As we approach the final days of Mental Health Month, one of the best ways to highlight this month’s theme – Life with a Mental Illness – is to feature inspiring individuals who are motivated to share their stories in hopes of breaking stigma and helping others. The first few emails I received from Richard Brea stood out to me due to his desire to write about a topic that is extremely important, but unfortunately not discussed often enough, as you’ll read below. Richard’s writing has been featured in several mental health websites, and his honesty and openness is what makes his writing so refreshing to read.
Boys Don’t Cry
Boys don’t cry. At least that’s what society tells you nowadays. You’re not a real man if you cry and you’re not a real man if you wear pink. You’re not masculine if you show emotion. As a depressed teenager I kept everything bottled inside. I had no friends or anyone I could talk to. I felt alone. My battle with depression started when I was 15 years old. After a breakup with my first girlfriend (at the age of 17) I reached my breaking point. I tried committing suicide by overdosing on pain relief medicine mixed with alcohol. Nothing happened. I got a bit drunk and fell asleep. I didn’t tell my family what happened until two weeks later. Doctors told me the best thing I did was speak up and seek professional help. I wanted to die so their words meant nothing to me. I was upset that I failed at committing suicide.
During my first hospitalization at The Lowell Youth Treatment Center, I met a lot of kids like myself. Some were depressed, some tried committing suicide, some had abusive parents that were also drug addicts, and some of them were there until they were placed in a foster home. I enjoyed being around kids like myself. It was effortless for me to be open and honest with them. I appreciated everyone I met. I wish I could say the same for the doctors and counselors I encountered during my three week hospitalization.
While talking to one of the older counselors there he told me, “You don’t want to cut yourself. Only girls cut themselves.” I felt bad, but I nodded my head and said, “Yeah, you’re right.” That was the first time someone tried to make me feel ashamed that I hurt myself. The second time was when my writing was featured on a Borderline Personality Disorder website. Before my piece was published the owner asked me, “How do you feel being a man that hurts himself?” I was disgusted by her question. She wanted to include my response in the final piece but I told her ‘no.’ I said, “I don’t think about being a man when I hurt myself. I don’t want to include that in the piece. At the end of the day we are all the same. It doesn’t matter what my gender is.”
During the first and only meeting with one of the therapists at The Lowell Youth Treatment Center this doctor said, “You need to be a man about it.” He was talking about me being a man to get over my depression. He made it seem like manhood is based on how you handle depression. I know, it’s pretty ridiculous. When he said that statement I became infuriated. I felt no connection with him from the beginning and after that statement I got up and walked away. I told him, “I’m done. I’m not talking to you anymore.” Joe, one of the counselors I got along with very well, noticed I stormed into my room and he asked me what happened. I told him, “I’m not talking to that f*ggot. I’m not talking to him anymore.” Joe asked me, “Why? What happened?” I replied, “I just don’t want to talk to him anymore.” A few minutes later the doctor came to my room and tried talking to me. “What’s wrong Richard? I’m sorry if I said something to upset you. Do you want to talk?” I ignored him. I told him I didn’t want to talk to him. That was the last time I ever saw him.
From that point on, I refused to talk to male therapists. That may be an extreme way of thinking but I wasn’t going to deal with that type of nonsense again. I’ve always believed women are more understanding and compassionate than men are. When I had to move back to my hometown of Lynn, Massachusetts to get clean and sober, I ended up seeing two therapists – one female and one male. Dr. Moreno definitely changed my views on having a man as my therapist. I told him this numerous times. He smiled and thanked me. He told me, “Of course. Not all guys will be like that therapist in the hospital.”
I mentioned the therapist’s comments about “being a man” and Dr. Moreno was astonished when I told him this. “Really!? He said that?” I laughed and said, “Yeah. He did.” “He shouldn’t be a doctor if he’s making comments like that. I don’t believe it.” I agreed with him.
