The Sacred Purpose Blog

Dear Sacred Purpose Readers,

Today is going to be a good day and here’s why: because today you are here, and that’s enough.

As I sat in the Music Box Theatre in Manhattan, with my best friend and fraternity brother, I began to see myself in a character named Evan. Honestly, I began to see myself in multiple characters that evening. I will admit here and now I cried. I cried a lot. Catharsis is a remarkable feeling, but sorrow is too. I wept for my own thoughts of “not being enough” and for friends whom I watched “disappear” through mental illness and suicide. Witnessing a single performance brought out all those feelings and it was overwhelming.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), there is one death by suicide every 12.3 minutes. Suicide among males is four times higher than females, and the prevalence of suicidal thoughts, planning and attempts is significantly higher among adults aged 18-29 than among adults 30+. When we discuss mental health, suicide, and suicide prevention, these emotions are tell-tale signs of someone who needs help. Too often these signs are in front of us and we are unable to act. Sometimes out of ignorance and sometimes out of sheer awkwardness, we let little clues pass over us. Let’s back up for a second and catch everyone up to speed.

Dear Evan Hansen is the story of a lonely student who is mistaken to be the best friend of a fellow student who took his own life. Through a series of mishaps and good intentioned white lies, he finds himself befriending the grief-stricken family, truly believing he can help them feel closer to their lost son. His lies soon spin out of control as a video of a speech he makes at an all school memorial assembly goes viral and we learn the extent of his anxiety about connecting in the age of social media.
I will not spoil anything for you, but know, this musical is heartwarming and gut wrenching all in the same breath. So why are we talking about it here? What significance does it have to Sacred Purpose?

Sacred Purpose is at the heart of the smash Broadway Hit Musical Dear Even Hansen, which debuted last December. Bringing in nine Tony Nominations, Dear Evan Hansen has taken the theater world by storm. Much like last year’s Hamilton: An American Musical, it has captured the attention of nearly every demographic imaginable.

How?

Simply put, Dear Evan Hansen connects us. All of us. “Because everyone should matter.” The title character in this musical is anxiety ridden to the point where his interpersonal skills hold him back from making any real connections. Not for a lack of trying, Evan finds himself, like some of us do, caught between living in the real world and living behind our screens. Early in the show, you discover Evan feels like he is on the outside looking in and wondering if anyone would notice if he “just disappeared tomorrow.”

Engaging in conversations around mental health and suicide can be tough. Often, we lend our support by liking, sharing, favoriting, or retweeting posts (similarly to what you might do with this one), only to find out it isn’t enough. Then we create memorial blogs and pages to remember people. We post how loved they are, but unfortunately, those words will never be read or heard by the people who needed it the most.

Evan sings, “I’d rather pretend I’m something better than these broken parts. Pretend I’m something other than this mess that I am.” If you have ever felt this way, you know how easy it is to pretend. You know how to use your coping mechanisms to shield yourself and those you love from the storm in your brain. Thankfully for me, and for Evan, getting help and having someone to talk to pulled us both out of those dark spaces.

But what do you do when you see someone you care for exhibiting these emotions or others like it? Your willingness to talk about mental or emotional issues and suicide with a friend, family member, or co-worker can be the first step in getting someone help and preventing suicide.If you see something, say something. Having an emotionally open dialogue with our brothers, friends, and family about suicide is an important first step in prevention.

 

“Let that lonely feeling wash away. Maybe there’s a reason to believe you’ll be ok. ‘Cause when you don’t feel strong enough to stand, you can reach out your hand.”

Thank you, Evan Hansen, for doing what you’re doing.

Sincerely,

Me

For more information about Suicide and Suicide Prevention follow the links below
The Silence of Suicide- Sacred Purpose
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Suicide Awareness Voices of Education
1 (800) 273-8255 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

The night of September 28, 2014, I received a phone call as I pulled into my driveway. I expected the voice on the other end to radiate positive energy as I had grown accustomed to over the years. Katelyn Katsafanas is the type of person I aspire to be, day in and day out. When my name comes up on someone’s phone, I want to give off that energy too. Unfortunately, when I answered, the conversation that happened was not what I had expected. Katelyn needed my help. A brother needed my help.

Katelyn was dating my pledge brother and best friend, Parker Jordan.


To say Parker and I were close would be an understatement. We received our bids to join Theta Chi Fraternity at the University of Alabama together and from that point on, we forged a relationship that could rival George Strait and Pat Green’s any day. Everyone knew it—we were Texans and like any person blessed to be born in the greatest state in the Union, we were damn proud of it.

marcusandparker_edit

Over the years, Parker would come to my family home in Mobile for Mardi Gras and I would play golf with him at his home course in Fort Worth. It was obvious; we were put here to entertain each other and to make lasting memories throughout our time at Alabama. More than friends, we were brothers.


The conversation that came from that phone call shocked me more than anything up to that point in my life. She told me she was worried about Parker. More than worried, actually. She was scared he may hurt himself.

Parker and Katelyn were always upbeat, happy, fun, loud, and the life of the party. She was an amazing match for him, and from the outside looking in, things were perfect in their often glowing little world.

We didn’t know about the demons waging war inside of him. The treacherous mine field Parker was living in was something none of us could comprehend. Katelyn knew I needed to be with Parker in that moment and I could feel it in my bones, she was right.

