Author: Jim Schneider
Recently, I wrote about the mental health crisis in the construction industry. Dealing with it requires first bringing attention to the problem, and then encouraging individuals who are struggling to get the help they need. That might be someone you work with, or it might be you. So, let’s talk about mental health.
I am a big believer in normalizing the discussion of mental health, whether in the construction industry or in society at large. Men traditionally are very reticent to share, discuss or be open with their struggles. Most of us have a lifetime of society teaching us that being a man means being “tough” and stoic and that we’re supposed to handle everything on our own. Of course, this idea can be detrimental to our overall wellbeing and it’s a stereotype worth changing.
The more of us that can talk about our own ups and downs and be open about our mental health, the more we normalize the conversation around getting support. Too many men believe that therapy or support is something that “other” people get. They may be afraid or cynical about the process or feel like getting help is a sign of weakness.
There is nothing weak or abnormal about needing help. No man is an island, as the old saying goes, and all of us need help sometimes. For me, I first realized it back in about 2006. I had been working in the construction industry for about two years and was facing tons of stress in both work and life. The truth is, I needed help long before then, but that was the point that I finally came face-to-face with my situation and at last decided to act.
I’ve probably dealt with some version of depression and anxiety since I was very young, but really came to acknowledge it when I was in my 30s. Even when I was struggling, I just pushed it down or dodged the issue the best I could. I was briefly married and quickly divorced in my mid-20s, and even though that was a difficult and traumatic time for me, looking back on it I see how hard I worked to tell myself and everyone else that it was totally fine, I was good, no problem, nothing to see here.
Following my divorce in 2001, I left my job and life in California, pretty much threw a dart at a map and moved to Chicago. I spent a few years chasing my tail, being erratic, telling myself I was fine, and doing whatever I could to get by. Eventually I cobbled together a career and even an impressive social network of friends. On the outside, I was looking great.
I was putting on a good show, bouncing around and being a social butterfly to cover up what was going on inside. Inside, I felt hopeless, depressed, worthless and afraid. I was a ball of anxiety, was in and out of unhealthy relationships and just surviving day to day, week to week. At one point I did try to see a psychologist. She was good, but honestly not the right fit for me. I dropped it after a few months and gave up on the process for a while.
Eventually everything really caught up with me and I had what I could probably describe in non-technical terms as a nervous breakdown. I can’t even remember what the trigger was, but I do recall being out to dinner with some good friends and freaking out with shame because the bottle of white wine I brought wasn’t properly chilled. Thankfully for me, my friends saw what was happening, pulled down the walls I’d put up, gave me kind assurance and encouraged me to see a psychologist. I finally decided it was time to put my stubborn resistance aside and acknowledge I needed help.
From there, I searched for a psychologist and this time found one that I really connected with. Sometimes I hear people say therapy doesn’t work for them, and they drop it after a few months. As I mentioned, I did that once myself. What I discovered was that you do have to be patient with the process and that it does take time. I also discovered that rapport with your therapist is super important. My first therapist was great and a very good practitioner, but it just wasn’t the right fit for me. It’s OK to change therapists if you feel like things aren’t quite clicking.
What did follow for me was a lot of work, but doing the work created a true a transformation of my life. It’s not easy to look deep inward and get to the root of things, but going through that process benefited me in ways I couldn’t have imagined when I started.
In the years since getting help, I’ve learned to better love and accept myself. I was able to build a healthy and steady relationship and form deeper bonds with the people around me. I got married, started a family, rose in my career and wrote a book, all things I couldn’t have imagined doing before. Had I not gotten the help I needed, I wouldn’t have the life I have and am thankful for now.
Does this mean I got to the happy ending and the story is over? Heck no. I still have anxiety about things and still get depressed. I get gloomy, I still get stressed, and I still worry about things like my kids, finances, relationships and more. But most importantly, I also still get help.
Sure, I may struggle some days, but it doesn’t cripple me like it once did. When I think back to those early days, I remember how the anxiety was like a burning sun inside me that would envelop me for days at a time, shutting everything else out. It’s not like that anymore. Now my anxious moments are just bumps on the road. Now I have the tools to deal with those moments, breathe through them and get to the other side.
I still work with a traditional therapist. And recently I added a new layer to my work and started seeing a somatic therapist, which is someone who explores more deeply the mind/body connection. One somatic therapist I spoke to described it this way: working only on the mind is kind of like seeing someone at the gym who only works on their upper body but doesn’t do leg work. You end up with a bulky chest and skinny legs. For true wellbeing, balance is good.
My journey continues and I am open about the fact that therapy and mental health support has been and still is extremely valuable to me. I talk openly about it with my kids, my friends, and anyone who will listen. I honestly believe that everyone, no matter how they are feeling, can benefit from therapy. It’s just about creating a stronger relationship with yourself and those around you.
Everyone’s experience is different. I’m just sharing a little about mine to help people realize that there is no shame in falling down and needing help to get back up. In fact, there is great nobility and strength in it. Thinking you can handle everything alone is an illusion, and an unhealthy one at that.
Maybe you think there is no way out of your current set of problems. Perhaps you are in a place so dark you feel like you can’t remember what the light looks like. Maybe you don’t like yourself very much and either think you don’t deserve help, or it won’t do anything for you.
I’m here to tell you I’ve thought all those things, and I was wrong. There is always hope and always light. You absolutely do deserve help; you deserve care and there are brighter days ahead. I’m living proof. Yours is a life worth living and a life worth fighting for.
It can feel overwhelming, but I encourage you to just take that first step. Research therapists near you or online. There are more places to get help today than ever before. Check out available psychologists in your insurance network or visit online resources like BetterHelp. And don’t feel like you have picked the perfect therapist the first time. Just give someone a try and start the process.
Let’s all encourage each other to get the help we need and deserve. Talk about things. Foster the conversations. Help yourself and inspire your friends to do the same. My friends did that for me once, and I’m forever thankful.