I suffer from anxiety and occasional depression. I see a therapist. There. I said it. I have been afraid of saying these words out loud (or writing them) for years. I can remember specific incidents and episodes all the way back to high school. I always felt that if people knew this secret about me, they would think less of me. I certainly didn’t think I could share it with anyone I worked with. I didn’t think they’d trust me after that. In fact, I have maintained that it was easier to talk about the fact that I was sexually abused by a neighbor when I was seven years old than it was to talk about my mental health.
Last year, I co-hosted Season 3 of “Unspoken: Conversations with Candace.” The season was dedicated to male survivors of sexual abuse. People like me. Candace Sanchez had already hosted two seasons of her podcast focused on “taboo” conversations. She heard me speak at a forum for male survivors of sexual abuse and approached me about being on her show. I said yes, and asked if I could produce it as a livestream and co-host the monthly show.
Dawn Helmrich, also a survivor, had invited me to speak on the forum. She was instrumental in helping me get to a place where I could talk publicly about being abused. Before the first episode, I published a blog post sharing my story in detail for the first time. Over the course of the year, Candace and I interviewed other male survivors and gave them a platform to share their story. As the year drew to a close, I started thinking to myself, “If I can talk about being abused out loud, maybe I can talk about having anxiety and depression.”
Even as I write these words, they don’t seem right. Wouldn’t be it easier to talk about anxiety than sexual abuse? That’s my point. I still remember a dinner with Dawn and another colleague from United Way, Kelsey Collier. I specifically remember saying, “I’m more afraid of telling someone I see a therapist and that I suffer from anxiety than I am telling someone that I had been abused.”
That fear and hesitation is why I’m launching a new show this year with Dawn Helmrich as my co-host. “Shining Light on Shadows: A Candid Conversation About Mental Health.” With great effort, I somehow convinced myself that if I can talk about being abused, I can talk about my own mental health out loud. I somehow convinced myself that sharing my experience, and giving a platform for others to talk about their experiences, would help reduce the stigma of mental illness.
After sharing our respective stories February 8 at 7pm ET / 6pm CT, Dawn and I will create a space to talk about mental health twice a month. We’ll interview others who have struggled with a range of mental health issues and talk with several practitioners (therapists, etc.) to help put these issues into perspective. We’ll be live on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram and my personal website. (The links to Twitter and Instagram go to my main page. I won't know the specific links until after we go live.)
I keep telling myself that talking about these challenges is the right thing to do. That it won’t define me. I was worried about many of the same things last year as well. All too often, that fear and anxiety has slowed me down. There are times that I haven’t shown up and times that I’ve delayed working on something because I was afraid it wouldn’t work out the way I hoped it would. I even delayed the start of this show by a few weeks in part because I was afraid.
I’m taking a huge leap of faith, but I have a clear sense of why I am starting this conversation: I don't want to feel embarrassed about anxiety. I don't want to feel embarrassed about depression. Nobody else should feel embarrassed, either, for whatever they’re experiencing.