I remember the conversation we had that night. We talked about school. Parker was in a grueling intermediate accounting course and his ability to think clearly was starting to fade. The stress just intensified the feelings of self-doubt already blurring his thoughts. He was worried he wouldn’t make the grades he needed to get into our local Accounting Honor Society. Parker was making A’s and B’s on all his tests, but still he was overwhelmed. I felt like he was better after we talked it through. Sometimes, we just need someone to talk to. I wanted to sleep on his couch that evening but he insisted he was okay. Before I left, we set up a meeting for him with our Dean of Students office and talked about how Katelyn contacted his family.

He promised me, in a tear filled hug, he would not hurt himself. I told him I loved him and headed home.

At this point, an entire support system was beginning to form around Parker. Our Vice President of Health and Safety, Johnston Watkins and a few brothers noticed Parker wasn’t himself and began to check in on him, regularly. This group didn’t even know about the rest of us doing what we could to help Parker. They knew the oaths they took to watch after each other and were living our creed. This was the Fraternity in its most pure form. Brothers looking out for one another and doing everything they could to help. We are our brother’s keeper to the best of our ability.


Parker took his own life, 2 years ago today.


As I write these words, tears still fall. Two years later the pain is still very raw and very real, but I firmly believe on that day, Parker knew he was loved. Mental illness is scary. Modern science still struggles to understand all of its intricacies, just as we do, with those we love suffering from it every day. We will never understand why Parker choose to leave us but the events which followed that horrible day provide comfort for us all.

I have never felt the full breadth of our brotherhood as I did in the days that followed Parker’s death. I was the Chapter President at the time and the outpouring from brothers from around the country was astounding. Hundreds of emails, calls, and texts flooded my phone. If you are reading this today and were one of those people who sent your condolences: Thank You. Your love and support is what this Fraternity truly embodies.

Over the past two years, tens of thousands of dollars for mental health research have been raised in Parker’s name. Right now, a Parker Jordan Memorial Scholarship is being created. Dedicated people who loved Parker have managed to create some good out of this tragedy.theta-chi-2015-suicide-prevention-walk

Nothing will bring Parker back. I desperately wish I had the power to do that. The power I do have is to honor him by living the life we often discussed together.

For the readers still with me here, I hope this inspires you to never take a moment for granted. To be cognizant when considering the health, physical and mental, of those around you. Recognize the signs of depression and suicidal tendencies early and never hesitate to act.

 

Marcus Gibson (Alpha Phi/Alabama 2015)

parker-jordan-date

Editor’s note: It is important to recognize the signs of depression and suicidal thoughts. Below are a list of warning signs as well as resources for yourself or those you know who might be in danger of hurting themselves. Make sure you understand your role and promote the intervention of professionals. If someone tells you they want to take their life,  offer help and compassion but know there are ways to ensure their safety too. You can report the threat to the police and in most situations, they can physically intervene and take them to a safe place.

According to the Mayo Clinic, suicide warning signs or suicidal thoughts include:

  • Talking about suicide — for example, making statements such as “I’m going to kill myself,” “I wish I were dead” or “I wish I hadn’t been born”
  • Getting the means to take your own life, such as buying a gun or stockpiling pills
  • Withdrawing from social contact and wanting to be left alone
  • Having mood swings, such as being emotionally high one day and deeply discouraged the next
  • Being preoccupied with death, dying or violence
  • Feeling trapped or hopeless about a situation
  • Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
  • Changing normal routine, including eating or sleeping patterns
  • Doing risky or self-destructive things, such as using drugs or driving recklessly
  • Giving away belongings or getting affairs in order when there’s no other logical explanation for doing this
  • Saying goodbye to people as if they won’t be seen again
  • Developing personality changes or being severely anxious or agitated, particularly when experiencing some of the warning signs listed above

 

 

Click here to find Support for yourself or someone you know

1 (800) 273-8255 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

As part of our Sacred Purpose commitment to the Mental Health of all our brothers this post comes to us in honor of National Suicide Prevention Week.

For some of us, there are moments we have in our lives that are so painful we wonder how we could ever forget them. The more I talk about it, the more I see it in other people’s lives. Everyone seems to have their painful moments, no matter how trivial. For me, that moment was the day I decided to kill myself.

For so long, I looked for an excuse. Why do I feel this way? Why do I hate myself so much I wanted to not exist? I was a sophomore in college. I had academic scholarships. I was involved. I was in a fraternity with some of the best guys I knew. I had a good family. I even survived cancer. I thought I was going to change the world. Those are the things I was proud of; having depression and anxiety however, were not included.chris-hixon1

When I would look into other people’s eyes, I could see a light in them. When something funny came up or someone they liked walked into a room, their eyes would light up. Looking in a mirror you can sometimes see the light in your own eyes. The light that tells you to keep going; you’re meant for something. One day, the light behind my eyes stop shining as bright. Eventually, I saw it go out.

It was then I stopped sleeping. I stopped eating. I hated me. I thought God hated me. I was utterly hopeless.

The seeming totality of darkness came and I was no longer in control. Every night, I’d find solace in the blade of a knife up and down my arms and legs. Why? To kill the numbness. To allow the physical pain to supersede the emotional pain and give myself a breath of fresh air. I’d watch the blood, as pure as rubies, float down my skin like tears.

I would hide the scars in my eyes and on legs so you couldn’t see them. I’d make up excuses as to why I wasn’t sleeping or eating. “It’s just stress” or “I just don’t have time right now” were my go-to excuses. I lost over 30 pounds in just two months. I’d lie when people asked me if I had plans so I can sit in my bedroom, in the dark, accompanied only by my thoughts, or the occasional text to a suicide hotline.

Once they know you’re serious, they’ll ask you for a plan. I’d gone over it so many times in my head, I had it down to a science. I could overdose or jump off of the tallest building on campus. I ran through each option but the deciding factor was my car. I’d go on these long drives by myself and see how fast my car could go. I wanted a rush before I left. I’d drive my car over 120 miles per hour and crash into the cement overpass.

