I started losing my hair in middle school. It fell out in big clumps. Just gone. The condition would come and go throughout middle school and high school, and I would inevitably get my hopes up when it grew back, but it always fell back out again.
The social and emotional repercussions for this were brutal, because the bullying I endured was relentless. While I’m not sure what drives a bully – Power? Acceptance? Fear? – I can tell you from experience that bullies like an easy target. And the big, bald patches on my head seemed to serve as their personal bullseye.
My social life ebbed and flowed with the status of my hair. When I had hair, I had confidence, and friendships were easier; but when my hair fell out, my confidence fell with it, and the bullies would descend. I did my best to endure these ups and downs, and I had some good years, but everything spiraled downward when I lost my best friend.
“Amy” and I had been best friends since middle school. She lived across the street from me, and we hung out and played basketball; but more than that, we grew up together. She was a kind of constant in my life, someone I could depend on when all the others turned away. But between my sophomore and junior years, “Amy” changed. She would hang out with me at home, but she wouldn’t acknowledge me at school. She abandoned me. But not only that, she laughed at me, and she laughed about me. When I found out about this, I was utterly devastated. And for the first time in my life, I felt completely alone.
My despair, and the bullying, hit a head during my junior year. It was a nightmare. My hair had fallen out again, and people would record me walking through the hallways and post it on social media. Now, not only was “Amy” laughing at me, but the whole world was laughing at me, too.
I didn’t know how to deal with this trauma. Losing my hair was bad enough, but losing “Amy” was catastrophic. I fell into a deep depression, and even attempted suicide. My life was hopeless; being Rashaan was hopeless. So, I created Benjamin, my alter ego.
Benjamin was everything I was not: he was confident, he was bold, he was articulate, he was relatable, and people liked him. More importantly, I liked him, too. Benjamin made it easier for me to navigate high school. I could live through Benjamin and escape the pain of being Rashaan.
For a while, things got better. Benjamin shaved his head, had a lot of friends, and in his senior year, he fell in love with “Sarah.” “Sarah” brought out a new light in me. She saw through Benjamin and made me want to be a better person. But when I was away from her, and I felt Rashaan rise up, I didn’t know who I was. I felt empty because there was nobody there filling me up. Yes, Benjamin had “Sarah,” but Rashaan was still alone.
The internal struggle to keep up the façade of Benjamin and force down the reality of Rashaan came to be too much. The darkness was winning, and I was tired of fighting. I swallowed a handful of pills and slipped into the darkness. When I woke in the morning to loud knocking on my bedroom door, I decided to take more aggressive action that afternoon after school: I would jump off a building.
Twenty minutes before the end of the school day, the counselor called me into her office. My parents were there with the counselor, who was holding a sheet of paper that catalogued my increasingly dark tweets.
In that moment, I felt the universe was looking out for me, saying: You don’t have to do this. You can take some time out and find out more about who you really are.
That was the day I entered a mental health facility. The counselors there were helpful, but I’m not going to lie, I still used Benjamin to my advantage and found ways to fake my way through the system. But I discovered that I couldn’t fake my way through everything, especially the bullying that I was surprised to encounter there. I admit I was caught off guard by the hypocrisy of it all: I mean, here we all were, all hurting, all in the same place, and the other patients were still making fun of me. But maybe seeing their hypocrisy exposed some of my own: Benjamin was a fraud, and I had to come to terms with that.
That’s when Rashaan started to reemerge. I realized then that, if I was going to move forward, it would have to be as Rashaan. And as I confronted the bullies, and as I stood up for myself, I started to need Benjamin less and less.
I began the Practice of Forgiveness when I forgave myself for my past experiences and stopped letting them define me; when I forgave myself for not having enough confidence or self-esteem or bravery to stand up for myself; when I forgave myself for hurting myself and others by creating an actual false narrative: for creating Benjamin.
I realize now that all of the good qualities of Benjamin were some of the best parts of me, of Rashaan. And I had to forgive myself for ever thinking I wasn’t good enough to just be Rashaan.
There are bullies everywhere. There is judgement everywhere. But there is also love everywhere, once you realize the love you need is inside you just waiting to be expressed.
I am Rashaan. I am an infinite being, worthy of giving and receiving love. The love I need is inside me, provided by the Divine, and Hope is the bridge to that love and that reality.
I am Rashaan. I have let go of the things I can’t control, and I have embraced my reality. I have survived depression by choosing love, by choosing integrity, by choosing respect for myself, and by choosing to face myself with honesty. I do not have to choose fear and despair.
I am Rashaan, and I choose Hope.
This is Living Hope.
Rashaan Thompson is currently a writer/filmmaker at the Art Institute of Raleigh-Durham trying to make an impact on the world by spreading consciousness through film and other innovative ideas. For more than six years, he has studied the metaphysics of our reality from a whole body and spirit perspective. Along his journey to Hope, Rashaan embraced the Practice of Forgiveness, allowing him to love and accept himself for exactly who he is. Today, he is passionate about helping others learn to love themselves unconditionally and to walk the path of Hope with them, hand-in-hand.