João

My story is not exactly a happy one. At four years old, I was put in an institution. I didn’t have any contact with my father or mother, so I had a nanny who looked after me. I was a kid who did a lot of trickery. I ran away a lot and since my nanny was quite old, she couldn’t really handle me.

Once I did something that was not allowed, so she decided to lock me in a chicken coop as a punishment. I was furious and somehow found a way to get out of the coop. Later, as she went inside searching for me, I sneaked around, closed her in there and ran away. Eventually, this event was one of the reasons she or someone else decided to call social services to take me away. First I was placed into another family, and then into the institution.

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The institution was an orphanage, but it felt more like a prison with big walls and metal-barred windows. When I went there, the first thing they did was to shave my head. We were all identified by numbers, my number was 81. I still remember most of my friends from the institution by their numbers. There were only boys in the institution, a little over a hundred kids altogether. I remember spending the first day crying, and I fell asleep crying because I had no idea where I was or what was going on.

The institution was the kind of place where you have to grow up fast and learn to defend yourself. There was a ranking system, the strongest guy being on the top. If someone made a mistake, everyone paid for it. The caretakers would hit our hands with a wooden bar, or sometimes they would put us outside in certain kind of boxes with our hands raised up. If we put our hands down, they would hit us as a punishment.

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Eventually, people reported outside about the abuses. The institution was closed temporarily, and we started to go to school outside. In school, the teachers told everyone that these are the institution kids – and from that point forth, that’s how we were treated. We weren’t allowed to hang out with other kids because the teachers wouldn’t let us, and other kids’ parents were against it as well.

We also tended to be very noisy in class, so our teacher would take us to her room and hit us really hard. Later, at the end of the class, she would give us candies and tell us not to talk anyone about it. And of course we didn’t talk because who could we have talked to, anyway?

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I was 14 or 15 years old when the institution got reopened. At that age, you start to get more introduced in girls and everything, and I started dating as well. That time we also had our first mobile phones, Motorolas and such, and eventually I got one, too.

There was this one person working at the institution who often paid my phone bills. It was fine for me since he didn’t even ask me to pay back or anything. At that point, I didn’t really trust anyone, but I slowly started to gain some trust in him.

One day, during the night, the man came into my bed and started touching me inappropriately. I know I could’ve been physically able to defend myself, but I just couldn’t. I didn’t say a word and just froze completely. Maybe in a way, I felt that because he paid my bills, I somehow owed him all that. That started to happen almost every night.

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During those times, I was going out with a girl who had the same kind of experiences; her uncle had abused her when she was really young. She told me about it, but I couldn’t tell her about my situation. I just felt I couldn’t make her feel any worse and that I just had to take it all because I’m a man and all. She was depressed so I tried to do my best to keep her mind away about it. Still, I could notice every time when she was there with those thoughts.

One day, we had been able to spend the full day together, and it was magnificent. Later in the evening, she returned to her house and I went to the institution again. We were planning what would happen in the next few days and finally said goodnight to each other. The next day her mum called me and told that the girl had died by suicide at night.

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I remember being angry because I felt she had left me without an explanation. Why did she do it when we had just spent such a perfect day together? I guess somehow, I also felt guilty that I hadn’t done enough for her. Mixing my own problems with that, I started to skip school. I could run away for days and they had to send the police after me. And I still didn’t trust anyone, especially men. If there was a man approaching me on the street, I would go completely defensive, even though he could’ve been just asking for the time. I guess it was around that time that I started to struggle with depression as well.

The abuse lasted around five years. At some point, I started to resist it. I would refuse to lie down in my bed, but still he kept trying and telling me that I was so good-looking, and that he does this just because he likes me so much. It’s completely disgusting, you know. First of all, it’s the smell you can’t forget. The smell of that person will follow you for life, it’s stuck in your memory and will always stay there.

Eventually, the man left the institution. I don’t know if he was fired or chose to leave. I just know that one time when I returned after running away, he was not there anymore.

I left the institution when I was 21 and started to work in a computer store during the days and studying in the nighttime. It helped me to keep my mind busy. During the weekends, I worked as a night shifter at the same institution. Sometimes I would let kids stay awake a bit later and watch a movie or something like that. Since I had been through the same, I knew how good it was for them to have that kind of experiences as well.

It went through a few years, and then I met the girl who brought me to Finland. She came working at the institution as an Erasmus trainee. Later I came to Finland for one month to spend a vacation and decided to move here. I felt that by doing so, I could run away from my past and start a new life – to have a new beginning.