It would be quick and I would be gone.

Then the night came. The night in November I would die. They would find an eloquent letter written about why and I’d try to give them as many answers as possible and hopefully they would understand it was not their fault. I was the broken one.

That’s when my friends intervened. I had made my intentions known to a few folks before and in my hour of need, they knew. This is the moment. They were done listening; this time they pushed. They pushed me toward the help I needed.

I checked myself into a psychiatric hospital. They take your shoelaces in there. I missed my shoelaces. I missed my friends. I missed writing about all of it. There are no pencils and pens, just crayons. The worst part? There’s no music. So I’d write the lyrics down in different colors.

In the middle of my stay, a nurse brought me a package. It was my Theta Chi jersey. My fingers lined the stitching and the fabric absorbed each tear. Those letters represented over a hundred people who believed in me when I couldn’t believe in myself. People who wanted to make me better. They represented an oath I took to live to higher standard, be the best version of myself, and to help all of those around me. I didn’t feel alone anymore. The light in my eyes began to flicker.

iotatheta

From then on, it was a long road. I’d be lying if I said that place fixed everything. It did unearth some truths I wasn’t ready for, but desperately needed to hear. Being there allowed me to see how serious my disease was, but it didn’t fix me. My depression still follows me, but I manage because I found help. I had the support of close friends to continue treatment. They helped me see that my life is more than just a few good years. It is a gift. I kept living because I began to focus on the flickers of light despite the presence of darkness. As the lights gleamed brighter, eventually, my entire world illuminated. I saw hope. I saw the people who believe in me and much as I believe in them.

I’m 24 now. I’ll still face tough times, but I’m living out my dreams because with help, I made the choice to keep living.

So I challenge you:

When your friend is hurting, go to them.

When someone wants to talk, make time to listen.

When the people you love need you, find them and make sure they know you’re there.

You have no idea what people face but it’s your duty to make them feel like they belong here. Tell the people you love that you love them. Tell them often. You have no idea when they’ll need to hear it. These things won’t cure depression, but it’s easier to face hard times when you know that there are people out there that want you to be here.

Believe in others and tell them; show them. Let your actions and words speak volumes. That is how we beat suicide; how we can keep our friends alive. That is how people like me survive and recover and write the story five years later.

Chris Hixon (Iota Theta/Central Florida 2015)

chris-hixon2

Click here for Risk Factors and Warning Signs

Click here to find Support for yourself or someone you know

I remember the day I knew I was gay. I began having those butterfly feelings in my stomach you hear about in the movies. It was then I knew deep down I had my first crush, and it was on a guy. I knew at that very moment I was not the same as everyone else.  I was young, however, and I didn’t really understand the concept of “gay.” Not yet, at least.

PR

For years afterwards, I told myself I had to like girls and anything less was unacceptable. I told myself the part of me who liked guys was just a collection of thoughts—it wasn’t real. While I would tell others I was straight, few would believe it. For years I was bullied because, to others, I seemed different. Every day at school was daunting and miserable; those were some of the darkest years of my life. Those who have been bullied know exactly what that’s like, and while I have forgiven, it is hard to forget.

In high school, I briefly dated a couple girls. Still, I noticed guys who were attractive to me. I told myself that attraction was just “thoughts.” While I never felt one hundred percent comfortable with my sexuality, I felt I finally put that part of me—those thoughts—behind me.

When I arrived at Northern Kentucky University (NKU) I became involved on campus through the Student Government Association. By second semester I accepted a bid to join an interest group that would become the Iota Tau chapter of Theta Chi. While we were still a colony, I began to date a woman at NKU. Even though I had told myself and others I was straight, people still suspected otherwise just as they had years before. The relationship just didn’t feel right, and after a month and a half I ended the relationship. I knew it hurt her, but I couldn’t keep pretending I was happy.

After that relationship, I put dating behind me. I accepted a position on a Cincinnati City Council campaign and devoted much of that summer to it and to my internship at the Hamilton County Clerk of Courts. I was really happy working in politics and at the courthouse. In addition, Theta Chi was coming together very strong. By the time sophomore year began, I was beginning to come into my prime.

In November my candidate won a seat on Cincinnati City Council and our colony installed as the Iota Tau chapter of Theta Chi. I began to make a name for myself on campus. My self-confidence grew. When spring semester rolled in, I was appointed to the Interfraternity Council to serve as Vice President of Membership. It was also around this time I noticed someone in an unexpected way – through Twitter. One of my chapter brothers retweeted one of his tweets; I clicked on his profile and found he and I had similar political and social views.  I found him on Facebook and sent an innocuous friend request; he accepted it and we began to chat and learn more about each other. As we chatted more and more, I could tell there was a feeling greater than friendship. That part of me—those thoughts—had begun to come back. This time, however, I could not just put those thoughts away. This time was different, and I knew it. I felt it.PRGP

By February, things with this guy progressed and we admitted we liked each other. That is when I knew it was time for me to come out.

My chapter brothers immediately came to mind, so at one of our chapter meetings in February I came out, initially as bisexual so I could still hold out hope that I would be “normal.” In my mind, being bisexual was still better than being gay. I was very nervous doing it, but I hoped my brothers would be accepting: that’s exactly what they were. After meeting about a dozen brothers came up to me and congratulated me.  One of my brothers said, “All I want is for you to be happy; I’m glad you came out.” They all told me how proud they were of me, and for the first time I felt completely normal.

