Men, mental health and stigma

I have been doing mental health advocacy online for a long time now, it’s been almost 3 years, I am most active on Facebook but in the past wrote a lot in this blog about mental health as well. I also make note that the majority of the support groups are geared toward women, they tend to be the most active in self-improvement and mental awareness, I don’t mind that, in fact, the majority of my friends and supporters are women, they are amazing and I learn so much from them.

But talking about gender roles and how men are perceived in this society is something that is a part of my advocacy and something I think about a lot of the time. I think how a lot of men are perceived as unemotional, detached, expected to be the strong ones, they don’t open up with their feelings and don’t show their sensitive sides. I think most people would say that men do have mental health struggles but choose not to talk about it.

I think about it in a different way, I think men can be just as emotionally ( maybe more so in certain cases) open as women, they can be sensitive, they care deeply but they are told to be more open with their emotions, they are dismissed or shamed for being so open emotionally or struggling with mental health, Many people see that a man who is highly sensitive and emotional is weak, which is far from the truth, men who are open with their emotions are the strongest of them all. . So when men feel shamed or unheard, they stop speaking out and keep their struggles to themselves. This leads to worsening mental health issues, which can lead to breakdowns and even suicide.

I myself, don’t feel comfortable in men’s groups because I always get the sense that the unspoken message is ” I have depression or anxiety, but I’m still a man, I’m still tough” and that message bothers me. It makes me feel as though I’ll be judged with this type of thinking so I continue to seek support from my female friends.It’s a contradiction with me. I want to break the stigma of men and mental health and yet I find myself not relating to a lot of men and that is frustrating. And I don’t blame men for being the way they are, it’s the society that raised that, I see it everywhere, especially in the media. Men play sports, they love cars, they never talk about their feelings, they are in control and it’s a tiring message to me because many of us aren’t like that and even within the mental health community, I see men being labeled that way, and it’s a terrible stereotype that keeps men from getting the help they need.

I remember whenever I was in a college classroom and we would have a discussion about men and women and how men never opened up, all they did was drink beer and watch sports and everyone seemed to be in agreement, while I could not relate and I just rolled my eyes because it sounded like every dated comedy routine from the 80s and 90s, like Home improvement, total nonsense to me

I don’t know, it’s an uphill battle because these messages are ingrained in our society and it genuinely bothers me and it was tough to grow up and feel so alienated from that culture, I couldn’t relate, I had guy friends but I never felt a part of things and I much rather have been by myself or talking with my female friends, I just felt so different and when I just started struggling with mental health, I noticed the stigma about how men were treated. Women are freer to talk openly about their emotions while men were laughed at for being too sensitive. All I can do is write what’s in my heart and lead as an example. I hope this post can make somewhat of a difference and maybe give you a different perspective of the need to break the stigma of men and mental health.

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Social media addiction

I am hopelessly addicted to social media, I am on there all day, constantly posting, seeking validation, I live for those likes and comments, I love the rush of my notifications bell going off, it makes me feel connected in a world wherein reality I feel totally isolated ( even before Covid 19). I feel like people understand me online, they judge me less, I can edit myself, I can delete posts, I can create an image of myself that makes me seem cooler and more interesting than I really am. I can live a lie and omit my glaring flaws, that’s what social media is all about

A lot of people knock social media but I actually receive tons of positive support online and it’s such an amazing feeling, I feel like I belong, I run groups, I do live Facebook videos, I am vulnerable, I put myself out there for the world to see and people respond, I have never felt understood and now I do, I should be happy, right? I am but I’m not and therein lies the problem, the joy of feeling connected is short-lived and I log off of social media feeling exhausted and frustrated by the whole thing.

Yes, I get support and I feel connected but I also feel overwhelmed ( even when I get more than enough praise), too many comments, too many messages, too much being in the spotlight, it’s unnerving at times and this constant need to be heard takes everything out of me. Because when the notifications go from a flood to a trickle ( and it always does), I need to make the next post that will get even more likes or comments and I have to respond to everyone to ensure my posts stays in everyone’s feed ( that’s how social media works, you don’t interact with others, you disappear) And to make matter’s worse, the social media algorithm buries our posts so that only a few people can see them and we never see the posts from the friends we care about, so we miss 95% of the movie and only get the end credits. And it makes us feel we are being ignored when in reality social media is toying with our emotions and controlling what posts we see, while our mental health deteriorates as a result,  it becomes an obsession to stay relevant.

