Continuing our series of talking to men about mental health during Men’s Health Month, we’re going to hear from Michael Camilleri next. Michael manages our Starting Line Scholarship and is a Facebook group admin for us! The other cool thing about Mike is he’s been with us since the beginning! Below you’ll find answers to a few questions we asked him about dealing with mental health as a male.
When did you finally become comfortable sharing your mental health journey?
I realized I had been dealing with health anxiety and panic disorder in the Fall of 2016 when I was hospitalized after having a panic attack. At the time I didn’t realize that’s what it was. I just thought I was having a heart attack. This hospitalization put me in a panic cycle for a few months.
That November I took a trip up to Frankenmuth, Michigan with my wife and kids. The whole ride I was on the verge of a panic attack. When we arrived I ran into one of my friends and I decided to explain why I wasn’t acting like my usual self. Turns out that he had been dealing with mental health issues as well. It was really helpful to find out I was not alone.
That one encounter gave me the courage to then open up about my issues on Facebook. I was amazed to see the overwhelmingly positive response. Not only was the response positive, but I also found out I was far from alone. Friends from all different parts of my life responded that they also had dealt with mental health issues. From that day on I knew that talking about my issues openly with others was the best for everyone.
What do you think would encourage others, in particular men, to share their mental health story?
I feel that knowing you are not alone and that opening up about our issues doesn’t make us any less “manly”. I think that fact would really make it easier for men to open up. The only way this can happen though is for all of us to continue to work towards ending the stigma. The more and more that men see their peers opening up about their issues, the easier it will become for everyone to openly share their stories. This is why I am an open book about what I have gone through. Any chance I am given to break down the wall is an opportunity to help others.
Share with us an instance where you really felt supported by your peers and/or family members. How did that feel?
As mentioned above, when I first posted on Facebook that I was diagnosed with Health Anxiety and Panic Disorder I was blown away by the support from my social media friends and family. There was nothing but support and positive thoughts shared on the post. I even had many friends reach out to me privately to discuss similar issues they had been through or were going through at the time. This really changed everything for me. I came to realize that having a mental health issue was not only not odd, it was actually more the norm than you might expect in the current world we live in.
Why is it important, as a male, to help break the stigma surrounding mental health?
I feel it is so important to break the stigma because it helps so many others see just how common it is is to deal with mental health issues. The more we all talk about it, the less taboo it becomes. The more we talk about our feelings and fears, the more we break down the toxic masculinity that exists where men are considered weak for expressing their feelings and mental health issues.
What tools do you have in your mental health toolkit?
My tool kit is stocked with three main tools: medicine, exercise, and a strong social circle I can turn to when I need to bend and ear. All three of them together have made it possible for me to maintain a strong mental health picture.
I worked with my primary care physician to find a balance of anti-depressants that helps my maintain a positive mental state of mind. It didn’t happen over night. It took some trial and error, but was so worth it.
I am over 900 days into a daily run streak. I run at least a mile each day. It makes such a difference for me. It reminds me every day that my body is stronger than my mind says it is. This really helps anytime that my anxiety creeps up. With such a long streak going I know my body is in good health, no matter what my head says.
My wife Ginger is by far the most understanding and open person a man could ask for in a spouse. Whenever I need to discuss how I am feeling she is there. I also have a few other friends who have discussed their issues with me privately. I know I can turn to any of them when I feel my anxiety rising. I did use to also see a therapist. It helped a lot to have a professional talk out my issues and help me understand how to attack them head-on. I know I could go back to see her if need to again in the future.