Things did not work out with that guy. Soon after, however, I dated another guy and I knew I was gay. Not bisexual, but gay. That was my truth and I was finally able to live in it.

The fraternal movement has not always been known to be accepting of its LGBTQ members. There are countless examples from the past—both told and untold—of fraternities hazing, bullying, and kicking out brothers who either came out or whom they suspected of being gay. The most operative word there is “past.”

This is the present.

My Theta Chi brothers created a culture of caring through our collective Sacred Purpose which I needed to finally develop the courage to be who I am and nothing less. In a way, Theta Chi and Greek life saved my life. Without their acceptance, I don’t believe my mental health, to this day, would be in a strong place. Holding onto that burden was one of the hardest things I have ever done. With their support, I live authentically. I live my best life. Theta Chi took a timid college freshman who was lying to himself about his sexuality and helped him become a confident and proud man.

 

I don’t think I would be where I am today, a First Year at the University of Cincinnati College of Law, without the loving, respectful, and accepting environment that exists in Theta Chi Fraternity. These ideals are the Sacred Purpose we are all called to live. We need to remember this and put it in practice every single day.

 

Patrick Reagan (Iota Tau/Northern Kentucky 2016)

 

The following is a personal philosophy I have adopted about life.

golfdallas

  1. Always dress well.
    1. Golf is one of the only sports where polos and dress pants are a norm. Only in golf do get rewarded with a jacket as a trophy. Some people may argue that such attire has no impact on play. Those people would be wrong or Rickie Fowler
    2. In life, dressing for success is more than just something for business meetings. How you dress is a mentality. When you put effort into your appearance, whatever it may be, you feel confident.

 

  1. Golf should never have a peak.
    1. Unlike other sports where players can be in their prime for only a short part of their life, golf is a sport you can play for your whole life. Don’t believe me here is the legend Jack Nicklaus at 75 still killing the game.
    2. When we focus on our peaks in life we see past success and compare it to our current situation. When I got to college nothing I did in high school mattered. Those achievements got me in the door and that was all. Now a college graduate, my college accomplishments don’t mean anything either. No one cares about which tier my fraternity was in or how we did in intramurals. When you graduate you can choose to have high school/college be the peak for the rest of your life or focus on your next summit.

 

  1. A far drive off the tee-box doesn’t mean a birdie
    1. Some golfers care too much about their drive. Go to any driving range and you will see 90% of the people there straining their backs with the newest possible driver, swinging for the fences. Meanwhile hardly any person is seen at the chipping green. Short game isn’t sexy, but it is what makes you a great golfer. Anyone who has seen the master of short game Phil Mickelson knows this to be the case.
    2. In life we spend too much time on what makes us look cool rather than what actually gives our lives substance. This can be illustrated by the guys who go to the gym every day to maintain that unrealistic “perfect” physique, while ignoring the growth in other areas of life. He often doesn’t study. He repeatedly neglects his responsibilities. He doesn’t aim to be promoted at his job. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger is a relentless business man who grows his brand outside of just working out. Live a well-rounded life.

 

  1. You’re going to play horrible some rounds
    1. In golf you will play bad. You will get a snowman on a hole. Even the best have an atrocious hole now and then. Take this Jordan Spieth meltdown for exampleJordan-Spieth-cover-story-tout
    2. Much like one bad shot can lead to another and another; bad days tend to compound themselves. This is going to happen in life. Whole months may pass where you forget what a good day feels like. Simple aspects of life like getting out of bed become a chore. But with each new day, is a new round and has the potential for the best day of your life.

 

  1. If your golf game needs help talk to someone
    1. When you are playing at your worst and nothing seems to be changing, it comes the time to talk to an expert. Take Tiger Woods, Rickie Fowler, and Ernie Els who have all asked for help from golf guru Butch Harmon. Even if a golfer isn’t at his worst he always has a confidant in his caddy; someone to talk to about what he is thinking and help him out.
    2. In life when things are going tough we often think we have to go it alone. When sadness hits us we tend to tell no one, just hoping that it will work itself out, but sometimes it doesn’t. This can provide a perfect opportunity to slip into a deeper depression. Life isn’t easy, but there are trained professionals who can always help.

 

  1. No one is as good as they say they are.
    1. If you have ever sat in the club house after a round of golf you will hear countless stories of amazing achievements deserving of ESPN top ten highlights. “It was raining sideways and I hit my ball out of the rough around three trees, over a lake, and past 3 sand traps to land 2 inches from the hole. True Story.”
    2. In life this is the equivalent of Facebook, Instagram, and snapchat. On social media we post only the great things in our lives. We see the wedding engagements but never the failed relationships. We see the smiling faces scroll across our feed and never the frowns. When we start to compare our lives to the perfectly-crafted personas we see on social media we stop striving to live our own lives.

 

  1. Every round of golf is against yourself.
    1. At the end of the day golf is a thrilling sport because you are always playing yourself. With each round, you are competing against your own handicap. Any great golfer will tell you that you should never look at the leader board. The moment you start playing based on someone else’s score is when you start to play your worst.
    2. With social media being inescapable it can be easy to get caught up in the success of those around us. We start to live life for the approval of others. Achievements no longer have meaning unless they get 100 likes. I used to have elaborate snap chat stories of my adventures in college until one day I realized that by being fixated on someone else’s impression of my personal experience I was actually missing out on my story. Put down your phones and enjoy the ride.

 

Finally, open your eyes, it’s a great day for a round of golf. And even if it isn’t, there’s always tomorrow.

Will Maher, Field Executive

 

This is the Part II of a three-part series on Music, Mental Health, and Masculinity. Be sure to check back to read parts I and III.

