Silence the Stigma

A guest post by Johnny Taylor

Let me start off by getting a little song stuck in your head. 

“And I wake in the morning then I step outside. And I take a deep breath and get real high and I scream to the top of my lungs WHAT’S GOING ON??”

If you didn’t immediately sing the chorus to this song, then you are obviously too young to be one of my friends. This song, while at times is a joke to many, can be a meaningful something to others. For me, it’s just a reminder of the music I grew up with. And a stark reminder of what it’s like to live a day in my brain. 

My name is Johnny T and I battle with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and bipolar. I wake up each morning and see a beautiful sunrise in the mountains of southwest Virginia and immediately start thinking of all the ways the day could go horribly wrong. “WHAT’S GOING ON??”

Allow me to indulge you in a little bit of detail about my life. I am a stay-at-home dad to two wonderful children, 8 and 6 years old. I am the 9-year husband to an incredible wife who is the rock of our family. I am a 2.5 year cancer survivor and deemed disabled due to the many lasting side-effects from the chemotherapy I went through. I am also a veteran of battling mental illness, a suicide survivor, and an advocate for men and mental health.

I first got to know mental illness in high school. Those were the first years I started to feel isolated despite the amount of friends I had. Those were the years that razor blades, scissor blades, and other sharp objects started to grace my skin. Those were the years that a never ending battle would begin. Bringing me to all kinds of counselors, all kinds of medicines, drug abuse, an inpatient stay in a mental ward, and an inpatient rehab. 

That was when I was 19 and 21. 

When I was 29 I was diagnosed with advanced stage testicular cancer. 4 months of chemo, three surgeries, and numerous hospital visits later, I was deemed “free of disease activity." Physical disease. Cancer disease. This would also mark when the other diseases I have battled would mount their next assault. Depression, anxiety, PTSD, and possible bipolar (diagnosis awaiting).

We live in a world where the term “Man up” is thrown around in a dangerous, and sometimes deadly way. Are you a man who is crying? Man up, suck it up, and dry it up. Are you a man who isn’t afraid to talk about your feelings? Then you are a pansy and you need to man up. This societal attitude has led to a very unfortunate stigma that surrounds men. A deadly stigma that keeps many men silent, not seeking the help they need, and in some cases, leads to the taking of their own life. 

To myself and many other men like me, there is one thing that is killing men more than mental illness and suicide. And it’s called silence. It took me 14 years to finally break my silence about what I struggle with and have struggled with. It took me 14 years to realize that just because I was doing something about it, didn’t mean other men were doing the same. I was a part of that deadly silence. In general, it’s a societal problem in the US and around the world. We have groomed men to not talk about these things, to not open up to other guys, to reject the idea that “Hey, it may take medicine to fight this disease much the same way antibiotics fight strep throat.” Which leads to the leader of the deadly silence: The stigma that it’s not a disease. 

When you live with depression and anxiety and other mental illnesses, it doesn’t feel like a disease either. But those of us who have decided to do something about it know that it truly is something that is beyond our control. It’s not the sad anime girls holding wilted flowers you find all over DeviantArt. It’s not some dude who just needs to suck it up. It’s not any of a million Facebook images that totally misrepresent the struggle. The struggle is real, the diseases are real, and being open and taking a step to try to be better is being real.

For me, it took one, honest and open blog post, putting out to the world what I truly do struggle with and not filtering it that led to my taking real action once again. I can only hope that another man sees those words and they say to him “It’s okay. It’s normal. Go get the help you need.” 

I have my good days, I have my bad days, then I have my really bad days. But I know they are just battles in a larger war. I may never completely win the war, but I will not lose every battle. I have children to fight for, a wife to fight for, my parents to fight for. And most importantly, I have to fight for myself. Because without me being me, I can’t fight for anyone else. 

Now is a time when we need more men to fight for themselves and more men to fight for other men. Lest we let silence win, destroy, and kill. Lest we let social stigma dictate how we should be. Lest we let men continue to fall when men should be helping other men to rise. 

Now is a time.

Now is the time.

Before the time is too late.  

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Johnny is a husband, father, student, cancer survivor, and mental health advocate. Residing in Virginia as a stay-at-home dad, you can find him writing about his own struggle with mental illness and other topics on his blog, thegeekynimrod.com.

 

 

 

 

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