Mental Health Awareness Month 2022: Losing my Father

To close out the month of May, we’re going to be exploring trauma. This article was originally planned for 2021 and while I started writing it, I never finished it. I’ve imagined writing this a thousand different ways and I’ve gone through this many times. I have avoided many teary eyes and choked throats by diverting conversations for the last two years. Death is taboo. And my pain is mine alone to deal with. That is what scares me the most, that as I scream into the void, my echoes are the only voices I hear.

About my Dad

In October of 2019, my father passed away. One moment he was fine and then over the course of a couple months he was gone. Years of drinking had finally caught up with him and in a heartbeat his body gave out. At the age of 26 I was left without a father.

Whatever issues I had with my father, I still loved him and these last couple years have been tough without him. There have been few conversations involving him. I was not ready when he died and a part of me is still in shock that he is truly gone. I’ve tried each May since he’s passed away to write a post about it but each time I’ve put it off. This is more a personal essay than anything else. I’m writing this as a way to process my grief. Some may question the logic of posting for all the world to see but it helps remind me that I am not alone. A journal contains the echoes of my thoughts but a blog is a means to break through the chamber.

A different Time, a different place

I suppose my journey would always eventually lead here. Where once my blog was used as a way to articulate my struggle, it is now a place where I can learn to heal. I still do not utter the phrase ‘My Dad is dead’ and I wonder if this is healthy or a slow poison. I have not found a way to contain the darkness so I have doubled down on being a light. Always a smile when inside I honestly can’t say how I feel any more. It feels like a nightmare. One moment I was a kid and my Dad was my world and the next I found myself here.

I don’t know how people will react

I learned how to talk about my father’s drinking in a productive manner and through the act of writing I learned some things are best left unsaid. All my life I had wanted to feel heard, to know my plight was real, and in the end I realized to let sleeping dogs lie. The reason I even write now is for my father. As caring as he was, he took the weight of the world on his shoulders. He would say everything was fine when the world was collapsing around him. And he drank. I hid this fact as a child and while I still don’t much like talking about it, I can at least articulate my pain. In recent months, I’ve been thinking about him a lot. I started playing Pokémon Go after his passing and I’ve been thinking had I been less angry I could have shared these memories with him. Us walking, battling gyms, and catching Pokémon together. I’ll never know what that feels like.

I’ve started cooking again for the first time since I graduated college and I can’t help think of my Dad and how proud he’d be of the dishes I’ve made and how I wish he were here to share the joy. My Dad loved cooking and I don’t think I truly ever appreciated how much he cooked for his kids. He’d make breakfast almost every weekend and he knew how to use a smoker. And he was always proud, that much I know.

Two years and not a word uttered

Originally, I was never going to mention it to anyone. Then my childhood friend knew he was sick and shortly after his death followed. Then another friend found out and I’ve slowly told only those I’m closest with that he has died. Two years is not a long time. I have redirected conversations because I don’t want others to feel my pain. And perhaps, I don’t want to feel it as well. And the less I talk about it, the less I can understand my grief. This doesn’t mean I’ll go tell the entire world but it does mean I’m tired of feeling alone. I would rather be vulnerable and perceived weak than to appear strong but slowly dying on the inside. I know in my heart this is the path my father would have wanted and to put an end to the generational suffering.

His Dog, Now Mine

Abby I have known since she was a puppy. I was initially against having another dog after Skipper. Dogs are work and to train them takes dedication and time. However, when I saw her, even though I was at odds with my Dad, I fell in love almost immediately. She was a shy puppy and the first few times she saw me she’d back up a little bit when I stuck out my hand. When she was less than a year, she’d trot around the house with her blanket in mouth and would find random spots to plop down with her blanket. Her razor sharp teeth cut my legs when she wanted to play and I typically had to run for the bitter apple spray just to enjoy my cup of coffee in the morning. When my Dad passed, we kept her. Three years later we finally finished dog training and she provides comfort for when I need it the most. It’s strange knowing that my father made the decision to get Abby and in a way through her his memory still lives on. He trained her, he played with her, and he took care of her.