Metal

When I was about 14 I had a conversation with my uncle, who makes a living playing music. He asked what I listened to these days, and I told him Metal and Hardcore. Quickly, my uncle asked about a few bands, to which I replied “No I don’t like those emo bands.”

Uncle: What’s wrong with Emo bands?

Me: They just complain and are annoying.

Uncle: Isn’t Emo short for emotional?

Me: Yeah I think so…?

Uncle: Isn’t Metal and hardcore emotional?

Me: Well yeah, but it’s different…

Uncle: I don’t know; it sounds like you listen to Emo music.

I was struck by this and halfheartedly admitted to myself that he had a valid point. Of course, I shrugged it off in the moment to defend my view; citing the musicianship and lyrical content of Emo music as supporting factors in my disregard for the genre.

Where did the disregard for an entire scene of music come from? It came from my view of masculinity through the lens of a teenager.

After my going to my first concert in 7th grade (Slipknot, Lamb of God, Shadows Fall, and Trivium), my friends and I became obsessed with heavier music. The energy and passion we witnessed at the show was unlike anything we had experienced. Enormous mosh pits, screaming along to songs, head banging, fans jumping fences to get into the pit, shoes being lit on fire and thrown; it was an adrenaline fueled sea of chaos and we loved it. Perhaps if it was any other concert, we would have been set down a different path, but that day our choice had been made. We wanted more.

Naturally, we turned to YouTube to watch other Metal concerts to discover new bands. I couldn’t say when, but it got to a point where what we were listening to “wasn’t heavy enough.” We were building a tolerance for Metal and needed something stronger.

Soon we were discovering bands like The Black Dahlia Murder, Animosity, Despised Icon, Carnifex, Through The Eyes of the Dead, The Red Chord, and the list goes on. It almost became some unwritten law that if the band did any clean vocals (singing) they sucked, and Emo bands being at the forefront of this “suckage.”

We could literally pull up a band’s page and write them off simply from the 3 genre descriptions that were listed. I had come to understand and buy into the idea that listening to Emo music somehow made you weaker, or a lesser fan. I would see shirts at concerts that said “Defend Metal, Kill Emo Kids”. Metal, right?

IMG_3707

The irony was most Metal bands preached the same kind of acceptance and understanding their Emo contemporaries did, just in a different way. It was all a means to the same end. An outlet to seek refuge from life’s turmoil, and your own insecurities. I didn’t realize it, but I was using heavy music to escape from my issues while feeling safe behind a veil of masculinity.

I love Death Metal. I still listen to it every day. I’m actually listening to Whitechapel right now. My point however is that it was easier to wear the patch of Metal with confidence, because I felt protected by what I considered to be its inherit “toughness”. I knew Emo music was the butt of many jokes, simply because they were outwardly emotional and vulnerable about very real subjects, but unfortunately, I fed into that.

Believe it or not, Metal, is equally open and emotional on similar subjects, but people have this hesitation and fear of the genre, and for whatever reason, I loved being a part of that. I felt stronger, more protected and more of a man because of the music I listened to. It was a vicious cycle, fueling both my affinity for Metal and disdain for Emo music.

During my fall into the Death Metal abyss, I caught wind of bands like Stick to Your Guns, The Ghost Inside, Have Heart, and Guns Up. These groups embodied more of Hardcore style of punk mixed with some Metal motifs and an attitude reminiscent of the PMA (Positive Mental Attitude) punk bands from the 1980’s. Not only did they preach an understanding of mental and emotional issues, but they addressed a wide range of topics like drug and alcohol abuse, racism, sexism, masculinity, and family struggles.

These bands had a defining role in my life. They helped me shatter my ignorance towards music, myself, and my identity. They question the stereotype of what it meant to be a man and opened my eyes to the fact that what you wear, what you look like, who you know, and what music you listen to has nothing to do with your ability to be a good person. I found a strength in this. I found acceptance. It wasn’t just an acceptance of the music I had previously written off, but it was an acceptance of myself, my problems, and who I was. It was an acceptance of it being okay to cry, scream, and hate the world. With them, it was okay not to ALWAYS be okay and they worked to offer solutions through their music, to light a path towards getting through these problems.

stygSacred Purpose does the same thing for me. Living my life through our shared sacred purpose lets me know my brothers are there, just like music, to help me through. Shattering the idea of what it means to be a man and what it means to hold myself and others accountable is something I didn’t think music could do. Re-framing masculinity and mental health, as a ton of our chapters are doing is a good thing, and is a conversation worth having. I am proud to be a member of an organization that values health and safety just as much as it values brotherhood.

“A poor man’s poor sport we’ve fallen short of reasoning/Sex does not determine capability /But we let our hostility be our guide to decide /What’s right for a girl and for a guy/Because every sex is just as able to keep this foundation stable /Enough is enough speak up its tough but don’t think that your unable/Let acceptance be our key to unlock our integrity /From there we’ll be able to see that there’s more than just she and he”— “A Poor Man’s Poor Sport” by Stick to Your Guns

Kris Taibl, Director of Communications

This is the Part I of a three-part series on Music, Mental Health, and Masculinity. Be sure to check back to read parts II and III.

Brand new

The Center for Addiction and Mental Health released a study which shows 70% of mental health problems have their onset during adolescence. While the true realization of my own depression and anxiety came pretty late into my adolescence, I exhibited symptoms (which went unchecked) from as early as 14.

