To kids going through tough times,
It seemed like I lost everything all at once. I can’t even completely describe the hurt I feel but sharing my story with you is a release for me.
When I was young, I came home from school and I was like mom, “We’re rich. We’re rich.”
A kid or a teacher at school found out my dad was George Atkinson II, a pro-football player. So, I thought we were set for life.
I told my mom, “We don’t have to worry about nothing. We good. We rich.”
But my dad and mom weren’t together at all.
We weren’t good. We weren’t rich.
Instead, we struggled.
My mom suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, which led to drug addiction. Crack was her main choice. Since we were babies, she would have episodes. She would think people were out to get her or she would hallucinate. Eventually, she’d get 5150’d, which is where she was forced into an institution. My brother and I didn’t know what was going on. All we knew was that people were taking our mom away from us.
At 10 years old, I started to realize my situation wasn’t right.
I had to call the police on my mom because she was getting violent toward me and my brother.
Our lives were never stable. We moved around a lot because my mom wouldn’t be able to pay rent or she would damage the property, writing on the walls. They put my brother and me in special education classes because we weren’t attending school regularly, which affected our self-esteem.
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For me and my twin brother Josh, each other was really all we had. Through the years we grew closer and closer. But neither of us were ever taught to talk about our feelings. For me, I felt like I had to be this tough guy and show no emotion.
Eventually, we were taken away from our mom. After living with our uncle for almost two years our dad stepped up when we were about 13 and took us in to live with him.
Our dad instilled the discipline and guidance that we didn’t have in our lives as young kids. It was also the first time we had real stability, as it was the longest we had ever been at one spot.
However, we still did not open up about all that we went through. We just kept moving forward.
In sports, we were bigger and faster than everyone else.
I knew there was only one way to get to the league and that was through college. Football motivated me to get my grades right and focus and hone in on school.
We told our new guidance counselor we wanted to take the classes that would allow us to go to a good college. He laughed at me and my brother. He thought it was a joke.
He told us we needed to take these lower classes.
I was like, “No, I don’t care what you say. I am going to do what I have to do. I am getting a scholly.”
It was hard but we managed and ended up with scholarship offers from all over. My brother fell in love with Notre Dame right away. I was reluctant but he said he wanted to go there.
So, I said, “OK, that’s where we are going.”
While we succeeded, we also continued to carry pain.
Last October, when were 26 years old, our mother died from complications from Crohn’s disease. We both were grieving but I thought Josh was taking it better than me.
I guess he was just masking it…
On Christmas Eve, he went missing. We found him through the GPS in his car. Drunk and upset, he was on the verge of driving to the bridge and doing something stupid. He said he felt guilty because we pulled the plug on our mother’s life support. I told him it was our decision. I reassured him no one is blaming nobody and to snap out of it because it was in God’s hand.
I calmed him down and took him home.
The next day he hanged himself.
That’s the moment I felt like I lost everything. That’s the moment I can’t describe. I never want you to feel his pain or my pain.
I was 5150’d – forced into the same institution my mom was once in because I, too, tried to harm myself.
Filled with anger and guilt, I was on an emotional roller coaster and in a real dark place.
Then, I thought about my “why.” When I played football, helping my mom was my “why.” She was the reason I worked so hard – I wanted to help her. Now, my daughter, who is only two years old, is my “why.”
Already, she’s athletic. She loves basketball. Anything that involves kicking, dribbling or shooting a ball – she’s all over it. I knew I had to find a way to keep going and be a role model for her.
Without my daughter, I don’t know where I would be right now. She gave me that second wind of motivation.
I went to seek help and spoke to a psychologist. I realized I had to let go of this ego that made me think sharing my feelings was showing weakness. Also, I had to learn to love myself.
Like you, I am still struggling. My mother’s birthday just passed and I know the holidays this year won’t be easy. But I am trying to take life one day at a time.
And so should you…
We all must make sure we don’t find the easy way out, like using alcohol or drugs to numb our pain. That will lead us nowhere. We have to face our problems head-on, whether that is talking to people, praying or listening to motivational speeches. Whatever helps you get through a tough time, that’s what you’ve got to do and that’s what I have to do too.
When I was your age, when I was a kid, I wish I knew how to open up and talk to my parents, friends or family.
Instead, my brother and I were like faucets that were running water with caps on.
Eventually, you run out of steam and all this hot water that’s stuck in this little funnel bursts and there’s nothing you can do about it.
That burst cost my brother his life and nearly cost me mine.
I don’t want that to be you. Please, let out your emotions. Don’t hold them in.
It’s a release for me to tell all of you my story because if my pain teaches you how to express yourselves during hard times, everything that I lost can turn into a gift that I can give to all of you to help you live more positive lives.
With hope for your future and mine,