Steven J Sluiter

@steven-j-sluiter | contributor
I am an advocate for Mental Health Awareness. I am a survivor and a fighter, a father and a writer, I am committed to keep on fighting everyday for myself and those like me who live with mental illness.
Community Voices

Medication or Meditation

This will be a different submission than my others. It will be blunt and straightforward. You see…even in my previous posts and submissions and letters…I was still wearing a sort of mask. These last few months I have been acting stronger than I felt.

Just over 3 months ago I did something very foolish. I quit my meds. Cold turkey. Thats never good to do. Especially with SSRI’s and anti-depressants. I did it for two reasons. The first reason was because I didn’t have insurance and couldn’t afford them. The second reason was, to be blunt, I was tired of them. Neither of those were good reasons. It didnt take long for #Anxiety to build and #Depression to climb on my back. It got bad. Within three months I was starting to feel suicidal. I knew early enough that when the thoughts and ideas came I went and saw my primary doctor. I had help paying for it from family. He listened and asked lots of questions. At the end of the appointment he suggested I seek inpatient treatment. I went home to discuss it with my wife. I was honest with her about how I felt, and she agreed with my doctor. So I went to the ER for evaluation and 7(ish) hours later I was on the list for a bed. They called at midnight that night and to inpatient I went.

They decided on meds and I started them the next night. 5 days later, after therapy and meds and group classes I had started to feel a difference. Not better, not all better by a long shot…but a notable difference. I was not suicidal, and my anxiety had gone down. I know my days of round the clock meds didnt fix it…but it made a dent and started to do their job. I went home and am determined to stay on my meds and keep going to therapy. There’s the thing I wanted to talk about: medication. How so very important it can be to a successfull treatment.

Can medication fix how you feel? No. Can it effect how you feel? Yes. You see…mental illness is just that. An illness. A disease that has no cure. And just like other diseases like #Cancer and aids, there are meds to prolong your life. But not cure the diseases. In the case of mental illness it is so very often caused by a chemical inballance. Not always. PTSD, #Schizophrenia and illnesses like that can be caused by trauma. But in the end there are medications that can be taken. Medications that can alter the bain chemicals and push you away from depression and anxiety. Away from the PT-stress and the schizophrenia and the OCD. They can help. Sometimes you will meet people who judge and critique you and tell you “pills aren’t the answer!”Ignore them. Push them away; physically of necessary.

THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH TAKING MEDICATIONS TO LIVE.

Shout it out if you need to. Because its so very true. If you are ill and dying medications are very helpfull. Thats what happens to people with mental illness. Many incurable diseases final symptom is death. mental illness so no exception. The difference is with mental illnesses, it’s by the sufferers own hand. #Suicide has a very negative stigma, because of how those left behind feel. In reality it is an act of desperation after fighting a battle that the person feels like they cannot win. Medication may be able to calm those feelings. And therapy can help as well.

I have been told that I need to trust in faith. That God is the only right answer. That’s ridiculous. God may be an answer, but what gave the doctors talent? Where did the knowledge to make medications come from? Some may say God. Some may say nature or science. No matter what you believe, the plain fact is this: doctors have medications and knowledge and the tools to help you. You only need to ask their help.

Here is the other side of the argument: Non-medicated treatment. This is ok too. It can help with many #MoodDisorders. This includes things such as meditation, calming techniques, deep breathing exercises and more. Many people boast about how well this works and that they no longer need medication. See? The two sides to the coin. Hold on to your hats because I’m going to say something that is about to blow your progressive minds.

Both of these work.

I’ll say it again. Both of these work. There is validity to both. You can medicate AND meditate. In the morning, while I’m drinking my coffee I sit in the quiet and contemplate. I calm my mind. I ready myself for the day. Then I eat breakfast. Not always because I want to but because some of my pills require me to take them with food. After breakfast I take my medications. I do this because they work together. The combination of these things helps keep me grounded and calm.

Ultimately what you can take away from this are two important things: 1)Medications are ok. 2)only you can decide what methods work for you. Seek a doctor, get advice and agree on a treatment you feel will work best for YOU. Remember lota of us have been where you are at. Including myself. I’m on your side. We’re all in this together.

✌????☯✊

1 person is talking about this
Community Voices

Who Are You?