When I was younger, toxic relationships, break-ups, unrequited love, familial pressure, and the deaths of close friends and family all took their toll on my developing brain. During this time a genre of music crept into daily listening and I was in complete and absolute wonderment. Lyrics that spoke about being scared, not knowing who you are, being dumped, feeling directionless, absolute despair, love, hate, and so many things in between became the soundtrack to my life.

I’ve been listening to a lot of that music lately. Daily plays on my Apple Music are filled with artists and lyrics that resonated with me as a teenager but not necessarily with me today. This has brought to light some really interesting revelations about who I was back then and how I became the person I am today. The music carries memories of heartbreak, not fitting in, depression, social anxiety, frustration; all of which, the anxious person in me would like to push back down as far as possible and keep moving forward, but that is not who I am anymore.

Emo (short for emotional) music is described as a style of post-hardcore music characterized by expressive, often confessional, lyrics. Having roots in the hardcore-punk rock scene of Washington D.C. as far back as the 1980’s, emo musings have been a part of our musical zeitgeist for quite some time, even if we didn’t know it.1227_mcr-min

This type of music gave life to my thoughts and resonated with me in ways I wasn’t really sure how to express back then. Going to shows, perusing Tumblr, and deep diving into my own thoughts became outlets for me. Driving around in circles with my iPod on shuffle, thinking/singing/screaming, gave me a release. I was able to connect with artist on a level I never knew possible. Lyrics seemed to be ripped out of the headlines of my life and were there for me to ingest and unpack.

I was your stereotypical emo kid. I wore black band t-shirts, high top Chuck Taylors with socio-political messages sharpied on the soles, and a studded belt from time to time. My hair was long in the front and swept to the side with one year, a chunk of it dyed blonde because I was feeling adventurous. I fit into a mold, along with thousands of other kids, when I thought there wasn’t one. A community came out of this genre of music but something much bigger was burgeoning.

Bands like Taking Back Sunday, Bright Eyes, Saves The Day, Brand New, Alkaline Trio and My Chemical Romance all shed light on the dark that some days consumed my thoughts. Songs like “Freakish” by Saves The Day exacerbated my heartbreak after being dumped. “Radio” by Alkaline Trio allowed for catharsis after a more insidious break-up. “There’s No I in Team” by Taking Back Sunday was the anthem I latched onto when a friendship crumbled. “Guernica” by Brand New helped me navigate my own emotions when a family member lost his battle to cancer. “Sonny” by New Found Glory helped the tears flow when they really needed to after tragically losing a friend in a car accident.

I have come to the realization it was the music is that got me to a place where I could feel comfortable and could treat my wounds, visible or not. That is the terrible thing about the shame surrounding mental illness. Walk up to your friends with a puncture wound and they can see it; its tangible. You can’t do the same with mental illness. You feel things, often horrible things, but outwardly there are no puncture wounds to show.

Brand New

Emo music was often dismissed by mainstream critics and their sub-genre peer groups because of its distinct connection with mental health. During a time of great stigma towards mental health in general, this genre did more for encouraging awareness and empathy towards mental health among young people than any other genre.

In 2011, Dr. Rosemary L. Hill challenged the discourse of mental illness around emo music. “fans discuss the music…enabling them to cope with pre-existing depressions, to overcome bullying and even to save their lives.” Hill writes. “I think emo probably has helped make talking about mental ill health easier for some groups.” “There has been a broader shift towards more openness and less stigma over the last few years.” She says, “bands like My Chemical Romance definitely helped some fans negotiate their mental ill health…their lyrical messages were about living and learning to live with mental ill health, to find ways to cope and gain support.”

I used music as a means to cope with feelings I didn’t fully understand and for that I am thankful for my time as an emo kid. Emo music, while a sub-genre of a sub-genre which can be traced back to American Punk Rock, pushed lyrics about mental health and mental illness to the forefront and allowed an entire generation of music listeners to take a look in the mirror and really confront their feelings. Looking back now, music was my treatment before psychotherapy became my therapy.

My musical tastes have changed since then, but the words and melodies still ignite feelings within me every time I hear them. Being 10 plus years removed from the “scene” I can still remember every word and every place I was when I first heard a particular song. Something I find encouraging is how this genre ushered in the idea of wearing your heart on your sleeve and how it’s okay to not feel okay. I listen to music now that resonates with where I am as an adult but you can catch me in my car shouting at the top of my lungs songs lamenting my teenage angst but fully understanding now why I gravitated toward it in the first place.

 

“We understand, little by little, that the more time we give ourselves we do have the power to control what we’re thinking and when I’m the lowest I’ve ever felt I know that I can put on music and wait through that hell. I know I’m going to feel different, if not the next day then the day after that.”- Bert McCracken, The Used

Addiction doesn’t always start in a back alley. Addiction often starts in the medicine cabinet of your own home. Addiction is an indiscriminate, chronic disease that can dismantle whole communities given the chance. You can come from a suburban bubble, rural town, culturally diverse neighborhood, single parent household, all the privilege in the world, or none; addiction knows no bounds.

pills3

This topic has been on my mind lately after realizing drug overdoses now take more lives every year than traffic accidents. I have been struggling with how to write a compelling post on a topic I have no direct experience with. I do not personally suffer from drug addiction and to be completely honest, I couldn’t recall anyone in my immediate circle who is. That’s the weird thing about addiction though, it hides in plain sight. Your parents, siblings, neighbors, fraternity brothers, classmates, colleagues, and friends could all be struggling to live with their addiction and you would never know it by looking at them. This made the gears in my brain begin to rotate.

I’ve heard it said before that college is a dangerous place. Dangerous because it is the place you go where your beliefs are tested, your opinions are scrutinized, and any preconceived notion about how other people live is often shattered. You meet people from higher and lower socio-economic standing, different races, different religions and, different expectations of what college is supposed to be.

