You may have seen memes of a lion or battle-hardened soldier with the words ‘The Problem With Being Strong Is That Nobody Bothers to Ask.’
But it seemed that nobody listened.
It seemed that nobody wanted to hear.
I am a big man; I’ve lived a big life, and I come across as hard and strong.
I’ve led soldiers and emergency responders and been extremely successful.
Yet I have failed.
Failed in relationships, struggled in business and made moral mistakes that sit heavy on my heart.
I was a functioning drunk who drank Rye like it was a cure for alcoholism.
I am pretty sure I have been depressed, and I know I have struggled with my mental health.
I grew up in an environment and served in the Army when you were not sick unless a bone was sticking out of your body. I understood that mental health issues were a sign of weakness. Motivational posters surrounded me saying: ‘Big boys don’t cry,’ ‘Pain is weakness leaving the body,’ and a visit to the Chaplain or a Counsellor was a black mark on your career.
Such initiatives like ‘#SickNotWeak’ and ‘#BellLetsTalk’ are excellent in destigmatizing mental health issues.
For a child of the ‘60s, it is remarkable that mental health problems are now considered normal and asking for help is the right thing to do.
But where ‘#BellLetsTalk’ misses the mark is that we need to have a complementary imitative called ‘#LetsListen.’
But for many bringing an emotional problem up is hard to do.
In many of my blog posts, I have spoken about my last couple of years at Red Cross. I was struggling in a shifting and changing workplace. I had made a bad hire and was trying to manage an asshole. Years of working in high tension environments were catching up with me. I was leading a giant disaster and working on my Master’s degree.
In short, a lot was going on.
One day I was rushing to a meeting in another city.
While driving, I witnessed a small car get T-boned by a pickup. The car was flipped end for end several times. I stopped to help and saw the driver, a young mother, was dying, the passenger, a Grandmother, was dead.
As bad as the scene was, the worse was finding a toddler in a car seat, not moving and trapped in the back seat. I and other good Samaritans fought to get into the back seat to help the baby. It seemed to take forever, but we got a door open, the car seat out, and to our giant relief, the baby started crying and was seemingly unharmed.
Police, Fire & EMA came in time and took over the scene, and I carried on as if I were completely normal.
But I wasn’t.
Something switched deep inside of me, and I began to struggle even more with work.
One day I told my boss what had happened and that was bothering me. All I received for my vulnerability was an unblinking stare.
I never felt so exposed or let down.
That one incident changed my entire relationship with her. She was once a trusted friend and confidant, and now she was someone in authority with whom I had lost trust.
The outcome was preordained the moment that trust was lost.
Eventually, I left, or maybe was pushed out, of a job I loved and left people I cared for.
There were many times that I reached out when I struggled with emotions and mental health.
I made myself vulnerable by trying to “#BellLetsTalk,” but no one listened.
A relative who told me that everyone hates their job so quit complaining; A boss who betrayed my vulnerability; or a Pastor who didn’t ask that one more question.
And all that accomplished was a guarded fear of opening up again.
So this year, as part of “#BellLetsTalk” let us try harder to ‘#LetsListen.’