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 was always told I was a hyper child who could not sit still and was always asking questions of everything. My earliest specific memories of this affecting me were in first grade at a Catholic school in Brooklyn, NY. The Nuns used to tape me to the desk and tape my mouth shut. This went on for a few occasions but the final instance was when they locked me in the coat closet taped to a desk. My Mother had enough when I finally told her what was happening. She pulled me out in the middle of first grade and moved me to a public school.
When I moved to sixth grade in a new school my relief didn't last. My father had lost his temper one too many times and beat me because, again, I could not sit still or pay attention. I told my Mother what happened, once again she had enough and divorced him. We were poor before the divorce so this wasn't the greatest time for us but my Mother did the best she could everyday.
I struggled throughout and was bullied for being poor and hanging out with all the Black kids through 6th grade until halfway through my sophomore year in high school at the age of 16 when, taking a cue from my Mom, I had enough and quit. The next day I had enrolled in a GED Program, passed it easily, and spent the next 15 years as a musician. I had my own apartment and some part time jobs to fill any gaps in the music schedule.
So I finally opened up to my primary doctor and she sent me to a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with ADD and put me on medication for it.
I had managed to get myself into a great music situation, was dating my best friend, and I had a good start on a professional career around 30. I was working during the week, playing 3 shows a week and taking online classes. Except I was struggling to focus. So I finally opened up to my primary doctor and she sent me to a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with ADD and put me on medication for it.
The diagnosis was the best thing that ever happened because within the next 6-12 months I was able to focus on conversations, my band was beginning to be very successful in our scene, and my professional career took off. More importantly what was happening to me had a name and after some research I saw this was actually quite normal.
Except, I was always miserable. And because I had stopped all the drugs and drinking all that pain was bubbling up. Not to mention I could focus on it now. Not a good combo so I went back and opened up again to my doctor. I was then diagnosed with clinical depression and social anxiety. And again, relief because I was put on meds and I was able to research what it was and again, I wasn't alone.
I would tell my younger self that all of these things happening to you, all the suffering you are dealing with, none of these things are your fault.
I'm not happy all the time but I'm not miserable all the time either. Some days I’m one or the other. Some days I'm both, multiple times a day. And that's okay. Just knowing what it was and putting a name to it helped me find ways to survive.
I would tell my younger self that all of these things happening to you, all the suffering you are dealing with, none of these things are your fault. They just don't have a name for what you're dealing with right now but as you grow older the struggle will help you, strengthen you, help you grow and get in touch with your spirituality in ways you never expected. The energy that you can't control will help you live your wildest dreams in the prime of your life. That sensitivity that isn't manly to your friends will make you a very attractive spirit to a lot of people.
But you have to pull the alarm if you are falling. Make sure you always do that. You will pull it more than a few times as you grow up and that's okay. There's no shame in asking for help. You'll learn that and you'll find strength in it. It'll make you the man you always wanted to be.
My late Mother brought me into therapy in 1985 and I stayed in until 1991 when it wasn't necessarily popular to do that. I realize now she did the only thing she could've done because she was dealing with her own mental illnesses. I wish she had explained that to me but she probably didn't know what it was either. My Father and my Stepfather had no idea how to communicate their love and affection but what I didn't understand is they were never taught to do that. Their fathers left them too but their Mothers weren't emotional support for them.
Google is so helpful for me and has been. I didn't have the Internet until I was in my mid 20's and I can imagine my Mother would've had an easier time raising me if she was able to just type in what was going on. She might've found millions of kids like me and millions of parents with mental illnesses. Maybe my Father would've seen that he wasn't the only man dealing with anger issues.
The best wisdom I ever got about dealing with emotions was when my Mother passed away. A director in my former company had called me shortly after to send her condolences to me. During our talk she had left me with this advice
"If you want to be sad, be sad, If you're mad, be mad. If you're happy, be happy. Whatever you're feeling, feel it, be okay with it, express it. Try not to beat yourself up for being a human being. You just lost your Mother, and even if you didn't, how people feel about how you feel has no bearing on how you feel."
That's word for word and I'll never forget it.
I wouldn't change a thing. I am so proud of how far I've come. Everything I wanted to do, I did. Maybe not to everyone's expectations of what success would be in their minds but to me, I hit it big everyday. Just being able to open your eyes in the morning and start your day is like winning the lottery.
The one thing I still do to get myself out of my head is something I always did as an only child. I would retreat to my bedroom and put on some music and get lost for a bit. I did this all the time back then and bless my wife for knowing that's how I heal so if I'm in there, she gets it.
About 3-4 years ago I started being really open with my mental illnesses, my struggles, and the meds that have helped me along the way. It started as a gesture to warn some friends that we had started spending a lot of time with that I may just disappear now and then or sometimes I'm in a bad mood. This was super helpful because it turned out that a few were dealing with stuff and that helped me come out more.
Not everyone went or is going through what I've been through and that's okay. Sometimes I will read through an entire post and comments of a problem I don't ever have experience in just to exercise my empathy muscles
My wife works in education so sometimes I'll speak with a parent who has questions for me about ADD, social anxiety and depression in their kids. They'll tell me the behaviors and most times, it's nearly identical to what was happening with me. I don't necessarily give them advice other than see a doctor and don't give up on them but it makes them feel good that someone who has dealt with it as a young child can grow up to be a good person. That really makes me feel good that my peers who are parents can see that it's possible to keep a job, a relationship, still pursue your loves and have the tools to handle the tough spots.
My definition of Peer Support is being able to relate situations and problems to things going on in your life and try not to copy what someone else did but look for tools to use for you. Not everyone went or is going through what I've been through and that's okay. Sometimes I will read through an entire post and comments of a problem I don't ever have experience in just to exercise my empathy muscles. I'm hoping that will be helpful once Covid is over so maybe I can use an antidote from here to help someone close to me.
What I would say to anyone looking to join the Tethr community is that it isn't a cure all but it's a tool and you should use it that way. Just like a wrench or a pair of pliers, it only works when you grip it, put some energy behind it, and turn it. Once you put it back in the box, you always know it's there when you need it. Depending on how much work you're doing is how much you'll use it but keep in mind that you only get out what you put in.
In my old neighborhood the orange circle meant "I got you, no worries..." so that's what it means to me. It's that big brother I didn't have putting his arm around me and saying "We got this.." I always use the "Praying Hands" with it as this is a proper greeting for someone who is open and free in their soul. It's the same greeting I receive from Buddhist Monks when I greet them so I enjoy showing that same respect to this group.
Steve has been a valued member of the tethr community since December 2020. Thank you Steve!