I met a student named Bob once. I was in a position to help Bob get into college. He wasn’t a traditional aged prospective student, but somehow Bob’s application ended up on my desk. When we sat down to talk face to face I could tell there was something he was struggling with but from a professional standpoint, I was not the person he needed to speak with. Then the topic of housing came up. Bob opened up, explaining he was recently released from a substance abuse recovery center and was unsure of the best housing option for him.

People often ask what motivates me and my answer is consistent; I want to feel like I’m helpful.

In this moment, I knew Bob needed my help. He didn’t need my help to combat his addictions (I am severely underqualified to help in that regard) but what I could do was be empathetic and point him in the right direction. At this point in his recovery he was ready to tackle college again. I never asked Bob about his past or his recovery but I knew what was ahead of him. An often precarious place, college can harbor temptations and resources an addict would need to relapse. College is an easy place to experience a setback. College is a dangerous place.

After a few meetings with Bob over the course of a summer, we worked together to get his paperwork in line so he could begin course work in the fall. Once he was enrolled, our paths did not cross again for a number of years. My purpose in Bob’s life was served and I was able to yield whatever power I had to get him started in the right direction. Knowing my own college experience and knowing the landscape of universities today, I would often think about what he was up to. Was he still abstaining from whatever he was recovering from? Did he give in? Did he find a group? Is he even enrolled? All of the thoughts would come in random bursts, but as we all know,  life comes at you pretty fast. In the interim from our last encounter Bob was not part of my thought process any longer. Other students with other challenges came through my door and I did my job to help them navigate their way to begin a college career. It wasn’t until an all staff meeting, years later, did Bob reappear in my life.

Bob’s name was on the agenda in the spot we normally reserve for campus professionals. They would come to tell us about new initiatives their department had coming up or to ask for our assistance during an all campus event. When I walked into the meeting, Bob was in the front of the room in a suit and tie (a far cry from his camo shorts, backwards hat and flip flops I was accustomed to seeing him in). Bob was ready and waiting to present on a Collegiate Recovery Program he and a few other students in recovery were launching on our campus.

He lived his life, as I then found out, actively abusing mind altering substances for 10 years before he sought treatment. I sat and listed to an impassioned man discuss the systemic biases the general public and some universities hold in regards to recovering students. He outlined their plan to help students in recovery feel wanted on a large campus and engage them in ways that would not interfere with their long-term recovery. Their group had the backing from campus administration and were in the talks of acquiring a wing of a residence hall specifically for recovering students. His purpose for coming to our meeting was to get the word out. He knew my department was considered the front porch to the university. Having this knowledge in our back pockets could lead other students to them and could possibly move students closer to recovery.

As he spoke I wondered if he remembered who I was. There had to have been at least twenty more impactful people in his life since we had met. I could point out a few when he was discussing  who he had partnered with on campus. After taking questions he addressed the group but looked in my direction and said “thank you”. As Bob was walked out he headed in my direction and I stood up, really unsure of what I was going to say but before the words came out of my mouth,  his intentions were clear:

“I remember you. I wouldn’t be here if you didn’t help. Thank you for believing in me.”

I know my small role in his life is not what kept him in long-term recovery but his acknowledgement is what keeps me grounded in the work I do. The small things I did to help a student get into college had become one of the turning points in his life. I was part of his long-term recovery. The magnitude of his appreciation was strongly felt by me and in that moment I knew what I did mattered. What we do as educators, administrators, friends, colleagues, brothers, and human beings matter.

Bob graduated last weekend with a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work. He did this while simultaneously winning national awards for his advocacy, being selected as one of the top 40 student leaders on his campus, becoming a certified Peer Recovery Specialist, and joining a fraternity.

This fall, Bob is on his way to an Ivy League school to work on a Master’s Degree in Social Work to continue in his pursuit to be an advocate for those like him, in long-term recovery.

Collegiate Recovery Programs are all across North America with many being on our host campuses. The mission of CRP is to meet the needs of this growing population of recovering young adults as they pursue their educations. Several colleges and universities have also developed collegiate recovery communities to help young adults in recovery maintain their abstinence while in school. The primary goal of these communities is to provide a safe haven for young adult students who are struggling to maintain their hard-won abstinence while surrounded by resources to enable their addictions.

recovery works

For a full list of universities  click here.

Need help with substance abuse? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.

Death is a harrowing ordeal. Death can bring friends and families closer together or drive them apart. Death can mobilize people into action or leave them in a perpetual haze; unable to act. I have witnessed the maelstrom of emotion evoked by the death of a loved one, but nothing has brought  more heartbreak to me than suicide.

house

I once knew a man who had everything you could want; an elite education, a great family, an adoring niece and nephew, countless friends, enough money to live a comfortable life, and a thirst for adventure. He had been well spoken, but not verbose. Approachable, but reserved being more his style. He knew his way around a room and it had been clear when he spoke, his intellect shined through.

A year and a half ago this man took his own life. A year and a half ago a friend, a brother, an uncle, a son, a cousin, and so many other things to so many people decided enough was enough and ended his life.

Still today, I struggle with the idea of him being gone. He will never again light up someone’s face when he enters a room. This feeling still lingers in my brain. He never seemed unhappy to me. Constantly traveling. Constantly learning. A man of many talents with an abundance of wealth (and not just the monetary kind). He was one of the most educated people I had ever met and his laughter had been contagious. His thoughtfulness, patience, and compassion was ever-present but above all else, he seemed so together. Always in the moment when you were with him and you could see in his eyes he genuinely felt love for you as a person.

