"The Boy I Run to, and Away From" by Jonathan Stephen
The reflection in the mirror we disguise, the flood that tears through countless lives, whilst washing away hope, so that shame can come in with the tide. For the little boy I know inside, still waits for me to greet him with love and pride, though for so long, I was running from little me, who just wanted to hold my hand, cradle my heart and shelter me from the storm. Over the last couple of years, I have begun to regain my relationship with the little boy I run too, to feel safe in a home that’s decorated with vibrancy, authenticity and tenacity. At the same time, I am pulled away from little the boy inside as with each step I take, the chains pull heavy on my mind… I appreciate that mental health may transform itself in various shapes, but for me shame weaved in and out of my thoughts, clouding my everyday experiences, in work, my relationship with friends, partners, and importantly, myself. I like to think mental health is something I can share with others, with my hackles low and my heart open, though writing this I echo feelings that weighted heavy once on me, and separated myself from the little boy who craved a home, not realising that this was within himself – for he sacrificed vulnerability for ‘strength‘ to protect himself, but he then learnt that vulnerability is indeed our strength and it is resilience that shapes our heart. The little boy is little me, and I invite you into my journey so far.
I danced through my childhood, free like a bird in the light of day, and I would sleep like the stars in the night sky. My world was tickled with dark distractions, but I had this inner calm, and carefree thinking, and at times, felt invincible. I have no doubt, I gained this from the branches of my family, particularly the female members, my amazing Mother, Gran, and Auntie. Their roots are deep with love, kindness and determination, their adversity forms the distinct etchings that mark where we have been, and feeds where we are going.
Unfortunately, our branches had been pulled and the leaves had fallen, and growth had been overshadowed by hurt and loss, and I grieved; for the first time I felt I was alone and I was lost, longing to be guided but still like a mountainous iceberg watching across the cold sea. I had left school early with no qualifications, my parents separated, my Mother lost to pain, my Sister confused and hurt, but for my Father, I felt bittersweet – he left our nest, he lost his mother and was looking for memories, faces and places that reminded him who he was, to canvas his hurt and to grieve for a lifetime he would now begin to bury. I felt an urge to regroup the family and unite to share our pain and rebuild a home.
Yet, as time went on I found myself returning to education – I completed an Access Course at nineteen years of age and then entered University. I felt like I was just starting to run a marathon and I was just getting faster, my legs fighting to lengthen my stride. This pace continued though my body was still running, my mind was getting heavy. I had moved away from home to study at university, and I was discovering more about myself every day, meeting friends, drinking, dancing, participating in extracurricular activities, working part-time; each element thrilled me, and I felt alive! The little boy inside was knocking at the door, for he saw truths in the lens and recognised feelings in me I had not yet acknowledged. I was attracted to men…but how could I be? I must be gay then? What will my family think? Maybe I am just confusing emotions? All these thoughts chased around my head like bees swarming their nest. As the days went by, I ran further away from the carefree boy I used to know, I played the part that kept me ‘safe’ from others, acting became natural and my lines were sustained from the heteronormative order.
The seasons changed, and I had begun to explore what I had denied for so long. Unfortunately, I fell into a relationship with a man who tore my soul from me, who coloured me with purple and blue and sang to my tears. I escaped this relationship, though the fires around me grew and I was burning. My mind clouded with smoke and I could not see through the haze. I lost all hope in myself, others, and felt nothing but shame for who I was and what had happened. I had fallen so far from the hills I once looked upon, the waves I could not surf and with each tide I began to drown a little more, the stars I would look upon in wonder, were just reminders that all lights fall dark. All I wanted was quiet, to remove myself from a world I didn’t feel I belonged too or could be a part of. I had run so far from the little boy inside, that I had lost him and could no longer hear him calling my name.
I had tried medication, though the pills were not healing my heart. I attended counselling sessions, though I was told I was fine…I had three part-time jobs, studies going well and was leading on volunteering work, so in the eyes of this individual, I was okay. I was not okay…my light came from beacons around me – my friends and family who united to carry my fragile mind, body and soul. Words cannot express how thankful I am for each of their support, patience and kindness. My dear Frances, James, Robyn, Hayley, Dave, Sasha, Danielle, Hannah, Taz, Luke, Liberty, Lo, Raph, Priya, Bijan, my Mother, Gran, Father, Auntie, Uncle, Sister, Dad, Step Dad, and Cousin, your love allowed me to find the strength to continue, to laugh, cry, dance, love and learn to be loved.
This was reinforced when I met an incredible human named Emily Eldredge. I was lucky enough to participate in Merit360 in 2016, where I met 359 other delegates from all over the world, passionate about the sustainable development goals. Emily and I had bumped into one another having breakfast one morning at the camp in Pennsylvania (USA). We chatted until Emily invited me into a session, that guides an individual through their internal conflicts to overcome barriers and gain a sense of fulfillment. Emily took me on this journey, where I discovered the pain inside was the little boy I had once run too and now away from. The boy who divorced his vulnerability and innocence, to protect me through my darkest moments, had grown tired. I found him through Emily and he had found me. I began to reclaim threads of who I was and who I am going to be…no longer homesick for a place I constructed, but finding home in myself, a safe haven where I regained the relationship with the little boy, who had been keeping me sheltered for so long…A place where my heart is enlightened and my soul is understood.
For all this time, little me, the little boy I run too, reminded me it is okay to be vulnerable, it is okay that days are sometimes filled with dark clouds, and it is okay to be a bisexual male, and before I lose myself to the rhythm of masculinity, I must crawl, before I can walk; I must walk before I can run…for I hear him now and he tells me “the sky is not vast enough for what you’re about to do, my sweet boy”.
Always remember, we have a right to be here, just like everybody else, so you live your life, take one step at a time, and the entire world will be at our feet.