Who are you? As weird as that question may seem, it is a simple one. or it is? You see, I am not just Steven. That is merely my name. That does not tell you I am someone who loves coffee, pizza and comedies. It doesn’t tell you what I dislike or like. It certainly doesn’t tell you how tall I am or what my sign is. So why do we use such a simple title to define us? It is just our name after all. We are given it at birth. We are given it because we are seen as deserving of this title. (and it helps identify us in a crowd, or less specifically, on this earth) so we use it. Every day we call ourselves it, we introduce ourselves by it and we sign it on papers. We use is knowing full well it is not what defines us, but instead is just the subheading of who we are, how we are filed into the grand scheme of things.

Many of us with any kind of Mental Illness seek professional help. When we do we are told we have something. #Depression, PTSD, Autism, #Anxiety…the list is very, very long. Too often we then go about our lives with that diagnosis on our back. We tell ourselves “I am depressed” or “I have anxiety” and we let our diagnosis define who we are. We alter how we define ourselves and often times how we see ourselves but the name the doctors have given us. I am not depression or anxiety. I am not suicidal tendencies. I have been given these labels by competent medical professionals, yet they are not me. Yes, I have anxiety but I have had it for years. When I was Steven the teenager I had it. When I was Steven the college student I had it. All those years I didn’t use it a label to define me. I didn’t say ” I like coffee, funny movies, freckles and have severe anxiety. Whats your name?” It was just a trait of my personality you saw as you got to know me.

The same thing goes for Mental Illness of any kind; you are not any other label they give you at the completion of a round of tests. It is a part of you, yes. but it is not you. It is something you are going through and living with but it is not you. YOU are you. i know that sounds silly, but it’s true. You, sitting there right now…the years it took to get you here, the things you love and dislike, the the styles you like and the music you listen to…all those things are part of you. You are a jigsaw puzzle, an onion, a parfait, use whatever analogy you like. You are complex bundle of layers and parts of a whole. Your Heading is your face and your subheading is your name. Below that is so much more. That’s why I have always had issue with horoscopes.  You are much more than a sign assigned to you based on the date of your birth. Things are much more complicated than that. I am far more than an Aquarius (or whatever animal, from whichever cultural calendar you are using)

#MentalHealth problems don’t define who you are. They can be intense. They can be overwhelming. But they are something you experience. The you is separate. You walk in the rain and you feel the rain and it can chill and soak you to the bone but – important – YOU ARE NOT THE RAIN. That is the central challenge in beating stigma. People see physical health problems as something you have, but problems as something you are. This needs to change.

-Matt Haig on twitter 10/09/2018 @matthaig1

So today I give you this challenge: When you look in the mirror, greet yourself as you. As your name, as a human being…not as someone with an illness. Try to treat yourself that way today. I know it can be very hard, those voices inside can be loud and overbearing and some days it is a challenge to even move. I get that, I really do. So if you can, if you find yourself in the place where it’s possible, try to re-humanize yourself today. You deserve that. No matter what the illness, diagnosis or anyone else says, you are YOU and that is important. You are important. Each of us is important, and necessary to this world in one way or another.