When we don’t talk about our pain

My father helped indirectly shape my current philosophy when talking about mental health and it’s the idea that if we don’t talk about our pain, it doesn’t simply go away but manifests in other forms. My father, for better or worse, always wanted to project the image of the protector. A father that was there, present, invincible. I’ll never know what my father was like in his most intimate moments for he never opened up to me. To his grave, he never truly acknowledged his drinking. I’m grateful that I came back home and wish that I could have spent more time with him in his final year rather than being so angry after he relapsed. I’m grateful I got to have one final conversation with him, however brief, before he became too sick to talk. It wasn’t the conversation I imagined but it made me feel like a kid again where I was simply telling my Dad what I was working on. One of the last things we talked about was my plan to run a marathon and should I ever reach that goal, I’d love to run in dedication to him.

It’s easier to stay quiet, to act like everything is fine. But when we do that, we risk ourselves. There is also a time and place. Each year when I went to write this, I knew I wasn’t ready. I was angry and sad both at the same time. I was angry that my father left his kids so young and I was angry that he drank himself to death with a seeming lack of concern of how much it would hurt those around him. Now I understand a bit better. I went to therapy and while it helped, there were pieces that I had to understand by myself.

The Future

Where do I go from here? I have only visited my fathers urn a few times since his death a few years ago and I’ve only ever gone with family. I have to wonder why that is but it’s most likely the same reason I don’t ever talk about my father’s death. I am still in the process of grieving over the loss and will be for a long while. The anger has subsided and while I do get sad from time to time, I’m still living my life. Most would never guess my Dad died and for now I’ll most likely keep it that way. This is here for those who want to know. It’s the first step in truly accepting the loss and moving forward.

Mental Health Awareness Month 2022: A Tale of Two (Three) Mikes

Gather around the fire as we dive into week two of Mental Health Awareness Month 2022. The other week we took a dive into my life without social media. The whole point of my Mental Health Awareness Month is to allow myself to be vulnerable and learn to share topics I typically don’t talk about in the everyday. Part of the journey is rewriting each article and getting the vibe ‘right’. So for today, we’re diving into my identity in what I hope to be a fun article as I explore who I am. So sit back and relax as we go through a younger Mike.

Mikey

I’ve been called Mikey throughout the years. It’s an endearing name and honestly one I wished people used more. My Dad always called me Mikey and a few close friends as well but most opted for Mike. For this example I’m using it describe a more innocent, nerdier, insecure Mike. Cause let’s face it, we all have insecurities. When I was younger I had a speech impediment growing up to the point where I needed a speech therapist throughout Elementary school. Couple that with an IEP (individual education plan) and craniosynostosis (my skull literally being taken apart when I was a baby) and I was a recipe for insecurity. Most I’ve outgrown but there are still a couple insecurities that linger.

It wasn’t until 6th grade where I started to become overtly self conscious. I was a care free kid who simply existed. I was the curious sort, always exploring and my focus took many years to master; growing up, if it didn’t interest me, I simply wouldn’t do it. Homework assignments would get left undone and while I had mild OCD, I eventually outgrew it. So, as insecure as I was, it wasn’t all bad. I loved the history channel and discovery channel (before their great fall, back when they were actually educational). A day after school would typically be spent watching “How it’s Made” or a World War II documentary. My love of learning has been consistent throughout my life and with knowledge has come great power. I talked a lot when I was younger and I have to wonder what happened to that spark. While I still talk a lot, there’s some of that childhood innocence that has been lost. What I say nowadays is within the framework of how I want to be perceived but there was a certain joy simply talking about everything that interested me when I was younger. However, when I was younger, my sentences would come off as gibberish and my wonderful memory would typically betray me as I would remember details about others they had completely forgotten. I could not give speeches and I could not communicate. Or perhaps I was simply being too hard on myself. An obsession with perfection and a desire to please everyone created obstacles that seem rather silly now.

Michael

The beast I unleashed into the wild. My entire life, I have never used Michael. It was not until I reached the college of business that I opted for the more formal name. Often I wonder what I have done. With each name, I’ve preferred to change my personality slightly to fit the roles that were needed of me. Michael once represented my ideal self, the man I strived to be. It was a way to separate myself from the nerdier (and insecure) aspects of my life. Long winded conversations, video games, the works. I was in college, so I was essentially a new man. And it worked. While I still used Mike among friends, when I networked I was solely known as Michael. Michael takes on a slightly more biblical name and I enjoyed it for a while.

