First thing first. I’ve got to give to Jenna for organising the current and running series on her blog “Views From The Mandem”.
Reaching out and giving her a microphone to voices around certain topics. If you haven’t already had a read of the posts that have made the series, go ahead and expand your knowledge and vision.
Thankfully, I’m part of the series. My post is in relation to my personal experience regarding mental. It is a topic, that I’m sure I’ll delve back into at different stages throughout the year and beyond.
As for now, what you’ll be reading today is an slight extension of my post that appeared on the series.
Once again, as always thank for you taking your time and having a read. I hope you enjoy the show.
Mental health. My journey.
Mental health is one of those things that men traditionally don’t really feel comfortable talking about. Our father, uncle’s and other male figures haven’t taught us anything about our minds whilst society has taught us how to stuff more and more and mostly irrelevant information into our compact sized minds.
I know that I’m currently travelling a never-ending journey in relation to my mental health. I know that my future experiences will alter my mindset regarding certain aspects of life as a Black male.
On this journey, I come to build my progress upon two clear foundations in my life. First being a Black British male with African (Congolese) descent and the other being the eldest child of Seven (7) within an African household.
Anybody of similar background, may already have a rough idea of what lies ahead within this post. So saddle up, as I am about to take a ride down memory lane.
Within the African community, there is an undeniable hush-hush culture surrounding mental health. It’s something that I believe is not really understood. I often come to think of it like a lumpy rug (dirt swept neatly underneath) positioned perfectly in a polished house. Within our beautiful and forever developing community, tales of dealing with situations on your own instead of seeking the correct and professional help are too few and far between. The necessary discussions about anxiety and depression are not taking place. And it affects us all, us young black males have an image to maintain. An image that is used to shield a long list of underlying issues.
At times, it was difficult growing up, there was no Black Panther figures, Jordan Peele, Barack Obama, we didn’t have the freely spoken Raheem Sterling who doesn’t shy away from political debates within football we just had Thierry Henry & Patrick Viera. The public figureheads within their game weren’t there to be seen. All young black boys have ever known is we have to work “twice as hard” without any clear explanation of why.
Kids ask questions when things don’t add up, I was no different. The more “why’s?” you asked, the more frustration, rejection and isolation you received.
Childhood at QPR
A memory that I still think about is my time as an academy footballer for QPR. As a child, all I wanted to do is play football and nothing else. Signing for the club made me feel like a superstar. My school, parents, friends were all excited and proud of me. Dad called the relatives in Africa. The school wrote a bloody article about me signing for the club in the newsletter.
I remember a particular game that we played away against Bournemouth. I was woken up early as usual by the smell of the pre match breakfast, nice fried plantain (pronounced PLAIN-TAIN, none of that TIN nonsense). Football bag premade, club track suit on, next stop Bournemouth.
On the day we beat Bournemouth 4-1. I scored two goals, but I wasn’t happy.
I would say that this is my first memory of the difficulties that come with being Black and proud. It was clear that I had to work twice as hard for half the recognition. As a child it was difficult to comprehend the fact that the “coloured boy” wasn’t good enough to start ahead of the darling child of the academy. My goals and performances didn’t measure to his skin colour.
In that environment, I was Stewart Luwawa the African boy with the french speaking Dad.
We were both alienated as we didn’t fit the status quo. After a difficult and relationship damaging two years at the club, my love for football and time at the club came to an end.
Several years past, until my Dad finally told me that I wasn’t released by the club. He held a private meeting with the manager and director of youth football, informed them that his son wouldn’t be returning for pre season.
With hindsight, as an adult. I would’ve done the same thing for my son. The bizarre thing about it all, most likely due to the shied African mentality towards conversations of male emotions and feelings, we have never spoken of the time at QPR. My Dad didn’t and doesn’t know how to start those conversations, he was never taught how to vocalise his experiences, emotions and those unfortunate failing were passed onto me as a child.
My very proud African Dad was never taught these skills, I was born a product of the “deal with it” culture.
The lack of those conversations grow a void. A void of which was being filled with feelings of resentment, anger and revenge.
But, there is a beauty of being a child of dual culture. Having been born and raised in England, my siblings and I have brought aspects of the British culture into the household. Things that my beautiful Dad & Mamma never experienced have been learnt through our upbringing and life decisions. With being from a big family everybody has got a voice and an opinion, eventually you have to stop talking and start listening.
And this is something that both of my parents have come accustomed to doing, listening. Listening to their children, listening to their thoughts and opinions in relation to their own life decisions.
