About My Mustache, Mental Health, and Auto Repair
About My Mustache In case you haven't heard of it, Movember is a movement that aims to bring attention to important mens' health issues. Those who participate in Movember grow a mustache for the month of November and raise money and awareness about the charity's major issue areas - prostate cancer, testicular cancer, and mental health. The proceeds from this worldwide effort fund projects on these mens' health issues around the world.
I'm writing this post to express why I'm supporting this cause. Here is the story behind my mustache.
About Mental Health
My story begins several years ago, when I graduated from the University of Michigan in May of 2009 with an undergraduate degree. Despite the fact that I was scheduled to begin a job later that summer (we were still in the throes of an economic slump when I graduated, so many friends of mine weren't so lucky) I was under a lot of stress. I had lots of free time and stability in my upcoming job, but I didn't know how to deal with the fact that many of my friends were leaving Michigan. Throughout the summer - despite the fact that I had no responsibilities and was having fun - I was curiously alone, literally and figuratively.
The first 2 years of my job weren't too bad. I was cutting my teeth in the consulting game and had a lot of support around me. I was still living in Ann Arbor, so I had some support at home, too. My work travel was still fun. I could fly anywhere I wanted on the weekends (usually to see friends) for free. But then, I was staffed to a very hard project. The travel got to me and I felt deprived of authentic human connection. My friends were beginning to leave Ann Arbor again and when I moved to Detroit, I had to start over in a new city.
More than anything, I felt so much pressure to date, and I wanted to. The problem was, no girls really wanted to go out with me at the time. All this stress was piling up and I didn't know what to do about it. I first grew irritable. Then, my personality started to change. I closed off to friends and family, and I was definitely suffering alone - but I didn't even know how to interpret what was going on in my heart and mind.
This devolved into not so ideal behavior. I spent a lot more time at bars and "partying." I became focused on pursuing relationships for the sake of relationships, not because I had a real connection with someone. At work, I became an unreasonable cynic and contemplated getting a new job. It honestly was the hardest time of my life. Despite the fact that I was able to run several miles at a time and bench press more than I ever had, I was ill. In retrospect, I recognize that it was some degree of mental illness.
In the worst weeks, I couldn't complete the sentence, "I feel..." out loud. I cried myself to sleep more than a few times. It was a farce, it seemed. In those days, I thought crying yourself to sleep was something that only happened in movies. And I thought it only happened to women. I thought something was wrong with ME in particular. I kept wondering, "I've been through so much in my life, aren't I stronger than this?"
Luckily, one of my best friends - we'll call him Bryan - recognized this. He was going through mental issues himself and he shared his story with me. He shared that he had been seeing a counselor. He gave me a book which introduced me to emotional health and spirituality. More important than anything was that he forced me to talk when I couldn't talk with anyone else, and he made feel safe by listening intently. From there, he helped me open up to a small group of close friends who shared about their own battles with mental health.
Over the course of about 18 months, I started to get mentally healthy again. I'm so thankful for Bryan and those close friends. Without their help, I would've never understood then mental health was a real issue (for men in particular) and that you could actually work on it.
About Auto Repair
It's kind of like auto repair, I think. Many systems in your car have to be maintained over time. The engine, the A/C, the oil, the tires, the brakes. No car was built to not have maintenance over the course of time. I think addressing one's own mental health is a similar kind of preventative maintenance. Like oil changes, if you keep up with them, your car runs well. If you don't, your car breaks down.
Moreover, if you teach yourself and learn from others, there's some basic auto repair that you can do own your own. Maybe you can change a flat tire. Maybe you can change your oil. Maybe you can top up your fluids and vacuum your back seat. But like mental health, not every single auto repair is something average people can do on their own. Maybe your engine blows a gaskette. Most people don't have the tools to assess and repair that issue. for that you have to go to a mechanic (and it's totally okay see one)...an auto therapist, if you will. Similarly, I think it's completely reasonable to go to a "mental mechanic" or counselor for your mental health.
If we seek help from others to take care of our cars, surely we can ask for help when taking care of our minds, right?
And that's why I grew a mustache - to create a safe space for men to talk about mental health, and to then start healing.
**If you care about this cause, I would appreciate it if you took a small step for it, today.
You could...share this post with someone. Or even better, ask someone how they're feeling today and tell them your mental health story. Maybe write your own blog post (if you want, I can post it anonymously on CivicYuppie.com). Definitely check out the Good Men Project.
And if you're so inclined, donate to the cause on our Movember Team Page.