressured to do certain things with my life that I was unhappy with, and creeping towards 30, I felt like my life was slowly becoming a waste. I didn't get a chance to succeed with music, I had to put it to the side for my father's sake. Add to it, I had just dealt with a heartbreaking breakup from a karmic relationship in March as well, something I hadn't fully processed and recovered from (minor in comparison to everything else, but it added to the load). I was just done, man. Or I thought I was, rather. So why am I telling you all of this? To let anyone out there reading this know that I wasn't done. And if you feel like you're done, you're not either. Kain isn't done. Everyone that deals with the dark pit that is depression...you're not done.
Tomorrow will be here, and whatever today was, you'll at least have the chance to make tomorrow better than that. I'm not saying it's guaranteed it will be better. I'm saying that you have the CHANCE to make it better, and if your intentions and actions align with whatever negative s**t that the world brings you in a way where you can get around it, then...yeah, tomorrow will be better. Depression is a part of us by chemical defect. So be it. But we, as whole individuals, are bigger than that chemical imbalance. So take tomorrow as yours. And for tomorrow...I'm thankful.