What ‘It Always Seems Darkest Before the Dawn’ Really Means

They say it always seems darkest before the dawn. They do. They say that a lot. I heard it many times in my life. “Things look bad now, but remember…” And for years I just rolled my eyes. Cliches annoyed me. At some point in college, I took a course that changed my thinking on darkness and light and that old cliche. I’ll try to keep this as non-technical as possible, but it will be a bit of a science lesson (just a little) so bear with me. Have you ever heard the phrase: “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky in the morning, sailor take warning?” It is a reference to weather and forecasting. You see, due to some intelligent people figuring out things having to due to weather, air density and storm patterns, we now know that if the sunset is a reddish color, then usually the resulting weather pattern will be favorable to those on the seas, and vice-versa. Quick science lesson: We see different colors in the sky because as the sun nears the horizon, the light is refracted at a different angle and that produces colorful sunsets. We usually see blue, but the hue changes as the light moves through the sky. At our basic cores, humans are simply animals. Most animals, like humans, prefer the daytime for its safety. As the sun sets, we see things differently, don’t we? There are more shadows now. Less of our landscape is illuminated, leaving places for predators to hide. It is the same in our minds. Those living with mental illness like depression or anxiety or even mania can be clear-headed and see things just fine. As an event approaches in their mind… as an anxiety attack begins to build, they can feel it. Like a sunset, the darkness rises and things become a bit less clear. This can take days, hours or seconds, just like a sunset can seem to take a long time, or be over in a blink of an eye. As the mental dusk sets in, we feel even more panic, don’t we? We know what’s coming. we don’t know how bad it will be, or how long it will last, but we know that feeling. The shadows grow and we have no place to hide. For me personally, that describes the start of an anxiety attack perfectly. I feel it coming but I have no control over it. Inevitably, the sun sets and it is dark all around. We are scared, anxious and surrounded by things in our own mind, waiting to attack us. Those thoughts that say exactly what we are afraid of: “You’ll never make it out of this one” “See this? This makes you less of a person.” “This is your weakness.” Attacks from all sides and we cannot see them coming. We try to focus on the little glimmers of hope to ground ourselves, much like a person lost in the woods or at sea focuses on the stars. Dots of hope. Reminders there is still light out there. They focus on the moon — a reminder the sun is still shining its light on the moon, and it will return to us. Sometimes, it’s worse than that. The weather is cloudy. Stars and the moon are not visible. What then? When there is no light in the darkness — when those thoughts are so very overwhelming that all hope seems lost. That the only answer is to end it; end the suffering once and for all. Hang in there. There are always breaks in the clouds. Cracks in the armor of anxiety and depression. A glimmer of light always shines through. Maybe it’s a friend. Maybe it’s someone on the other end of the phone at a helpline. It’s always there. Here is the part about the cliché I was talking about: as night nears its end, as the peak of the mental attack is at its worst, we find it the hardest to see the light. Why is that? Stars are only visible at night. The moon is only its brightest when it’s dark out. Why is that? Because as the sun begins to approach the horizon again, even before we see it, the light is starting to shine into the upper atmosphere, drowning out the light of the stars. See, their job is done. They’ve shone through the night, and now that they see the sun, their time to rest is here. The problem is, we don’t see the sun yet. All we see, from our point at rock bottom, is that the stars have gone out. It is now the darkest it has been. We feel the most vulnerable. It’s the same in our minds. As we begin to sink into that pattern of despair, as the attack reaches its pinnacle, we no longer see the light. I know that’s how it was for me. At my worst, when my life felt like a ruined city, my mind was in pieces and I simply wanted to die, I could no longer see hope. No light at the end of the road for me. I wanted to die. I was through living. I was actually convinced my kids would be better off without a depressed, angry, alcoholic father. That part was true. They would be better with a father who was willing to live. Who was willing to try. To fight every day to live. I was over that. That is when I was taken to a room. A co-worker took me to an empty exam room and sat with me, talked with me. She actually sat with me and said something that was one little spark of light in my darkest time. She told me it was OK that I was hurting. It was OK that I didn’t want to work in family practice anymore because I couldn’t bear to hear the babies cry when I gave them immunizations. It meant I had a heart, that I cared. She talked me down from that place. I saw the light begin to creep in. It was dim, but there. I decided that night that I wanted to fight. I wanted to continue to live. So I admitted myself to a psychiatric hospital. I knew I needed help. My dawn was approaching but it was not there yet. It was a very hard week. I know there are people who are at that point. The dark valley. Even worse, a pit of despair. They cannot see the stars anymore. They cannot see the light, see the hope. That is what I mean. That is what the saying means. It is the darkest right before dawn. When all hope seems lost, and giving up seems like the only option, that is when the answer, the calm, the light is just over the horizon. Sometimes, we can’t wait though, can we? The battle is too long, the enemy too tough and the night too dark. So suicide is chosen. That is not cowardice. Many will say “suicide is the coward’s way out,” but they are wrong. It is not cowardice. It is despair. It is a battle that has gone on too long and the warrior has lost. It is an enemy that takes the life of someone who has been fighting their whole life. That is where we come in. Those of us that have seen a glimmer of light return. Those of us that have walked through that valley and seen the light in the distance. Have you ever seen “The Lord Of The Rings?” Remember when they lit the beacon of Gondor but it couldn’t reach over the mountain? They lit one beacon. One single light. And in response, another was lit, and another. One light inspired another until the light reached its destination and ultimately help came. We who have survived until now are the lights of hope for those still fighting. And as one of us falls under attack, we are the lights to bring them back to the army. The darkness may seem lonely, but you will see there are many around you, once the light shines. We are the stars when the stars go out. We are the beacons of hope when all seems lost. This family of fighters. The beacons of light in the darkness. So remember: It is always darkest before the dawn, but there is always a dawn. Always. We will always be the stars for each other. Remember, I’m pulling for you. We’re all in this together. Follow this journey on the author’s blog.

