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 first experienced what I now know is depression at the age of 12. I know my parents saw it because they brought me to a therapist. That ended quickly when I started talking about my parents, who had a tumultuous marriage, I think because they felt responsible, a feeling I never had. That's when I chose to live with it and ultimately ate my way to 295 lbs, my weight when I graduated high school.
A few years later, I was able to lose over 100 lbs and things were actually starting to look up, but then in 2007 my younger brother passed away unexpectedly from an accidental overdose. We were at dinner for my other brother's 18th birthday when I received the call — I had to tell my parents and brother which still haunts me to this day. Again, I refused to deal with it and tried to be strong for my family — I never really allowed myself to feel anything.
Then my father passed away in 2015 — this was a bigger turning point for me. I had become somewhat desensitized to loss, which I feared so much, but that sort of gave me the ability to start feeling and facing it, but only a little. Then came 2020, which for an extrovert like me who loved to travel and see friends and family, was devastating. I managed okay until about July when I started having feelings of suicide that were starting to scare me. I had thought about it before, but never like this. That's when I sought out peer support, began talking to my friends and found tethr. Peer support has helped me immensely. I still have a ways to go, but I feel like I'm on the right path.
Looking back, I would have encouraged myself to seek out therapy sooner, first and foremost. I grew up in a house where I was told to “snap out of it” and where therapists were quacks. I never asked for support, so I can't say I wasn't supported. I used the power of denial to convince myself that I was okay and portray that to everyone around me, even though I was far from it. If you asked anyone around me, they'd have told you that I was the happiest nicest guy, but inside I was just wrecked.
Ironically, these are the two hardest things for me to do when I'm struggling, but I'm always glad once I do.
I would have suggested I seek out peer support as well, but that really wasn't possible back then and I didn't really have any friends I could talk to. I would encourage myself not to worry so much, as there are so many things that were out of my control and no amount of worry would change anything that would happen. I would have encouraged myself to live and be young.
When I did go to therapy, and I was dealing with a lot of anxiety, I had my therapist say to me one day, “you've got a hell of an ego on you — you really think that you have that much power to control so many things in this world?” I know it's not advice or wisdom, but being the quiet, “happy”, humble guy I was, that really showed me I was putting so much unnecessary pressure on myself to control things that I had no control of. It really helped.
Exercise definitely helps me mentally, I can't stand running if I'm being honest, but I feel so much better when I do. Even just a walk outside on a nice day will be enough to boost me up so I can take on the rest of the day without crawling back into bed. Social interaction also does wonders for me, any social interaction. Ironically, these are the two hardest things for me to do when I'm struggling, but I'm always glad once I do.
I can just see their pain and struggle in their words, which I guess is the silver lining from what I've experienced.
I've always sought to help others with anything, but was never really able to support others who were overcoming similar obstacles until I started opening up myself — people now tend to be more vulnerable and open with me. Whether it's those close to me, Facebook or tethr, I am willing to help any way I can. I can just see their pain and struggle in their words, which I guess is the silver lining from what I've experienced. Even on my worst days, I take so much pride in being there for others, giving advice (most of which I should take myself) and just being someone who is there and will listen.
Nobody should ever feel alone, and if there's anything I can do to help alleviate their suffering, even just a little bit, I will always take the opportunity to help, because I know how it feels and I know how much that helps me.
it's given me the courage to be vulnerable and open up to those around me, both friends and family, about how I'm feeling – something I never thought I could do.
What has helped me most, above all, is connecting with people who deal with the same issues, so I am a huge advocate of it. Peer support can be anything from just listening without judgment to giving advice or offering a hand all the way to having someone to cry with and just give you a hug — in essence, it's just being there in some way without judgment.
To those considering joining the community, I would say that connecting other men who experience similar issues, but more so men who you can open up to and who open up to you is so incredibly powerful. It is such a powerful force for me and how I'm feeling mentally, but also it's given me the courage to be vulnerable and open up to those around me, both friends and family, about how I'm feeling – something I never thought I could do.
The tethr circle, to me, is a way to show a man that I hear him, I'm with him and I'm there for him. It's the equivalent of a hand on the shoulder, arm around the shoulder or a hug. Some of the things we deal with, and need to express, don't actually need words in response. For me, sometimes just knowing I'm heard and not alone means the world. The circle is a way to say so much to another man without saying anything at all.
In addition to tethr, Sean is involved with youth organizations with an emphasis on mental health as well as organizations who effectively teach kids about drugs — driven by his experience watching his brother deal with mental health and turn to drugs. “I feel, through my experience with him, that it’s a mental health issue first and drug issue second,” he said. “We need to treat the illness instead of just the symptom.” Sean became a valuable member of the tethr community in August.