That hospitalization also served as the catalyst that shifted my views on homosexuality. Up to that point, I was like every teenage boy in America. I would use homophobic slurs to insult people (like that therapist) and make gay jokes when I was with my boys. During my hospitalization I met a kid named Luis. When I first met Luis I was with my roommate, AJ. AJ asked Luis why he was there. His answer truly broke my heart. “I’m here because I tried killing myself because I’m gay.” I felt his pain when he said those words. It’s sad that he tried killing himself because of his sexuality. I don’t blame him for his suicide attempt because I can only imagine what he had to go through on a daily basis to get to that breaking point. I blame the people around him for making him feel like he’s less of a man because of his sexual orientation. After meeting Luis, I never used another homophobic slur. I never made another gay joke again. I am proud to say that those two statements are still true.
A few of the people I work with have a mental illness. You can look at them and realize that. You can look at me and think I’m “normal.” I was talking to my co-worker, Travis, on Friday and he said, “I may be wrong but from my point of view it seems like the people in the front of the office don’t mess with us in the back. But not you, you’re different.” It wasn’t the first time we talked but it was the first conversation we had. I told him, “You know what, you’re absolutely right. For whatever reason, a lot of them think they’re better than you guys. It’s unfortunate, but it’s the truth.”
I was reserved during our talk but as soon as he said that, I opened up regarding my struggles with mental illness. I showed him the visible scars on my wrists and shoulders from when I used to cut myself. I told him, “I have a mental illness. I struggle with depression and anxiety. I’ve tried killing myself before. At the end of the day, we are all the same. I like being around you guys. You guys appreciate life. Not to say I don’t, but you guys are positive. I want to be like you guys.” It’s a damn shame some of my co-workers think they’re above the telemarketers at my job, but that’s who they are. All I can do is make sure when people see me, they see love and equality. I want people to enjoy my company and find comfort knowing they don’t have to worry about being judged because of their past or how they look, dress, and/or live. We all seek and want the same thing. We all want love and to have our voices heard.
I don’t know why men don’t speak up regarding their mental illness, but I do understand why they are hesitant to do so. Society makes you feel like less of a man if you seek help. Society tries to shame you for speaking up and getting help. I can’t imagine what other men have to deal with if I’ve had doctors and a site owner trying to shame me for how I dealt with depression. I’ve heard statements that have made me feel bad, but I’ve never let them change who I am as a person. It’s hard being open, vulnerable, and honest but I know it’s worth it when I get comments on my BPD piece that is three years old. It’s worth it when I talk to Travis, my co-worker, and he tells me that he gets good vibes from me. I applied for a video project with a non-profit based in Canada. They received over 200 applications but only two men applied. I was one of those men. They ended up choosing females for the video project. I was heartbroken by their decision. Below is a screenshot of the conversation we had.
I don’t know why the stigma of mental health doesn’t affect me like so many other men. I never really worried about what other people thought. I was so focused on getting the help I needed so I could live a healthy and happy life. I spent the first two years I was depressed keeping everything to myself and bottling my emotions and feelings. I ran away from my problems. That type of behavior is destructive not productive. After being hospitalized, I realized that talking about my feelings was going to benefit me.
Over the past few years I have seen my story help others. That’s when I realized there was a purpose to my pain and suffering. Now, I don’t hold back when talking about my story. I help break down the stigma by being open and honest. I look forward to the day where people won’t be judged by their disability, sexual orientation, or color of their skin. Until then, I’ll keep sharing my story and living my life to the fullest no matter what. And when I have a bad day, I will cry because contrary to what this world tells me, boys DO cry.
Richard is 29 years old and living his dream in Los Angeles, CA. He is a believer in Jesus Christ and his faith has helped him in his struggles with mental illness. He is a writer and is working to publish his autobiography, Out of the Darkness, later this year. He loves music, movies, and reading. He strives to break down the stigma surrounding mental illnesses and disorders by sharing his story. He hopes to inspire the mental health community. Follow Richard on Instagram or email him at Rbrea1986K@aol.com.