I grew up in a very warm and loving family with an older brother and sister. As the youngest child, I was pampered by my family. It didn't take long before I became the apple of my sister's eye. All I had to do was point at anything I wanted, and I got it. The disadvantage of this way of communicating was that they only realised after a year that I couldn't hear properly.
My brother became seriously ill around the time that I started treatment for my hearing disability. At that time, my parents were either with my brother or at work. This was when I was eighteen months old. Whenever I heard a car switch on its engine in our street, I’d start crying. Even though my hearing was impaired, I would be startled by all the sounds around me. Fortunately, my brother recovered, and we returned to a normal family life. My sister was at school, my dad worked full time, and my mom worked during the weekends so that she could look after us during the week.
As a child, I was very lively, smart and, most of all, stubborn. I loved playing outside. Often alone or with my brother and sister, since I'd never had many friends. I lost the friends I did have when we moved to another village. Moving meant that I also had to go to a new school. I was very anxious about this, but I was told that it would be fine. During the first week at the new school, I found out that the others thought that my family was odd, and me, inparticular. I didn't have a spiky haircut, nor did I play football, and I often wore my brother's hand-me-downs, which were slightly too big for me. That was one of the reasons why I was bullied a lot. They made it quite clear that it was not okay to be different from the rest.
At primary school, it didn't really bother me that I was different and that's why I did my own thing, even though the bullying continued to get worse. It only really started to hurt me when I was in Group 8, at the end of my time at primary school. I wore dreadlocks, did capoeira, and I spent most of my weekends at dance competitions. Apparently, this made me a target. I felt totally helpless and misunderstood. In the end, I made a conscious decision to look for a secondary school in the city instead of going to the local secondary school in the village where everyone went.
I chose to go to a bilingual school, where I was hoping to be accepted for who I was. It was to be a fresh start, However, it turned out to be the complete opposite: once again, for the same reasons, these being, different hair, different clothes and different music. The bullying became even worse! In the past, where it used to be shoving and swearing, I was now tackled, beaten, kicked and my belongings were snatched away from me and destroyed.
It affected me so much that I cut my dreadlocks. Suddenly, I thought they weren't beautiful anymore, and very impractical, too. In spite of my different haircut, the bullying didn't stop. Somewhere in the middle of my second year, I got sick and tired of it! All these years, I had been trying to do things by the book, and it had never worked. After having been bullied for most of my life, it was time to stand up for myself. This led to even more blows and beatings. It was never one against one, but always a group against me, on my own. Those beatings didn't matter to me, as long as just one of the bullies had learned what it felt like to be powerless.
My tactics turned out to be effective and there were fewer fights, but there were consequences, and those were that I had detention every day until 5 p.m. for two weeks. I thought that this was very unfair, but I was still satisfied with how I had dealt with the situation. For the rest of the school year, I also felt a bit more confident about myself and a little more comfortable at school.
“I promised myself that I'd never smoke a joint again. That lasted for two days”
My third year started on a positive note. I met my first girlfriend at school. We started going steady after three weeks. She had already been smoking cannabis from time to time and, out of curiosity, I decided to try it, too. Not much later, I found myself smoking my first joint in a park in Nijmegen. Not knowing what to expect, I smoked a bit too much and so my first experience was not too great. At least I had tried, and I told myself that smoking cannabis was not for me. I promised myself that I'd never smoke a joint again. That lasted for two days. After school, I smoked a joint with a friend. This time, it went well, and I immediately noticed how calm the joint made me feel, with no more chaos in my head.
By the time it became a habit to smoke weed on Fridays after school, I found out that my girlfriend had been cheating on me. I gave her a second chance in the hope that she would change. A few weeks later, I found out that this was not the first time, and certainly not the last time, that she had cheated on me. I had had enough and so I broke up with her. At that point, her friends turned against me. I couldn't handle that very well and so I started smoking more. Eventually, we got back together somehow, and the same old problems started all over again, only this time, they were much worse. I started smoking more and more because I couldn't deal with my feelings, and each time, her friends turned against me even more. It got to the point where whole groups would be waiting for me, and everyone would be fighting with me, threatening to burn me with their cigarettes or cut me with their knives. Every time this happened, I felt so helpless, cheated and belittled. And yet, I couldn't stop!
