I was born to a black West Indian father and a white English mother. As one of only a small handful of non-white people on a tough, deprived, council estate, I wasn’t just a minority; I was a minority within a minority. I don’t think I even saw another mixed child outside of my own family until secondary school. As a naturally shy, introverted, sensitive child anyway, it was never going to be easy to get by in a neighbourhood where racism was rife and families were respected for being “hard”. I was an easy target for those trying to prove their masculinity in a place that revered it. And not only did I look different from almost everyone else, I couldn’t identify with the few that I did look like.
It’s no wonder I developed anxiety! Coloured? Black? Brown? White? Mixed? Afro-Caribbean? Half-caste? What the hell was I supposed to be? How was I supposed to act? What was I supposed to be into? My youth was completely consumed with these questions. The racial abuse was one thing and it affected me more than I ever let on. To know that there were people out there who hated me because of the colour of my skin; I remember it made the world seem a frightening place. I still to this day remember every single epithet thrown at me, especially when it came from the mouths of those who were supposed be my friends. But it was the huge identity crisis put upon me that really messed me up.
As I grew into a teenager, I began to feel different not just outwardly but inwardly. I supposedly didn’t act like a black guy. Where was my confidence, my swagger? Why wasn’t I cool and into hip-hop or R&B? All I did was work hard and stay silent. I didn’t want to attract any trouble. One kid once taunted me with “Do you wish you were white?” As usual, I said nothing. I wanted to be anyone other than who I was. And if I couldn’t be white and free from racial abuse, why couldn’t I be black? I was treated like one by racists yet there were others who saw me as a ”Coconut”. Was I a traitor to my race? What even was my race? I spent half my youth wishing I was white and the other half trying to “act” black! With my off-brand clothing, skinny frame, quiet demeanour and home-cut hair, I failed miserably at that! I despised being so shy, so weak, so delicate, worrying about every minor excruciating detail of my life, paranoid about what everyone was thinking about me. I didn’t fit in anywhere. So I recoiled into my own world.
With the added pressures of girls, night-life, university and employment, I turned from a shy, quiet lad into a panicky, reclusive wreck of a man. I didn’t see myself as being mentally ill. It wasn’t something that was even in the public conversation 10 years ago. Never mind where I lived! Admit you had a problem? You may as well stick a sign on your backside saying “Kick me now, I’m soft as shit!”. So I didn’t go to the doctor. I didn’t even know what was wrong with me. Maybe I just needed to “man up” and “get a grip”? So I did the only thing I could think of; I went to a hypnotherapist.
After just one session, I was a new man. Gone was the anxiety which had held me captive indoors, stopped me making friends, over-thinking every social interaction, ruminating and beating myself up over every “mistake”. I went on to create a fantastic life for myself; DJ-ing in front of crowds, teaching English to large classes, hosting and organising my own social events, backpacking around the world by myself. My confidence levels soared literally overnight. But when I returned from my travels, they plummeted back to zero.
I was physically assaulted by a psychotic man. Had seven shades of shit beaten out of me, to be precise. He also knocked every ounce of confidence out of me and I now had chronic physical symptoms too; uncontrollable shaking, adrenaline overload, racing heart. I felt wired 24/7. At this point, I still didn’t think I’d ever had a mental illness. But I became a total recluse. No job. No friends. I barely left the house some weeks. It wasn’t until the suicidal thoughts came that I knew something was drastically wrong. That’s when I finally went to a doctor and discovered I had an anxiety disorder.
It took a few months of CBT but I got my old confidence back. The key to it? Loving myself. I unconditionally accept who I am. I’m not weak. In fact, I’m one of the strongest people I know. Because mere words can’t hurt me anymore. I don’t base my value on what other’s think of me. I’m not a colour or a race or a stereotype. I’m just Tim.
Tim has a personal blog you can check out here. He has tips on beating anxiety, self-love and reaching out to others.