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Finding A Way Forward, Part 1

Positive Masculinity Contributor – Maxwell Hayden

Content Writer | Politics, Philosophy & Economics Student

“Honey, is something the matter? You don’t seem like yourself.” One simple question that ended up being the catalyst for a lot of positive change and growth to come.

I first started visiting my talk therapist when I was 16. I had recently gone through a terrible falling out with my best friend and noticed that some existing problems I was dealing with concerning my sleep and erratic stomach aches were only getting worse. I was afraid to admit to myself that something was wrong, that my parents might think these problems didn’t warrant intervention. Though I had considered reaching out to someone for a long time, it was only when my mom came to me with her concerns that I realized just how deeply I missed feeling like myself. Acknowledging what had been going wrong was my first step on a long journey to giving my mental health the prioritization that it, and I, deserve.

There are a million different reasons you could come up with to keep yourself from seeking help with your mental health. Justifying unacceptable problems is a really easy pattern to fall into— I have peers literally training to become therapists who are just as guilty of this as the masculine conservative folks on campus. That’s because we’re quick to compare the things that we’re dealing with to the plights others appear to be going through, which are almost always “more difficult” than our problems or are at least different enough that we can’t justify the time and energy it takes to find assistance. Masculine folks are not only the ones who are in the most need of healthy emotional channels thanks to a social stigma around “being a pussy” or “needing to grow a pair” for having valid feelings, but they are also the ones least likely to welcome those channels into their lives for fear of making those same “weaknesses” even more apparent.

I want to use this blog to explore my experience in hopes to shed some light on a process you might be unfamiliar with and get you thinking about the ways in which you can adjust your lifestyle that are brain-friendly. Because I have so many thoughts on the subject, this will be part one of a two-part series on mental health, starting today with an exploration of formal treatment methods before moving into more day-to-day options next time.

As is the case with most ventures we’ll take on in life, getting started is the hardest part. It’s difficult to know exactly where to begin, especially when conversations about mental health are regularly prefaced with “Everyone’s different, so you’ll have to figure out what works best for you.” What is often left unrecognized, however, is that everyone starts from the same handful of places in spite of those differences; it’s just a matter of committing to whichever catches your eye.

Let’s get the big one out of the way: Talking to a therapist is, more often than not, the right move to make, particularly if you haven’t had any prior experience with mental healthcare. The biggest upside to this approach is that you are going to receive support irrespective of whether or not you’re struggling with a diagnosable issue. Perhaps the biggest misconception I see made about therapy is that someone needs to be suicidal or having thoughts of self-harm before they seek intervention— in actuality, therapy is practically the same process regardless of your current state (excepting, of course, serious outliers). But that doesn’t mean you’re going to have a uniform experience no matter where you go. Every therapist handles their clients uniquely, and it is crucial that you and your therapist gel. This is someone who you’re going to want to be in this with for the long haul. Don’t be afraid to take your time in finding the right fit. Many therapists offer a free consulting session for you to get a feel for their style, and thanks in part to the pandemic there are great options for physical and online care alike. Try a few out before you commit to anyone.

If you’re instead curious about a particular condition you suspect you’re dealing with, or just want to learn more about the clinical perspective, most major healthcare providers will give referrals to their psychiatric department for anyone inquiring after mental health concerns. Note that this is not committing you to purchasing medication (in my opinion, caution in that particular respect is admirable) but diagnoses are often extremely liberating and practical in their own right. It opens up a clear path to progress for you that may not be available through other means.

Should neither of these routes strike your fancy for whatever reason, or price is simply too limiting a factor, there are other options to explore. Peer counseling groups are available across the country in various forms— some research online could get you in touch with nonprofit organizations ready to give you a little relief. You may have heard of BetterHelp, an online therapy platform that may prove cheaper than alternatives on balance. There’s also a lot of good reading material that you could grab from your local library to help provide you with some fresh perspective, and making a regular habit of journaling or otherwise checking in with your thoughts is never a bad move. Talking to someone close to you about your concerns is also a valid approach, but it is important that you’re very clear about your intentions and have their explicit permission before sharing your traumas, as 1. This person is likely not a professional and are therefore not always going to have the right answer and 2. You don’t want to unintentionally place undue pressure on anyone. Truly, if you can swing it, there are no perfect substitutes for talking to a professional.

I’ll be putting up part two next week focusing on how to maintain a healthy lifestyle between these larger bursts of help. Stay tuned!

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