three questions. one of you.
31U asks a friend three questions about his or her experience with mental illness. This person might be a man who deals with mental illness or someone (like my wife) who is a supporter. Over time, the 31U series will show how men of all sorts, with all backgrounds, and of all personalities can be inflicted through a variety of ways and how loved ones can better understand and support them. The hope is that this series will serve as a reminder for those in darkness that we are not alone in this fight, and that it will be a helpful resource for supporters.
Articles inform, but stories move. I’m thrilled to offer you another 31U guest post. This time, from a guy named Brent.
An outdoorsy creative, Brent enjoys painting, playing music, hiking, fishing, backpacking, climbing, and hunting. Inside, he hangs with his wife in the company of Michael Scott, Leslie Knope, and the cast of 30 Rock when he’s not shootin’ ‘em up in The Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed.
When did you realize you dealt with a mental illness?
There were two moments when I realized that I was experiencing mental illness (depression and anxiety).
One was when I was surrounded by people and situations that should’ve made me feel “happy” and “secure,” but those people and things just… didn’t. They were just adding to the noise. I felt suffocated and foggy.
The second was around the same time. I went to a friends party, where again, there were plenty of people I knew and with whom I felt “safe.” However, as I was there, I began to feel anxious and claustrophobic. I believe that a big reason these feelings bubbled to the surface at this time was I was going through what some might describe a soul searching or identity crisis. Whatever it was, it was through this experience of struggling to define and understand who I was that insecurity and anxiety began to move in with me. Without permission, I was being invaded with emotions I couldn’t comprehend or get a grasp on.
What have been the most valuable tools, resources, or strategies that have you helped you in overcoming?
There have been several things that have helped over the years to manage my emotions, anxiety, depressions, and stress.
1. I went to see a counselor. It was highly valuable to have someone that was impartial and could say, “You’re not crazy”; someone who could help me understand what I was feeling, help me define and accept my identity, and could give me advice on how to address situations where my emotions were more vulnerable. I never would’ve gone to counseling if I hadn’t been encouraged by friends and mentors who had gone and explained its benefits. You don’t have to be in a psych ward to get that type of help.
2. I surrounded myself with a “few good people.” What I have found for myself, and what helps me define and understand my emotions better, is to have a few family members and friends that know me well. One of these is my wife, Alison. Whether it be walking with me through my emotional struggles and frustrations or helping me define my personality more clearly, she has helped me in so many ways. I am extremely thankful for her. She has made me a stronger individual (mentally and emotionally) and is my “lifelong love.” Another resource is having a handful of reliable friends who I can call to lean on for support – “the Big 3.” Finally, my Dad has fulfilled so many roles outside of being my father. He has been there on the phone in the middle of the night through some low points; he has talked with me, hung out with me, and even financed my counseling.
3. I took a break. This has been more extreme at times than others. For example, during my soul searching I adopted the lifestyle of a spiritually nomadic Christ-seeking Hipster. I dropped out of school, grew out my hair, wore a beanie and thick frame glasses at all times. I worked at a coffee shop and dreamed of going off to some country to live in the mountains serving orphans. All good things, but some of them were just not me. When I began to feel these conflicting and confusing emotions I hit PAUSE on life. I quit my job, put my contacts in, shaved my head, and took some time to regroup.
More often than not it isn’t this intense. Sometimes I simply would go for a random drive. Take a coin and flip it. If heads I would turn right out of my house, and if tails turn left. I just drove and didn’t worry about where I was going. Resetting is important and while I don’t have the space here to go into it, I will say that while I believe humans were created to work, in that work, we were also created to rest.
What advice would you give other men with mental illness?
You are not alone. As the beauty of this blog has shown, there is a reality in which the MEN in Mental Illness have been left out of recovery due to pride, insecurity, and the inability to speak up. Recognizing that we are not alone in this fight is key.
Along with this, don’t allow definition to disable. Let me explain: I found in my own journey that as I began to understand my mental illness I was at first overwhelmed by it. It caused me to disconnect from life as a whole on more than one occasion. Do your best to not allow this to happen. Continue to live life in the best way possible. Do not sever ties with good friends, do not wallow in sorrow, continue doing things you love, continue talking to people you love even if it feels messy. Stay afloat as you regain emotional and mental consciousness. Use the material provided in this blog, your friendships, and whatever resources are available as a life preserver. You are not alone… you are not alone… you are not alone, my friends.
Often we are simply deceived by our own minds. We must be willing to unlock our minds and hearts and allow others to see what we struggle with. Sheldon Vanauken wrote a book called Severe Mercy. It is an autobiography in the context of his marriage and his coming to know Christ. He shared this thought in the book:
“We are all so alone in what lies deepest in our souls, so unable to find the words and perhaps the courage to speak with unlocked hearts, that we do not know at all that it is the same with others.” -Sheldon Vanauken
Thank you, Brent, for your vulnerability and willingness to share your story for the sake of opening the dialogue.
If you are someone interested in sharing your story through 31U, email me to find out more information. Your story will remain your story. I will merely offer a platform.