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Feeling alone drove me mad
Otis Hampton

When I entered high school as a freshman, (or “fresh-meat,” as the upperclassmen called us), I had high hopes for a new social experience. In junior high, I was teased for the way I walk, as I have cerebral palsy. Many kids in junior high called me “retard” and “cripple” and picked on me.

I hoped my life would change completely once I got to high school—new teachers, new friends, new atmosphere. Instead, I experienced the same old things from junior high school—name-calling and physical abuse. I felt like it was gonna go on forever.

I was relieved when summer vacation came, but it started right back up when I entered 10th grade. I had a few friends, but they couldn’t stop the abuse. It made me question my existence. I often thought to myself: “Is this my reason for being alive—to be pushed around like I’m nothing?” The cruelty saddened and depressed me, because it happened every day without mercy.

Worst of all, my mother no longer seemed to be on my side.

Communication Breakdown

In 9th grade, my mom (who adopted me after my biological family checked out) had been more protective. But now, her response to the violence and abuse had changed. She said I should “stand up to them” and “fight back”—even though she knew I couldn’t defend myself against the bigger, stronger bullies. She would complain to her friends that I was always looking for trouble or that I was always getting my ass kicked, followed by a crescendo of laughter.

Maybe this was her way of minimizing my problems to comfort me—or herself. But it didn’t offer any solutions to the torment at school, and it made me feel worse. I stopped mentioning problems at school because it seemed like my misery had become her comedy. I’d always had trouble managing my anger, but now it was worse: More and more often, I would throw glasses and other breakable objects in the house. When I flew into these rages, my mother would tell me to calm down and go into my room.

But if I was being too uncommunicative, she would try to goad me into talking—or that’s what it seemed like:

Mom: How was school today?

[No Answer]

Mom: Otis? Otis? Otis?

[No Answer]

Mom: Otis, just tell me what’s wrong.

Otis: I’m in no mood to talk right now.

Mom: You know, if your real mom wanted to find you, she knows where to reach you.


Alone in the Basement

In February of 10th grade, I moved into the basement for a few months while my aunt from Trinidad stayed in my room. At first I was annoyed, but then I was excited to have a room with TV, Internet, and a phone, not to mention a couch that turns into a bed.

I finally had a place where I could be alone and not be bothered by my mother or my little brother Denzel. Downstairs was peace and quiet. So much peace and quiet that I sank into a deep pool of depression.

I was depressed about school, but my mother repeatedly bringing up my biological parents made it worse. I hadn’t talked about them in 10 years, and it sent me into sadness. I wondered if my biological mom would have been more sympathetic about the abuse I got at school. Plus, my biological family included a father, as far as I knew, and my adopted father had died when I was 8. Sometimes I felt like a stranger in the house I was living in, like the biological family that had abandoned me was my real family.

But my biological mother is out of the picture until she finds the strength to pick up the phone (shouldn’t be too heavy) and tells the agency she wants to see me. The second option is direct—call my adoptive family (number still the same) and ask for me, or speak to her replacement, my current mother.

image by Gamal Jones

Was my mother bringing up my biological parents just to hurt me? It made me think my own mother was bullying me now too. Everything in my life sucked: never hearing from my biological parents; being beaten up at school; my mom making light of my problems.

It felt like nobody was in my corner, and I worried that I was going crazy. I still had music and writing on my side, but they weren’t working as an outlet for my emotions. I wrote a lot of angry poems that I posted on a website, but still I wasn’t satisfied. Listening to music and writing didn’t distract me from my fear that I was losing my mind.

I Wouldn’t Feel It

I started to think about suicide. I thought about it at home because that was where most of my thoughts were stored. At first I simply wondered if I was fearless enough to take my own life. I figured that since nobody, not even Denzel, gave a crap about what I did, I might as well do it to see how it feels to feel nothing at all. The thing is: I wouldn’t feel it. And I’d end my life before it got any worse.

Getting the rope ready made me more emotional. I wanted to cry but I held it in because I just wanted to get this over with. Even as I formed the noose, I questioned the point of what I was doing. I thought to myself: “Why couldn’t I just learn to handle my emotions?”

I stepped on a chair and tied the rope around the bar in the closet. My heart pounded like it was being ripped out of my chest. I put the rope around my neck and I kicked the chair to the floor. I lost oxygen. It felt like my trachea was popping out of my neck. I couldn’t swallow my own spit .…


The rope broke and I fell to the floor. I blacked out and as I was coming to, I heard Denzel come in and ask, “Otis, are you OK?”