Fast forward to present day and it’s a tougher question to answer. I have told people for many years that I have no preference: call me Michael, call me Mike, call me Mikey. In Germany I was Michel (pronounced Mikkel) and in Spanish I am Miguel. Any name you choose I won’t mind. But this last month I have started to wonder if this is really the case. I have turned my name, my identity into something nonchalant, something that I don’t care about. As with all things in mental health, I’m taking the time to evaluate. Michael would still be fun to use, but only on occasion.

Using Michael was necessary in college but for however many benefits it had, there were also downsides. The most notable is I’ve used it as a defense mechanism. Think of it as a tiered trust system. Michael is more formal, colder in tone than Mike or Mikey. I’ve gone as far as reverting my name from Mike to Michael in formal greetings when upset. How the habit started, I do not know. It’s kept a distance between myself and my professional life, a boundary I no longer need. So after this month I’m going to start making an effort to go by Mike. I won’t correct people if they call me other names but I think it’s time to have a preferred name.

Mike

My preferred name and my identity. The Mike that represents my two halves, now one. A nerdy Mike and a Mike that can communicate. My new ideal, after spending years working on myself. I still have a ways to go, but I’m happy with where I am. In college, there were a lot of pieces to the puzzle that didn’t quite fit and that are now starting to fall into place. I was so focused on my professional self that I lost a lot of what had made me charming in the first place. Coming back home has been a way to reconcile that. It hasn’t been easy but looking back I think I made the right call. I got to spend time with my dad while he was sober and before he passed away, a decision I never thought I’d make. It’s been great spending time with my mom and most old wounds have started to heal. I’ve learned a lot about my family dynamic and I truly believe it has changed me for the better. I can’t choose how each moment of my life plays out but my life is an accumulation of every choice I’ve made; I have to trust that each action is pushing me in the right direction. Had I set out on my own after college, I don’t know if I would have been better off.

I used to hate the imperfect pieces of the puzzle, never quite fitting into place. My reality was dictated by many “what if’s” and I would reach extremes that would isolate me from everyone. Now life has a much more balanced approach and negative reflection of the past has become relatively rare and never to the point of obsession, like it once was. This Mike meditates, this Mike reads about stoicism. I talk about games, movies, and shows that I enjoy while relating to others. There is a held confidence about myself that I’ve nurtured and I no longer have to pretend I am something I’m not. I enjoy Mental Health Awareness Month as I give myself a space to look closely at my life. The act of drafting is just as beneficial as publishing if not more so. Often, it is the process of writing and rewriting an article that in and of itself is the benefit. There is so much I wanted to write about but realized there is a time and place. What is meant for the public eye and what is meant for my eyes alone? It’s an interesting process of self reflection and really helps with my articulation of tough topics.

Three Names, One Man

It would be easy to stop at ‘Mike’ but I wanted to take the time to dive in and reflect a little more on myself as a person. This article has been rewritten many times for the sake of keeping it more on the lighthearted side. The article could have gone down a very different path but I wanted to ensure it didn’t. My writing is a reflection of who I am and my blog is a representation of my personal journey. A Mental Health Awareness Month series has risks as I am sharing a bit of myself with each post. Too much, shared without finesse, disengages the reader. Too little and it doesn’t give the reader a reason to care.

I exaggerated my personas for this article with purpose as I’m struggling with a bit of an identity crisis I didn’t realize I had until earlier this year. On LinkedIn I am Michael and eventually this bled into work and then to everyday life. So once I hit publish on this article, I’m going to be focused on rebranding. Mike should be my everyday, my default. There is no longer a need to separate myself and perhaps in the process, I’ll rediscover Mikey.


Thanks as always for reading! We are almost done with Mental Health Awareness Month! My last article will most likely be on my Father. Stay tuned for next week!

