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I received my yearly physical and check-in with my primary care physician yesterday, and whenever I’m in that office, with my legs dangling over the examination table, I can’t help but remember my first time there in January 2021. It was two years ago — I never cease to be awed by how fast time appears to move now — when I broached the subject of being suicidal and experiencing depression and anxiety with my PCP. That was a terrifying, utterly naked feeling. I was struggling to pull the words out of my head, and true to my distorted, stigma-branded brain, I thought the walls would close in and the alarms would sound — I’d finish the day inside a psychiatric ward. Instead, I received no judgment, and the help I desperately needed.
Why is it so difficult to ask for help? Why is it so scary to say the three words, “I need help”? Because it is both the ultimate form of vulnerability and setting aside of our ego, and because of the aforementioned distorted thinking mental illness engenders and stigma exacerbates — stigma is what made me think external reactions would be singularly catastrophic.
Taking that first step in the doctor’s office and allowing myself to be vulnerable was an important beginning for me to get mentally well. While it would take six more months to take further important steps, those steps wouldn’t have been possible without my first embrace of vulnerability.
The reason I’m thinking about this tonight, other than because I went to my PCP yesterday, is because I noticed one of the magnets on my refrigerator. When something is always there, you stop really seeing it, which is why the phrase of something becoming like wallpaper exists. The magnet states, “Life is better with you here.”
That statement is from the Columbus, Ohio-based suicide prevention organization, With You Here, with the stated aim, in part, to be a “reliable resource for any one who needs encouragement through dark times but specifically Black men. We are actively identifying and collaborating with African American males in Columbus, OH and beyond who have suffered in silence while being conditioned by a myopic society that says seeking help is synonymous with being weak.”
I’ve written extensively about how corrosive toxic masculinity can be, so, I’m particularly appreciative of their specific focus in addressing how toxic masculinity can intersect with mental health to be stigmatizing.
The point I want to make today, and I deeply felt it while taking a moment to appreciate the magnet on my refrigerator, is that I’m glad — and I’m still amazed by it, given how low I once was — I’m here. That I’m here to read that magnet and appreciate it at all. That my own life has gotten better in the past two years because I’m here. In other words, I think that statement can be self-affirming without external validation, although that’s true, too! My point isn’t that those external people — parents, siblings, spouses, friends, coworkers and so on — don’t matter and their validation of loving you doesn’t matter. It most certainly does, and in point of fact, I could not have started my journey to mental wellness without them. Rather, I’m saying, mental illness tries to convince you that the world would be better off without you, so, it’s vital to your mental well-being to validate yourself, your existence, and your place in the world first. Everything else flows from such an understanding and acceptance of the grace to place yourself, in my humble opinion.
I’m glad you’re here. I hope you are, too.