Photos: The author today and as a young boy.
By Antonio Hunter
In honor of Mental Health Awareness Week earlier this month, I, Antonio Hunter, have decided to come out and tell you a story about my own personal battle with mental health.
I’ve been struggling with depression for several years now. It has been difficult to say the least. My confidence, self-esteem and well-being have been utterly demoralized by this ravenous monster.
However, I experienced a breakthrough on September 21, the day I went to an event known as KCKC, the Key Club Kickoff Conference. This date became a pivotal point in my life because it was the moment I finally realized I couldn’t fight this war alone anymore. I can’t endure nor hold the pain in any longer. I needed to ask for help – I needed to open up and say something.
I’m an introvert. I’ve been a shy and quiet person my entire life. I have never been considered the outgoing or talkative type. That’s not my forte. Me, I mastered the ways of invisibility – the tragic art of isolation. Naturally, this kind of behavior made me uncomfortable and reclusive in public. I built a proverbial wall and refused to share with anyone – not with my family, not with my friends, absolutely nobody. In hindsight, I wish I would’ve talked to someone about my issues sooner. I could’ve benefited from it greatly as a result. With this writing piece though, that lifelong sentiment of mine changes. I’m tearing down the privacy I’ve protected for so long in hopes of inspiring others who suffer in silence like I did to do the same.
Before doubt creeps into your head regarding this, I want you to ponder these thoughts. There is an unfair, misguided stigma surrounding those who experience mental problems. They’re referred to and viewed as many derogatory terms. Crazy. Unstable. Weird. Delusional. Attention-seeking. The worst of them all though has to be this one: Weak.
Listen, I know there are quite a few twisted individuals who attempt to manipulate its optics and try to use their mental illness as a pretext to either commit or justify sick acts of violence, crime or treachery. But please don’t generalize an entire group of people based on false narratives. That’s the pinnacle of ignorance.
In reality, the majority of people who go through mental troubles are actually very misunderstood. A lot of them just want peace, tranquility and happiness. All they desire is to overcome their obstacles and conquer their personal demons.
In my opinion, coming out and admitting there’s something troubling you is the ultimate sign of courage and bravery. Accepting the fact that you need help makes you strong as far as I’m concerned. If only I’d known how powerful the potential of this first step was beforehand.
Growing up, I had an underlying fear. I was scared of not being good enough. The root of this idea goes all the way back to my elementary and middle school days. I’m ashamed to admit this, but I was jealous of the boys in my class. From my viewpoint, they had it all. They were popular, cool, athletic, charismatic and successful with girls. You know, the polar opposite of me. I don’t know why but social interaction just seemed to come so easy for them. They obviously had characteristics I lacked. In my mind, I was just a lame, boring and uninteresting loser who’d never amount to anything in his lifetime. I felt destined for failure.
In essence, I was a nerd, geek, dork or whatever you want to call it. I was more focused on school as opposed to mingling. I mean, I got along with virtually everyone, yet I was still a lonely kid. I never truly belonged. Nor was I able to fit in. The exclusion I dealt with at a young age made me think I was a defect. A broken toy. A flawed creation. I was convinced there must be something wrong. Why me? That negative mindset affected both my psyche and started my depression.
Being born with severe asthma that physically limited me, caused me a ton of pain, put me in a couple of comas, and nearly ended my life on multiple occasions (I’ve since grown out of it), didn’t help matter. On top of that, a freak accident resulted in a speech impediment (a stutter I still have to this day). These two insecurities combined with my already pessimistic mentality, made me want to shun society altogether.
When I got to high school, I was placed in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program as a freshman. I will admit the IB curriculum was tough at times but I dealt with it. Anyway, it happened. Despite meeting a group of people I would consider real friends, my past came back to haunt me once more. My brain tricked me into believing that I was irrelevant again. It was probably because of the constantly high academic expectations and feeling undeserving of such status. My true self – the reserved, chill and laid-back Antonio, felt ignored, overlooked, snubbed and disrespected by everyone. I know deep down it was unintentional on their part. But it did hurt to feel like I was unimportant and underappreciated much like I had been years prior.
Everyone has different methods when it comes to coping. Whether it’s listening to music, relaxing, drawing, writing (my personal favorite) or unhealthy alternatives such as withdrawal, binge eating, sudden disinterest in your favorite activities and hobbies or self-harm. Case in point, we all have our own defense mechanisms to deal with stress and anxiety in a variety of ways depending on the situation and its severity.