What ‘It Always Seems Darkest Before the Dawn’ Really Means

They say it always seems darkest before the dawn. They do. They say that a lot. I heard it many times in my life. “Things look bad now, but remember…” And for years I just rolled my eyes. Cliches annoyed me. At some point in college, I took a course that changed my thinking on darkness and light and that old cliche. I’ll try to keep this as non-technical as possible, but it will be a bit of a science lesson (just a little) so bear with me. Have you ever heard the phrase: “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky in the morning, sailor take warning?” It is a reference to weather and forecasting. You see, due to some intelligent people figuring out things having to due to weather, air density and storm patterns, we now know that if the sunset is a reddish color, then usually the resulting weather pattern will be favorable to those on the seas, and vice-versa. Quick science lesson: We see different colors in the sky because as the sun nears the horizon, the light is refracted at a different angle and that produces colorful sunsets. We usually see blue, but the hue changes as the light moves through the sky. At our basic cores, humans are simply animals. Most animals, like humans, prefer the daytime for its safety. As the sun sets, we see things differently, don’t we? There are more shadows now. Less of our landscape is illuminated, leaving places for predators to hide. It is the same in our minds. Those living with mental illness like depression or anxiety or even mania can be clear-headed and see things just fine. As an event approaches in their mind… as an anxiety attack begins to build, they can feel it. Like a sunset, the darkness rises and things become a bit less clear. This can take days, hours or seconds, just like a sunset can seem to take a long time, or be over in a blink of an eye. As the mental dusk sets in, we feel even more panic, don’t we? We know what’s coming. we don’t know how bad it will be, or how long it will last, but we know that feeling. The shadows grow and we have no place to hide. For me personally, that describes the start of an anxiety attack perfectly. I feel it coming but I have no control over it. Inevitably, the sun sets and it is dark all around. We are scared, anxious and surrounded by things in our own mind, waiting to attack us. Those thoughts that say exactly what we are afraid of: “You’ll never make it out of this one” “See this? This makes you less of a person.” “This is your weakness.” Attacks from all sides and we cannot see them coming. We try to focus on the little glimmers of hope to ground ourselves, much like a person lost in the woods or at sea focuses on the stars. Dots of hope. Reminders there is still light out there. They focus on the moon — a reminder the sun is still shining its light on the moon, and it will return to us. Sometimes, it’s worse than that. The weather is cloudy. Stars and the moon are not visible. What then? When there is no light in the darkness — when those thoughts are so very overwhelming that all hope seems lost. That the only answer is to end it; end the suffering once and for all. Hang in there. There are always breaks in the clouds. Cracks in the armor of anxiety and depression. A glimmer of light always shines through. Maybe it’s a friend. Maybe it’s someone on the other end of the phone at a helpline. It’s always there. Here is the part about the cliché I was talking about: as night nears its end, as the peak of the mental attack is at its worst, we find it the hardest to see the light. Why is that? Stars are only visible at night. The moon is only its brightest when it’s dark out. Why is that? Because as the sun begins to approach the horizon again, even before we see it, the light is starting to shine into the upper atmosphere, drowning out the light of the stars. See, their job is done. They’ve shone through the night, and now that they see the sun, their time to rest is here. The problem is, we don’t see the sun yet. All we see, from our point at rock bottom, is that the stars have gone out. It is now the darkest it has been. We feel the most vulnerable. It’s the same in our minds. As we begin to sink into that pattern of despair, as the attack reaches its pinnacle, we no longer see the light. I know that’s how it was for me. At my worst, when my life felt like a ruined city, my mind was in pieces and I simply wanted to die, I could no longer see hope. No light at the end of the road for me. I wanted to die. I was through living. I was actually convinced my kids would be better off without a depressed, angry, alcoholic father. That part was true. They would be better with a father who was willing to live. Who was willing to try. To fight every day to live. I was over that. That is when I was taken to a room. A co-worker took me to an empty exam room and sat with me, talked with me. She actually sat with me and said something that was one little spark of light in my darkest time. She told me it was OK that I was hurting. It was OK that I didn’t want to work in family practice anymore because I couldn’t bear to hear the babies cry when I gave them immunizations. It meant I had a heart, that I cared. She talked me down from that place. I saw the light begin to creep in. It was dim, but there. I decided that night that I wanted to fight. I wanted to continue to live. So I admitted myself to a psychiatric hospital. I knew I needed help. My dawn was approaching but it was not there yet. It was a very hard week. I know there are people who are at that point. The dark valley. Even worse, a pit of despair. They cannot see the stars anymore. They cannot see the light, see the hope. That is what I mean. That is what the saying means. It is the darkest right before dawn. When all hope seems lost, and giving up seems like the only option, that is when the answer, the calm, the light is just over the horizon. Sometimes, we can’t wait though, can we? The battle is too long, the enemy too tough and the night too dark. So suicide is chosen. That is not cowardice. Many will say “suicide is the coward’s way out,” but they are wrong. It is not cowardice. It is despair. It is a battle that has gone on too long and the warrior has lost. It is an enemy that takes the life of someone who has been fighting their whole life. That is where we come in. Those of us that have seen a glimmer of light return. Those of us that have walked through that valley and seen the light in the distance. Have you ever seen “The Lord Of The Rings?” Remember when they lit the beacon of Gondor but it couldn’t reach over the mountain? They lit one beacon. One single light. And in response, another was lit, and another. One light inspired another until the light reached its destination and ultimately help came. We who have survived until now are the lights of hope for those still fighting. And as one of us falls under attack, we are the lights to bring them back to the army. The darkness may seem lonely, but you will see there are many around you, once the light shines. We are the stars when the stars go out. We are the beacons of hope when all seems lost. This family of fighters. The beacons of light in the darkness. So remember: It is always darkest before the dawn, but there is always a dawn. Always. We will always be the stars for each other. Remember, I’m pulling for you. We’re all in this together. Follow this journey on the author’s blog.

