Stigmas are like the Wizard of Oz. They need secrecy to retain their power.
But if you bring them into the light, look them in the eye, and talk to them...
They start to lose power.
My experience with mental health isn't so different than most men dealing with their own challenges.
I was always someone that had a wall up. Would make jokes or witty comebacks to deflect.
Found it hard to tell friends and family I loved them. It was always really tough for me to be vulnerable with anyone - to admit when I didn't know something, wasn't feeling great, was having a bad day, or was just sad.
I hadn't even cried in a few years, always burying those feelings.
Meanwhile, it was all compounding under the surface. It bubbled up and then the flood gates opened.
My mental health had been taking a beating.
As I continued to suppress & bury it, depression had been slowly spreading its roots throughout my mind and had a firm grasp on me before I even knew it.
When I really knew something was wrong is when I'd be out having drinks with my best friends, having a good time - then a wave of sadness & loneliness would come over me.
I felt like I was about to burst into tears, so I'd abruptly leave (often without saying goodbye) and head back to my apartment where I'd completely break down.
Not really sure at the time where these feelings were coming from or what they meant, but alcohol always threw jet fuel on the fire.
I never got help. I never told my parents or my friends that I was struggling.
See, this is the issue with stigmas - we're conditioned to think:
- We should just man up
- Real men don't ask for help
- Strong men don't have emotional challenges
Then, what happens, is we:
- Don't want to be a burden or have friends worry about us
- Are embarrassed that we're feeling this way
- Think we could persevere and figure it out on our own
- Feel like this is our issue to tackle and asking for help means we're weak
- Don't even really know where to go for help
I did end up asking for help, I booked an appointment with a shrink when I was in Chicago (3 years of feeling like shit at this point). I showed up to the appointment with embarrassment coursing through my veins - wearing sunglasses, a hat, and a hoody as I walked into the office.
Within 5 minutes of being in the room and having just finished explaining how I'm feeling, the doc says "I can write you a prescription for something that will help."
I think my jaw hit the floor and I said, "Fuck that." and got up and walked out.
She didn't know my issue or take the time to figure out what was going wrong.
If she would have asked questions she would have known I do everything I can to avoid taking drugs to fix a symptom. It wouldn't help the root cause.
I was livid.
Livid that this was the response they gave without taking time to get to know me. Livid knowing that most would say OK and take pills not having an end-game in mind. Livid that it took me 3 years to get the strength to get help and they tried to push a script on me within 5 fucking minutes.
But I walked out of there determined. I knew she didn't represent the whole mental health industry and that there has to be a better way.
I knew that it was on me to find the answer and find a way to get help.
As men, we're protectors and providers. The narrative that has been preached to us our whole lives is to suck it up, get back on the field, don't cry, and don't let the opponent see your weaknesses. While I believe that's a valuable trait to possess, and there's a time and place for it, the dichotomy of our mental health encourages us to not let that be the only way.
We care what other people think. We project an image to every one of a way we are. I did for years - used to try to always look smart, stoic, not bothered by anything, and never take shit from people.
The more I've introspected the more I realize those are just covers for deep-seated insecurities that formed earlier in my life.
When we take time to understand that we’re complex humans, that we're capable of receiving love & asking for help while also being a protector, the game shifts.
We can then start to make massive gains towards becoming our true selves.
The best feeling in the world is to be so at peace with who you are as a person, you no longer care what other people think. To be so confident in who you are, your intentions, to realize all the things we think are wrong with us or the way things should be are just made up constructs by society aren't true.
They aren't right or wrong, they just are what they are - it's our perspective that makes it so.
We can be masculine while also being OK with understanding these feelings are 100% natural and part of being human.
When we can separate ourselves from the feelings that arise and label them as "Oh, sadness? Yeah, no problem, I see you over there. I don't prefer you, but I know you're just a normal response generated by this body. You don't define me, so on you go when you’re done."
Just as we all have a different level of physical health, the same goes for mental health. Mental health doesn't mean you are deficient or sick or have an illness. It's a spectrum - and you land somewhere on that spectrum.
Just as you lift weights to get strong, run to improve cardiovascular health, do yoga to improve mobility, eat healthy food to improve metabolic health - you should also practice things that improve your mental space. Journaling, meditation, breath-work, gratitude, introspection, mindfulness - all areas that can be used to better our mental space.
Chatting with someone and getting your thoughts out into the open have so many benefits. It makes the monster not seem so bad, it gets buried emotions out into the open leading to a feeling of freedom (if you've ever journaled, you get this), and hearing a different perspective from someone can help a ton.
We're spiritual beings thrown into this meat suit and bombarded with challenges of life every day. When you can be aware of your mental space, you can start to improve it.
When you begin to work on your mind, your life takes off.