I’ve experienced enough national and personal tragedies in my life to know the importance of openly and honestly discussing mental health. For far too long in this country, we have treated the subject as taboo or something to be avoided. Finally, things are beginning to change. People from sea to shining sea are beginning to have those tough conversations about depression, anxiety, obsession and the myriad of other diagnosis affecting the human body and mind.
If we are all honest, we know someone who has battled a mental illness. If we are truly honest, we may be that someone. If we are really truthful with ourselves, we’ve all battled ongoing bouts with sadness, grief or some other emotional pain. My goal here today is to discuss my struggle. I am not looking for sympathy or attention. Rather, as is always the case with these sorts of things, I hope to start a conversation. While the conversation doesn’t necessarily need to be vocalized in the form of comments, I hope it will begin an internal conversation within yourself. I hope the end result of that internal monologue is a powerful realization; what you are battling is not something you have to do alone. There are people who love you and are ready to help.
Currently, I am reading this book called, “Father Fiction: Chapters for a Fatherless Generation.” Yesterday, as I was reading on my lunchbreak, I came across a powerful quote;
“Dwight Eisenhower said that from the beginning, his mother and father operated on an assumption that set the course of his life - that the world could be fixed of its problems if every child understood the necessity of their existence. Eisenhower's parents assumed, and taught their children, that if their children weren't alive, their family couldn't function.”
When I read this, it stopped me in my tracks. I had to put the book down for a few minutes. I connected with it on so many levels. My parents raised me in the same manner. My mother likes to tell people I was born, “a little man.” That’s her special way of telling people I was born a mature kid. With that magical maturity came a lot of responsibility. I was often called upon to look after my younger brothers. I was and am counseled on decisions impacting the family. When I made mistakes, I was often treated like an adult. This form of parenting may not work for everyone, but it worked for me. I especially needed it from my father. See, my father is not my biological father, but our bond is as strong as any you might find between any fraternal father and son. What lead me to read “Father Fiction,” was a desire to connect. I needed to read the story of someone who shared my pain. Like Donald Miller, I too have a biological father who wants nothing to do with me. That sense of abandonment has always deeply troubled me and it has led to one of my greatest struggles and fears; a fear of being forgotten.
From a young age, I have held a vision of what my life would look like. It was never filled with a partner, white picket fence and 2.5 children. My vision was never the token American dream. The men and women I idolized as a kid and those I look up to now are leaders of men. They are pioneers. They are on the forefront of battling poverty, disease and inequality. Unfairly to myself, I have measured the progression of my own life against the lives they have lead. I look up to them, because I want those things for my life. I want to be remembered for doing great big things for the betterment of my fellow man. At times, most of the time, this can be so very frustrating. It can feel like the world has forgotten about me. Friends seem to be getting the things they want so easily. They marry. They have kids. They purchase homes. They are building a life for themselves. As they do, those things become more and more important to them. I understand this fully and realize one day my dream will be realized and those things will happen for me. Until then, I once again am left to wait and deal with the sense of a universe stuck in neutral. At times, it can feel like a constant fight for attention. It is consuming and suffocating. Its connection to my childhood is born out of a sense of maturity and leadership, but it has evolved into a need to be noticed in hopes of not letting myself or other people down.
Now, being worried about people not caring or constantly comparing your life to the lives of others is not a mental illness. In a lot of ways, I would assume it is pretty normal for most people. I have found a way for it to motivate me. While I wish it would allow me a moment of satisfaction and celebration, it does fill me with ambition and for that I am grateful. For others though, it can lead to obsession and depression. I have felt myself sinking into the clutches of both on more than one occasion, but my support system and/or my own self-reflection has pulled me back from that line in the sand. Others may not be so lucky. Having an open honest dialogue about mental health means we recognize how close we all can come to falling down the rabbit hole. No one is immune from feeling the negative emotions brought on by life. In the same breath, no one should feel shame for what they are feeling or reaching out for help.
When we decide to get help, we find triggers. When I get stuck in the game of comparison, I know it is more than likely time to unplug from social media for a few days. I have to remind myself that I am usually just seeing the best of people. I then find an outlet like writing, reading, traveling, photography or hiking. These things make me happy, but they also ground me and remind me what is important about this life. They center me and allow a renewed sense of focus. Therapy taught me how to achieve this aim in the activities I adore. It was and is a powerful tool for me. If people can take the first step and admit they need help, they too can be introduced to life altering tools that help improve their mental health. To get started, all they have to do is admit they can’t do this life alone. For me, there is no shame in that.
So, here I sit. I am a 31 year nonprofit professional still chasing his dream of making a tremendous impact. Every day, I battle sadness, grief, anxiety and any other form of pain life can throw my way. I also sit here as someone who decided to get help. I discovered tools to cope. Now, more than ever before, I am comfortable with who I am and the direction of my life. There are times when I still feel like a puppy in need of constant attention, but I no longer view it as a weakness. In fact, it is one of the things I like most about myself. It shows humility and vulnerability. It shows the world that I am human.
Thanks for entering my world,