Community Voices

Not So "Social" Media

With all the different Social Media apps and websites it can be all too easy to lose yourself along the way. In focusing on your on-line life with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and all the other popular apps, it is way to easy to let in all the toxic things that are out there. The sports rivalries, popularity contests, selfies, the political fighting, the news itself...all things that can be very damaging to your mental health. We find ourselves immersed in other peoples drama and lives and often times get dragged into it. We have to check our feed constantly. Whats going on? Who said this? Has anything happened in the last ten minutes? Then we realize we have become hooked.

That is why I have taken a break from Social Media. I have deactivated all my accounts and put them on pause. I may return to them in some form some day, but for now I need to focus on me and my own health, and that is perfectly ok. If you are in that place, that mindset of having to be online constantly, of being negatively affected by your Social Media life, here is a reminder, maybe even an encouragement to unplug. put up an away message or temporarily shut down your Social Media (most of them have a "temporary deactivate" feature that lets you have a 30 day or more break if you need it, without losing your account) and focus on yourself and your own mental health for a while. Heal your own mind and worry less about the drama unfolding online. Trust me, it helps more than you realize, because, as I have found, you are probably more hooked into your online life than you realize. #MentalHealth #Addiction #selfcare #toxicity #MightyTogether #savethefalling

8 people are talking about this
Community Voices

Defined by a diagnosis

So many times we let our diagnoses define us. They become such an integral part of our daily lives that we let the title given to our illness make a name for us in life. When we do this, we let it get a foothold into how we see ourselves. We begin to see ourselves as 'the depressed, anxious person' or the as 'the one with ptsd' and that starts to become who we define ourselves as.

Yes, our illness is a big part of our lives, it is part of who we are, but you are still you; with or without it. You are still a person and one deserving being seen as such, without the additional title of a illness added on.

