Imperfection: Mental Health Awareness Month 2023

As with most of my series, I like to spend a lot of time writing theses articles. And gradually, over the course of months, they eventually come together; like pieces of a puzzle that somehow just fit.

So here I am in my cycle of writing and rewriting as I dive deep into my own mind and answer the questions I don’t want answered. I write so I don’t numb the pain and so I can truly feel what I feel. And the question that has been ringing louder than any other in my head is “Mike, but…”. I’ll get back around to the question in a while, for now I simply write.

Craniosynostosis in a nutshell

For those who don’t know, Craniosynostosis affects about 1 in 2000 births. It is more common in men than in women and it has a few different types depending on what sutures fuse together when you are born. When you are a baby, eventually the sutures in your skull will fuse together. If they fuse too early, the brain won’t have room to grow and will instead push against the skull, causing deformity (as well as other issues) if left untreated. There are shaping helmets (I never had one) to help the skull keep a normal form after surgery, although more mild cases supposedly do not need the helmet for the skull to retain it’s form. When I was born, I had the surgery where they operated on my skull essentially making more room for the brain to grow and ensure my brain didn’t push against my skull. To my knowledge, the surgery was successful.

Why Am I writing about?

That is the question. So originally, I wanted to talk about my Craniosynostosis and then I thought it’d be easier to talk about imperfection as a whole. Writing helps, I’ve used this series to conquer my personal demons and I hope this is the start to a long overdue conversation with myself. The Mental Health Awareness Month series on this blog has always been about personal growth and with writing comes clarity.

To Add…

When I choose a topic, it forces me to think about the topic. I am constantly reframing the question posed to be suitable for general consumption; this is very different than writing in my journal. Craniosynostosis has been a topic I’ve spoken about in hushed tones and has become a defining narrative in my life when I never wanted it to be. The hope is given enough time, I’ll finally be able to accept myself for me and make my fractured self whole. A part of me would be fine never publishing this but that defeats the purpose of the exercise. It is only by talking about it that I can work through it and find acceptance.

The Ugly

Mental Health isn’t something you can wrap a neat bow on. Consider this a trigger warning of sorts. This article has been written over the course of months, edits are made here and there. To write this article, the benefit is digging deep, so for friends and family reading this, you most likely never knew I even had any of these thoughts. My outward demeanor is cheerful and positive and part of that is because I’ve done these deep dives. They are capturing a moment in time and by having written it, I can look back in the future to truly understand my mind. But it is ugly, it’s not pretty, not everything has a positive spin. The problem is people don’t talk about what bothers them, it is easier to dismiss how someone feels if it makes you uncomfortable. So I am making an effort to normalize these conversations, especially for men.

Acting like it’s fine when it’s not

I am the frog and the water temperature is being raised. This article, on imperfection, will still strive for a level of perfection. A wrong word here, an overstep there, and it loses validity. Imperfection. And therein lies the problem, my birth defect has led to an obsession with perfection, for better or worse. I feel like I always have to prove my worth, that people take a look at me and think of me as lesser. That no one will give me a chance at love and… You can see how the mind works. Isn’t it crazy to think? But it’s a prevailing problem in my life.

A Mike, But… Kind of problem

So this article is about the disjointed and of feeling lesser. Less than. And of having no anchor in this world. I was born with a facial disfigurement and I have let it become all consuming since someone first commented on it in 6th grade, roughly twenty years ago. And I’ve never gotten to talk about it, honestly. My whole life I have been told I look fine when I have never felt fine. And the older I get, I’m starting to realize it is more a question of trust. I have never really been given the opportunity to explore my trauma and it has become my everyday. An all consuming feeling of never being good enough. Years of meditation, exercise, a focus on mental health, all to be in anguish… Life has a sick sense of humor. Most days I want to curl into my shell and shy away from the world, to let the darkness win as I can no longer see the light. I watched my life collapse before my very eyes. Career and Love life never manifesting, panic slowly creeping in like a cancer. There have been moments where I’ve felt like collapsing only to realize I’m the only one to pick myself up. Are these thoughts true or delusions? Clearly delusions but in the US we have a problem of stuffing down the bad feelings until they become a poison. So this year, I lean into the negative I’ve held on to for so long and let it happen.

I’m extremely sensitive to any comment regarding my face as I have, on multiple occasions, had people make comment that it is different. When people have mentioned this, I have no way to discern if it is positive or negative; or simply a statement, an observation if you will. Since I have never officially been in a relationship, I have used my defect as the de facto reason. With my Career failures, I have now adopted the philosophy that perhaps it is how I look that is the cause. That no matter how hard I try, because I had my skull taken apart and put back together as a baby, I am destined to fall short. Hence a ‘Mike, but…’ sort of problem. Like ‘Mike’s nice, but I’d never date him because of his face.’

I have spent a lot of time pondering how my birth defect could be a benefit and wish I had an answer. Truth is I don’t. But I can’t run with the narrative that I ugly, that I am unlovable, and that my intelligence and hard work mean less because I am disfigured. Am I disfigured? I don’t truly know. I never had my birth defect addressed growing up outside of a reiteration that I was normal. I never had a “So what if you are disfigured, what does it matter?” talk. The “you’re normal” conversation, while I’m sure well intentioned, never really addressed what I wanted it to address. I simply wanted to understand that why if I was normal, others would comment that I was different. A definitive proof that I was normal or at the very least, how my difference was a strength.

