How Hip-Hop Helped Me With My Childhood Depression
As a child, the first things I heard about myself were that I was fat and ugly, so I believed it. Bullying planted the seed for my self-doubt and low self-esteem. My family and the few friends I had would try to ease my pain but not even their support and kind words could help me shake my despair. While other school-aged children were spending weekends on the playground or with friends, I would sulk. My depression was mistaken for being anti-social most of the time because depression among children is highly misunderstood. According to research, 10 to 15 percent of children experience depression. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a child therapist in my life; however, I did have one thing: music.
Music was the only thing that gave me peace. When I was in elementary school, I couldn’t wait to get home and listen to Angie Martinez and Funkmaster Flex on Hot 97. Not only did I admire their talents, but listening to the music and engulfing myself in the hip-hop culture gave me an escape from my everyday hell. It helped take my mind off of the insults that were thrown at me on a daily basis. It helped me stop replaying in my mind the looks other children gave me on the playground. The Voice of New York helped me tune out the laughs of those who would take pleasure in humiliating me in front of my peers.
One of my hobbies was building an extensive collection of albums. My peers didn’t understand it and my grandparents knew the music was a little too grown for my young ears, but it was comforting. I found solace in breaking down Nas lyrics on I Am, feeling Eve’s pain on Let There Be Eve…Ruff Ryders’ First Lady and understanding Eminem’s madness on The Slim Shady LP. DMX was intense yet compelling to my 9-year-old mind, while Jay Z not only had me in awe with his cleverness but brought excitement to my dull days when he and Nas went blow-for-blow after “Takeover” was released. I couldn’t relate to the romantic pain that Mary J. Blige sang about, but I could feel the hurt and cries for happiness in her voice, which resonated with me more than anything. I had something to look forward to when album release dates were announced or when my cousin would bring home DJ Envy mixtapes. Listening to such gripping storytelling helped me not focus so much on my own. Not only was I bullied, by biological mother was in and out of life, and around the age of nine I realized that I didn’t know my biological father. I always had my grandparents so I didn’t wonder much about where my father was until I got a little older. All those things brought on more heartbreak and confusion.
When I wasn’t listening to the radio, I was watching television. Instead of the Disney channel or Nickelodeon, I preferred VH1, MTV and BET. I especially enjoyed hip-hop documentaries about the genre’s early beginnings and Behind the Music, which profiled artists across different genres. I also loved magazines. I neglected teachers’ recommended readings and instead had my eyes glued to the pages of VIBE, Jet, Black Beat and RightOn! My walls were covered in posters and my shelves were overflowing with magazines, which I also collected. My grandfather always fussed about my room but it was a safe haven. I felt closer to the musicians on my wall than I did to anyone else.
Becoming wrapped up in hip-hop culture not only helped me with my depression but also helped me discover my passion. When I would watch documentaries, music journalists like Elliott Wilson, Dream Hampton and Datwon Thomas were always the experts giving the supporting commentary. As I read magazine cover stories, Cynthia Horner, Danyel Smith and other writers captivated me with their riveting feature stories and reviews. I also wrote poetry as a child and one day it dawned on my 12-year-old mind that I could actually pursue that same career, and I did.
Experiencing depression as a child was horrible. I was filled with anguish and couldn’t understand why all my peers were happy and had friends and I was teased and rejected. When most of my friends think about their childhood they think of their favorite shows, toys, riding their bikes and frolicking on the playground. I think of my favorite albums, music videos and rap beefs. As a child, most days were nightmares but music helped me dream and brought some light to my dark days.