When I decided last year that I wanted to have the next step in Mega Dads Outreach be about starting conversations around mental health advocacy I ultimately knew that I would have to tell my own story. It wouldn’t be fair of me to expect other people to talk about their personal struggles and accomplishments if I didn’t speak to my own. Honestly I feel pretty comfortable sharing this part of myself because in my eyes I’ve come a long way from where I used to be and I’m very proud of that journey. I won’t go into detail about the long history I have with depression, anxiety and stress. I’m forty years old and I’m looking to write an article, not a novel. But I’ll start with this, I’ve fought with myself for a very long time. It’s been a battle that’s left me bruised, damaged and embarrassed for many of those forty years and it’s something that will always sit with me in some respects. You don’t walk this path for as long as I have without leaving trails, and I have so many that have influenced me in both good and bad ways.
The traumas of my youth stacked up rather high and caused me to have a low opinion of myself for a very long time. My self-worth in my twenties was so low in fact that I stopped looking for ways to feel better. I spent so much of my young adult life not even thinking about living for myself because I didn’t think I could ever amount to anything worth a damn. I would coast through my daily existence and for the most part everyone thought that I was ok. Everything looked good on the outside because I had built a set around me that looked like a pretty good life. But on the inside there was a disconnect as if I was watching my life move by without participating in it. This continued for several years until I realized that I had built my entire existence on a foundation that I wasn’t even a part of. I had realized so late in life that none of my actions or interactions with people were serving me in any meaningful way and by the time I had figured this out the only way to move passed it was to tear it all down. I knew that the only way for me to be happy was to start my own life over by blowing up the lives of those around me. But I knew I had to do it, or I’d be lost forever.
So I made a series of life-changing decisions that caused a lot of pain to those around me. It was a selfish act that I knew I had to make because the alternative was to give up any hope at being better. Still, when you cause so much hurt and anger, no matter what your intentions are, it fucking sucks. I was the bad guy for a very long time and it was my own fault. I lived with that for quite a while and it broke me on many levels. I went from not caring about myself to actively hating myself. Even though I had wanted to start the journey of living for myself, to finding happiness again I had ultimately caused my self worth to plummet even more. I tried for a long time to crawl out of that hole, to find something inside myself that was worth working on, and I did. I began doing things for myself, learning new things, taking time to do the things that I wanted to do again and to be a better person for those around me. But ultimately that was a trap as well.
About four years ago I discovered that while I was living a much happier and fulfilling life, I was emotionally tethered to my family and friends. It was subtle at first. I noticed that my mood was very subjective to those in my circle, particularly my family. If my wife was having a bad day, my mood was shot. If she was happy, then so was I. It’s not something that caused me any immediate notice at first. It’s normal for a spouse to be influenced by their significant other. But what became evident after a while was that I was completely dependent on the feelings of others to guide my own. Like empathy on steroids, I was almost completely incapable of forming my own emotional foundation and it was getting out of control. It all came to a head one year when my wife went on a business trip and I was alone with the kids for a week. I completely imploded and had no idea how to function on my own and it was positively frightening. I found myself having rough mood swings, being unable to sleep and being stricken with a near constant feeling of panic. This experience was a light bulb moment where I realized I was dependent on the people around me to function. While I was happy and satisfied with life, I was using other people to validate that happiness. I needed others to show me how to feel.
When my wife returned from her trip I knew I needed to seek help. We sat down together and I spoke some very uncomfortable hard truths that challenged the both of us. My inability to take control of my own emotions was affecting my home life even more than I knew and by me recognizing my problems and speaking it out it forced the both of us to confront the fact that I was most definitely not okay. I was at a crossroads and I knew just like that moment in my twenties, that if I didn’t course correct I was in serious danger of blowing up my life again. I knew I needed to do this for my family but at the same time I knew above all else I needed to do this for me. The difference between this time and the last was that now I loved the life I had built and I needed to save it, not tear it down.
So I told my wife that I didn’t know how long it was going to take but that I was going to start putting myself first. My feelings had to start guiding my choices regardless of what was happening around me. I started honing in on my personal and emotional needs and nurturing them in equal measure. I went to see a doctor and together we got me on medication to combat my volatile mood swings so that I could take this fight on with fair footing. There were a lot of nights where I wasn’t okay and rather than just dealing with it I forced myself to acknowledge it and talk about it. It was important for me to own every single one of my feelings whether they were good or bad. I needed that experience, that understanding and that ownership. I began to see not just the world around me clearer, but I could see myself for the first time in nearly twenty years as a person who has a lot to live for. Slowly but surely I began feeling calmer, more driven, more appreciative of everything in life. It was a surreal moment when I finally realized I had complete control of my own emotional well-being. I wasn’t looking outward to see how I should feel, I just knew how I should feel. That may be a simple victory for many, but for me it was winning a war.
Now I am happier than I ever have been and I truly love who I am as a father, a husband, a brother, an artist and so much more. I see in myself more than I ever thought that I could and it feels incredible. It took me a long time to get here. That path behind me is long and winding with a lot of trails. But the best part is that the path ahead of me is even longer. I love my life and I love myself. While I still continue to take my medication, speak honestly with those around me and even struggle with anxiety on bad days, my life is something that I truly cherish. I’m so glad I made the decision to get help and to help myself.