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Minding MENtal Health

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Minding MENtal Health

“We are,” says registered psychotherapist Robert Malowany, “in a time and place where it’s much more ‘acceptable’ to engage in discussions around stress, burnout, and mental health. Use this as an opportunity. Mental health is a real thing; talk about it!”

Malowany points out that everything adds to stress levels: school and work demands, career hopes and future plans, family and other relationships. Stress isn’t all bad, though, he says, as long as it’s in mindful balance.

“Stress is good until it’s not,” Malowany explains. “… stress can help propel us to perform at an optimal level, but too much of it impacts our ability to perform well, and can lead to anxiety and burnout.”

When we become overrun by stress gone too far, he adds, we begin to sacrifice the activities and practices that energize us, like seeing friends, working out, and sleeping restfully.

What does Malowany suggest?

“Time for recovery and relaxation are critical in order to perform well at anything: sleep well, eat well, exercise well, relate well, and don’t forget to play!”

We need to prioritize the very things that keep us mentally well, he emphasizes, especially during stressful times in our lives.

And Malowany’s top recommendation?

“Become more aware and mindful of how stress impacts your abilities, your mood, your outlook on life.”

MENtal health for all men

“Bisexual, gay, queer, and trans individuals identifying as male continue to experience significantly higher rates of violence, systemic discrimination, mental health challenges, and suicide,” Rick Ezekiel, Director of Equitable Learning, Health and Wellness at Centennial College, tells us.

“In childhood, holding a gender or sexual orientation outside the norm can lead to queer youth experiencing a lack of safety, often resulting from direct or systemic homophobia and transphobia in the home, school, and community settings.

“In adulthood, queer and trans men might be navigating continued efforts to develop and understand their identity, cope with trauma, and explore strategies for healthy relationships.”

Ezekiel stresses, “We need to continue to work to challenge stigmas, and ensure that queer and trans male-identified individuals have compassionate, trauma-informed supports available when and how they wish to access them, in their own time, and at their own stage of readiness.”

A MENntal health journey

Rick Ezekiel, Director of Equitable Learning, Health, and Wellness at Centennial College, shares his personal journey.

I grew up as a closeted queer kid in a pretty conservative community, family, and school. Explicit homophobia was rampant. I also come from a large extended family where mental health challenges are quite common.

After coming out several years after wrapping up high school, I had a lot of work to do on myself. I had internalized a lot of messages about what it meant to be a man. Vulnerability—knowing, processing, and openly communicating difficult emotions—was tough for me.

I accessed counselling supports through my workplace at the time and discovered a fantastic therapist. He had a transformational impact on me and my development as a person, friend, partner, and professional. I remember how I felt when I decided to access therapy: more than anything, a sense of loneliness and emptiness that I couldn’t quite understand on my own, despite feeling that I had rewarding work and great friends and family around me.

This counselling relationship helped me process my own experiences during childhood. It was the start of a long and hard journey that continues today and has been focused on taking down my guard, getting comfortable with vulnerability, being more present with people and in relationships, and communicating my own emotions effectively.

I’ve learned to disrupt my negative thought spirals, catch obsessive thinking, sustain healthy boundaries, and leverage my support networks. Through all of this, I have come to realize the true beauty of self-discovery and understanding. We have so much resilience and strength as individuals and communities to enable positive outcomes in the face of really difficult stuff.

What does Rick Ezekiel do to keep mentally well?

  • I run. A lot. I find running disrupts rumination and calms obsessive thinking.
  • Cooking healthy, delicious meals, and sharing them with family and friends.
  • Creating beautiful things, like home renovations, furniture upgrades, and gardening.
  • Mindfulness meditations. Even though my mind is busy, spending 10 minutes after lunch with a mindfulness app gives me a chance to check in with my mind and body.
  • Close, joyful connections: from deep chats with a friend to authentic colleague relationships and great consensual sex with an intimate partner.

Where to turn for help

  • If you’re feeling reluctant to reach out to a professional, it’s okay to start with a trusted, nonjudgmental friend or family member.
  • The HeadsUpGuys website out of UBC has great resources for men on depression and might help answer lots of questions and worries when considering seeking mental health supports.
  • Male post-secondary students living in Ontario or Nova Scotia can try the Good2Talk 24/7 phone and texting support.
  • Men who are reaching out for the first time can talk to their doctor, or call or chat online with professionals associated with ConnexOntario mental health services.
  • The 519 in Toronto offers accessible, responsive, and relevant supports to bisexual, gay, queer, and trans male-identified individuals and can be a great place to start for those seeking support.
  • For Indigenous men seeking culturally safe and relevant services, including support for intergenerational trauma and the deep impacts of colonization and racism, seek out your local friendship centre.
  • The Fourth R program out of the Centre for School Mental Health at Western University also offers fantastic resources that intersect identity development, healthy relationships, and mental health, with a culturally safe and relevant stream co-constructed with Indigenous communities.
  • Men experiencing a mental health crisis where there is a perceived safety risk to themselves or others should call 911, where mobile mental health crisis services can be accessed, or you can go to hospital for in-depth support.

A meditation journey

Don Eckler, senior meditation instructor at the Toronto Shambhala Meditation Centre, shares his journey through meditation.

I came to meditation almost 50 years ago for the same reason people continue to come: my mind was driving me crazy! I had a list of things I didn’t like about myself and a shorter list of things I appreciated.

I somehow hoped that my faults and shortcomings would disappear, but, much to my eventual delight, I discovered my richness—my sadness, my anxiety, or my anger—can either make me more isolated and more aggressive, or be my way to recognize that we all suffer.

They are my strengths as well as my challenges. Turning toward them with openness can benefit myself as well as others.

How does Donald Eckler keep mentally well through meditation?

  • Meditation isn’t about pulling back or retreating from our daily lives. It is for our daily life!
  • Meditation helps us come back to the present moment—the day to day of work, family, laundry, traffic, and burnt toast.
  • Everything we do is worthy of our attention, and I try not to distinguish between what is sacred and what isn’t.
  • I never underestimate the great joy in listening to music, reading, getting out into nature, physical exercise, and volunteering.
  • I remember that meditation isn’t a “magic bullet” but rather an opportunity to feel our inherent goodness and appreciate our lives.

This is a web exclusive for the article “MENtal Health” from the June 2020 issue of alive magazine.

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