What is the story related to mental health, suicide, and/or resilience that you’d like to share?
Growing up in a first-generation household, we never shared our feelings or expressed a lot of affection in the traditional Western sense of the term. My parents worked hard to escape war and poverty and to find success in a new country, and they never complained. That set an example of success and stoicism for me that defined a lot of my upbringing.
I spent the majority of my life believing that I shouldn’t express myself, let alone show anything that might be interpreted as weakness. Fitting in meant success, and that meant being perceived as someone who had or at least had the appearance of everything being OK.
My friends knew me as the guy who they could always talk to because I was always level-headed and, in their words, “well-adjusted.” I was the confidante, the one who kept his cool and could help address their own issues and challenges.
However, like an iceberg or a duck floating on the surface, what was unseen was my own inner-self’s struggles. Eventually, things reached a tipping point, and I slipped into a dark place.
I realized that I needed to treat myself just like I treated my friends. The advice that I gave them I also needed to give to myself. “It’s cool to not be cool.” That was the greatest lesson I’ve ever learned—to acknowledge my own challenges and shed the veneer of being OK all the time.
What resources have helped you to address this challenge?
It took a lot of soul-searching, working with a therapist, and acceptance to recognize and overcome my challenges. One impactful read that I recommend to everyone, no matter what their current journey in life, is The Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama and Reverend Desmond Tutu. Working through that book helped me recapture a very important fact that’s been lost in the hustle and bustle of our modern world. Human beings are intrinsically wired to feel and express compassion and joy. Too often we forget that we are joyful creatures by design, and we let doom and gloom cloud that.
Other things that helped me have been adopting routines and personal activities that are solely for me. I try to adopt or try out a new hobby every couple of months as a fun way to continue growing, but I always acknowledge that there shouldn’t be any pressure or stakes to it other than for my own personal benefit and growth. Sometimes these exploratory hobbies stick and become a lifestyle such as cooking or motorcycling, others like piano might not, but I can look back and still feel good that I gave it a shot.
Think about the system that affects our mental health in our society, including aspects that are damaging to mental health and aspects of the system that improve mental health. Based on your experience, how might we improve that system to build resilience and better address the mental health needs of ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities?
Just as we have an emphasis on physical education in school and professional lives, I believe the same importance needs to be placed on mental education. In 2023, there is no reason why our schools don’t have mental education classes that can help our youth learn how to properly recognize, process, and work through mental and emotional challenges.
Following up with that, the professional and corporate spaces are making amends to recognize the validity and benefits of promoting positive mental health in the workspace. However, there is still a stigma around mental health that can only be diminished by increasing the availability and access to education. It starts with our generation so that the next can be better off for it.
What is one thing related to mental health, suicide, or resilience that you wish everyone could understand?
I truly believe that we should treat ourselves like we treat our friends. We give our friends a lot of grace and understanding, and too often short ourselves of that same treatment. Next time we might feel like being hard or critical of ourselves, stop for a moment and just ask if what you want to say to yourself is what you would say to a close friend.