Unfortunately, I chose to handle mine another way this time around. I portrayed someone I wasn’t. I created a fake persona to gain false acceptance. I put on a mask of happiness and joy on the outside, while I was left sad and crying on the inside. I came to school with a smile on my face by laughing and joking all the time with the goal of uplifting spirits and brightening the moods of those who know me. This caused me to miss multiple days of class due to me not having the energy and willpower on certain days to leave my house and wear that unbearable mask. I also dropped out of IB after sophomore year because of my mental health, not the rigorous workload or laziness.
Granted, I enjoy doing that. Helping people and making their day in any possible way I can is genuinely fulfilling. I’ve always taken great pride in being generous. It gives me purpose, but at a cost – the cost of devastating my mental health further.
Sometimes it feels like no one cares about me unless I’m providing something for them or making them feel satisfied. I’m aware that’s not true. But I did let this pseudo personality go too far to the point that it does tell me otherwise.
It’s 100% my own fault though. I don’t blame anyone else for my predicament except me. I dug myself in this hole by allowing the inner negativity to manifest and take over when I shouldn’t have. I take full responsibility for where I am and how I got here. And you want to know something ironic? People did care. They asked me if I was fine and I responded by saying I was okay when I really wasn’t.
By the way, I would like to personally apologize to my family, friends and everyone else from the bottom of my heart. I’m sorry for deceiving you. I’m sorry for living a lie. I’m sorry for rejecting your help when you did your best to reach out. I noticed you cared. I just wasn’t in the right state of mind to accept it. That was my mistake. My wrongdoing. Please forgive me.
Back to September 21, the day my mask cracked. I attended KCKC at Pompano Beach High School with some of my fellow friends and club members. I wore the mask as usual and did my typical happy shtick. Yet I changed over time. I began to exile myself from the group because I felt miserable and as though no one was listening nor paying attention to me. I was lonely in a sea of people. Throughout the event, they asked me what’s wrong. I lied to them continuously. After that, I still continued separating myself away from them in order to prevent an emotional breakdown.
Eventually, we left and came back to Boyd H. Anderson. Immediately after getting dropped off in the parking lot, I stormed off. I walked along the sidewalk, sat on a curb and just put my head down. My mask was slowly shattering. Then, I heard someone call my name out in the distance. It turned out to be a good friend of mine named Rio Hyppolite.
He tracked me down and wondered why I acted so somber. During his concerned inquiry, I realized he was somebody I could trust with everything. He became my confidant as I told him every detail about my mental health. I finally said something. I actually managed to open up. Thanks to Rio’s support, compassion, understanding and encouragement on that day, I decided to publicly come out with this very story.
I’m grateful to have been blessed with a platform to tell my tale. The reason I did this wasn’t for praise or recognition. I did this because I’m intent on helping people like me. I want people who feel voiceless to speak up. It was extremely daunting and terrifying for me to do the same. It was definitely hard but I don’t regret it. In fact, I’m glad I did this. Even if I only impact one person’s life and change it for the better through this, then that’s more than enough for me. At least I was able to touch someone’s soul.
And to those who are still unsure, hear me out one last time. You may be engulfed in darkness, but I guarantee you there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. I know you feel like you’re handling too much pressure, but you don’t have to carry the weight. It may seem risky, but it’s not too late for you to open up. I mean look at me. I’m a senior on the verge of graduation who suppressed his feelings and hid his emotions for 17 years. Now, I’ve just started saying something. It may seem hopeless, but I pray my story stands tall as your beacon of hope.
You shouldn’t be embarrassed to talk about your mental health. Everyone is secretly going through adversity whether they’ll admit it or not. You are different, unique and special regardless of your circumstances. How anyone chooses to judge or perceive you doesn’t matter. It’s how you love and perceive yourself that does. One small step courtesy from you, is a big step forward in eliminating the stigma, raising its awareness, and guiding others. If you look around and listen closely, I promise you this: You’re not alone, trust me. Thanks for reading.
If you or someone you know is suffering, I highly recommend utilizing these resources in order to receive the proper help, treatment and care that everyone in peril deserves.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
Crisis Text Line: Text Hello to 741741
YouthLine: Text teen2teen to 839863 or call 1-877-968-8491