By: Youeal Abera, Staff Writer
I’ve always been a person who takes pride in my work ethic. Whether it was at school or at work, I’ve made sure to be diligent in the tasks set before me. For the most part, this single-minded focus on work has brought me a significant amount of success — but it has also proven fairly detrimental to my well-being.
Somewhere in the midst of adolescence, I realized that work became my coping mechanism for dealing with my amalgamated anxieties and vexations. If I was having problems with a particular relationship, I’d ask my high school teachers about extra-credit assignments. If I was in a fight with friends, I’d look to pick up extra shifts at work.
For a while, this seemed fairly innocuous. My particular frustrations were very typical teenage problems, so there was little at stake when I continued to use my work ethic as my therapy. It wasn’t until this past summer that I realized just how unhealthy my form of coping really was.
This past June, I received the most devastating phone call imaginable. After being informed that my brother was in the ICU, my mother and I raced to Vancouver General Hospital to meet with my dad. Upon our arrival, we were informed that my brother had been stabbed a number of times, had lost a lot of blood, and was going to die within a short amount of time.
There is no way to describe what the doctor’s words did to me. I have never felt an emotion such as what I experienced that afternoon.
Five days later, my brother passed. My whole world collapsed.
It’s been five months since my brother has died, and each day feels worse. Thinking of my brother, and how he was so violently taken from my family, has evoked a significant amount of panic attacks over these past months. As someone who already grappled with anxiety, my brother’s murder has triggered a profound setback for my mental health.
When September rolled around, I ended up doing what I typically do in times of great turmoil: I dove into whatever work I could find.
Admittedly, at first I didn’t realize I had decided to inundate myself with a plethora of tasks and responsibilities. By the time October came, I began noticing some major differences in my health that seriously concerned me.
Two weeks before Halloween, I became completely reclusive. Instead of using my downtime to go out and see friends or do things that I typically love, I decided to stay home in bed. The desire to hide from the world had become frighteningly endearing. My eating habits would fluctuate between extremes. Perhaps the worst vexation that my mental health inflicted upon me was my inability to sleep at night. Instead of attaining a standard eight hours of rest, I’d spend my nights lying awake with the hopes of at least having three hours of sleep.
It was during these restless nights that I, foolishly, began looking for extra shifts at work. I thought that if I spent the majority of my time being occupied, then I’d have no mental capacity to think about the horrible things that were plaguing my life. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
On the week of Halloween, I became really sick. The lack of sleep ended up affecting my health way more than I had anticipated. So, I began to take care of myself by seeking help. I talked to people close to me about what I was enduring. I contacted my family physician and informed him of what I was dealing with. Consequently, I was redirected to other individuals and services who could assist me with the pain I was experiencing as a result of my brother’s death. With this help, I began to prioritize my well-being as opposed to ignoring it for extra shifts at work.
I’m still on this path of healing. Every day presents a new battle, one that tempts me with a distraction. However, what I’ve realized is that even with the amazing people in my life who can positively impact my mental health, only I can be the one who seeks and enacts healthier changes. It would be ridiculously easy for me to make some unhealthy decisions in the most devastating chapter of my life. I’ve come to see how important it is for me to practice self-care and what that looks like for my situation.
Now, when I have a panic attack, I call a friend to talk me through it. Additionally, when I’m enduring a restless night, I meditate with relaxing music. These changes may look small and insignificant, but they’ve encouraged a continual journey of self-betterment and healing in my life.
Sharing all of this is truly terrifying. Especially within the culture that I have grown up in, where the concept of men expressing vulnerability and pain stemming from struggles with mental health is a fairly taboo subject. Nonetheless, I believe that sharing your struggles with others can potentially contribute to healing, as those going through similar situations can feel that they’re not alone.
My greatest hope for those who are reading this and are struggling with mental health is that they understand that they too can seek healthier forms of coping. Granted, every individual is in a unique situation and needs different kinds of support. However, healthier coping mechanisms exist and they are available. Seeking help for your mental health can be really scary, but the reward is truly worthwhile. Investing in your own health is worth much more than any job promotion or GPA score.