Meet Joseph from This Is My Brave Arlington!

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My name is Joseph, and I’m a Virginia native, now living in Bethesda with my wife Maeghan. I am all sorts of things to many people, but I see myself primarily as a partner, a writer, a counselor, an artist (mostly a musician), and, broadly, an “interpreter.” I kind of feel like I’m here on earth to make sense of things for me and for those around me. But that sense of identity was a long time in coming. Mental illness entered the picture pretty early for me. In ninth grade, I went to a very competitive, isolating high school, and pretty quickly fell into a deep depression. I couldn’t relate to the tunnel-visioned approach to academics, and I got jaded, cynical, and filled with self-contempt very quickly. If I had to point to what got me through, I’d say my family, my music (especially Yo La Tengo and My Bloody Valentine), and my psychiatrist were instrumental. But the next few years were a struggle. After finding some solid ground and figuring out some things about who I was, life got pretty crazy again in my early twenties.

Clinically, they called it a manic episode, but it was a lot more than that for me—and not all of it was bad. (I’m not a huge fan of diagnoses; in my writing I just call it “the Event.”) It felt like a spiritual awakening at the time. I felt brightly alive, and I was confused as to why people around were so worried about me. I was acting strangely, sure, but I wonder now if at least some of them saw something deeper: beneath the ecstasy and bravado, I was a scared, isolated, and really confused young man who had no idea what to do with all the things he was feeling, many of which he’d felt deeply for years but was afraid to put into words and unsure what anyone would do if they heard them. People saw and heard the anger and the cynicism and the arrogance. They never heard the fear, the insecurity, the self-contempt, and the conviction that I just wasn’t “man enough.”

It was that process—that soaring, almost numinous peak, the steep drop from those heights into a slow, grueling recovery, and eventual blossoming into newness of life—when I really feel like I became the person that I am now. That story is what I want to tell at This Is My Brave. The hope on the other side has been far different—more vivid, more alive—than my initial relief from depression. I’m actually grateful for the whole struggle now. Life has so much more color having been through it. My wounds are real and always with me, but I can handle them, with support, and honestly, at least on good days, I really treasure them.

I work now as a peer support specialist with young adults going through similar experiences, so I get to share my story for a living, walk along a little of the journey with people, and offer a taste of that hope to young adults and families who are as confused as my family and I were at the time. I stay healthy because I have so much to live for, but I’m especially motivated to get a chance to be a partner to my wife (we were married in September of last year), whose love, honesty, and generosity of spirit have changed the whole landscape of my life since I met her four years ago. I can’t wait to see where our journey takes us next, and I hope those who hear my story get a taste of the peace, joy, and intimate connectedness I’ve come to know on the other side of chaos. I also hope people get a chance to see a man who, with support, some humility, and lots of courage, has learned to be okay with feeling things really deeply and being honest about it in a way I didn’t learn to do until pretty recently. Men in our culture are not too often encouraged to be vulnerable, nor are they rewarded when they choose to try and do it anyway. But when I learned to own my pain, my fears, and my longings—not all of them super “manly”—I learned how it feels to be fully alive, fully accepted as a human being. It’s worth whatever it costs.

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Please share this post with friends and family in the Washington, DC area. We're all affected by mental health and addiction issues, and the more we can support each other, the easier it will be for people to seek help. This Is My Brave is proof that Storytelling Saves Lives.