So today I give you this challenge: When you look in the mirror, greet yourself as you. As your name, as a human being...not as someone with an illness. Try to treat yourself that way today. Try to re-humanize yourself today. You deserve that.
#MightyTogether #MentalHealth #mentalhealthchallange #WorldMentalHealthDay

1 person is talking about this
Community Voices

The perfect storm of #MySymptoms

I shouldn't feel like this
Something inside is amiss
Everything is spinning around
Fast whirling and making me dizzy
About to knock me to the ground

My chest is heavy and my knees are weak
My mind is racing and I can't even think
Life with anxiety and
These are my symptoms

Everything turns grey nothing to do or say
Don't want to move or even breathe
My brain is telling me lies and fabrications
Storm clouds and strong winds move me in different directions
Try to convince me to take myself out of the equation.

But it's all in my mind, not in reality
My own brain has become a liability
Waking each day with depression and
These are my symptoms

They hit alone or team up to form a superstorm
Trying to drown me under the weight off my own thoughts and self doubts
Toss and turn my mind about
Take away my breath, leave me gasping instead
Tears and sweat mix together on my head

But it passes
Everytime it comes it's never lasting
I'm left still standing
They come and go but I remain
Solid till the end, till my final day
Because these are just my symptoms
Not my death sentence.
#MySymptoms #MightyPoets #Depression #Anxiety #PanicAttack #Suicide #MentalHealth

Community Voices

Life is a highway...

I just want to take a minute today to give you all some encouragement. Some of you reading this are doing good today. Your road is straight and flat and you can see for miles. Others of you are going down the road of life in a thick fog, over a road full of twists, hills and potholes. You know what though? That's ok. That's manageable. It may be a difficult day, lots of stress and anxiety. The current state of our world right now is full of things that cause worry and fears. Just today the American government tested out the mass alert system on the mobile phone networks.

Let me tell you one way I have found to cope with the bad days, the days where my road is dark and unstable. I deposit in my mental bank. On the good days, when everything feels ok and I can manage what is going on, I put that away in my mind so that when things get hard and this monster of mental illness shows it's face again, I can pull out that reserve and use it to fight. It doesn't always work...but more often than not, it helps. And it may help you. No matter what method you find for dealing with the hard days, I know you can do it. You are not alone, help...in some shape or form is out there. I promise. It won't rain all the time. #MentalHealth #Selfcare #Life #MentalIllness #MightyTogether

