Have you ever felt like you are drowning in water?
It is an uncomfortable feeling, to say the least. You feel the pressure closing in on you, and you feel the pressure in your legs start to build.
You try and tread the water, but sometimes you cannot. You stop fighting because the body is tired, you feel weak, you think about giving in and giving up the fight to stay alive.
Reaching out for help is not an option because you feel no one is there, it is simply you drowning in the water without anyone to save you.
Living with Mental Health Issues – The Reality
That is what it is like to live with a mental health issue; to feel mentally weak because your brain operates differently than the peers that surrounded you.
When people break a bone, they get it fixed. When someone tears a ligament, they have it repaired. When someone is physically broken to the naked eye, our first response is to get it treated, cure the issue, and then everything will be just fine.
But the second someone is broken mentally, our response changes. Suddenly, that person is weak.
They are choosing to be depressed or anxious; they are choosing to be broken and remain broken. It is a nasty stigma that comes with mental health issues and the idea of mental toughness/fitness.
While the tides are changing across the world on global issues as it relates to the welfare of people (think movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp), some global issues are still fighting stigmas that prevent them from even being recognized as a cause of concern- especially those that defy gender roles in American culture.
Mental Health and Masculinity – A Faux Life
The first time I asked for help, I was a teenager, and no one heard me. No one believed that I was struggling, they believed that my mental state of mind was an attribute of being a male going through puberty and the growing pains of becoming a man physically.
Since the “breaks” I was experiencing were not visible to the naked, it was tough to be taken seriously. I ended up growing and battling not just the stigma surrounded by sexual orientation, but the stigma around mental health issues as well.
While one, I can argue, definitely impacts the other- they are both independent battles I continue to fight as a young adult.
Being a male in most cultures throughout the world (especially a heteronormative one like here in America) means that you are strong, tough, fit, and a provider for your wife and family.
Men are not allowed to show signs of weakness, because a sign of weakness was a shot at their masculinity. To be a male is to be masculine; emotions are for women and their femininity.
Men are designated to do one thing; women are born to do entirely another. One is designated to work and provide; the other is designated to raise the children and take care of the home- an idea rooted in sexism.
Mental Health and the LGBT Community – Life As a Gay Man
As a male who identifies as gay, being open and honest about my experiences with mental health issues is not always easy. At first, it was something I dealt with privately, finally taking advantages of resources in college (where I was privileged enough to be in the first place, never mind one with resources for mental health issues).
It was here, in my junior year of college and at the happiest point of my life, that researchers put a name to what I had been experiencing internally for so long. Though I was able to wake up and get out of bed each day, Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD) fit the thoughts inside my head.
Feelings of hopelessness, gloom, incapable of having fun and being happy on the happiest of occasions; all of these, according to the Mayo Clinic, are symptoms of PDD and those people who are diagnosed with it each year.
Similar to feelings of happiness around major life events, I finally felt like I was seen and heard with a diagnosis.
The diagnosis, though comforting, is just the beginning. Figuring out what medications do and do not work for you, talk/behavioral therapy, and other methods of treatment are all aspects that differ for people.
There is not necessarily a one size fits all for treating depression, especially for those just beginning to seek help. In the way that you cannot convince an addict to seek help for addiction, you cannot always convince someone to tackle a diagnosis of depression.
As a man, this challenged every cultural normality I learned growing up through various mediums-whether it was movies/television, pop culture, sports, health/wellness education, etc. Men were not the ones to open up and talk about their feelings inside, they were meant to suppress them, and everything would be just fine.
Depression, Suicide, and LGBT Youth
Mental health is something we cannot continue to ignore, point blank. In LGBT youth, it is the second leading cause of suicide according to The Trevor Project.
Statistically, LGBT youth are more likely to commit suicide and require medical treatment. Those identifying as male, regardless of gender identity, are less likely to seek treatment for mental health issues even though suicide is the leading cause of death for men under 35 according to Men’s Health Forum and numbers across other studies.
The irony of struggling with mental health issues is that they force you to develop a thick skin in a way.
You get used to going at it alone, talking yourself off any ledges, convincing yourself that you will be fine and that you can persevere. You persevere independently until a specific point, and then you either utilize the ultimate strength and ask for help, or you begin to drown past a point of return.
The strongest people in the world are the ones who ask for help because they know they cannot do it alone anymore. The vulnerability that comes with being open, honest, and brave about struggling with mental health issues is the ultimate sign of strength.
It means you want to keep going, and that you want to stay above the water.
When I told my parents I was gay, they both asked me if I was happy and if I was healthy.
I told them, yes, but the reality is, I did not know what it meant to be happy. I spent my entire life fighting against something that ultimately would become a part of me.
I am a male who identifies as gay with mental health issues.
I fought against the stigmas, denying both of these parts of me because I knew that it was going to complicate my life.
According to nearly everything, everyone around me- being gay and having mental health issues makes life harder, puts me at a disadvantage, and makes me weaker.
The truth is, however, that it has done nothing but make me stronger. I know what it is like to be drowning in the waters of denial, refusing to ask for help, and pretending everything is okay.
Improving Your Own Mental Health – Developing Mental Strength and Toughness
I might not physically be the strongest person in the world. I might struggle with body image and my relationship with food, but I also have learned through my life experiences that physical strength is not where I am going to prove myself.
Is taking care of the human body important? Absolutely. It is an area in my life I can aim to achieve more, to be better.
But nothing in this life is more vital than mental strength and toughness. To know that no matter how deep the water may get for you, no matter how much pressure you feel from the waves crashing through your chest- you know that you can get through anything.
My life has provided me the foundation to know that I am tougher than people will ever know, and I have the deep waters of my life to thank for that.
About the Author + Concluding Thoughts | My Friend Mike and I
The author of this article is one of my best friends, Mike Brosseau. Mike and I attended Marist College together, but we met even before our Freshman year started in the Marist College Class of 2014 Facebook Group.
When I first met Mike, he was not “openly gay.” However, after a short time at Marist, Mike felt comfortable enough with our friendship that he told me his sexual preferences. Although I don’t have any personal experience to compare to being an openly gay man in a masculine society such as the United States of America, I have been happy to see (and occasionally aid) Mike grow and overcome stigmas, mental health challenges, and other aspects of life.
Along with the issues he spoke about previously, Mike also has a hearing disability that requires (expensive) ear technology and causes additional issues for his daily life.
If you are part of the LBGTQ community or dealing with any mental health issue and you are confused or nervous about your life, Mike’s story is a story of perseverance that I know you can learn from and seek refuge. If you would like to read more about him, check out his article on OutSports.com.