We aim to publish meaningful stories of perseverance amidst mental health struggles.
Part 1, ages 1-10: “Father”
I have a father that loves me and is continuously, abundantly there for me — I feel perpetually guilty for this in my daily life. I am not ashamed of the gift I received, of course, but in that I wouldn’t truly feel as significant to myself as I see myself now.
My confidence, my resiliency, my audacity – my pride as black man, as a human, as something more – are all gifts from my father that I feel are a blessing. However, with it comes the responsibility of a profound empathy for every living thing. I cannot help but mull over, with pulling torment, the advantage I have from this relationship with my father that is so special.
I see too much contrast in my life with that of others, and I have to acknowledge their differing paths — namely black men who have to create from scratch what “being a man” is for themselves, while somehow finding who they are within the already convoluted and confusing muck that being a black man brings.
It's because of this empathy that I see my struggles as less relevant, less warranted, and I can’t help but feel an emptiness in my art and in my accomplishments. My opportunity to say this and talk in this format is proof of my privilege not as a man but as a black man specifically, and that cannot be ignored. I’m aware I have a large support system, although that in itself provides a claustrophobic pressure to be great and to also help my fellow brothers rise with me as well.
My father’s life is cinematic. Spanning three continents, riddled with a great deal of trials, and consequently it would take me years to explain half of his life even in brief — however, I’m honored that he took the time to do that for me.
During those stories he taught me two things over the years that I feel are irreplaceable, regarding how I construct myself as a man:
Firstly, “You cannot be victorious in anything if you are letting down who you truly are… Don’t follow money, follow your heart and money will follow.”
And secondly, and most importantly, “What other people think of you, good or bad is none of your business.”
I have never been the same since.
I would be remiss if I didn’t highlight my mother, a person that brought me life and showed me how to live that life with love. I learned how to love myself and everyone else, because of my mom. Without a fraction of a doubt, she has the perpetual caring nature of a goddess. I am in awe by her resolve to love, and to be continuously stern and yet blindingly caring. I am a creative because of my mom; because she instilled within me reasons to show her love, and supported my way of how to show it.
Part 2, age 13: “The White Man”
Coincidences are for stupid people. Dispelling the moments in one’s life as chance or flukes is a useless mentality that forgoes the opportunity to mold life’s clay into a creation of your own making.
It isn’t a coincidence that after my father pushed me to follow my heart, despite all manly obstacles that I found myself delving into because of what I ‘thought’ my heart was saying, I began to want to create – drawings mostly, anything that was fun and simultaneously magical. I was always an ambitious person, wanting to create something large for the sake of doing so. So, when I begin drawing a comic, I don't stop at one page because I want a whole book; which I’ve pursued many times across countless different stories.
In my later years of middle-school, I began to take art classes very seriously – or rather, it was the only thing I took seriously. My simple drawings developed, and the use of more complex media became necessary: charcoal, chalk pastels and so forth, until I saw myself seeking painting for a class project.
Excited, I went to my mom and told her about my new aspiration and asked if she would take me to the Hobby Lobby, an art store in town, for supplies. In her beaming grace she happily complied and within the hour we were there.
I felt let loose in an amusement park, so many options and all I wanted to do was mess around with everything; all the colors, all the mediums and tools I had never seen before. After over an hour, my mom came by and told me we only had 15 more minutes left. With reality struck back into my mind I concentrated on the task at hand, finding paint for this specific school project.
I found the basic acrylic paint that my teacher suggested, but I was stuck on my choice of brushes. Even at a young age I had a strong concept of money, and the brushes that looked like they were good were naturally very expensive.
Looking down at the back of a brush package, scanning to see if the word “acrylic” was anywhere in sight, I didn’t notice a man walking from my right down the aisle in my direction.
After several moments he came over to me and tapped my shoulder and delivered a quick quip of advice: “You should get those pack of brushes,” he said, pointing to a pack. “They’re just as good as those other single brushes, but way cheaper.”
I looked up what seemed like several flights, and saw a jolly looking man with a long dark beard who smelled like wood and Old Spice, (although I didn’t know the scent at the time). I was enlightened by his advice and responded with excitement in my eyes, “Oh! Well then that’s what I’ll get, thanks so much!”
“I'm an artist myself so I wouldn't steer you wrong. Do you like art?” he smiled.
“Yes, Sir I do!” I answered. He quickly responded…
“Ah! That’s awesome to hear, you don’t see that often: black kids like you doing something actually productive. Not like those idiotic rappers, your Tupacs and Puff Daddys.”
I looked at him and he was still as jolly as before, so I reciprocated his intention but felt a lingering taste of a questionable air echoing a sense of guilt and misplaced pride.
As quickly as he had come by, he was gone just as fast.
I took the brushes he suggested and walked off to meet my mom. After, I told her what had happened, she then proceeded to storm the store in a heat looking for this man. I waited with my sister who was equally astonished, but all I remember was pondering, “Was that a compliment or an insult?”
Part 3, ages 18-23: “Black Love vs Self Love”
In my younger years I had my share of significant others, of which only one I could say I loved; some that were solid relationships; and all interspersed with plenty of flings. It's not ‘till now that I realise that the only one I loved in high school and early college was a Laotian girl — a beautiful soul. It ended after almost 3 years, which hurt, but it never felt foul, even now.
Fast forward to my junior year at Columbia College Chicago, which is an art school. I was the senior designer at the Columbia Chronicle, and proud of it. My time working there is more significant than the college itself.
It was there that I met a woman who I will name Botan, to keep her identity secret. She tells our first time meeting much different than I tell it but looking back I believe that she is right. She was waiting for an interview at the Chronicle as a copy editor and I came outside and saw her and asked if she needed anything… She told me she was waiting to be interviewed.
