Here’s to Your Mental Health

Hi everyone. I’m Gerard. Some of you might know me as a friend or relative. Others might know me as a guy who started a local music blog that seems to be doing well these days. Or, I might be a former teammate, some random person from high school or college, or someone you’ve otherwise encountered in your travels once or twice. Some of you reading this might not know me at all. In that case, it’s nice to meet you.

If you know me, you probably know that I’ve always been a person with a lot to say. You can credit it partially to my natural love of expressing words, as a former English major and someone who has always enjoyed writing. It can be credited more recently, though, to the fact that life has taken some rather interesting turns over the past three years.

That is to say, it entirely fell apart between 2015 and 2017.

In September 2015, I was in the midst of what was shaping up to go down as the best year of my life. I had recently moved back to the city I fell in love with during my college years. I was in a steady relationship that appeared to be permanent. I had a job that I loved. On top of that, my family relationships seemed to be at their best point in years – especially with my mother, who is the best friend I’ve ever had, even if we didn’t always see eye-to-eye when we lived together in my post-college life.

Then, one night, I got a call from my sister. I rushed back to New Jersey, where my mother had been rushed to the hospital. In the wee hours of that terrible Thursday morning, I would suddenly lose my best friend, my cancer battle partner, and the person who knew me better than anyone.

Powering through the next few months – and especially the holidays – was tough. Fortunately, I still had the support system of my relationship and the job I loved to soften the blow. I decided I needed an additional outlet again, as a distraction if nothing else, so I prepared to launch Lehigh Valley Underground in January 2016. As 2016 progressed, I took some trips – one solo trip to Florida to clear my head, and a pair of pilgrimages to Chicago to connect with a century-plus of history as my Cubs finally, ultimately, would complete the greatest chapter in the history of American sports. These trips, plus the growth of LVU, were the year’s true highlights – even if they were band-aids to cover up more urgent matters.

Throughout 2016, my support systems were weakening. My relationship was slowly, but surely, on the decline, and my work situation wasn’t nearly as enjoyable or fruitful as it once had been. As 2016 gave way to 2017, these problems would become more and more pronounced, until the wheels fell off.

Within a month and a half, from the beginning of July through mid-August 2017, a firestorm of life changes included getting dumped and abruptly leaving my professional situation, with no real plan in place but to try to build Lehigh Valley Underground, in short order, and let the decision ride. I was massively depressed, as my appearance suggested at the time, and constantly anxious. I knew that change was necessary for growth, but I had difficulty coping with so many abrupt, major changes within that three-year window. Everything – everything – that was great about the first two-thirds of 2015 had completely vanished by this point. The empire had fallen, and I was standing there with a full head of long, luxurious hair and an unkempt beard, staring at the rubble.

As I looked around at the ruins, and as 2017 progressed to its latter stages, I made myself face the negative emotions and lost sleep to figure out how to keep what I still had. I still had Bethlehem, and through the turmoil, had somehow managed to carve out a role in a community that would come to pick me up and inspire me to fight on. I started pouring my waking hours into the success of LVU, picked up some client work to help with the bills, and cleaned up my appearance. I made myself more accountable to health and wellness than I ever had, because I needed a constructive way to feel good and relieve stress (that’s where the whole #GAINZ thing comes in, for those who follow me on Instagram).

I half-jokingly resolved to those close to me during this time to simply get to 2018 alive, while still fighting the occasional depressive bout and a great deal of anxiety and uncertainty about the present and future. The moment 2017 ended, it felt like a curse had been lifted. I spent New Year’s Eve at my friend Cait’s, and at midnight, went out into a sub-zero wind chill and sprayed champagne like I had won the World Series. We all went to the Ocean City (NJ) boardwalk on New Year’s Day. Enjoying a coffee in a boardwalk shop, we all looked out to the ocean, where clouds had rolled offshore to make for a beautiful (but frigid) first day of the year. Cait pointed it out, saying that those clouds represented the problems of 2017 leaving the picture, hopefully once and for all.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you that 2018 has been without challenges. Lehigh Valley Underground, like any worthwhile entrepreneurial endeavor, has its growing pains. But, through each of those, a breakthrough usually comes. Similarly, a lingering thought of what I’ve lost enters my mind every now and again. However, it’s easy to then look at how I’ve grown and all I’ve gained since then. To this point, I’ve spent 2018 building a vision, re-uniting with people important to me – some I was unsure, at one point or another, I’d ever see again – and creating new memories with the people I’ve encountered. I certainly have a clear understanding of where I’ve been, for better or worse. Now, however, I have a much deeper appreciation for where I believe to be going for the rest of 2018, 2019, 2020, and however long I’m fortunate enough to be here.

So, why am I telling you this? Because I know what it’s like to face down these demons of depression and anxiety, and to have them threaten to take everything away from me. I also know what it’s like to power past them to a better day. Like most people, I try to present the best image of myself and LVU here on the interwebz – it’s sound marketing strategy! – but we all have our trials to face and demons to slay and, in this culture of keeping up with the Joneses, matters affecting our mental health are often pushed down in favor of “acceptable” appearances, until the small flicker of a match has turned into a full-blown brush fire, fueled by gasoline.

So, in this age where mental health still isn’t receiving the attention it deserves, I want to help you. Whatever you’re going through, I want you to know that you have the listening ear of someone who has faced similar internal struggle. I’d like to think that I can use my experience to help you fight through yours.

If you need to talk, even just to vent, reach out. I can’t always promise a prompt response – the unpredictability of this wonderful monster I’ve created ensures that 😊 – but I promise that I will respond and listen. It’s the least that I can do.

-G

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