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MENTAL HEALTH / MOVEMBER

MENTAL HEALTH

Movember gains traction during the month of November as men forgo shaving in support of men's health. The organization raises awareness and money for the support of research surrounding prostate cancer, testicular cancer, and mental health. I have a personal connection to mental health as it is something I have struggled with and I felt compelled to involve myself in the Movember movement, focusing on raising awareness for men's mental health. These issues reach far past one month and I intend on exploring this subject outside the confines of facial hair. 

Something I wish to accomplish with this project is to simply share the experiences of others. I want to do my best to support, but not speak for anyone. However similar these experiences may be- we are all individuals. I hope that the stories shared in this project can help push the conversation for the conservation of mental health forward- especially for men. If we simply acknowledge alternative experiences in a way that validates, doesn’t commoditize, and supports- we can hopefully all live lives that are more fulfilled.

 
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JOE MAGLIANO

"Anxiety and depression have derailed days, weeks, months, and years of my life. I have experienced indescribable pain in the lows of depression that have made me feel helpless and alone. Every day for the past eight years I have struggled to temper my thoughts and channel my energy into something positive.

I have since recognized that the choices I make on a daily basis directly impact how I feel mentally and physically. Change is neither instantaneous nor universal and the smallest of changes can have the most significant impact when compounded. I have discovered that it is far better to pursue happiness then to try to attain the things that may make me happy.

I've made a lot of changes in my life in the past couple years. I have changed jobs, overhauled my diet and have surrounded myself with people who inspire me to chase my dreams rather than escape to them. I am thankful for my struggles because they have led me to a place where I wake up every day and know that I am as happy as I have ever been.

I choose to grow this mustache to start a larger conversation and show others struggling with mental illness that they are not alone."

Joe Magliano 26, New York, NY

 
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ADLER ROBERTS

"Movember is a great time to consciously reflect on different aspects of men’s health, specifically cancer and mental health. Cancer sucks, an obvious understatement. The disease thrusts people into battle. It’s an understandable response to support and admire the incredible courage of those who face it. I have admiration for my brother, who battled cancer and has been in remission for over twenty years. Though maybe not as straightforward as cancer, poor mental health can leave a person just as toxic. I’ve watched my father deal with bouts of depression, stress, and all consuming anger that would manifest in him physically. Unfortunately, I’ve dealt with similar experiences throughout my journey, feeling too proud or too fearful of rejection to speak up. I still struggle with myself, however, I no longer try to do it alone. I’m thankful for the last few years where I’ve been able to talk about some of my root struggles and fears and siphon some of the junk out. My father thankfully has too, but why didn't he start earlier? I've experienced a shift from a lifetime of "keep it all in," "suck it up," and "be a man" - to having pride in asking for help. The result is a much healthier, happier life. Slowly but surely, movements like Movember can help release the stigma attached to "manliness" and let people know there is no shame in saying, “I need an assist.”

- Adler Roberts 25 , Philadelphia, PA

 
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JUSTIN RANDALL

"I spent much of my life in a place of emotional isolation, guarding my every word and action. I was struggling with depression and anxiety, I was concealing my sexual identity, and I was trying desperately to do it all alone.

Eventually, when I was at a breaking point (and when I felt it was safe enough), I gathered all my courage and looked for help. I found a therapist, and very slowly I started putting words to the feelings I was experiencing. I leaned into friends and family I felt I could trust.

At that time, my greatest fear was that being vulnerable meant I wasn’t “man enough.” Real men don’t struggle like this. Real men can’t be weak or hurting or scared. Real men don’t ask for help.

I now know that I get to decide for myself what it means to be a “real man,” that vulnerability is a sign of strength, not weakness, and that there’s nothing wrong with being weak in the first place.

I’ve learned that nothing is quite as scary once I get it outside my head and look at it, and that there are actions I can take to aid my mental wellness: exercise, journaling, therapy, phone calls, prayer, meditation, creativity. I’m also prescribed medication, which has helped me in such a subtle yet foundational way (and which was another stigma I had to confront and push aside).

What I believe today is that there is hope and there is help, and that shame is a liar. These challenges affect people of all gender identities, and all people deserve the help they need. As for me, I am a man who struggles with my mental health, and I am so very grateful I don’t have to do it alone."

- Justin Randall, 27, New York, NY 

 
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JAYSON SPETERS

"Growing up in Utah where the religious and social climate is such that any taboo topic is typically off limits, discussing my mental health as as a young man was never an option for me. I’ve struggled with OCD, anxiety, and bouts of depression my entire life, all while tying to understand my sexuality as a gay man with no help or guidance. Any attempt at open and honest conversation surrounding my complicated, often difficult state of being was shut down with statements like, “Be a man.”, “You’re fine, suck it up.”, “Stop whining and go pray.”, and the old favorite, “Don’t cry. Boys don’t cry.”

