I was raised to be tough. I played youth American football throughout my childhood and we were trained to hit and to hit hard. I had a coach who was an ex-U.S. Marine and we’d shout, “Semper Fi!” during practice.
A tough-guy mindset seems okay – until it doesn’t work anymore. When I began to experience mental health issues, my first reaction was to repress my feelings. Showing feelings wasn’t tough, after all.
Today, I still have remnants of that tough-guy mindset. For the most part, it’s gone now. I believe I was conditioned into that mindset and it was never who I really was. In reality, I like to write poetry, I’m a bookworm, and I’m pretty much a downright nerd about most things.
I’m not quite sure where mental health stigma comes from. The purpose of this post isn’t to delve into the history of it – it’s more so my personal reflection of stigma and how it has affected me. I guess a big part of stigma is the idea of personal responsibility – some people believe you can make yourself feel good all the time and, if you feel crappy, then just snap yourself out of it.
After struggling with mental health problems for much of my life, I can ensure you it’s not as easy as “snapping myself out of it.” The 12-step recovery community taught me to take responsibility for my issues, and I know how important that is. But, to a certain extent, there are some parts of my mental health challenges that feel out of my control.
Speaking up when I have to
It’s good to know that stigma is lessening today. People talk about mental health more openly where I am in America. Part of this has to do with the part of the country I’m in – near a big city in the Northeast. My girlfriend tells me where she’s from (down South), people aren’t as open about their mental health challenges.
What strikes me about stigma is that I impose it on myself sometimes, too. When I struggle, I think I shouldn’t be going through it. Around the time I lost my job, I was nervous to speak up and say I needed to take time off. This ended up hurting me because, eventually, I quit in a storm of rage. The resentments reached a boiling point.
Stigma is something I want to keep talking about because I feel it’s important for those of us who face mental health challenges. Right now, as the pandemic forces us to self-isolate, it may be more important than ever.
Acting tough and “sucking it up” will only take me so far. When I’m really struggling, I need to confront mental health stigma and ask for help when I need it. Otherwise, I just dig myself deeper in a hole.