May is mental health awareness month, and we are eager to join the conversation because caring for your mental health is truly one of the most important things you can do for yourself and the people you love!
Positive vibes only?
For the first four years of our marriage, I (Mark) rarely shared any of my struggles, stresses, or hardships. Finally, a few months after I shut down my first business, I remember feeling extremely vulnerable and trying to figure out what to do next. I was having a particularly hard day and Nicole could tell. She asked me what was going on. At first, I said nothing and just kept avoiding her questions. But as any good partner does, she kept asking, because she knew something was off. At that point, I broke down and let all the emotions, stresses, and struggles of the last four years out. She had never seen me like this before, so she was speechless until she finally broke the silence and admitted, “Mark, I just never thought you had a bad day in your life.”
I (Nicole) felt completely shocked. If you have ever met Mark, you know how positive of a person he is, so when he let it all go that day, I felt like it came out of left field. Until that day, he had never let his stress show, or included me in processing his feelings.
Care for yourself first
That’s when we both realized we needed to make our mental health a priority. We needed to create the space in our life to focus on our mental health as individuals, as a couple, and as a family. With two very young kids, multiple businesses, and a tight budget, we were just trying to survive each day. We didn’t have the bandwidth to process our own mental health or support anyone else’s. Until my catharsis, I (Mark) didn’t even understand how the state of my mental health was affecting my marriage and every other area of my life.
When you have so many other people to think about (your partner, kids, clients, etc.) it’s easy to put yourself last. It seems counter-intuitive, but we have repeatedly found that the more we put ourselves first, the more we have to give to everyone else.
Before every commercial flight, airline employees emphasize, “In the case of an emergency, put your own oxygen mask on first, before helping others.” This policy, of course, exists to equip as many people as possible to breathe normally, and in turn be able to assist those who cannot help themselves. If you’re unconscious, you’re not much help! When you apply this logic to mental health, that looks like being aware of your needs and how to fulfill them. For me (Mark), this means prioritizing my personal needs, including sleep, running, golfing, therapy, medication, and nutrition.
A new foundation
During those first four years of our marriage, my life had only two gears: business and family. Like many men, I viewed mental health as a weakness and not something to be discussed or explored. I supported Nicole’s mental health journey, but I wasn’t aware that mental health applied to me or that taking control of my mental health would help me become more successful in every area of my life. So I neglected my mental health, letting it decay for years, until I had no choice but to face it. By that time, it was much more overwhelming than it needed to be. For about two years, Nicole had encouraged me to see a therapist, not because she thought there was something “wrong” with me, but because she knew I would benefit from processing my emotions with someone with an outside perspective. Even though I knew she was probably right, it just seemed too hard to make that kind of commitment to myself. When I finally decided to see a therapist, it was so much easier and more helpful than I had anticipated, and I really can’t believe I waited so long.
After my emotional breakdown to Nicole, I started rebuilding my mental health. The past five years have been a journey, but with support of Nicole, good friends, a therapist, and medication, I’ve found a whole new love for life, my marriage, my kids, and everyone around me.
I now prioritize hobbies like exercising, golfing, hiking, spending time with people before work and family. At first, this felt a little selfish, but I soon realized that, when I give precedence to my own needs and mental health, I am SO much more present to Nicole, our kids, and everyone else. I can truly give all that I have to every situation, rather than simply surviving or not giving anything at all.
An emotional Nicolercoaster
Well before Mark’s mental health hit our radar, Nicole’s had our attention. Motherhood brought so many changes: shifting roles, nonstop hormone changes, and sleep deprivation, to name a few. It all took a toll on me (Nicole) and resulted in postpartum depression for many years. First, we tried going to my obstetrician, who did not take my PPD symptoms seriously, and said I’d get over it. Of course, I did not get over it but I did find a much better OB.
This story is your reminder to advocate for yourself. If you feel like something is wrong, trust your gut. Find care providers who support you, understand your problems, and help you find solutions, even if that means referring you to someone else.
I did therapy a few times throughout the early years of motherhood, which definitely helped and gave me a lot of tools to deal with various struggles. I honestly feel like everyone can benefit from therapy. Trying therapy during a rough patch doesn’t mean that you‘re broken or that you have to do it forever. It means you know how to ask for help.
Zoloft to the rescue
When I was pregnant for the fourth time, with Joey, my wonderful OB-GYN noticed that I just wasn’t feeling myself. I couldn’t tell whether it was due to simply not feeling well, all the hormone changes, or having 3 kids and being pregnant, but she was exceptionally caring and referred me to a fantastic psychiatrist, who diagnosed me with major depressive disorder and prescribed me Zoloft.
The diagnosis and prescription felt like such a relief. I had thought I was the problem because I couldn’t figure out how to make it through life like everyone else. But the problem was an imbalance in my brain.
Starting Zoloft felt like putting glasses on for the first time in my life. I kept saying to Mark, “Is this how normal people feel ALL the time?! This is amazing!” Of course, not everyone needs medication, but I hope my story helps demystify the process of figuring out what you need to stabilize and support good mental health. It takes time to put all the pieces together and get to a point where you feel really happy and healthy.
Working on our own mental health has enabled us to work together on our mental health as a couple. Our relationship has truly flourished, our parenting has become easier, and our fights are a lot shorter.
Getting it together, together.
Just as a business has a vision, mission, and values, so does a thriving family. When we finally worked on our mental health individually and together, we were able to be on the same page about what we wanted the vision of our life to be, what our mission is individually and as a couple and family, and what we collectively valued.
Mental health has become a natural part of our day to day conversation. We love reading new books, watching different videos, and following different accounts on Instagram that focus on the topic. Whether it’s sharing a reel that we find impactful, or reading each other quotes from books, we’re learning and growing together.
We love supporting each other’s mental health because we know we’re both so much better when we’re happier. So, whenever one of us wants to take a nap, exercise, go out with friends, or have some personal space, we respect it and we help fulfill that request, even if it means adapting. It’s not a competition where we keep track of our sacrifices and expect each other to pay it back, one-for-one. We freely support each other’s needs because we trust that we will always reciprocate. Knowing that we can rely on each other for this support has created a healthy culture of interdependence. Being on the same page with our needs, wants, goals, and dreams has brought so much freedom and intimacy.
Supporting our kids’ mental health
As an added benefit, we’re able to give more support and love to our children and their mental health. We now have the capacity, as individuals and as a couple, to recognize and bolster the mental health of our children. Each of our four kids is unique, and so are their mental health needs. With four kids, there are a lot of emotions, all the time. Early on, we didn’t know how to cope or process with our kids because it was honestly so overwhelming to have all these big emotions relentlessly thrown at us.
In The Whole Brain Child, Dr. Daniel J. Siegel says, “The parent’s own growth and development, or lack of those, impact the child’s brain. As parents become more aware and emotionally healthy, their children reap the rewards and move toward health as well.” As we work on ourselves and recognize our own triggers, we are more equipped to help our kids work through their emotions in a healthy way. Intentionally fostering their mental health impacts everything from exploring their gifts and talents to understanding how they individually communicate.
So, where do you find yourself on your mental health journey? Do you feel happy and healthy? Are you and your partner on different pages with mental health? Mental health truly is a journey that we don’t think is ever complete, but don’t be afraid to start! Take that first step. Talk to someone: a friend, a family member, or a therapist. We promise, even though that first step feels hard, it’s SO much better on the other side!