I’ve been forced to learn on my own that my feelings are valid, that my being a man does not eliminate my ability to feel complex emotions or to struggle with my mental health.

I really do hope for the sake of my nephews and many other little boys being raised in similar environments that the vulnerability of men as emotional beings becomes something people can talk about freely and openly. It’s time to remove the stigma surrounding men’s ability to talk about their mental health. Frankly, I should not be applauded or called “brave” for telling people that I’m in therapy every week."

- Jayson Speters, 26, New York, NY 

 
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JARED PRUDOFF-SMITH

"Aesthetically I might fit the mold of the guy’s guy, the alpha male who plays it cool, always gets the girl, and wins at the end of the day - a traditional model of masculinity. However, for many years I was crippled by an inability to deal with emotions and feelings which has contributed to many personal failures in athletics, my career, and relationships. And that’s okay, because failure is a part of life, and I’m aware of it now. I know that that is now a part of who I am, and that by continuing to work with a therapist and by taking time to work on myself, I can learn from what has happened before. I can face my failures and my victories, and put myself in a better position to succeed in the future and I can be better prepared to face failures or disappointments when they inevitably arise.

I remember being ashamed of having to see a therapist when I was in elementary school, because I thought it meant there was something wrong with me. If I can do or say anything so that young boys and young men don’t feel ashamed to see a therapist, work on their mental health, or share how things make them feel, I will. That is a big reason why I’m participating in this project. Being a man and dealing with mental health is nothing to be ashamed of, if anything I proudly wear that as a badge of honor, in the hope that somehow by doing so, I can help someone else struggling with their mental health. ”

Men historically have a tendency to hold things in, to suck it up, to be cool, to not show emotion. For most of my life I’ve followed this deleterious tendency, and in some way, shape, or form have been in therapy trying to deal with the impacts. When I was a child my therapy was court ordered as a result of my parents divorce. In high school it was parent ordered as they saw me struggling to form healthy relationships. Once I got to college and then graduated, I started to understand the benefit of therapy and went periodically of my own free will. For a bit I thought I had figured things out and didn’t need it any more. In the last few years I realized that we never have it all figured out and that I am much happier, more present, connected to my emotions, and honest with myself when I am actively working on my mental health regularly with a therapist.”

- Jared Prudoff-Smith, 34, New York, NY

 
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MICHAEL BROWN

"I consider my head a war zone, constantly at battle with itself, trying to meet expectations, trying to fit a square peg into a circle hole. In my square experience, circles don’t get judged, they get ahead in life, and circles definitely don’t get assaulted on the street. It obviously goes without saying that constantly dealing with your mental health is emotionally exhausting, but it also manifests itself physically- I wake up every day exhausted and it doesn’t matter how well I tried to take care of myself the day before or how much sleep I got. Even living in the affluent, liberal bubble of New York City, it is incredibly difficult to shed learned behaviors and societal pressures to be a certain way. That, along with battling anxiety, depression, or what have you in private can be incredibly debilitating. That’s why it’s so incredibly important to continue to talk about mental health openly and continue to fight gender norms that are so often the product and cause of the toxic masculinity that oppresses so many. There’s hope for healing when there’s openness."

- Michael Brown, 27, New York, NY

 
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EDGAR CONTRERAS

"For as long as I can remember, I have always questioned myself, while welcoming others’ opinion of me. I grew up in a community that put a lot of weight on what it means to be a man. I became very aware of my femininity and my masculinity, and how it affected how I stand, walk, talk, sit or even think.  I grew up under a microscope, where everyone freely gave their opinion on who I was, or who they thought I would grow to be. Other people's’ opinions of me are something that I have allowed to shape me. Being awkward, and quiet kept me in the middle. Not feminine not masculine. Not moving not belonging to one side or the other always afraid of not being accepted. I guess I grew up on the border in more ways than one.

I am someone who is filled with a large amount of happiness, the result of things that I have worked hard for, but also a strong sadness. As I put these words together I realize that “balance” is the struggle, and even that thought is a daily realization. At times I fall but I always pick myself up, there is no other choice but to continue to learn to balance; to celebrate and embrace me, and my individuality. Every day I work on kindness and acceptance of myself, and of others.  I’m not always completely successful, but everyday I try to find the “balance.”"

