Familiar quotes have a way of triggering the memory. This happen to me the other day. I was pumping gas and minding my own business when chaos seemed to erupt at the pump across from me. A young woman was in heated negotiations with the young toddler who was not having his best day. As the exchange between toddler and who I assume to be his mother began to deteriorate, it happened. The young woman, frustrated, looked at the toddler and said, “Quit crying or I will give you something to cry about.”
Hearing those words ring out triggered memories of the times they were once directed at me or my brother. I thought about the other familiar sayings that we heard growing up. You know the ones, “big boys don’t cry,” and “turn that frown upside down.” Those were among the many that I remember hearing over the years.
Some phrases stick with you and are of deeper consequence. The saying “grown men don’t cry” morphed into a sort of unwritten code. A code that complicated my relationship with my emotions. It also complicated my idea of what it meant to be a man.
A young man’s search for an authentic model of masculinity can be a difficult journey. Young men are often presented with false images of masculinity. Part of “being a man” is being able to handle your tears, through suppression. What results is that men in general, are not equipped to handle the things that often break us down.
We didn’t talk much about depression and mental health when I was growing up. Raised in a religious household, depression was often described as a lack of faith and trust. I came face to face with the reality that too was a false narrative. My understanding of depression and mental health changed with the passing of a childhood friend.
I still remember the day when it all broke down. When it first happened I convinced myself that I was dying. My heart began to race and I began to shake, I broke out into a cold sweat and my chest began to tighten. Convinced I was having a heart attack panic ensued. The last thing I recall about those moments was curling up in the corner of a packed gym and crying. Doctors later told me that what I experienced was a panic attack. These attacks became more frequent in the months following. Some episodes were more severe than others.
Tasks and obligations that were once routine became burdensome and exhausting. I would find myself sleeping much of my days away. Unhealthy coping mechanisms only served to make matters worse. Thoughts that I would have never imagined thinking became rational. My primary care physician referred me to a mental health specialist and I reluctantly took an appointment. That decision saved my life.
The doctors diagnosed me with depression. Therapy has helped me understand how to navigate the feelings that have haunted me since I was a child. I had a support system in place around me that was pushing me to do the thing I had never done before and “take care of myself.”
My experiences and treatment over the last few years have opened up my eyes to many truths about myself. The greatest truth of all is that I am not alone. There is real comfort in the fact that many people live with depression and anxiety. The stigma attached to mental health prevents many from reaching out for help.
October is mental health awareness month. If you or someone you love is experiences signs of depression I encourage you to reach out get the help you need. During the month of October, make your mental health a priority by checking in on yourself. If you are reading this and experience feelings of hopelessness or depression, you are not alone. I want you to know that help is a phone call away.
If you or someone you love is struggling with suicidal thoughts, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available at 1-800-273-8255. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.