I couldn’t answer because I felt paralyzed. Denzel asked twice more if I was OK, then yelled, “Mom, get some help!”

Rebuilding Our Relationship

After my failed suicide attempt, my mother was very alarmed I’d try it again. She freaked out if she saw me with so much as a shoelace. She also contacted my school counselor, who had already noticed my aggressive, deranged behavior. The counselor referred me to a therapist in Brooklyn. The shrink and I had a few meetings with my mom, and we were asked to give our sides of our ongoing struggle.

The therapist provided me with alternatives to yelling and throwing things, like talking things out before the problem escalated or apologizing when I get out of line.

My mom and I talked a lot more than we had before, and we began to understand our differences. I realized that my mom cared enough about me to prevent me from hurting myself. She explained that when she demands to know every detail about what I’m doing, she’s really just worried that I might be endangered. She said, “Help me help you, Otis,” meaning I should tell her what she could do to make me happy or prevent my anger from being used against her.

I asked her to stop bringing up my biological mother and she did. I also made sure that when I got angry, I’d find ways to deal with it like sitting outside on the step or just taking a walk. If that doesn’t work, she allows me to stay in my room (door locked) and listen to music.

I grew to understand that we had been living in rough neighborhoods for as long as I can remember, and that she urges me to fight back because she doesn’t want me to be defenseless. But even so, there were times that she knew I couldn’t defend myself. It felt like she was encouraging me to beat up someone twice my size when I simply could not. This felt weird.

image by Gamal Jones

On this subject, she still doesn’t hear me, despite our other breakthroughs. I asked her to stop mocking my troubles with bullies when she talked to other people and to stop telling me to retaliate through physical violence. She said she would, but when we’d get into a disagreement, she went right back to saying, “Just kick his ass.” I also heard her giggling to a neighbor, “Otis can’t fight for sh*t.”

When I’m being so blatantly ignored, it feels like the only way to get her to hear me is to use profanity or yell and break things.

'I Love You'

The therapist also suggested that we both say “I love you” once in a while, which I have yet to do because I’m afraid that I wouldn’t mean it. My mother says it to me a lot, but I don’t say it back. To say “I love you” and mean it, I need to feel a certain amount of trust—in her and in myself—that I don’t feel yet.

I’m still figuring out what love is—it feels more elusive than it did when I was little. As a small kid, I loved anyone who didn’t turn their back on me. I loved my mother for taking me in, and I still do in a way. There are times when I enjoy her company and am fascinated by our similarities.

My mom and I like to watch the news together and discuss world events; we also talk a lot about Denzel’s bad behavior. She can be sarcastic just like me (which can be good and bad). Recently, she and Denzel and I played cards and it felt great to just do something as a family. My feelings toward her were joy and happiness because we were all having fun despite the fact that she looked at my cards through the whole game.

But other times I hate her and want to yell in her face. And I don’t want to say “I love you” unless I can say it straight, looking her right in the eye. I don’t want to say an apologetic “I love you” only to revert back to the angrier side of me and do the same things again, like yelling at her, knocking holes in walls, or throwing things. I can’t say those words if I’m angry or unsure, because it wouldn’t seem like I have any love in my soul at all.

So I need to trust myself, but I also need to trust her to hear that I truly mean it. Partly because we’ve fought so much, she often assumes I’m being sarcastic. The goal is not just for her to hear my voice, but to sense my sincerity.

Using My Voice

Looking back on the suicidal depression, it seems like a lot of it came from the feeling that I was ignored. That same feeling of having no voice is also where my anger comes from. I’m glad I’m alive because now I have the opportunity to use my voice as both a weapon against ignorance and an outlet for my rage. Even though my mom and I still have problems, I don’t feel as depressed as when my mind was in a state of solidified silence. It makes me feel better to know I can talk to her.

I believe she loves me, even if it is “tough love.” She has done so much for me besides taking me in—encouraging me to be strong in a world full of violence, trying to understand my problems, and showing me unconditional love. The suicide attempt was admittedly a cry for attention when she ignored and mocked my problems in school and at home. It worries me that she occasionally still laughs at my troubles, and honestly I’m not sure if I love her the way I want to, without doubt or anger.

Even so, my journey from sanity to depression and back again has been an exhilarating trip toward love. The isolation I felt in the basement showed me what emptiness feels like. But now I write this story; I’m alive and well; and it feels freaking awesome. I never felt love’s presence during my depression. To feel loved now makes my life worth living.

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or go to

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