I grew up in a time when mental health wasn't discussed often. Saying I felt sad or upset would result in friends poking fun at me and calling me sensitive, so I had no option but to suppress my feelings. I can recall times when I would mention being sad and not wanting to be at home and people would respond with, “Aw, poor Danny is sad and wants attention again.”
Unfortunately, that got me to a point where I was constantly having internal battles with myself because I didn't know what or how I was feeling in certain situations.
I had no one to talk to because I felt judged or like I would be seen as “less than,” because men aren't supposed to be vulnerable, right?
That's why I was so reluctant at first to go to therapy and actually address my mental health, but I'm glad I did. The panic attacks and the waves of depression continued to get worse and I needed help with what was going on in my head and making me act like that.
I went to therapy at age 23 and found that I’d been battling anxiety, depression, and OCD—and I’d been white-knuckling it my whole life. My psychologist recommended someone I could go to for medication, which I was completely against. I felt like everyone would judge me if they knew. “I can't be on medication! That means I'm crazy!” I would tell him.
We decided to work a lot on my self-confidence and my becoming comfortable discussing my emotions. Part of my OCD is always wanting to appease others and make others happy, and I would always put my own feelings aside. It got progressively worse and the panic attacks became more frequent. They would happen if I wanted to go out with my friends, go out to dinner, or make any other decision involving another person because I cared so much about how others viewed me.
We decided to go the medication route because I was slowly getting worse, and at that point, I had nothing to lose. Or so I thought.
At that time, I had been in a relationship with someone for a few years and decided to open up to her about these things, which unfortunately didn't go over very well.
“You need medication? You're going to therapy? Are you serious? My family would think so differently of you if they found out,” she told me.
“Why would they think differently of me?” I asked.
“Because that means there's something wrong with you! They'd be very concerned with my well-being if they knew any of this.”
“But I'm still the same person. I'm just a regular guy, like your dad. He wouldn't judge me.”
“No, Danny, you're wrong,” she told me. “You're nothing like him. My father is a man—there's a difference. There are some guys who just can't handle life, and that's okay if you're one of them, but that's not the type of person I want to be with.”
I'll remember that for the rest of my life. Someone telling me that I wasn't a man because I decided to get help with my emotions instead of stuffing them all down.
Obviously, we didn't last too much longer after that, and for a while I felt like she was right. Maybe I couldn't handle life. Maybe I wasn't what society considered to be a man because I wanted to better myself mentally. So, the cycle began again. I felt like I couldn't talk to anyone about my struggles because of how I would be looked at.
A few years later, I began dating someone but I had some reservations. I wasn't sure how to explain some of the things or situations I would avoid. She was the first person I felt like I could trust again, but my OCD would creep in and I would obsess. I thought things like, “What if the same thing happens again? What if we break up and it’s all my fault because I’m so messed up? Does that mean I’m incapable of being with someone? Will I be alone forever?”
I felt that it was important to tell her who I really was. I thought that maybe I would risk it again—maybe I could tell her and be open about myself. I told her and she responded with something I carry with me to this day: “Your anxiety isn't who you are, Danny. It's just how you think.” And she gave me a hug.
In that moment, I felt something different. I thought to myself, is this person actually understanding me and not judging or yelling? She actually still sees me for who I am behind all of my issues? I didn't even know how to handle my emotions. She made me realize that there is hope that society is becoming more accepting of men and their vulnerabilities, and that there are good people out there who aren’t judgmental and can understand (as best they can) what’s going on with someone’s mental health.
Toxic masculinity in society causes hesitation within men to discuss their feelings.
On top of our own ideas of what it means to be a man, television and advertisements mostly depict men as strong, tough, unfazed, and able to handle any situation. Rarely do you see a man on the cover of a magazine with tears coming down his face from a panic attack. We see them doing physical activities, lifting weights, showing strength and skills. This idea of what it means to be a man was ingrained in us since the beginning of time—the strongest man within a tribe or group would be the most attractive to a woman. Media only reinforces it.
Thankfully, though, I feel it is becoming safer for men to discuss vulnerability and their mental health.
I’ve recently seen a shift starting to happen. Gillette released a commercial encouraging men to look at masculinity differently. Men’s mental health is being talked about more due to celebrities and known figures discussing their own struggles. Even though there’s still a stigma attached to men’s vulnerability, this shift will hopefully encourage more men to open up.
The risk of openly dealing with your mental health is so worth it due to the reward.
Not only do you finally feel a weight lifted off you if you talk about your mental health, but you also feel like you're part of something larger than yourself. Your mental health journey isn't something that should be a secret or be shunned. I began embracing the milestones I hit, and looking back now, I see how different of a person I am from when I began my journey. Every day is a struggle, but I try my best to live a healthier and better life mentally so that I can achieve the goals I want, have the life I want, and be the person I want to be.