2 people are talking about this

Fatherhood, Mental Health and the Cycle of Toxic Masculinity

Men everywhere are killing themselves while they are still alive. They are zombies, walking around dead inside. They have put up a wall in their minds and around their hearts because they have been brainwashed to do so. This all no fault of theirs. For decades, society has hammered into the brains of men that “boys don’t cry” and “real men keep their emotions bottled up.” We see it everywhere: Music, movies, TV and even in video games. Men are to be tough and macho and never show a crack in their armor. “No woman wants a crybaby,” they say. If you are a man who is willing to cry and be emotional, then you must be a homosexual, as if being a “sissy” or “wimp” is synonymous with homosexuality. ( I have met some very masculine gay men in my life. Men who would surprise anyone with their orientation.) We are fed it as children. Too many parents love using the phrases “toughen up” or “man up,” and refer to their young men as “crybabies” if they begin to cry. There have been times I have told my sons not to cry. Usually, it’s when they are overreacting, but I try very hard not to belittle them about it. I am human and sometimes it comes through. That’s how deep the brainwashing goes. I know better and still it happens. They cry on the playground and they are told to “walk it off,” as if that were the cure-all. When a child is being bullied or abused by peers, “walking it off” or “sucking it up” is not the answer. As they grow up, boys see the men in their life as examples of how to behave and deal with things. Sometimes, this is OK. Not everyone is bullied. Not everyone deals with mental illness. Everyone, at some point in their life, will deal with pain — the death of a loved one, divorce, job loss or worse. How we are taught to handle these things has a major effect on what we become after them. I remember, as a child, when I would have what I now know as panic attacks or breakdown crying because I didn’t understand everything going on in my brain, I would be mocked. I was called a “sissy” and a “crybaby.” Sometimes, I could handle groups, especially if I was with friends. As a teenager, I loved going to concerts. I could lose myself in the music and forget I was in a crowd. If I was alone, this was next to impossible. One particular instance stands out. I was young, maybe approaching middle school age. There a was mixer of sorts to get the younger kids used to the kind of atmosphere the older (15 or 16-year-old) kids were in. It was loud, there was music and people I didn’t know and I found myself under a table, in tears, having a panic attack. This is the first time I remember feeling social anxiety this strong. I wanted to run, to leave, but my body would not allow it. I felt weak and vulnerable. It was referenced by my peers several times after that. I was seen as a wimp: an antisocial nerd. So I pushed it down. I learned to keep my emotions in. No crying; no breakdowns. I saw boys and men around me being tough and never having emotions other than being happy, and I felt less-than. Weak. My father wasn’t the overbearing kind of man. He didn’t belittle me because of how I felt. I don’t think he really understood what I was going through, because I never let anyone in, but I don’t remember him ever going macho-man on me. We just didn’t talk a lot about emotions. It was a subject that stayed on the backburner most of the time. Other males in my life, however, were all about that “men don’t cry” life so I made extra sure not to show it around them. That’s how things stayed well into my adult life. I didn’t open up to many people and I did everything I could not to be emotional. This meant bottling up my feelings. Those feelings of anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts… they all got pushed down inside. Inside, I was screaming. I was still terrified of being in public alone but I did it anyway so no one would know. I used alcohol to numb myself and what came out usually came out as anger. When I became a father, I did my best to be strong for them. I didn’t want them to see their dad as a weak man. It had come full circle; I had become a man who shoved his feelings down deep and didn’t let them out. I did everything I could not to project that onto my sons. I did not want them to have the “boys don’t cry” mindset. I was walking that line… the “do as I say, not as I do” line. When I was admitted to the hospital, I had to decide if I wanted the boys to see me. I knew they would see me differently. I knew the first time I saw them, I would cry. I knew they needed to have an explanation as to why their dad was in that place. So I told them. They had a little understanding already, because their mom had been in there before as well. I wanted them to be aware this was dad admitting he needed help — that dad was in a bad place mentally and emotionally and this needed to change. We have had several conversations about mental health and acceptance. They know what I now know… They know that having a mental illness is not weakness. That expressing emotions and crying is not weakness. It is OK to not be OK sometimes. There is a negative stigma attached to emotions when it comes to men. All our TV and movie “heroes” are men who either are emotionally unavailable or all-together bad dads, from Homer Simpson to Frank Gallagher. Men who try to tough it out. Thankfully, we have actual men like Terry Crews, Michael Landsberg and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson who are willing to stand up and say: “It’s OK to not be OK. It is OK to have to cry, to be depressed and yes, even suicidal. It is OK to seek help for these things. You are not less of a man for it. Rather, you are a stronger man for admitting it.” To say you can be sick without being weak. We need to break this cycle of macho-masculinity poisoning our boys and men: the pseudo-macho attitude that makes them think men don’t care about emotions. Hunting, chasing women, driving sports cars, shooting shit; the things that make them think makes them men. The macho stuff. The attitude that culls emotions from their minds and sends them into a world that will chew them up and spit them out without a care and then tells them they cannot be affected by it. As men, we need to stand up and end this cycle once and for all. We need to talk about how we feel and admit when we are hurting. It is OK, I promise. You won’t be less of a man for it. Remember, I’m here for you. We are all in this together.

