By Mike Jacquart
Realizing that you have mental health diagnoses is not easy, but over time I came to recognize that they are part (not all!) of what makes me who I am as a unique individual created by God.
But when you’re a kid, you want to be like your peers, and I don’t think this necessarily changes a lot as a young adult. Finally coming to this realization was a freeing experience, not unlike the Eagles’ lyric in Already Gone: “So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains, and we never even know we have the key.”
I am MIKE, not Billy, Jim, Steve nor anyone else. So, why did I spend so much of my life wanting to be like them, and then wondering why, in wanting to be like others, I was unknowingly forging chains of unhappiness and discontent?
Like the opening statement, “I don’t need to pretend I’m different than I am,” the following are a few more truisms that can be truly liberating for anyone who not only reads them, but allows their meaning to sink in. While useful contemplations for any reader, I believe them to be even more freeing for a person whose cognitive challenges have led them to suffer in silence, wondering why they are dissimilar.
I don’t need to feel guilty about my boundaries. We periodically discuss the importance of setting personal boundaries in my Fresh Hope support group. When we don’t establish our limits and make them known to others, we can find ourselves taking on too much and getting stressed out. This can particularly be true in interactions with the toxic individuals that many of us have in our lives. As much as possible, LIMIT your contact with these persons. Toxic people fuel more toxicity. Surround yourself with positive people who respect your time and your limitations.
I don’t have to minimize my emotions. This can be a tough one for guys who are often raised from little on to rein in our feelings. Last year, I was at a guys’ retreat and my friends were flabbergasted when I lit into them regarding inaccurate statements, they made about mental illness in a discussion we just had about the topic. Why was I supposed to feel guilty for saying what was on my mind? It’s true there can be a right and wrong place for emotional outbursts, but with no one else around, this was clearly an acceptable situation in my view. And yet, as macho guys, they saw a blowup like that as a no-no. Baloney.
I don’t need to feel bad for staying home. Social isolation is a common trait of people who suffer from depression. Bowing out of a social invitation in our go-go society may be a trifle awkward for friends or family, but does this have to be the case? It’s unlikely you’d have to make an excuse for staying home if you had a migraine. So, why are you supposed to apologize for having a bad mental health day? One might calmly ask the person if they’d change their mind about attending, but then leave it at that.
I don’t have to anticipate people’s needs. Case in point: friends are in town for a big car show, and I assume they will want to go out for Thursday breakfast like usual. So, I tell my wife she’ll have to eat by herself, only to learn they want to go to the local diner on Friday instead. You often can’t anticipate people’s needs so why put a lot of effort into it? If you made plans with your spouse on Friday because Thursday was the usual guys’ day, isn’t that on them if they changed their mind?
Long story short, it is often not necessary to explain yourself or to overextend yourself to be enough. Chances are, it took time and learning strategies to go from surviving to thriving in your life. Don’t let someone take that away from you. Repeat after me: I don’t need to pretend I’m different than I am.
Mental health for men is a new series of blog posts and podcasts developed and distributed by Fresh Hope for Mental Health http://freshhope.us. Portions are excerpted from Mike’s book, Climbing out of Darkness: A Personal Journey into Mental Wellness. For more information, contact Mike at firstname.lastname@example.org