Picture this: Someone enters a room full of people. He is social butterfly who is smiling, laughing, striking up conversations with anyone and everyone he makes eye contact with.
Safe to assume everything is good with him, right?
But what if someone told you that person was fighting a never-ending battle with depression. Would you believe it?
That’s been my life for almost 15 years, but for the longest time no one knew it – even my wife, friends and family.
As long as I can remember there has been an unhealthy stigma surrounding mental health. The public idea that it’s a sign of weakness or “just a phase” is dangerous. When someone needs support, they’re hesitant to reach out because they’re worried about the optics of struggling with their mental health.
Like many, I subscribed to the “Suck it up. Don’t talk about it” method of coping with my emotions despite the strong support system around me. I’d lean on my interests – sports, video games and music – to muddle through the difficult days. But my built-up emotions proved to be a poison. They would eventually boil over, and I would lash out at people who didn’t deserve it. It would end up costing me relationships, and I would be where I felt most comfortable – alone.
My perspective on my mental health battle began to change in 2012. I was one year into the post-college life, finding my way in the crazy world of sports media at Comcast SportsNet New England (now NBC Sports Boston). There, I found what I needed most – a positive role model in the mental health community.
Trenni Kusnierek, an on-air personality, had been in the public eye for years as part of the MLB (Major League Baseball) Network, Big Ten Network, NFL Network and others before joining the NBC family. New to the business, I was super nervous, and only spoke to the on-air talent when necessary, so I didn’t really know them. That changed when Milwaukee Magazine published an article “The Trenni Kusnierek You Don’t Know” about (link: https://www.milwaukeemag.com/the-trenni-kusnierek-you-dont-know/). As I was reading the article, it was almost like looking in a mirror, having everything I ever wanted, but still found myself in a constant battle with the person staring back at me.
For some reason, this was the moment where it clicked – I wasn’t alone in my struggle and just about anyone could be in an internal fight.
Over the next few years, I began to follow Trenni’s lead, slowly beginning to open up about my own struggles with mental health to my family and friends. If I wasn’t feeling right, I’d talk about it and evaluate why that may be the case. With the support of my wife, I even I built up the strength to bring my struggle to the attention of my doctor (it was the best move I could make).
I’m not a doctor or an expert by any means, but I’ve certainly had my fair share of ups in downs in regards to mental health. So, I want to pass on a few helpful keys that have helped me become a lot more comfortable with myself as I try to navigate through the endless waters of mental health.
- Don’t be afraid to talk about your feelings.
You don’t have to always diagnose what is exactly wrong with you in that moment. I find that spitting out the words “I just don’t feel right” are liberating when I’m feeling down. You also may learn that your support system (family and friends) is stronger than you ever thought it could be.
- Find a positive role model in the mental health community.
Mine is Trenni Kusnierek – who was super excited to hear about this blog post. (link to her Twitter: www.twitter.com/trenni) I look forward to her “Mental Health Monday” stories on Instagram where she shares helpful bits of information about mental health. While I may not have a HUGE following on social media, I try to use what platforms I do have to keep the conversation going. If I can be that type of role model to someone out there, my job is done.
- Educate yourself and others on mental health issues.
There are 86,400 seconds in a day. Chances are you are either interacting with someone showing signs of mental illness or someone who is perpetuating the stigma several times over the course of that day. Learning about mental health will not only help you deal with your own emotions, but it will help you show compassion and interact with those who may be battling with their internal demons. It’ll also help you address and educate those who might not understand what another person is going through.
- Find activities that help you relax.
Exercise is what more people turn to (running, yoga, etc.), but that’s not everyone’s “thing.” With small kids at home, my go-to is – believe it or not – playing with Play-Doh. Whatever it is, find an activity you can get lost in for a few minutes without completely shutting down the world around you.
- Turn to medication, doctors, support groups – It isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a strength.
You’ve admitted that something “isn’t right” and you need help. That’s a strength, not a weakness, and should be treated as such. Not to mention, if you’ve joined a support group, you’re also lending a hand to others who need your help.
I hope by reading this blog post you’ve learned at least a little something about putting your mental health in focus or understand how to be there for someone else who is struggling.
Before you go, I want to leave you with a quote from the legendary Atticus Finch from Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.” I hope it serves as a reminder to think twice before judging someone and consider their inner battle.
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…Until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”