On our podcast ‘Tales That Tethr’, tethr Founder & CEO Matt Zerker interviews entrepreneurs, experts, thought leaders, and regular people about what is means to be a man, the challenges that modern men face, and how to overcome challenges and live life in a more connected and authentic way.
I’m thankful for certain privileges in my life; being an uncle to my nephew, working with animals, and sharing mental health education as the host of MedCircle.
In my early thirties, I became the host at MedCircle — interviewing the world’s best psychologists and psychiatrists. I’ve also sat down with survivors from all walks of life to hear about their experiences overcoming a variety of mental health challenges.
After countless hours interviewing these incredible people, the viewers aren’t the only ones who have benefited from epiphanies and realizations. I have also experienced the life-changing benefits of proper mental health education.
I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder when I was 9 years old. I’ve been on and off... and on antidepressants ever since. Moving all over the country I have been the patient to many psychiatrists, psychologists, and therapists. However, it wasn’t until I joined MedCircle that I actually started to learn about mental health.
I learned about different therapies and which modality could work best for me.
I began to understand how antidepressants work in my body.
I learned about trauma and how it is stored in the body.
Therapy, Medication, and…?
Therapy and medication are crucial for those struggling with mental health. Don’t forget about the third, and in my opinion, the most important component: proper education. When you are educated, you are empowered. And when you’re empowered everything else becomes more effective.
Therapy moves faster with more impactful outcomes. Support groups provide better value. Life’s big and small obstacles still happen, but you see them with clarity and confidence. All because you are now educated.
There are countless lessons I’ve learned from talking to our MedCircle doctors. Here are four that have shaped me the most in the last few years.
1. You are not your thoughts
Perhaps the most discussed therapy in mental health is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT treats a variety of mental health disorders including depression and anxiety.
A lesser-known therapy, acceptance & commitment therapy (ACT), takes elements from CBT and combines it with eastern practices such as mindfulness.
One of the core takeaways from this modality is the idea that you are not your thoughts. Recent studies indicate that a typical individual has about 6,200 “thoughts” a day. While there is much discussion around what constitutes a thought, the point is that all of your waking hours are consumed by them.
Your thoughts are mental events. We have the ability to look at our thoughts rather than from our thoughts. Most of us behave from a thought. Meaning, when we think “my spouse is mad at me,” we take it as a truth and then behave and react from that truth.
When we reframe this thought slightly, by adding the prefix “I am having the thought that…” it then becomes “I’m having the thought that my spouse is mad at me.” By doing this we are able to look at that thought and consider its truth while understanding that this mental event isn’t who we are. It’s just a thought, one of the thousands we will have in a day.
This strategy has provided tremendous relief. It has kept me from going down a negative self-talk spiral, decreased anxiety and stress, and given me a clearer picture of what is actually happening versus what my mind would like me to believe is happening.
Many nights as I am falling asleep, I will start thinking about all of my deadlines, responsibilities, conversations from the day, etc. Many of these thoughts ignite my stress, making falling asleep difficult. To combat this, I apply this technique.
Instead of thinking, “The call went so bad today. They were not happy.” I think, “I am having the thought that today’s call was bad and they were not happy.” This immediately calls into question the reality of the situation and also allows space between the feeling this thought can bring and the thought itself.
2. Subconscious self-sabotage
Most of us are aware of self-sabotage. Grabbing a soda on the first day of a new health kick or watching “just one more episode” when you should already be asleep. However, it’s the subconscious self-sabotaging behavior where I see room for impactful education and improvement.
I am a notoriously poor dresser. I leave my house in a hoodie and shorts 9 times out of 10. I make virtually no effort to look put together. For me, clothes are meant to be comfortable — not stylish. For years I believed that I dressed this way because I “didn’t care” and would “rather be comfortable than look presentable.”
Until clinical psychologist, Dr. Ramani, and hypnotherapist Grace Smith, helped me identify another possibility: I have a limiting belief that I will not find true love (whatever that is). This belief likely stems from pressures in gay culture and my childhood. Often, this belief manifests in self-sabotaging behavior.
One of these behaviors is how I present myself in public. By looking like a slob, I not only fulfill my limiting belief that I will not find love, it also becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It provides a false sense of control over my nonexistent love life. I can call out my appearance as the reason I am single, providing a feeling of control to a larger pain point in my life.
