Let’s start a conversation about mental health.
Why is our mental health important? I am sure we would all share a variety of answers to this question. There are many important reasons for good mental health. The answers between men and women may vary too. First and foremost, our overall physical health is the most important factor when considering mental health. Both are interconnected and play a significant role in maintaining the balance between the two. If either is out of balance, we run the risk of suffering the consequences. Holding our emotions in, not expressing ourselves or not engaging in good conversation with our loved ones can have a negative impact on our mental health.
Men and women struggle with a variety of issues, mentally and physically. An amazing characteristic about women is they will talk about anything and everything. One of the upsetting traits about men is they will not discuss important life issues. Men shy away from discussions about mental health, emotions, feelings or open and raw conversations about struggles. Men do not care to admit they battle any type of mental health issue. It might mean they are weak or flawed in some way. I know, because I bought into that thought process. Men need to open up about these topics because the silence is deadly.
Men struggle with their mental health and expression of emotions more than women. Some people are better equipped at expressing themselves than others. There are different reasons why we hold back. The difficulties we share can be fear based. Fear is a powerful emotion. It can be real when danger is present or an imagined perception rising out of anxiety. The imagined or perceived fear can strangle you and keep you from enjoying life. The other emotional struggle men often share is a learned behavior. Let me explain.
Growing up in the 50’s and 60’s set the tone for my adulthood. Kids were “seen and not heard.” Boys learned at an early age to be tough, not to cry and not to show emotion. To be a man meant you were always in control, tough and not weak. From my experience, this has been a learned behavior for many decades. This was all reinforced at my earliest memory. I recall walking to kindergarten, when a group of older boys yelled threats and obscenities at me. I was scared and told my teacher. She told me to sit in the corner and stop crying. I told my mom when I got home. She told me to sit in my room until my dad got home. I learned it was better to hold in my emotions and be tough. Men not showing emotions was evident being around family, friends and at school. It was personified in movies and television too.
I can attest to
being out of balance on many occasions during my life. Being healthy physically was a priority, but
mental health never really was a thought.
We all share emotional and mental health differently. Stress, anxiety and depression affect us for
a variety of reasons. As a result of not
taking care of myself, I paid the price for that imbalance. Let me share some of my life examples. I am sure you can relate to a time you
experienced something similar.
Our teenage years are a period of growing, discovery and lots of anxiety. I know they were for me. The technology of today puts the world at our fingertips. This information can be helpful or detrimental in a matter of seconds. Consider how social media impacts our lives. For us, as well as our children, it can create anxiety. All of this can be extremely daunting. It affects our kids, their mental health, growth and development. Peer pressure and socialization can be especially cruel and painful for our youth today. The agony and helplessness pushes them to depression, alcohol, drugs and sometimes suicide. As parents, we must be vigilant in our devotion and raising of our children. Life is not always an easy process. Parental support, guidance and lots of love is required to boost them on their path. It is our gift and responsibility to empower them as individuals. They are our future.
For me, college was a mixed bag of wanting to be away from home, living on my own, learning for my future and having lots of fun. Self-doubt, anxiety and lack of self-confidence often ruled me. Alcohol became my coping mechanism or crutch to adapt, fit in and feel safe. Whenever anxiety struck, alcohol was my fix. As I grew into adulthood, the anxiety and lack of self-confidence faded. The need for a crutch diminished too.
As I reflect on my life and career, it is easy to recognize the times my balance between physical and mental health was out of alignment. During the early years of my career alcohol again became a crutch to deal with anxiety, fit in and socialize. It was just so unnecessary and destructive. It kept me from regaining my balance and my mental health. In many ways I was physically fit, but not mentally healthy. I functioned at work, did my job, made life and death decisions, but my personal life and relationships suffered.
My nearly 34 year career in law enforcement subjected me to horrific events; brutalization of victims, death and trauma. Incidents are imprinted in my memory, never to be forgotten. I did my job effectively, without emotion or thought. I was a man; strong, tough and dominant. If emotion entered the situation, it only created fear. The job demanded me to be in control at all cost. I managed each situation, the people involved, myself and the outcome. My life, or the life of others, may depend on it. I was fearless at dominating work situations. This persona carried over into my personal life and relationships. I wanted to sway every situation to my desired outcome. My display of emotion was minimal, while I attempted to push for the outcome I wanted. Communication in relationships was something I never really learned. I was great talking at work, but having a meaningful, open, intimate conversation with loved ones was amazingly difficult.