And if the amount of likes or comments doesn’t bother me, it’s scrolling endlessly through my newsfeed ( again interacting with others so they will continue to see my posts.) I  see nothing but smiling faces, people with stable relationships, better jobs, more money; taking nice vacations, eating really delicious looking meals, more friends, the list goes on. And of course, after scrolling, I tell myself that it’s a lie, people are only posting their best moments ( a greatest hits album of their life, while mine is the b side) and I’m at home in my pajamas eating microwave spaghetti. People are fake on social media, just like they are in real life, so it shouldn’t be a surprise but it certainly feels real while I’m scrolling. And suddenly I’m comparing myself to my friends on Facebook, I’m not good enough or handsome enough or have enough friends, I am perpetually focused on what I don’t have instead of counting the many blessings I do have.

Lately, I have gotten zero joy out of being on social media, it doesn’t matter how many likes or comments or messages I get, nothing can quell my loneliness or frustration, nothing can satisfy me and I am just numb to the whole experience ( aside from the advocacy work I am doing with other advocates, that gives me joy) I feel a sense of anger and resentment at social media as a whole and it’s no longer healthy, even if I am advocating for mental health, being on social media has become counterproductive and it has hurt my creativity as well, my blog has taken a nosedive since all my energy went toward Facebook and Instagram, it’s a shame, really.

I have been logged out of all social media for two days now and while I feel anxious, I also feel relieved that I no longer have to see highlight reels or worry about likes or comments. My only reason for being on social media at this point is watch videos related to mental health that are a part of advocacy, aside from that I am no longer making posts of my own, I am no longer scrolling, I am taking an extended hiatus from social media, it is the only way to get better and recover from the damaged caused by these addictive platforms.  I can heal, I know I can do it and so can you.

Bipolar

Sometimes I do my best to manage my bipolar but circumstances beyond my control disrupt those managing patterns; sometimes I can’t sleep as much as I need and I know I’m in trouble, my brain gets fuzzy, my mind races, my eyes feel like they are on fire, I feel angry and depressed and anxious as hell ; just a passive-aggressive nightmare.

I am a live wire at this moment and I’m angry; not at anyone particular but angry that I have this fuckin disorder, that I can’t be like everyone else, that during my manic periods I act in ways, I regret, I say and do things that I don’t remember; well maybe I do somewhat but it’s hazy, its like being high or drunk, everything feels like a blank and the whole day is lost when I don’t sleep well; lost in the abyss of my own racing thoughts; a frantic freeway or words and theories and inner grumblings; paranoia, they all hate me; im no good; im defective, my brain doesn’t work like yours and that’s why everyone rejects me.

They hear the rapid speech and see the darting eyes and back away in fear; they know I’m not ok, and if I had just gotten some sleep, they wouldn’t have seen the bipolar monster before them. This isn’t me; it’s my Mr Hyde who spings out at the most inopportune times. The meds help but its not good if I can’t sleep…..

Memoir of the sleeping bipolar that lives inside my mind… 

A kind face/ Sand

Thoughts swirl around my mind, I find my thinking racing at rapid speed, I need to meet a kind face in this place.

 

I scan the room and boom, I see someone, they turn and give me a smile, it takes a while for me to think of something to say, I know they don’t have all day and I’d be crushed if they walked away.

 

I open my mouth to speak, I’m trying to say the right words, a part of me wants to bolt for the door, if this keeps up, I’ll surely fall to the floor.

 

I try to talk but the words I can’t express, silence, clear is my distress.

 

What’s it all about? My inner voice begins to shout, this didn’t go as planned, I shrink to the ground, turning into sand, falling on the land.

 

And that was the end of me and the final chapter in my story, all that there was, with no glory.

 

 

 

 

Mental health support

I have been suffering from mental health issues for as long as I can remember and only in the last few years have I been public about everything that I have went through, it has been amazing. I have worked out of a lot of my past issues through writing, in fact, I just got my poem published and it was related to mental health, what an amazing feeling. I have also connected with so many supportive people online and that has been helpful but at the same time I have been frustrated  because these supports have been online and few of them live close enough to be able to talk to in person, although I have talked to a few people on video and that went much better than expected. Nonetheless I have been looking for support locally, in person and not online.

 

I started researching mental health support groups in the area and found meetings with NAMI ( National Alliance of Mental Illness) they are a nationwide organization that helps people with mental health issues and I had heard many good things about them. I found that there were monthly support groups in the area. One of the meetings was far and I wasn’t quite sure if I wanted to go to that one but fortunately, I found a meeting that was closer to my home.

