I’ve had my fair share of horrible stuff happen in my life. I’ve had birthday’s with no celebration because my family couldn’t afford it. I’ve had many broken bones and equally plentiful broken hearts. I’ve had bad grades on what felt like a good test.
Then, seven years ago this month, the whooper of all things horrible happened. My best friend, my idol, my hero, my brother, died unexpectedly and incredibly suddenly. It destroyed my little world and threw me into a dark and lonely place.
Up until that point, the person I went to and relied on for support, mental and physical, my outlet to talk, was my brother. Once he was gone, I didn’t know how to open up to those around me and I didn’t know if they’d care or listen.
I spent months crying in my sleep (and out of it) not talking to my friends or girlfriend and just bottling up everything until I’d snap, have a breakdown, not sleep or eat for a few days, and then repeat that process.
It was extremely unhealthy and dangerous.
After an especially rough week, about six months after my brother died, of crying nearly all day every day and eating basically nothing, my girlfriend sat down with me on our bed and uttered a phrase I’ll never forget:
“You have to talk. It doesn’t have to be with me but if not to me then to a professional privately. But you have to talk or you’ll lose who you are and who your brother loved.”
That helped me realize a few things.
The first was that this person truly cared for me. She cared about me not because I was her boyfriend or because we shared interests or even shared bills and responsibilities. No, she cared for me at a deeper level. She cared for my soul and my spirit and who I was at my core. I wasn’t just a person in her life, I was her partner. I knew right then I was going to spend the rest of my life with her and shower her with my undying love and admiration.
The second thing was that losing Tim, my brother, didn’t mean I lost my ability to talk and share my emotions with the world. Instead, it meant that I now had an opportunity to find new outlets and learn how to open up to new people in even newer ways.
I sat in our shared bedroom with my girlfriend/future wife and called my health insurance company to schedule an appointment with a health professional. After hearing that my appointment would be three or four months away, I cracked a joke and hung up.
Knowing that I couldn’t continue on the path I had been going and that I couldn’t wait four months to speak with a therapist, I sat there and talked to my then-girlfriend, current-wife, about all I was going through. I talked about the fears I had of losing Tim, fears in life in general, and everything in between.
That night was the night I realized that talking about your feelings isn’t weak. On the contrary in fact. It takes an enormous amount of courage and strength to put your emotions out there in front of other people.
From that point on I always try to be an open book. I still struggle to express myself properly from time to time and find myself slipping back into the shutoff person I was after Tim died but when I catch myself nowadays, I either chat up my wife or a friend or peer or even write down what I’m feeling on a notepad or even my digital notepad (like I am right now).
Without talking and exploring new ways to address my mental health, I shudder at what could have been. If you’re ever feeling isolated, alone, depressed, or distressed, just get it out. Write down what you’re feeling, talk to a friend or a loved one, reach out to a colleague or a peer. Don’t let it fester, morph, and twist who you really are.