Mental Health Awareness Month 2022: An End to Social Media Version 2.0

It is that time of year again. This month is all about mental health. This year, if I’m not mistaken, will be my forth year talking about all things mental health. Last year I covered social media in the most rudimentary form. Broken and withered from the Pandemic, I wrote an article in the heat of the moment and since then was wondering how I could improve the topic. When I wrote what was essentially a rough draft for how I wanted to live my life in the modern age, I had no answers for questions I found myself facing. Last year I ended the article with “I have no solution”, which in hindsight, doesn’t make for a great read. There was no call to action, only despair. As promised from last year, I’m trying a new approach with my mental health articles. I’m approaching them from a more upbeat perspective and am focused more on practical articles.

A life without social media

Part of the goal with this article is to start discussing the implications of social media in modern society. When I wrote “Goodbye Social Media” I worked on it at different stages; a few weeks and then a couple months of a complete disconnect. Since then, it’s been a lot of trial and error as I’ve begun to navigate life without Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (not to mention Snapchat and TikTok). Overall, not much seems amiss. A year in and I can safely say I’m OK. The first few months were a lot of uninstalling and reinstalling but past that point I accomplished my goal. If people want to reach me, they can have my phone number. If they want to make sure I’m not dead? They can read my blog.

The health implications

I read a lot. So it’s to my surprise there is so little literature on the impact of social media and there is little debate on the consequences of letting technology dictate our lives. Recently, I have noticed mild interest beyond the occasional sensation piece and that was sparked most recently by Facebook. Yet if I were to do a search, I would still find very little. I am against a Mark Zuckerberg Metaverse and in all reality, Metaverses in general. Technology is a tool, not a way of life.

Am I the only one?

The experiment has ultimately been a musing in isolation. How much agency do we have if we venture past social norms? Am I the weird one for having people contact me via text? I had someone ask me for my Instagram recently and I told them I did a full social media disconnect. All-in-all when I mention this to people the response has been positive and I have yet to have someone respond in the negative.

The Dating Apps

The dating apps are where I struggle the most. These are the apps that get reinstalled and uninstalled on a regular cycle. Over the last year, it has become less frequent as I’ve started to approach dating differently. I don’t care much for dating other than the fact that ultimately I do not want to die alone. I miss early childhood and romance that lasted well into college. When one could simply chat with someone and let a relationship develop organically. Now, I am Nickle and dimed for the opportunity of love. I have tried every dating app from Earth to Alpha Centauri and they have only led to a handful of dates; many conversations that ultimately go nowhere.

My Social Media Indulgence

Over the course of my experiment I briefly discovered reddit. After a couple months, I’ve uninstalled it and hope it stays that way. Reddit isn’t bad compared to some of the other social media out there but it offers no real benefit and has made sleep difficult the last couple of months.

What does it all mean?

Is there any true benefit to a full social media disconnect? As far as tangible data on myself, I have none. Do I overall feel better? Yes. But what does that mean? Is it truly better to not be constantly scrolling through social media and seeing an ad every other post on Facebook? In theory, yes. But does it lead to a more fulfilling life, more productivity, etc.? That is tougher to say. When I removed the need to post, has that somehow damaged my social standing? That should I not post through a tinted lens I simply disappear from this universe? Most likely not, but you have to wonder.

How has it been?

Overall, great! LinkedIn is the most I use and outside of that I’m just living inside my small bubble. I hang out with friends and every aspect of my life has been localized. The next step I suppose is to talk more openly about moving away from social media. I’m beyond curious to know what others are doing. Social Media used to rule over my life but now it simply is. A minimal digital footprint, much like I had when I was growing up. When I was growing up, computer labs were just being introduced to classrooms and the internet rocked. Now it’s a minefield to navigate and I just can’t convince myself society is benefitting from it as a whole. I’d like to talk more about it in the future but for now I’m ok with the conversations I have had. If you are curious about my original journey, I’ll include the link below. It’s a fascinating piece to reread now that I’ve been off social media for quite a while now.


And as typical, this month will ramp up as I explore every aspect of mental health. The two articles planned for the next couple weeks are an exploration into my name and it’s link to my identity and then a delve into my fathers death and it’s impact on me. The articles are helpful to write so that I don’t become closed off and so that I can express myself in healthy manners.

Last years social media article: Goodbye Social Media

Thanks for reading!

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