Alcohol continued to be a coping mechanism to deal with the pain and trauma. I maintained good physical strengthen, while feeling crushed mentally. When my daughter was born, I began to see life in a different way. Her birth began an emotional change and opening in me. It became clear that I needed to alter my path in order to be a good dad. I wanted to be around for her far longer than expected. A different mindset developed, taking me on a new path. I devoted my off time to her. I studied for promotional exams and wanted to better myself. Over the next years I ultimately promoted several ranks. Alcohol was no longer needed as a crutch or support. I finally began to align my physical and mental strength and health. The trauma at work continued, but I buried it deeper and deeper within me. I had no idea how it would continue to negatively impact my life and mental health.
Trauma still ravaged my life. Suicides and deaths of friends and co-workers caused unmeasurable pain. The death and destruction experienced at work seemed never ending. I bottled all these emotions up daily. The toxic effects continued to destroy my mental well-being. I suffered nightmares and violence filled dreams nightly. Not having the ability to talk, share emotions or open my heart, lead to two divorces. Luckily I maintained my relationship with my amazing daughter.
I retired from law enforcement in 2014. About a year later I met an incredible woman who introduced me to yoga and meditation. Her love, intuition and support motivated me to be better. It took time and some serious struggles for me to admit I needed help. As a man I kept telling myself, “You’re a guy, a cop, tough, strong and in control. You can open yourself up. You can share your heart and emotions. You can do this.” When I finally hit rock bottom I realized I could not do it without help. I reached out and found new life. Counseling and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy would be my blessing and miracle.
As a result of yoga, meditation, EMDR therapy and lots of love and support I am a much different person today. I am happy, free, open and full emotion and life. The trauma has been processed and released. My mind is clear and my heart open. I see men and women struggling and only want them to feel better. I know it is possible. I am here as your support. I know how it feels. I know how the release and empowerment for a new life feels.
A recent imbalance occurred just a couple of months ago. I returned home after some extensive traveling, both outside and across the country. I could feel something coming on in the days before I returned home. When I got home it hit me hard. Lots of coughing all day and night, tightness in the upper chest and no sleep from all the constant coughing. The doctor told me it was an upper respiratory virus. Not much in the way of treatment, other than over the counter meds and lots of rest. I coughed constantly for two weeks. The lack of sleep, lack of activity and the feeling of being boxed up began to drive me nuts. I lost my voice from coughing, could not really talk away; so the isolation created more negativity in my mind. As my physical health degraded, so did my mental health. Family and friends were my saviors. They kept me sane. By the end of the third week I was able to get outside, enjoy nature, and some normal life fun. I had no problem expressing my thoughts, emotions and heart during this ordeal. I am happy to be healthy and balanced once again.
Guys, why are you holding back? You can be a man, tough and strong, while showing emotions openly. It is not weak to be kind, gentle, vulnerable, loving or cry. It means we are human. We have feelings to express. Share your thoughts, fears, passion and dreams with your family, friends and lovers. It is truly an expression of love to open your heart to someone. When you can freely share your passion of life it is an energizing and vibrant experience. Take every opportunity to improve your mental health. Do not waste time. Be a better you with those special to you!
Ladies, release your fears and anxiety. Open yourself to the joys and happiness of the world. The world is not about looking or acting any particular way. It is not about perfection. It is about truth, honesty, love and connection. Be who you are and embrace your beauty. Self-care is self-love. We all have so much to offer, but fear often invades our minds and controls us. You have to be strong. Life is so short, we must embrace every moment and every opportunity to be happy.
In upcoming weeks, I will dig deeper into the connection between mental and physical health. I will share more on my journey and EMDR therapy. I will highlight how diet, exercise, rest, sun, air and water all play key roles in maintaining our healthy balance.
It’s not about what other people think of me. It’s about what I think of myself. It’s about what I’ve done to be a better man, a better person, a better me. I have wasted so much time on fear and self-doubt. Time is a precious gift, not to be wasted. Make the most of it, enjoy it, share it, be grateful for it and live it.
Join me again next Sunday for more! We will be between Thanksgiving and Christmas, so I want to talk about navigating the holidays. Please tune in!
Thanks for your love and support! Be sure to get outside and enjoy nature!!