-Edgar Contreras, 39, New York, NY 

 
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BILLY ENNIS

"I’ve been seeing a therapist, off-and-on, since the 4th grade. Depression is something that runs in my family, and unfortunately I have seen all my immediate family members struggle with mental illness in some way or another.  For years I have struggled with trying to meet the expectations that one might consider to be “normal”. There was a fear and a stigma of seeing a therapist and taking medication. There have been times when my attempts to be open about these things have made people uncomfortable, in a way that they wouldn’t if I were speaking about a physical illness. I’ve encountered people, even those that care a lot about me, who think there must be an easy fix or that I just need to “change my mindset”. What I hope can come out of this project is the understanding that there is no such thing as normal, and that mental illnesses are just as valid as physical ones. I also hope that people can understand that what works for one person may not work for another. Reaching a point of stability takes a lot of effort, and, for many, professional medical assistance. A support system is necessary to get someone through the ebb and flow of depression but you can’t rely on friends alone- I’ve learned through the years that change only comes from within. If the stigma of seeing a therapist and taking drugs was lifted, I believe a lot of people would seek help and become more mentally healthy people."

-Billy Ennis, 27, New York, NY 

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ALYSHA CAINE

"Struggling with the judgement that comes with being in a relationship with someone who lives with mental illness has been difficult for me. We had just moved in together when Billy fell into one of his darkest periods of depression. We not only had to learn how to live together as any couple does, but we were also faced head-on with how to navigate our relationship in regards to Billy’s struggles with mental illness. There can be a pressure to be a “perfect” couple- and somehow anti-depressants don’t seem to fit into that picture-perfect box. Being in this relationship, I’ve realized I’ve had to work out my own stigmas about mental health, and remember that what other people think isn’t important. I don’t need to “prove” to other people that I’m in a great relationship- I know that I am, and thats all that matters. I’ve now seen how damning the stigmas that effect mental health can be- and I know now that the more we all talk about it, the better things will get.

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The most important things I have learned in this relationship are that first, I must still be an individual and make sure my own personal needs are met— for me, this meant seeking out therapy on my own, and having a social life that Billy is not always a part of. The second thing I have learned is that I am a partner in my relationship, but I can’t be more than that— there is nothing I can do to “fix” Billy, love is not the cure as some seem to think. I know that Billy will have his ups and downs, but that in the end he can work through things himself, with me as a support by his side."

-Alysha Caine, 27, New York, NY 

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AUSTIN BLUNK

"Honestly, I had trouble coming to a satisfactorily concise opinion about my own mental health and mental health in general while writing this. As I was prepared to finish it, a friend of mine committed suicide. We were co-workers on an educational Shakespeare tour and for that time, friends. It was not the first encounter I had knowing someone who had chosen that, and I unfortunately know it won’t be my last. It scared me. It made me altogether sad and angry; my system of processing it and the others before it has been admittedly flawed. My tendency to disassociate in light of death caused me to manifest some troubling feelings and thoughts.

Coping with mortality, and our second-to-second decisions to remain complicit with it, can make things you enjoy seem infinitesimal. Though it had nothing to do with me, the personal responsibility I felt to have tried harder to connect seemed no less vivid. I regressed in a way that I had been starting to before he passed, and had allowed more room for corruption of thought as I repressed my feelings about him dying. I won’t make any assumptions about him, but it was clear he similarly struggled with channeling his feelings clearly and being open about them. There was a silent knowing that it was all best left unsaid. I regret that, like many things I wish I could reassemble in my memory. However, connection or commiseration rather, can only extend to the limit of what the two parties will allow, and if there is a reticence to discuss it, it cannot be forced. Mutual honesty becomes an integral tool to combat the alienation we who carry something impose upon ourselves. There is a nascent will within us to seek companionship and to share pieces of ourselves.

Though solitude can feel intoxicating, it will serve as a platform for the delusion that you can do this all by yourself. No great thing was ever done alone. No man is an island.

Living in disorder and obscuring it can kill you. Mental illness itself is elusive. It’s quiet, and it’s often indefinite. I have personally
been diagnosed with major depressive disorder, bipolar I, social anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Over my multiple diagnoses, the medical professionals I have talked to have often been unclear about the validity of each in respect to one another. This can be frustrating, and leave you feeling helpless and a bit out of control. It has for me at times. What has inspired me despite has always been my continued curiosity about how my mind can more clearly operate, and the unconditional openness and kind acceptance of the people with which I’ve surrounded myself. Allowing a self-talk that befits such open people helps to establish a gentler, more understanding personal history when your first thought about yourself usually tends to doubt.

Being kind to yourself will always help you learn more about yourself, I’ve found. I personally believe based on the historical actions of this nation, mental illness and trauma are inextricable from the American experience and therefore a systemic problem with specific, deep roots. It will take
our continued excavation of those roots and a refusal to be silent about our own experiences with it to form the language for combating its rampant, negative effects on our way of life. As art evolves and the human’s intelligence for story expands, I err on the side of hope that a conversation will also ferociously, and courageously continue to evolve.

Austin Blunk, 26, New York, NY