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How's Your Head?

Although mental health is still somewhat of a taboo subject in America, we've made great strides to take down the stigma surrounding the topic in the last couple of years. Nevertheless, studies have shown almost 20% of Americans suffer from some type of mental illness - that's almost 66 million people.

I think that number is probably much higher than what is being reported. Anxiety and depression are almost a guarantee for most working Americans. The first question I have is why? Why are so many Americans suffering from mental anguish? Why are people not able to get the help they need?

I don't have all the answers, but I have some ideas. I've personally dealt with mental health issues for most of my life. I used to look at my mental health as something to push away and to hide in a hole in my backyard. I felt ashamed that I wasn't "man enough" to deal with life's stressors and found it difficult to open up about my emotions. When I was young, and even into adulthood, my parents were mentally and physically abusive to me. I'll probably go into that topic a bit more in a future post, if only to write it all down and get it off my chest.

In particular, I remember one time when young Chris found the courage to tell his father (a police officer) he felt like he was being abused. My father, who has the emotional intelligence of a kindergarten brat, told me as a police officer, "I've seen abused kids, and you're not one of them." Of course, I'm not sure this is a direct quote, but it's close enough. I was 10 years old.

That interaction was drilled into my head because I needed to keep my mouth shut and my head down. So I did everything I could to be the best son and brother. But unfortunately, my accomplishments were diminished, and my morale was crushed. The crazy thing about all of this is I didn't even understand how abused, gaslit, and brainwashed I was until I met my partner Christopher David.

I recounted to him some of the stories of my childhood, and he was stunned that I didn't try to confront my parents about it sooner. The thing was, I didn't know that my childhood was not ordinary. I'm sure a piece of me understood that, but I fought the recognition with everything I had. I guess younger me thought it was normal to have your mother straddle you on the bed and punch you until there were little knuckle-sized bruises all up and down your arm.

I'm telling you my story, so you know you're not alone. We are all walking around with invisible scars. The only way to begin to heal from our past traumas is to have an open dialogue and introspection. One of the worst things you can do with your mental health is to bury it down deep and just hope that it goes away. Spoiler alert: it doesn't. You have to challenge your emotions and how you react to them daily. You have to be willing to go through some self-reflection to visualize your own potential.

Some of what I'm going to talk about in this series might sound like psycho-babble bullshit, but give it a chance, and maybe you'll learn something about yourself in the process. Of course, I'm not a psychologist, and none of what I talk about here should be taken as medical advice. So instead, I'll share some helpful tips from self-experience and from professionals in the field.

The first topic I want to talk about is boundaries. It sounds like a simple concept, but it goes deeper than just setting up the boundaries and walking away. Boundaries, much like a bountiful garden, must be maintained and managed. For more than 26 years of my life, I never set up boundaries because I didn't think I had the right to do that. So let me be blunt with this - fuck that. You have the right to set up any boundaries you choose and to enforce those boundaries as you see fit.

A boundary might look like not inviting a toxic family member into your home when they show up unannounced or not going to a family function because you know you'd feel uncomfortable. Your feelings are your own, and you never have to explain them or rationalize them to anyone.

"When you're from a dysfunctional family, healthy boundaries are viewed as threatening. Making an observation, expressing an expectation, refusing to be involved in chaos, or expressing a different viewpoint will likely lead to you being labeled as mean, funny acting, or weird. Not going along with the typical chaos can seem like you're trying to make waves in the family. The truth is, you are making waves; you're breaking the cycle of dysfunctional and that isn't always well received by others." - Nedra Glover Tawwab

If you've never set boundaries in your life before now, trust me, it's going to change your whole view on life. You will feel comfortable in your space for the first time because you are creating comfort with your boundaries. One tough part about creating boundaries is being willing to lose people who don't respect those boundaries. You can't set a boundary and then let some people break them some of the time because they are your family or a close friend. The boundary is for everyone, and you need to make it clear that a violation of your boundary means you no longer wish to have a relationship with the violator.

"Emotionally immature people will not respond well to your boundaries. Don't be surprised when they block you, give you the silent treatment, create drama, or have a tantrum. Your job is to maintain your boundaries despite the response from the people who don't want you to have boundaries." - Nedra Glover Tawwab

When I started setting up the boundaries with my family, I was told I was selfish, arrogant, and a few more colorful words. So my father drove from Philadelphia to Baltimore (where I was living) to confront me. The confrontation surrounded my sister asking me for money because my parents told her I was the one to go to for that sort of thing. So I established my boundary and told them never to tell anyone to go to me again for money.

I was called every name in the book, including a "punk-ass bitch", and was told how selfish I was for not trying to help my family. I was luckily not in my apartment at the time, and I refused to show up when he beckoned me to meet with him. I deal with things on my terms, and I certainly wasn't going to show up to a crazed man with an explosive temper who was already texting me in all caps. I even texted my Mom to tell her to call him off because he was making a fool of himself. She told me in no uncertain terms that if I was a real man, I would go and face him and that I was a "fucking baby." It would have been all too easy to sink back into my old habit of letting them trample my feelings and go to meet with him. I refused. I set that boundary, and I stuck to it. I had a full-blown panic attack, but I didn't give up. My partner wouldn't let me give up on myself and everything I worked for.

Having to stand up for yourself is not an easy task, especially if you've never done it before, but it's worth it. My parents finally got the message that I was not going to be their punching bag anymore, and if they ever wanted some kind of reconciliation, it would come when I was ready for it and not a moment sooner. That night, although incredibly painful, changed my life for the better. My boundary was established and reinforced, and the toxic violator was sent back to Philadelphia, not having gotten his way for the first time in his life.

Thank you for reading, and I hope you found some hope in my words. You are not alone. We are in this together. Set those boundaries, reinforce them, and create your peace. Leave a comment with your thoughts on the topic or ideas for something you'd like me to discuss in this series.