I make things like 10X deeper than anyone else. I know this. I’m melodramatic. Get used to it.
I started blogging when I was fourteen years old. By that time, I’d had my first few months’ taste of depression and self-loathing. The blog was called “The Mind of Fourteen.” It was my first major employment of a pun (that I can remember). I wrote on that blog with the intention of being the voice of my “silenced” (disclaimer: based on my own perception) age group/generation of Ghanaians. The Mind of “our teen”. (Geddit?) I did not know that the catalyst (depression) and its result (mad, feverish, emotion-fuelled writing) would only grow (fortunately and/or unfortunately) to take me to places I wasn’t able to imagine.
Halfway through age 13, I became depressed. I didn’t know what depression was then. All I knew was that things weren’t find at home, things weren’t fine at school, things were especially not fine with the preparations to go to another school… but what I was surest of was that I was not myself. I couldn’t be. That person was too sad to be me. That person who cried each morning, each night, uncontrollably in the bathroom between classes – I couldn’t identify with her. So I decided to give this new person a name.
Names are things that I consider to have immense power. Not just in their linguistic meaning, but also in the symbolism intended by the giver of the name. Now that I recognize my different parts and egos, not every name feels comfortable at any time, and I wish people would respect that more.
The name I gave to this perpetually sad character was John. John is the Hebrew root translation of my first name, Ivana. Here’s a brief illustration of versions and translations, so you can get an understandable-ish idea of how language evolution worked on it: John à Jovahn à Giovanni à Ivan (And yes, it’s pronounced ee-vahn; like the first part of Ivanovich. See?) And Ivan’s female form is Ivana. But etymology is not my focus here.
Once I’d renamed this new person, something changed. I no longer felt the terror of having completely lost the original me. I’d just concluded, with my 13-year-old brain that could take all these ridiculous things as though they were perfectly ordinary, that John had just come to visit in my body for a while, and when she left, Ivana would come back. (Don’t get confused by pronouns and name sexes. If it would make it easier for you, just consider me gender fluid. The concept of “gender” and I are fighting, anyway.)
I made classmates and teachers call me John, with that unbreakable force of will I had, until everyone got used to it. Day after day. Month after month. John didn’t go away; I didn’t give up the name.
When John wasn’t going away, I decided I’d make her leave. I’d bring back Ivana 2.0, a kickass version better than the last. I set a milestone ahead of me for the release date: my 14th birthday. I grew obsessed with 14; it became my favourite number. After all, it was the symbol of my rebirth.
May 22nd of 2012 came, and I forcefully peeled John off me like a spandex suit that had been on for so long it was nearly merging with my skin. After that period of 13, after my first taste of repression, there was a lion roaring in my chest, begging me to let it do one thing: EXPRESS. I had a vision of what I was going to do with 14; every other extension of me had to correspond.
That year, I deleted and recreated my Facebook. I changed my Twitter handle to @VisionXIV. My Instagram too. And when I created The Mind of Fourteen, I regularly signed off as -VisionXIV. (That year, there were classmates that started to call me Vision.)
All this rebranding made my life. It gave me a new freedom. Confidence. The year that I was 14 still stands as the best year of my life. Then what happened? I turned fifteen.
Everything started feeling wrong, just as everything started going wrong. When my autobiography comes out, maybe you’ll know the many intricate details. But, long story short, Depression came back. All at once, I wasn’t VisionXIV anymore. But I also never wanted to see the likes of John again. So what did I do? I decided to embrace one of those things that was plaguing me – making me feel like no matter where I was, I didn’t fit; my singularity. This process hasn’t been straightforward. In fact, it’s been so complex that it’s taken three years to come into shape. Age 15. Age 16. Age 17. Me, now.
I deleted The Mind of Fourteen, which had already begun to give me more recognition and respect from people I didn’t know, than I was used to. I also deleted a side poetry-blog that I used to post on. I don’t regret either of these things. I created a new blog called “Not Genius; Just Nonconformist”. (It was inspired by a book I read.) After that, it went through so many names I can’t even remember. Eventually, it landed at “Akotowaa”. (And depending on who you are, this is the platform you are now reading this on.) For those who have been asking: yes, of course it’s my real name. Likewise, my Twitter went from VisionXV (Vision Fifteen just couldn’t cut it, mehn) through other things, and landed at @_Akotowaa. (The handle without the underscore is taken.) And even with my Twitter account, I got so sick of myself that I deleted and remade my account with the same handle, last year, 2015. My Facebook name also went through a few changes before landing on what it currently is: what I now know feels most comfortable.
If I could describe in one word what depression makes me want to do, that word would be “DELETE”.
I am Akotowaa. I have been becoming Akotowaa for years.
I am not John. I’m not [the other ego whose name I don’t feel like revealing]. But most surprisingly, I’m not Ivana either. I’m Akotowaa.
Have you ever felt so sick of yourself
that you’d run a million miles
just to get away from you?
And look back to make sure you didn’t follow,
like even your own name sickens you?
Would you describe your life as a masterpiece of discarded pieces
a homeless artist picked up from the trash
on a canvas that took the brunt of a hit because no one wanted it?
Would you consider it torture
to be chained to a chair to watch the playback of your past?
Like you made a series of stupid mistakes
like the kind of character in a series you’d yell at?
Well that’s me.
You know this business of when it’s your birthday or a new year, you do the whole “I’m about to find myself” or “New Year, New Me” thing? Well sometimes it doesn’t work like that. Sometimes, you spend your new years alone, or getting disillusioned about people you thought you loved. Sometimes you spend your 15th birthday losing the fantasy identity you thought you’d keep forever; your 16th birthday depressed, in the middle of exams, with about 5 people remembering it’s your birthday that morning – which doesn’t include your roommates because they also forgot; your 17th birthday in the emotional counsellor’s office, the worst and lowest you have ever felt in your life, while your principal, parents and other school staff deliberate about finding you a psychiatrist and dropping you out of school. Sometimes it’s an unbearable, continuous breakage that pays no heed to memorable/important calendar dates.
I hate Ivana. I really do. I like a lot of the foundation she built for me. Perhaps I like a lot of the person she once was. But I hate what she became, and I hate how she became it. This is not the time to go into why, either. But just know that she, just like her name, has turned into another skintight suit that I no longer feel comfortable in. Ivana and I may once have been the same person, but now we’re not.
So no, in spite of people’s hypotheses, my forceful reclamation of my Ghanaian name is not an attempt to “reconnect myself with my roots”, or “the African in me” or whatever “woke” distins floating around on the interwebs these days. Of course I won’t deny the beauty of my name’s meaning and lyricism, its cultural and family history and especially the almost long-lost Ghanaian myths that it’s preserving. But what it is, is my current identity; the skin that feels the least like a sheddable suit; the identity that I recognize; the name that my Being, now, answers to.
This is by no means the end of the identity formation (shout-out to Lemonade) process; no one’s identity, I believe, truly quits changing form somehow, until one’s death. In fact, I am becoming. I am constantly becoming. And by the grace of God, in whom my identity lies, I am “becoming” in a very good way, despite…everything. You must learn to deal with it.
Post-script: To all the people who insist on calling me Ivana in public, just to try and prove you know me more intimately than my “celebrity-status” allows me to be known: y’all gotta know that you’re calling, and talking to a dead person. Stop. Thanks.