Feelings vs. Reality

At the moment, I have body dysmorphia over my Craniosynostosis. When I look in the mirror, I hyper fixate on my face. Over the years, I’ve become more relaxed on my thoughts towards my image, but the lingering resentment of my birth defect is still there. I see asymmetry and it causes me to implode, where now I shrug and say “It is what it is”. There is not so much a healthy conversation as me believing it isn’t worth the energy to be upset over it. I would love to view myself as perfect the way I was born, I really would. There has been this constant struggle with myself as I grapple with what my mind wants to believe versus what I know to be true. I know everything I just wrote is irrational, that in reality it is all in my head; I could go talk to a friend and they’d tell me honestly that it’s not a big deal, that they don’t even notice it. But that’s not the point of this article. The point is convincing myself and acknowledging these are my thoughts, for better or worse. Not the thoughts I think I should have, but my actual thoughts. I’m tired of telling myself to just believe what others tell me without actually addressing how I feel. As much as I love myself and know how far I come, I know I have much further to go. Sometimes it is ok to say “FUCK” and just lean into how you feel, however that is. This article is the first step to undoing years of self abuse. I never thought I would talk about this yet here we are.


Remember, this Mental Health Awareness Month, if you see someone struggling, reach out. We should never, ever feel like we have to suffer alone. And if you’re struggling, reach out. A better world starts with lifting others up and not having to hide ourselves from the world. People are imperfect and I think it’s those flaws that make us beautiful. As always, thanks for reading!

Elon Musk Twitter: The Death of Twitter?

So it feels like ages since I’ve written a business related article. Years, in fact. Business has had a strange journey on this blog. Originally, that’s all I talked about. I would read a business book and then talk about those ideas. Eventually, that transformed into Mental Health and the rest of the blog has shifted away from a heavy focus on articles. Early in the Pandemic, I tried writing business articles on LinkedIn. Those saw some success but I felt a disconnect. Effort vs. Reward just wasn’t there. Here, I write for the fun of it. And I’ve been itching to talk about the Elon Musk acquisition of Twitter.

As you may be aware, I’ve done away with my social media presence since the Pandemic began. Think of this article as more of a continuation of what I’ve already talked about on my crusade against social media. If there was any doubt about my decision to leave the digital realm behind, it has been erased by watching the social media giants implode. Meta is a whole other story and quite frankly a mess. There’s a certain satisfaction in watching their fall but I also worry about those impacted by the collapse of the social media giants.

Twitter

Twitter has been on a wild ride within the last couple weeks. The biggest news is Elon Musk laying off half the workforce and charging $8 for a verification system that seems inconceivable with how Twitter was designed. That said, I can understand some of the decisions made. When I’ve envisioned Utopian social media, there has to be a way for the site to be supported. Typically, the two go-to options are crowdfunding or advertisements. You can either have it free and your data sold or you can give money to the creator to help support the site. If I’m not mistaken, Myspace was completely free, which led to it’s eventually demise. Myspace was the ideal and while I was too young to share in its joy, I still remember how amazing it was. A time when the internet was actually Utopian. Then came Facebook and Twitter. And now here we are, in uncharted territory.

What is Elon Musk doing?

It seems like madness and it seems like chaos but I’m intrigued at what’s happening at Twitter. My theory is Elon Musk is gutting Twitter as we know it and trying at least in part, to create a more concise social media experience (in a perfect world, where everyone was a rational being). I would not be surprised if we saw it integrated with his other companies and went the route of a professional social media service, similar to LinkedIn but more specialized. However, if he is forced into a particular vision remains to be seen. Advertisers are leaving Twitter in droves and soon we will see a mass exodus of users on the platform. Based on what I’ve read and watched, it seems Elon Musk does indeed want the current userbase to stay. While I gave up the Twitter life a couple years ago, I have hopped on from time to time to check in. With the acquisition however, my desire to do so has all but disappeared. The new verification system sounds exhausting and begs the question of who can you trust on Twitter? What would a post-Twitter world even look like? Once Pandora’s box is open, can you close it? While we don’t know for certain if Twitter will die, I think we can all agree that Twitter as we know it is done. It is essentially in the hands of a madman.

Random Thoughts

It’s a lot of information to process. One day, Twitter was fine (in the loose definition of the word). Then overnight, the Media giant was brought to its knees by one man. Half the staff, gone. Many others resigning, quitting. It is alarming to think that if one has enough money, they can do this. People’s livelihoods have been destroyed and for what? Seemingly nothing. A CEO does not simply do these things. At least, not a proper CEO. I always thought of Elon Musk as a sort of madman businessman but at least with his other companies he could hide behind “Vision”. A mission to colonize Mars, a mission to reinvent the automotive industry through electric batteries. While a tough sell, getting people to hit the grindstone when you have a mission to save the world makes the pill easier to swallow. With Twitter you’d have to be out of your mind to stay.

Covering Social Media

As part of my long term goal for the blog, I want to start covering social media trends on a more regular basis. I’ve written about their mental health implications and since then I’ve been noticing more coverage on the detriment behemoths like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have had on society. I know deep down in my heart, there are better ways to run Social Media. I’ll be keeping up with all new developments and look at the global impact. If you have any thoughts, sound off in the comments below!

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!

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