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We separated 2,5 years later, and I went to live alone. It was probably the lowest point of my life. I couldn’t get a job, I was living alone and felt completely useless. It was just dark, and with all the noise inside my head, I decided it was enough. I had boxes of pills and I took them all. I went to sleep, expecting not to wake up.

The next day I woke with horrible pain and kept vomiting. And it didn’t make me think anything positive like hey, I survived, I should take this as an opportunity – being the self-destructive person as I was, I just kept saying to myself: even this you can’t do properly.

I got my first tattoo after the suicide attempt. My first tattoo is a phoenix that covers the cigarette burns I got in the institution. There were completely evil people who did things like that just because they thought it was funny for them. I wanted to cover the scars and get a tattoo to show that I survived all that. Or at least that’s what I wanted to think back then.

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The problem with depression is that it doesn’t stop at some point. It keeps growing and growing like a little bug, and it happens so slowly that you don’t even realize it’s there. Eventually, it comes a part of you and starts to take control of your actions. I can be super polite and nice to someone I don’t know, but if we’d get closer, I would start being a complete dick. It’s not because I want to do that, you’re just the person who’s always there and I don’t know where else I could channel all the anger. My way of dealing with things was to lift a carpet, put all the stuff there and put the carpet back on.

I got attention from girls, but they often seemed to be more interested in my looks than in my personality. For a long time, every time someone told me I was good-looking, it just reminded me of the guy from the institution. Still, I would just thank them because you know, that’s a polite thing to do. If you’re out there socializing with people, they don’t want to hear about your problems. They want a funny person, and I guess I started using jokes as a way to protect myself.

At some point, I was feeling kind of good again, although the problems were still there. I stayed temporarily at my friend who recently had an operation done to him, and I felt useful because I could help him.

One day, when I was in Portugal, I decided to go and get my hair cut. There was a place with a hair salon upstairs and a tattooist downstairs. Out of nowhere, I decided to get tattooed as well. This is not the usual carp tattoo, and I still like it a lot.

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I was so proud of the tattoo that I decided to send a picture of it to a girl I had met in Finland. We started to talk more and eventually, I asked her out for a coffee. I didn’t expect her to say yes at all, but she did. We started to spend more time together.

I really liked her, but at the same time, I was really scared of her. It’s hard to explain – it’s like meeting your hero, you’re never ready for it. And I wasn’t ready for her at all. She was just being herself, and it was a beautiful thing to see. The problem was, I wanted to spend time with her, but at the same time, I started to act the same way as before: pushing her away. I felt safe with her, and she was the kind of person that I wanted to trust. I wanted to tell her everything, but I just didn’t. I couldn’t even invite her to my apartment because back then, my home was just a big fucking mess.

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Eventually, she wanted to end things. And what did my stupid mind do? It made me feel the same way as I did when I lost that girl during my institution years. I panicked and blamed myself and it got bad – I humiliated myself and tried to explain things to her the best I could but ended up saying the worst things possible. And so, I lost another amazing person that I had in my life.

This was the time I realized I have to search for help. She had recommended me a therapy book called Tunne lukkosi, and I read it first in Finnish and then in English. A short while after that, I went to therapy. The first meetings were hard and I even got angry in there, but the therapist told me it was just a normal reaction.

It was difficult to begin to work on things, like going back to those memories from my past and telling myself that it was not my fault. First I couldn’t even tell my therapist about the abuse, so she told me to pick a good friend who I can trust and tell them first instead. I told my bestie, and it was a complete relief. It must’ve been one of the best days of my life. That day, I slept better than ever before.

As a part of the therapy, I started writing things. Every time something bad would come to my memory, I would just write it down. I also went to a nutritionist, because during the years I hadn’t been eating and sleeping properly, and at some point, I weighed only 52 kgs. I’m still recovering for it, so it’s a work in progress as well.

This tattoo was also done in Portugal. It’s by the same person who tattooed the carp, and it was done in two sessions. For me, this tattoo represents that depression triggers always come in many forms, but nowadays I feel I’m more ready for them than before.

Currently, where I am at now, I feel good, I have an organized home and an organized life. I’m so grateful to the girl who recommended me the book, although I’m sad that I lost her because of my own behavior. Still, I think that what she did was good for me. It was because of her that I realized I couldn’t keep going like that anymore, because I couldn’t keep pushing away and losing people like her anymore.

Not so long time ago, I had all the bad thoughts coming and I felt so proud because for the first time, I knew what to do. Because the truth is, these things never really leave you. You just need to learn how to deal with them. And maybe by telling my own story, I can help some other person as well.

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