She was very pretty, and I feel that partly had something to do with me taking it upon myself to tell the Editor in Chief at the time that there was someone waiting outside. Along with being beautiful, she was even more intelligent — she got the job!
Botan is black. It’s important to note that, because in my life black women have not really given me the time of day. I’ve always been strange, and I had only gotten more eccentric in college. However, Botan liked me and my art specifically, it was clear, but what was surprising to me is that it was seemingly coming from a pure place. After only a couple of dates I asked her to be my girlfriend and she said yes.
It’s strange to say out loud but I felt that I was not only happy, but I was “right” to be with her. A black woman, and a strong black woman at that. Things were never hard to explain to anyone. From afar it made sense, and we received many compliments together. For the first year I felt that things were really good, rough at times like everything, but not anything that was too much.
However true colors never really hide themselves for long, and a sense of intense judgement started emanating from her. I have a lot of faults, sure, but I have always been accepting of how other people are.
Down to the way I dress, she began to judge me in a way only a lover can, showing her disapproval of many things that make me who I am. She was always very done up, heavy make-up – the works. I never judged her for it. I even showed interest in her craft; of how she did her makeup, and her hair especially. However, in her eyes I wasn’t really stylish, which wouldn’t be a big deal if it didn’t matter to her so much. She admittedly cared a lot about what others thought, and I was the exact opposite.
And yet for some reason, I feel that her being black made me start to try and change who I was. Black women are the diamonds of the world and I was proud to have an amazing black girlfriend, but I almost felt that my own blackness wasn’t quite enough aesthetically… I wasn’t stylish. I didn’t listen to trap-style hip hop – in fact I generally didn’t really enjoy it.
The things that at first were what she was specifically attracted to soon turned into negatives. I found myself clawing for control in the relationship and at times making downright bad decisions, such as exhibiting manipulative conversations, to which I feel great shame and guilt. I wasn’t myself and the turning point really resulted when she asked point-blank if I slept with one of my closest friends, (whom I admit to you now I had slept with long before I met Botan).
However, within five minutes I reverted and told her I was honestly scared to tell the truth and ‘fessed up about the whole thing. After that, the relationship slowly deteriorated when Botan told me I could no longer be in contact with my friend of over 13 years, to which I replied, “I feel that is wrong to do to a friend that has been nothing but kind and caring to me.”
Botan was disgusted. And for some reason I was surprised.
What made me see the light of who she was, or rather what I was letting her turn me into, was when her religious views began to not only dictate how she perceived my feelings, but when the discussion arose on how “connected” I was with God.
I am not a very religious person, and because of that she looked down on me. I became smaller, in her eyes. I was shocked because I believe God has nothing to do with religion besides the fact that we choose for him to. I do believe in God, and even more than that I feel I have a very strong connection with God, but in a way that isn’t systemic, but rather free and unfiltered.
She continued to look down on me and in fact believed I would go to hell if I didn’t find salvation, and so I found myself humoring her – something I would never have done in the past.
Religion is inherent in black culture, and It can be very powerful and positive, but in my life, I have found it to be very negative because of the judgement that I feel lies behinds religion’s good intentions. Regardless, I attempted to delve into the Bible with her in order to save the dying relationship.
I had no idea of who I was and thought of dying often. Not suicide necessarily but the idea of being dead felt almost peaceful.
I began to hate who I was. I didn’t want to fail her, or her black family… I didn’t want to let down my own black family. I had never felt that in my life. I felt like I was dating her race, which is strange being as it is also my own.
I had never felt that kind of pressure when dating a white woman, or even my ex who was Laotian. Color never had been a reason for the love but this time it was the only thing that mattered, and it dissolved my sense of self.
She broke up with me – big surprise – and one thing that still stands out is that she said I cheated on her because I was friends with my longtime friend while we dated. I never cheated on her; I wouldn’t cheat on anyone. But it was weird because I feel like she meant a lot of things when she said that, although little of it had to do with me actually ‘cheating’. My longtime friend of 13 years is white. Botan would never say it, but I feel it really stung her even more because of my longtime friend’s race – as if my friend somehow took what was Botan’s even before I knew her.
After the breakup I toiled with the whole thing. She made a post on social media about me and my friend, and it only highlighted the insecurities at play. The after effect, was even worse. My own mother developed a feeling of resentment toward me, thinking that I had cheated on her, and I only think she had that thought because of Botan’s race — My mom and Botan got along well, and it stung even more because of that.
I struggled with my self-esteem long after we broke up. Not really feeling like myself, I sought the comfort of my art and in it I was brought to a large internal mirror that showed me not the skin that I carry but the energy, the everlasting light within me that animates my skin, that I call Alexander.
I delved into that relationship and found something to work for that was larger than me, that was larger than race and any manly construct. I began to sculpt a new myth for myself based on something that I won’t ever fully understand but that simultaneously reveals everything about me. In a metaphysical renaissance of self, I found the God within me that showed an “existence”, not just a life. I found love for myself that I never thought possible.
Part of me still thinks about Botan, and I feel bad. Not because I did the things she accused me of, but because she’s just another person trying to understand what it is they really are, and the journey of another person is so far beyond me to comprehend. Although it doesn’t stop me empathizing with her pain, and trying to understand.
S.Grim, 25, is an artist that utilizes mainly visual art and writing to create stories, working in comics and with other media. “S.Grim” (Supreme Grim) began as a pseudonym, but has since become an identity for expression.
He can be found most often staring off into space, watching a good helping of anime, laughing at something that isn't funny, or enjoying the company of close friends in Chicago, Illinois.