Sweatpants Over Suits
Now that we are well acquainted, it is only polite I tell you my stories and hope they can one day change you or someone you know for the better.
My life has been made into a formal after party since I was 16. I finished my last year of school at that age and went to university to study Political Science and International Business at 17. Relocating from the chilled-out, laid-back, northern city of Kaitaia to the wet and windy Wellington; where things actually happen.
Which is crazy. Things don’t happen where I’m from.
Growing up in Bermuda, not a lot happens when you’re a child.
Moving to Kaitaia not many big things happen; not good if any. So when I moved to Wellington, I made sure to make a lot of things happen.
I tried to do everything, from sports to political engagement. Quickly, from waking up 40 minutes before lectures and putting on an old polo and some faded jeans to Youth Parliament and seeking advice in Winston’s office in black slacks and a white button-up smelling of Paco Rabonne.
Within weeks I was reading up on party policies instead of which beer has the most alcohol content. I developed this knack for reading academic articles on the nature of politics today compared to twenty years ago, and how neo-liberalism may not be the best thing for liberalism to endure the test of time. I became knowledgeable in the environment around me. Not just Youth Parliament and what I may find there, but a multicultural politically-crazy city like Wellington.
There were many things that set me apart from the crowd.
I was from Kaitaia, a place half of my friends didn’t respect and another half didn’t know enough about other than that place on the weather map.
I was 17, and attending university as someone who rarely drank alcohol and didn’t really enjoy parties.
I was black. It’s the first thing people notice about me. I’m not complaining, it’s simply the truth.
Last but not least, you would always catch me in sweatpants or suit pants. I would either be in my room playing Playstation or listening to music, casually lounging around in odd socks and sweatpants. Or you could catch me on the way home from a pitch or a networking event in a suit.
I became more comfortable with my identity the way you feel comfortable coming home from a long day of work and putting on your trackies (the male equivalent of taking off your bra). As my identity changed from clueless country boy to potential politician and young entrepreneur, I began to develop the sweatpants mentality. I define it as, ‘being comfortable in any situation in order to develop a casual and collected response in tense situations’.
How does this link in with what I’m doing in the SaySo project?
It’s difficult to get someone to talk about their mental health, history of depression, suicidal thoughts, or even what makes them ecstatic. Especially when that is your only intention; it makes it sound like an interrogation. We, as young people, are often pressured into talking about our problems we have in everyday life by people older than us like parents or teachers. Asking set questions like, “Why are you depressed?” or “What makes you feel that way?” often never get answers that have substance.
I prefer to have a conversation.
I’ve never shared my stories with any teacher, counsellor, lecturer or interviewer; because they attempted to make the conversation all about my triggers in mental health.
In the SaySo project, I saw it necessary to adapt this ‘sweatpants mentality’ and treating the talk about mental health as your everyday conversation. Normalising this conversation is the best way to approach the situation. While it will take a long time to normalise the conversation in our culture, what we can do ourselves is make it everyday conversation.
While working on the SaySo project, I have understood the two major factors why students don’t always want to talk to counsellors or teachers about their mental health.
Their stories may involve their family or friends that the other person may know. Some students shared with me that their ‘support person’ knew their family very well, and this made them not want to share their story. I knew this feeling, being a student at a school that my father worked at. The feeling that there is no safe space and although stories can be secret, it only takes time, alcohol or pressure to break that secrecy.
“No one wants to listen. They hear me but they don’t listen”
This is the hardest thing to do and I have been guilty of it as well. I will listen to someone tell their story and hear them say “baseball”, and automatically try to tell my story about baseball so that I can relate. Instead of listening to reply, I listened to understand.
With most conversations I’ve had in public settings I always try to relate by talking about myself and my experiences. When I understood that people that are sharing their most intimate and emotional stories, they may just want the chance to be understood rather than relatable. This is something I only understood when I took myself of my regular structure.
A structure which countless networking events, Youth Parliament and meetings had made me somewhat tight.
I needed to become loose, in my regular form and in my conversation.
I needed sweatpants.