Let’s Talk About Mental Health

mental healthIt’s been a year. It’s been a year since I quit my job as a special ed teacher one day, flew to Australia and shaved my head the next day, and got a tattoo three days later. I guess you can say, it’s been a year since my 2007 Britney Spears moment. In this last year, I’ve learned a lot about myself, a lot about mental health, and a lot about society. And while the circumstances surrounding the whole situation weren’t ideal, I think it was necessary for me. I think I really needed to lose it in order to really find myself again. That’s what this whole last year has been. And it’s been incredible. Though I wouldn’t say this is the happiest I’ve ever been—I’ve definitely had times in life when I was happier—I can honestly say this is the most peace I can remember feeling. I’ll take peace over anything.

I’ve learned that a lot of people—maybe even most people— place their identity in their job. It’s not what they do; it’s who they are. While I knew that intellectually, I didn’t think I would become one of those people. But I did. And because being a teacher became my identity, the thought of losing that title was synonymous to losing myself. So I stayed. I spent the weeks looking forward to Friday and spent the weekends dreading Monday’s inevitability. I was drowning in a sea of work and stress, along with growing anxiety and depression, all made worse by undiagnosed burnout. I receive a short reprieve on the weekend, but I knew the waves were coming again Monday. It was exhausting. I was exhausted. So I left. Some people may say (and have said), “That’s why it’s called ‘work’. That’s just reality.” Well, I call BS. Life is too short to dread five days out of a seven-day week. Do what you love. Love what you do. If not, don’t do it.

When I came back from Australia, I met up with a lot of different people and communicated with several people via phone and/or social media. I quickly discovered that so many others were suffering alone also, on the brink of their own mental breakdown. And I can’t help but think that we as a society have to do better. Though the stigma behind seeking mental health help is weakening, it’s definitely still there. Especially for men. For example, if someone were to post that they’re going to work on their physical health by eating right and working out, what is the response? Inevitably that statement is met with tons of “likes” and “loves” and “way to go” comments and “we’re rooting for you” comments. Now, if someone were to post that they’re going to work on their mental health by seeking counseling, what is the response? Likely, a post like that would be met with “sad” and “wow” reactions and “hope you’re doing ok” comments and “praying for you” comments. Seeking mental health isn’t celebrated nearly as enthusiastically as seeking physical health. That absolutely needs to change. To be fair, it is changing, but much work still needs to be done.

I saw a counselor for about six months and started taking an antidepressant in January, neither of which I am even remotely ashamed. Nor should I be. My only regret is not doing it sooner. After about a month on the meds I remember telling my counselor, “I can’t believe this is how ‘normal’ people feel all the time!” Now, I can already hear some of the comments from some people. “But shouldn’t you just trust God to heal you?” While comments like that are well-meaning, it’s also comments like that that can cause people to die by suicide. I don’t doubt that God can heal depression, anxiety, or anything else for that matter. And I know He does. But I also know that sometimes He doesn’t. I don’t understand why He chooses to heal sometimes and sometimes chooses not to; maybe that’s something I’ll just ask Him one day. What I also know is that He pointed me to a counselor who was awesome for me. He provided an empathetic doctor who listened to me, heard me, saw me, and prescribed me meds. He gave scientists and pharmacologists the knowledge to create the antidepressants. The fact that the first antidepressant I tried worked for me was a miracle in and of itself—most people go through several before they find one that works for them. So, just because He didn’t “heal” me, doesn’t mean He isn’t at work in my life still. Sometimes we ask for a miracle and He sends us people.

If you or anyone else is in need of mental health help, seek it out. It’s out there. And it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. I went to a non-profit counseling service that was free and just took donations, but donations weren’t a requirement to getting treatment. And my meds cost about $14 a month with no insurance. There is no shame in seeking help. And on the flip side, if someone opens up about wanting to better their mental health, think about how you would react if they were wanting to better their physical health, and react the same way. It’s ok to seek help. In many cases it’s necessary to seek help.

Why The Movember Foundation? My Story. 

So, why The Movember Foundation? For me, it’s really an issue of breaking some male stereotypes that are so deeply engrained in our society. Over the past year or so, I’ve begun to really see how serious and tragic male suicide rates are. When I see that men are 3.5x more likely than women to die by suicide, my heart breaks for their silent struggle. 

Throughout elementary, middle, high school, and even a little into college, I was that guy silently struggling. I was a straight-A student, captain of my track and cross country teams, a seemingly happy kid, and an all-around fairly likable guy. Because of this, I wasn’t on anybody’s radar as someone who was struggling. But I was. I was struggling to figure out who I was as a person. I struggled to understand who I was apart from my accomplishments. I struggled with my parents’ divorce. I struggled to figure out what my future would look like. I struggled with navigating through different challenges life threw at me. I struggled with suicidal thoughts. I cried a lot, but rarely in front of anyone. I can’t say this is the experience of every guy out there, but I know I’m not the only one. Thankfully, in college, I started to see the importance of being vulnerable and talking things out with other guys. It was only when I started doing this that I saw that I wasn’t alone. I started to see that my experiences were not unique to me. The words “me too” were the most comforting words I had ever heard. 

I do want to add that none of my personal struggles and lack of support was my parents’ fault. They grew up in the same society that I did. A society that taught that boys just need to toughen up, suck it up, power through pain, and not talk about their feelings or struggles. My parents did the best they could with what they knew and what they had, and for that I’m so incredibly grateful. They did a great job raising me, and I wouldn’t be the man I am today without them. 

I long for a society that understands the importance of talking things out, seeking help when necessary, and that doesn’t think something is “wrong” with someone when he seeks a professional counselor to improve his mental health. The idea that guys just need to “suck it up” permeates not only mental health arenas, but it bleeds into physical health too. Guys don’t seek medical attention when they feel something isn’t right in their bodies because they’re just going to “power through” it. As a result, men are dying of testicular and prostate cancer, two cancers with high survivability when detected early. Men are also dying of heart disease and a slew of other diseases at alarming rates simply because they don’t seek medical attention. 

Guys. Get help when you need it. Take preventative measures for your physical AND mental health. Stay active. Talk to people you trust about what you’re thinking, feeling, struggling with, etc. It’s one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself. This is why I’m choosing to support The Movember Foundation

Visit my my fundraising page to help raise money for this incredible foundation!