 

I was very nervous because I had never been to a peer support group before, I had done 12 steps but that was different. After a week of waiting, I was able to go to a NAMI meeting last night, it was very helpful. There was a lady there from NAMI who ran the meeting and she was great and very kind, an older lady with a lot of resources of help throughout the city. During the meeting,  People just sat around in a circle and talked about various mental health struggles and I shared things myself. People were extremely supportive and offered a lot of good advice. It was incredible to get peer support and there is even a meeting where people share their art, including writing.  I am just proud of myself that I went and will continue to go to those meetings as much as I can.

The masks we wear

Whether we realize it or not, we all wear masks, to protect us from the elements, to survive in harsh social environments. We mask our true emotions, our sadness, our hurts, the crippling rejections we face from time to time when we make the mistake of trying to connect with others.

 

Rejection stings like a thousand bees but we never show it, we carry on with fake plastic smiles, so others won’t feel uncomfortable with the pain we carry with us, a heavy knapsack of boulders; weighing us down but we can’t show weakness, so while we lay on the ground in sheer agony, we laugh it off to avoid the judgment of onlookers. No need for help, I’ll help myself. No need for medical attention, just leave me on the ground for a few more days and I’ll somehow manage to crawl back home.

 

Me, I have a mask and I wear it on occasion but most of the time I leave it at home, in a drawer somewhere. I forget my mask and all I can be is myself, I don’t have the luxury of hiding my pain for the benefit of others, what you see is what you get.

 

If life has given me joy, I might crack open a smile, giddy at the prospect of happiness, even if it’s short lived.

 

If negativity invades my space as it oftentimes does, a frown or an eye roll is sure to come. I don’t have a poker face, I can’t hide my emotions as easily as you, although I would like to at times, to be just like you.

 

I feel bitter because I want the happiness you so easily fake, if I had those skills maybe you’d like me more and want to be around me instead of avoiding the black cloud of emptiness that is my existence

 

I don’t know if this is me talking or the illness talking. I speak out of hurt and need to process all of this because the truth is fleeting, when your own mind decides to feed you lies and you believe every line, every damn time.

 

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I have a bully

I have to tell you something, I have a bully. It seems like no matter where I am, he is always there to criticize and belittle me and doesn’t pass up an opportunity to make feel worthless.

 

When I’m doing well, he likes to remind of the mistakes I made in the past, he tells me no one likes me. He tells me I’ll never make friends and I have no worth whatsoever.

 

When I’m doing well, he likes sneer and say it won’t last and that I don’t deserve the good things in life and that any praise is just a veiled insult because no one anywhere is my friend, he says no one cares about me.

 

He tells me that I’m the only one who feels this way and it’s funny to him; that I feel alone. He says don’t tell anyone how you feel because they’ll just laugh. Remember the times you did share your feelings and they did laugh and ostracize you? Its going to happen again because you deserve it.

 

It hurts so much when he says all these things, I try to tell myself that he’s a bully and that everything he says is a lie but I always believe him. This bully hates me and wants to see fail and I have never found a way to stand up to him because he has always bullied me my whole life. The worst thing about that bully is that the bully is me.

Openly depressed

Sometimes I don’t want to depress people, so I smile and pretend every is alright when I’m really not. Bringing up depression and anxiety in conversation is uncomfortable even for me, so I plaster a fake smile and try to talk about something pleasant when inside I’m really hurting and I know if I was to say it out loud, I’d get a puzzled and uncomfortable look from the person in front of me, so I think of something interesting to say, so I appear normal, if just for a little while.

 

But eventually I find a corner. and I find myself hyperventilating because I hate having to be someone I’m not to appease the rest of the world. Sometimes I don’t feel happy and I want to show that side but I can’t. I internalize everything and it goes right to my stomach, I feel sick and it hurts so bad, all those pent up emotions in the form of sickness.

 

Do you understand where I’m coming from?. Please, let me know, I’m not alone in this. I don’t want your advice or fix, I just want to know I’m not the only one in the room feeling this. If just one person would walk up to me and say ” I feel that way too” I could rest easy. My breathing would subside, my stomach would settle and my mind would slow down.

 

But it’s yet to happen, I feel small and unwelcome here, I just want to go home, with my music and a bed to lay in, to just slow down these rambling thoughts and get so quiet from living in a world that doesn’t “Get it”

Getting my college degree

Things are so good right now; I can’t believe it.  Well earlier, I had made a post about how I was struggling with my math class at college, it was the only class keeping me from graduating.  I have a learning disability in math, which doesn’t mean I am stupid or that I don’t try hard enough ( For those who judge me), it means that my brain is not wired to understand math concepts. It’s similar to someone who has dyslexia and struggles with reading the most basic things. In fact, I am not ashamed of my disabilities, they make me who I am and I use my experience to help others.