First born child woes
As I grow older, my position within the family has changed. The older I get, the more responsibility is propped up onto my shoulders. Generally speaking being the eldest child of any family requires you to have some broad shoulders, lord knows mine isn’t any different.
Being the first-born child is tough, I have recently said to Mamma that it’s difficult for my Dad to understand because he wasn’t the first-born whereas my Mamma was but again even saying that it’s unrelatable again to my Mamma because she isn’t a boy. But I enjoy and love the stresses and responsibilities that come with the role and will understand the role when I later become a Father and parent my own kids as I have walked in those big shoes.
Generally speaking the first-born child will have all the love and glory of their parents for period of time and the child will often benefit from this emotionally bond. They get the opportunity to develop their self-confidence within a secure and guarded environment. And I can openly say, that I have experienced this as a child, as both of my parents were devoted to all my football games and training sessions. It’s was Stewart’s time.
As all first born children will know, there also comes a certain level of expectations placed upon us. Sometimes unrealistic and questionable. You probably found yourself being micro managed with your every move being analysed.
Unintentionally parents are creating and developing a perfectionist mindset. In a world where perfection can not be achieved. And I don’t blame my parents for any part of my childhood. I was their first child, they had no previous experiences how to parent their child.
I’ve learnt how to communicate and lead the family in my own way, not in the way of how it’s traditionally governed within an African household.
It’s Stewart’s way, my vision of how things should be dealt with.
And of course this has come with some friction, it’s natural. “Power” doesn’t naturally get passed without any form of friction.
Resentment and fear of judgement have long left my mental. I only have room for acceptance and peace, acceptance of my parents reactions to my acts. That the reactions come from an honest place, a place of real experience, just love and over eagerness to teach. A unexperienced place of teaching, as these experiences or similar have not happened.
My siblings enjoy, the first lessons that my parents learnt throughout my childhood and adult life.
Exercising my Mental
Part of exercising my mental also comes from living within the present day. Everybody is exercising physically but forgetting about our mental. Over the past 18 months or so, I’ve made more of a conscious effort to exercise my mental, starting my blog site, creating content, visiting art museums spending more time out and about, less time online on social, more time being social with like-minded people.
Being involved and around black spaces and events that feature black people is a God send. I’ll never forget the feeling and experience going to watch the Barber Shop Chronicles gave me, it helped me make the necessary steps to stop and come to terms with my gambling addiction. Something that I refused to admit to myself that was a problem. A serious gambler will tell you how it consumes and destroys your life, it’s a silent drug and Inua Ellams done a great job of play writing everything.
After watching Barber Shop Chronicles it began a new love for live art form, The Brothers Size followed with a recent visit to the Young Vic to see “Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train”, Small Island booked for June, Tree & Barber Shop Chronicles booked for August.
Having the opportunity to listen and be in the presence of a REAL living legend in the form of Angela Davis has been one of my highlights in the last 18 months. Being in a room filled with like-minded souls, from listening the various forms of how she can depict, dissect and articulate a particular topic with so much colour in her words is an experience.
Maybe these events and shows were previously available and I was blind in search, but I can say for sure that attending these events have been mentally exercising and beneficial. Taking the necessary time, reflecting through my past and present has been a tough, mentally tasking and yet enjoyable experience. The beauty of discovery, is that you know of its availability.
I have never had an identity issue, I’ve come to learn and understood that I was unable to process to certain expectations, experiences and the person in the mirror.
Normalise the conversation
For some reason us Black boys/men, let us men in general inherently find it difficult to communicate. Maybe the clue is in the word “inherit” itself, but who knows.
Dropping our guard and making ourselves vulnerable is not something that comes with ease or a degree of comfort. We’ve been conditioned that we (men) must always have a certain degree of control, knowing that displaying vulnerabilities will allow others to use and abuse our kindness. And it’s time we controlled and changed the narrative, bettering ourselves displaying the necessary vulnerability that open discussions require. Working on ways, that’ll allow us to comprehend and process the issues that we’re going through.
We all have a platform, we all have a voice. It’s time that we actually started listening to each other’s stories. It’s time that as a generation, we normalised all types of conversations in and around mental health. The same way us men causally chat about all things football without boredom.
The way I see it, one day we will be fathers. Our children will be looking at us for guidance and support. We can either begin to find comfort and strength in these discussions now, or follow in the repeated footsteps of our parents, who never got to grips with finding the necessary levels of vulnerability that progression requires.