Some self-sabotaging behavior is written off as a personality trait or preference, but it could be a symptom of a deeply rooted belief or construct. As you mindfully go throughout your week, pay attention to your behavior and consider if there is another reason why you do what you do. I learned more about this through the book Stop Self Sabotage by Dr. Judy Ho, a triple board-certified forensic psychologist, neuropsychologist, and Med Circle Certified Educator.
3. Own your introversion
I am a card-carrying introvert and proud of it. For years I carried guilt about my aversion to large crowds and loud spaces. I believed that in order to be successful you needed to be extroverted. And while there are many benefits to extroversion, it is hardly a necessity for success.
My tendency to isolate and avoid crowds caused my former psychiatrist to diagnose me with social anxiety. When I told some close friends about this diagnosis, they laughed saying quite frankly, “your doctor is wrong. You are not socially anxious.”
I didn’t feel anxious in crowds. I felt annoyed, frustrated, irritated... but not anxious. Months later, during an interview with Dr. Ramani, I learned more about introversion and understood that I am an introvert, not socially anxious. This felt right.
I continued to learn about the strengths of an introvert and the symptoms of social anxiety, which furthered my understanding of who I was and who I was not. Now I can happily decline a social invitation and I enjoy my solo time even more. This education and clarity have brought peace to my natural preferences and behavior.
4. You’re responding to your past
When you experience an event, such as being treated poorly or having a date go south, you may not just be responding to that event but rather to the baggage you carry related to that event.
In my early twenties, a person I treasured ended our friendship because I was gay. My friend knew I was gay for years but because of newfound religious beliefs, she decided the two of us could no longer remain friends.
This broke my heart.
After a few years and countless hours of therapy, I was able to make peace with this. However, now I carry this “baggage” with me. I recall that hurt I felt when I meet someone who follows strict religious doctrine.
In the beginning I steered clear of anything “too religious.” I would not attend church with friends. I would end conversations with people who brought up religious ideas. This behavior wasn’t fair to the people in my life and it certainly wasn't fair to me. I was keeping myself from living, believing that if I worked hard enough to avoid religion, I could protect myself from being hurt again.
Of course, this doesn’t make logical sense. There are, obviously, plenty of wonderful people who are religious. There are plenty of terrible people who are not religious.
I understood what I was doing and that understanding created instant change. Sometimes change is hard. Most of the time change is hard. This time, it was easy. I stopped holding other people responsible for my friend’s behavior and started living fully again.
5. What are your top values?
Understanding your values, and more importantly your top values, can help you navigate difficult decisions and relationships. Simply put, once you determine which values are most important to you, you can make decisions with those values in mind.
One way to determine your top values is through a process I learned from Dr. Judy called The Value Card Sort. She explains that the exercise is important because they give us a tangible way to connect with our Values, “which can feel somewhat abstract if you haven't taken the time to really consider them and to observe the ways they play out in your daily life.”
Our values influence our behaviours and decision-making so it would be “very difficult to permanently change problem behaviours if we didn’t carefully and thoughtfully consider our values. Knowing what we value most in our health, work, relationships, and other important areas of life makes it much easier to respond to circumstances, opportunities, and difficult scenarios with integrity and authenticity.”
You can take the free assessment for yourself here. This exercise confirmed my top value of “honesty” and also gave me insight on how I can navigate life in a way that honors this value.
Those closest to me know that I want the truth. No matter how painful the truth may be, no matter the consequences, I always want the truth. If you told me you keyed my car, there’s a chance I could move past it. If you keyed my car and lied about it, there is very little chance I will be able to move forward with the relationship. So I surround myself with people who share my core value of honesty.
(Also, please don’t key my car.)
This is only the beginning
Proper mental health education is really about becoming properly educated on yourself, your relationships, your habits, your failures, and your triumphs. It’s insight into why you do what you do, why you think what you think, how you behave, and where you are headed in life.
Proper mental health education also gives you the ability to be a stronger supporter to your friends and loved ones. For parents, it provides insight into their children. For employees, it provides answers to personality conflicts and management styles. For healthcare workers, it provides a better picture of a patient’s overall health. There are endless applications when you have the right mental health education.
Spend a few minutes each week learning about mental health. It can be as simple as watching a video, reading an article, or attending a free online class. You’ll be amazed at how you and your life flourish.
And most importantly, remember: whatever you’re going through, you’ve got this!
Kyle Kittleson is the host at MedCircle, conducting award-winning interviews with top psychologists and psychiatrists. MedCircle provides online Memberships to improve your thoughts, behavior, and relationships through videos and live classes. Kittleson lives in Arizona with his yellow lab, Callie - who makes regular appearances in MedCircle videos.