When I was almost 16 years old, I got my school diploma, but I only just scraped through. That was because I was often absent from school. When I did go though, I was usually under the influence. This was also the case during my exams and the graduation ceremony, but in the end, I did get my diploma. The summer holidays were good. Nobody bothered me and I was working a lot, which meant that, for once, I had money to spend on things other than alcohol or drugs.
After the holidays, I started training to become a nurse, which was something I was apparently good at. I got good grades and received great feedback. Everything went well until the first holiday break. It was then that I finally broke up with my girlfriend. When I broke up with her, she ran off. Later on, I found her standing on the edge of the
viaduct. She said she couldn't take it anymore and threatened to jump. After a long talk, I took her hand and pulled her down to safety. She refused to come back to my house with me and ended up sleeping at a friend's place. Her anger and grief, plus another boy around her, also led to something. Something that, of course, turned me upside down again.
It was around this time that I started feeling depressed and plagued by fears. To suppress these feelings, I started using drugs a lot. I often called in sick or bunked off school. My days began to revolve around using drugs. I only just managed to pass the first year. I was given a strict contract for the following year, which I had to stick to if I wanted to make it through the year. This seemed to go well for a while, but I was still plagued by fears and depression, which I suppressed with drugs.
In autumn that year, I met my most recent girlfriend. That really gave me a boost. Our relationship was very good, but she had so many problems at home that she had to move in with me at one point. Since we were together 24/7, she was able to see what was behind my mask. She watched me slowly fall apart. A month before the end of the school year, I was expelled from school because I had been absent too much. Although I was very upset by this, I saw it as an early holiday where I could chill out and use drugs more intensively. That seemed like an ideal plan at the time. Next year I would be fine again, or so I thought. But that was not the case! I didn't even dare to show up at my new school. So, it turned into a gap year. At that time, I was using drugs so much that a part-time job was no longer enough. I really had to get a proper job. But I couldn't hold down a job either.
When my girlfriend graduated, I decided to give it another try. This time, an internal training course in caring for the disabled. I did very well at the workplace because I had already gained quite a bit of experience during my previous nursing work placements. Although school was still scary for me, I was able to cope because I only had to go there one day a week. Due to my lack of motivation and discipline, unfortunately, my contract was not extended after three months, since I had done nothing for school apart from being present. That was when I started having very intense, powerful thoughts and feelings. They were so bad that my girlfriend also started to suffer. I stopped doing everything: no work, no school! I had no future and no hope! I neglected my family, my friends, my girlfriend and myself. I often did not sleep at all, or not until 6:00 in the morning. Then I'd lie in bed all day and only get out to smoke a joint.
Everyone around me went on living but I was standing still. I don't really remember much about this time in my life. Every day was the same. Time dragged on and all I did was smoke joints. And then, it was New Year's Eve. As usual, I didn't want to leave the house, so my girlfriend stayed home, too. It was the umpteenth time that I had spoiled the evening for us. So, it was not surprising that I also got into an argument with my girlfriend that night. After that evening, she decided to go back to her mother's place for a few days. Things had not been going so well between us for a while. She actually stayed over at a friend’s place. She told me this when she came back to break up with me. At that moment, I lost everything! I had nothing left!
I had suddenly lost my best friend and girlfriend, the only person who seemed to understand me somewhat. I started to lose everything I had, actually that had started long before this, but from that moment, I became aware of it myself. Before long, I also started to lose the will to live. Of course, I had thought about this in the past, but never before had I lain awake nights on end, planning and preparing it. Also, it looked like my body would give up the will to live, even if my mind didn't. At that point, I looked like a walking skeleton, a bag of bones.
This all went from bad to worse until I finally gathered the courage to go to the doctor, who arranged an intake interview at Yes We Can Clinics. At that time, my life was just a blur. Before I knew it, a few weeks had already passed and I had had my intake interview, and suddenly, I was in the car with my parents on the way to Eindhoven, feeling very tense. And then I found myself sitting in a van on the way to the place where I was going to follow an intensive programme for the next ten weeks. It all felt so unreal! I had become so used to playing and manipulating people and I thought that I’d be able to use these ploys to get through those ten weeks. I knew that something had to change, but I wasn't really willing to do that yet. It didn't take them long to catch on to me though. They saw who was behind the mask.
It's now a year and a half later, and every day, I still feel grateful to this place. I learned how to deal with my feelings and thoughts here. I have got to know myself and I’ve learned to appreciate and accept myself for who I really am. I have also learned how to live without drugs. In fact, I have learned how to live.