Fatherhood, Mental Health and the Cycle of Toxic Masculinity

Men everywhere are killing themselves while they are still alive. They are zombies, walking around dead inside. They have put up a wall in their minds and around their hearts because they have been brainwashed to do so. This all no fault of theirs. For decades, society has hammered into the brains of men that “boys don’t cry” and “real men keep their emotions bottled up.” We see it everywhere: Music, movies, TV and even in video games. Men are to be tough and macho and never show a crack in their armor. “No woman wants a crybaby,” they say. If you are a man who is willing to cry and be emotional, then you must be a homosexual, as if being a “sissy” or “wimp” is synonymous with homosexuality. ( I have met some very masculine gay men in my life. Men who would surprise anyone with their orientation.) We are fed it as children. Too many parents love using the phrases “toughen up” or “man up,” and refer to their young men as “crybabies” if they begin to cry. There have been times I have told my sons not to cry. Usually, it’s when they are overreacting, but I try very hard not to belittle them about it. I am human and sometimes it comes through. That’s how deep the brainwashing goes. I know better and still it happens. They cry on the playground and they are told to “walk it off,” as if that were the cure-all. When a child is being bullied or abused by peers, “walking it off” or “sucking it up” is not the answer. As they grow up, boys see the men in their life as examples of how to behave and deal with things. Sometimes, this is OK. Not everyone is bullied. Not everyone deals with mental illness. Everyone, at some point in their life, will deal with pain — the death of a loved one, divorce, job loss or worse. How we are taught to handle these things has a major effect on what we become after them. I remember, as a child, when I would have what I now know as panic attacks or breakdown crying because I didn’t understand everything going on in my brain, I would be mocked. I was called a “sissy” and a “crybaby.” Sometimes, I could handle groups, especially if I was with friends. As a teenager, I loved going to concerts. I could lose myself in the music and forget I was in a crowd. If I was alone, this was next to impossible. One particular instance stands out. I was young, maybe approaching middle school age. There a was mixer of sorts to get the younger kids used to the kind of atmosphere the older (15 or 16-year-old) kids were in. It was loud, there was music and people I didn’t know and I found myself under a table, in tears, having a panic attack. This is the first time I remember feeling social anxiety this strong. I wanted to run, to leave, but my body would not allow it. I felt weak and vulnerable. It was referenced by my peers several times after that. I was seen as a wimp: an antisocial nerd. So I pushed it down. I learned to keep my emotions in. No crying; no breakdowns. I saw boys and men around me being tough and never having emotions other than being happy, and I felt less-than. Weak. My father wasn’t the overbearing kind of man. He didn’t belittle me because of how I felt. I don’t think he really understood what I was going through, because I never let anyone in, but I don’t remember him ever going macho-man on me. We just didn’t talk a lot about emotions. It was a subject that stayed on the backburner most of the time. Other males in my life, however, were all about that “men don’t cry” life so I made extra sure not to show it around them. That’s how things stayed well into my adult life. I didn’t open up to many people and I did everything I could not to be emotional. This meant bottling up my feelings. Those feelings of anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts… they all got pushed down inside. Inside, I was screaming. I was still terrified of being in public alone but I did it anyway so no one would know. I used alcohol to numb myself and what came out usually came out as anger. When I became a father, I did my best to be strong for them. I didn’t want them to see their dad as a weak man. It had come full circle; I had become a man who shoved his feelings down deep and didn’t let them out. I did everything I could not to project that onto my sons. I did not want them to have the “boys don’t cry” mindset. I was walking that line… the “do as I say, not as I do” line. When I was admitted to the hospital, I had to decide if I wanted the boys to see me. I knew they would see me differently. I knew the first time I saw them, I would cry. I knew they needed to have an explanation as to why their dad was in that place. So I told them. They had a little understanding already, because their mom had been in there before as well. I wanted them to be aware this was dad admitting he needed help — that dad was in a bad place mentally and emotionally and this needed to change. We have had several conversations about mental health and acceptance. They know what I now know… They know that having a mental illness is not weakness. That expressing emotions and crying is not weakness. It is OK to not be OK sometimes. There is a negative stigma attached to emotions when it comes to men. All our TV and movie “heroes” are men who either are emotionally unavailable or all-together bad dads, from Homer Simpson to Frank Gallagher. Men who try to tough it out. Thankfully, we have actual men like Terry Crews, Michael Landsberg and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson who are willing to stand up and say: “It’s OK to not be OK. It is OK to have to cry, to be depressed and yes, even suicidal. It is OK to seek help for these things. You are not less of a man for it. Rather, you are a stronger man for admitting it.” To say you can be sick without being weak. We need to break this cycle of macho-masculinity poisoning our boys and men: the pseudo-macho attitude that makes them think men don’t care about emotions. Hunting, chasing women, driving sports cars, shooting shit; the things that make them think makes them men. The macho stuff. The attitude that culls emotions from their minds and sends them into a world that will chew them up and spit them out without a care and then tells them they cannot be affected by it. As men, we need to stand up and end this cycle once and for all. We need to talk about how we feel and admit when we are hurting. It is OK, I promise. You won’t be less of a man for it. Remember, I’m here for you. We are all in this together.