This blog post was written and submitted by Fishers High School senior Jack Bakle. Jack shares some of his thoughts and experiences relating to mental health and masculinity in this post.
“It’s okay to not be okay.”
“Sometimes the best therapy is to talk about it.”
“Tomorrow will be a better day.”
These are all true statements. For the longest time I didn’t believe them. I didn’t want to get better or even admit that I was struggling. When I was first diagnosed with anxiety and depression, I felt ashamed, sometimes even thinking that I had done something wrong to deserve this. I worried that I would be judged for being this way. So, I buried it. Deep.
I was fine for awhile. The only people who knew of my struggles with mental health were my parents. I refused to take medication and accept therapy because that to me felt like I wasn’t dealing with these issues. If I could convince myself that there is nothing wrong with me then no one else would ever know. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work. While projecting this perfect image of myself to my friends, family, teammates, classmates, etc. I was struggling on the inside. And putting on that act was exhausting. I felt alone, unwillingly to let people in.
Unfortunately, this is the norm for most men suffering from mental illness. Society tells men that expressing our emotions is a sign of weakness. Asking for help isn’t an answer. As men we are told that we have to hold ourselves to a certain standard, this portrayal of pride and toughness. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being “tough”, in fact it is seen as a sign of confidence in men. Instead, I believe that the idea of open communication about a man’s emotions is mislabeled as a weakness in society. According to statistics collected by the CDC between 1999 and 2017, men are four times more likely to die from suicide than women due to the use of more violent means of committing the action. This isn’t a fluke by any means, but rather a testament to the fact that men are unwilling to seek help. A large problem with this stems from men not knowing how to ask for help. Because of this stigma of being seen weak for expressing emotion, men do not know how to positively communicate their feelings. Communication is not a weakness in any means, in fact it further strengthens us as individuals. The lack of communication and fear of vulnerability is where we meet our downfall.
“It’s okay to not be okay”. It has been a journey for me to come to terms with this idea. It is so hard for any person, regardless of who they might be, to speak their minds and express that they are struggling in an area of their life to another person. I wanted so much to just feel normal that I developed this completely separate persona of myself that I present to others, where I am tough, happy, and confident. In doing this, I cast my anxieties and struggles aside which only made it worse.
“Sometimes the best therapy is to talk about it.” For the longest time, my friends never really knew much about me. People knew that I played football, that I did well in school, but not much else. I didn’t let people know the real me, because I was convinced that I wouldn’t matter. They didn’t know that I wanted to go to law school or a passion for serving. But most importantly I didn’t let anyone, even my own family, know when I was struggling. Being vulnerable is a risk, but it’s a risk worth taking. You never know who your true allies are until you’ve tried to open up to them. And it’s uncomfortable. But having new perspectives and people to walk beside you works wonders you might not even realize. I know better than anybody that vulnerability is a real internal struggle that most men have, but pushing past that barrier is what saves us. Being able to speak my mind in therapy and with trusted friends has lifted this weight off of my chest that I didn’t even realize was there.
“Tomorrow will be a better day.” Every single day is a battle and bad days will happen. There is no getting around it. We must realize that we can’t let these same negative attitudes and emotions carry over to the next day. Your struggles are real, but allowing it to take over and control your actions is a mindset. Confronting the problems of today head on, such as speaking up about negative thoughts, panic attacks, etc. allows us to live freely. I am in no ways saying that seeking counseling or confiding in people that you trust will fix everything or even ensure that tomorrow will be better, but putting a foot down and talking is better than doing nothing and continuing down this path.
Opening up to others and having accountability about what I am going through has certainly not been a cure, though it has saved my life. And I encourage all men struggling with their mental health to realize that they are not alone and people are willing to listen.
Curtin SC, Hedegaard H. Suicide rates for females and males by race and ethnicity: United States, 1999 and 2017. NCHS Health E-Stat. 2019.
Howes, Ryan. “Therapists and Their Pet Phrases.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 10 Nov. 2010, http://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/in-therapy/201011/therapists-and-their-pet-phrases.
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