 

Anyways earlier I had to drop out of my developmental math class, I just didn’t get it despite my best efforts. I had actually taken the course multiple times and it caused so much emotional distress that I couldn’t sleep at night, I was having angry outbursts and anxiety attacks, I was in bad shape. I assume a lot of people with learning disabilities deal with frustration. People without learning disabilities fail to understand that we try really hard and the issue is not that we are lazy or dumb, it’s just that we learn differently and the traditional way of the classroom doesn’t work for us. We need to find our own system of learning; we all have our own learning styles and learn at our own pace.

 

So, we require accommodations, which can include longer tests times, testing in a quieter space, extra tutoring, frequent breaks. I had talked to a disability counselor prior and I had all my documentation, which had al long history of learning disabilities and emotional issues that impeded my learning, including the trauma of losing my brother to suicide when I was 14.  So, I was given the accommodations and even with that in place and putting all my energy into studying, I failed my midterm even though it was an open book quiz, I was so frustrated.

 

I was also fortunate  to volunteer with a disabled ministry at church and the lady who created the group offered to find me a tutor and some other people looked at my math with me. I am so blessed to have so many people who support and care about me, people who take a vested interest in my life. I don’t know where I would be without this support

 

My mom and I decided to have a meeting with the disability counselor, we brought all the documentation and discussed the issues I had with math particularly the fact that I went to 5 or 6 alternative schools while dealing with the death of my brother.  The meeting went well I asked for them to either waive the class or give me a substitution but she is insinuated that a substitution was very rare, so I wasn’t very optimistic when I left the meeting.

 

I was told that I would be contacted about the school’s decision. I waited and waited and heard nothing. So, a week later I emailed the counselor and she told me she had sent everything to her boss and I would receive a call or email. Again, I waited 2 weeks and heard nothing so I was losing hope. I mean, all of that hard work and it was a brick wall.  I felt like my dreams were crumbling. It just seems like there are so many obstacles and its hard not to want to give up sometimes.

My mom who is my best advocate wrote a letter on my behalf, asking what the hold up was.  And before anyone makes a judgement, I am so grateful that my mom advocates for me. Sometimes it’s difficult for me to confront people or seem pushy and she is really good at fighting for me and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that.  She was able to get their attention when I couldn’t.

 

Almost immediately, we got a response saying that the substitution had been approved, I couldn’t believe it, I was  so excited because I thought it would never happen. I wasn’t expecting for them to approve it. I am going to take astronomy and that is much easier for me than math. It will require studying but I know I can pass this. It also means I will finally have a college degree, a life long dream of mine. I couldn’t have imagined this 10 years ago when I was struggling so much.

 

The lesson I learned from all of this was preservice, never giving up, and to have faith.  I thought about God an how he is always working in my life and always answers my prayers.  It’s funny because I am assisting a special needs Sunday school and the theme this week was perservance and not giving up, I mean how much clearer could God’s message  to me be?

 

I also find it interesting that at this time, I would get a troll, saying that I was stupid and lazy and couldn’t even pass a math course and this miracle happened immediately after. Like the devil trying to trip you up or something.  Things happen for a reason and this troll attempt only gave me confidence and got me more connected with others and propelled me to write even further. So, I am grateful for the troll comments, gives me motivation.

 

So, I wanted to share the wonderful news with you and to thank you for all of your support. I will keep everyone updated

 

 

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Failure to connect

Failing to connect the dots, thoughts escape me as I sip my drinking, laughing nervously

 

Trying to think of something to say to the person who has chosen to sit beside me, but I’m lost in the ever-present sound of life as it passes by me and they leave without saying a word.

 

I’m still on this stool, waiting for a smile that never comes, so I look around to see a friendly face but all I see is darkness

 

A sea of people but I feel alone, washed away in loneliness, a common theme

 

Another face, I open my mouth to speak but a soft whisper comes out, I sheepishly realized that the eyes in front of me lack interest and so I turn back the glaring glow of the television broadcasting a basketball game which leaves me feeling bored.

 

I walk outside with my drink that burns and churns my stomach, the patio is empty, it’s cold and I start a conversation with the only person I haven’t failed to connect with: myself. “How are you?” I say. “I’m great”, my own voice replies.

 

We talk until closing time, the man motions for me to leave, we get into the car, head home, put ourselves to bed and get a good night’s rest. A failure in connectivity which no longer pains me since it is so familiar.  😦