But underneath it all, deep down, hidden from everyone he knew, a dark and tormented mind became overwhelming. The constant pressure to do and be more was an unbearable burden he could not withstand. So, on a Wednesday evening, after an ordinary day in the life of my friend, he went to sleep with the intention of never waking up again.

You kick yourself around thinking, “what could I have done?” or “why didn’t he talk about it” but unfortunately for us, the ones who are left to pick up the pieces, we will never know. We will never   fully understand why.

I miss him often. We all do. It comes at some of the most random times. Passing a picture on my refrigerator with his face staring back at me, my mind suddenly becomes thrust into the moment I found out. Thankfully, over time, those thoughts quickly move to the times we shared together and not just the tragic end we all experienced. I see his features in pictures of his niece and nephew and think of what they will miss out on, not being able to fully comprehend at the time he wasn’t coming back. No more soccer matches, no more birthday parties, no more impromptu visits because he missed them. They will never really get it and maybe that’s a blessing. I don’t know enough about the cognitive development of children to accurately describe what death does to them emotionally or developmentally, but for me, it hurt. Still, today, it hurts.

Many of us compartmentalize our emotions. Truth be told, it’s a coping mechanism for myself, but for those who are suicidal, it may be how they get through the day. Pushing things down and off to the side sometimes becomes the way they seem so together and happy when they need to be. These struggles are internal and often they will never see the light of day because of how adept their owner has become and concealing them.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), there is one death by suicide every 12.3 minutes. Suicide among males is four times higher than females, and the prevalence of suicidal thoughts, planning and attempts is significantly higher among adults aged 18-29 than among adults 30+. This information is jarring. Even the act of looking up these statistics makes me fearful for the men in our organization who feel so trapped in their own mind that the only way out is to take their own life.

According to the Mayo Clinic, suicide warning signs or suicidal thoughts include:

  • Talking about suicide — for example, making statements such as “I’m going to kill myself,” “I wish I were dead” or “I wish I hadn’t been born”
  • Getting the means to take your own life, such as buying a gun or stockpiling pills
  • Withdrawing from social contact and wanting to be left alone
  • Having mood swings, such as being emotionally high one day and deeply discouraged the next
  • Being preoccupied with death, dying or violence
  • Feeling trapped or hopeless about a situation
  • Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
  • Changing normal routine, including eating or sleeping patterns
  • Doing risky or self-destructive things, such as using drugs or driving recklessly
  • Giving away belongings or getting affairs in order when there’s no other logical explanation for doing this
  • Saying goodbye to people as if they won’t be seen again
  • Developing personality changes or being severely anxious or agitated, particularly when experiencing some of the warning signs listed above

But what do you do when you see someone you care for exhibiting these or others like it?

Your willingness to talk about mental or emotional issues and suicide with a friend, family member, or co-worker can be the first step in getting them help and preventing suicide. Something to keep in mind is to never minimize or shame a person into changing their mind. Trying to guilt them into not going forward with it will only deepen their guilt and hopelessness. When someone is suicidal, they are often not mentally able to make decisions and desperately need intervention by others. Reassuring them help is available and the feelings they are having are treatable is key.  If someone tells you they want to take their life,  offer help and compassion but know there are ways to ensure their safety too. You can report the threat to the police and in most situations, they can physically intervene and take them to a safe place.

Life can get better.

My take away from this experience is to not allow a moment to pass you by when you think, “I could have said something.” We can all say something and having an emotionally open dialogue with our brothers, friends and family about suicide is an important first step in prevention.

For more information about Suicide and Suicide Prevention follow the links below

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Suicide Awareness Voices of Education

1 (800) 273-8255  National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

 

 

For KMT.

I sat down today to finish writing my weekly blog post but with the news of another iconic artist passing this year, I thought I would write something a bit different.

Prince
“Despite everything, no one can dictate who you are to other people.”- Prince

This is not a eulogy for Prince Rogers Nelson. I realize he is not the only person to pass away today but his life and his art touched millions. Prince’s musical catalog is vast and, up until this afternoon, seemed like it was never going to end. Fifty full albums and countless collaborations with artists from across all genres, his music gave us a way to fully escape into a world only he truly knew. Listening to the curated DJ tributes across most music streaming platforms have made this easier to write. One quipped “Look at all this music he gave us and imagine all the music he never wanted us to see. How many platinum records were waiting for the world in his “maybe later” pile?!”

His music was an experiment in human emotion, creativity and most notably, sound. He experimented with sound like no other musician at the time. “When Doves Cry” has no bass line which was completely unusual for an 80’s dance song but somehow it still pops. It did have a bass line before the final version was finished but in true Prince fashion, he removed it because it was too conventional. He was trying to transcend the establishment of music at the time and create, not duplicate.

This, for me, is a call to action for anyone who thinks they still have time. This thing that connects all of us can be taken away at any moment and it is our duty as humans to live every day to the fullest.

• Make time to shoot a text to your mom to say you’re doing alright.
• Ask that person who you’ve been catching eyes with all semester for coffee after class.
• Do something that you wouldn’t normally do.
• Be different if that is who you are or if that is who you desperately want to be.
• Stand up and lead if that is your calling.
• Write if that is who you are.
• Create if it means you will make sense of this life.

Prince was an artist, performer, dynamic producer, legendary guitar player and someone who never gave in. He was a lot of things to a lot of people but for me he was someone who lived his life with no regrets. Someone who pushed the limits and fought for his craft. He was political, creative, extraordinary, enigmatic, spirited, secretive, and above all else, authentic. Living an authentic life, I feel like is the most important thing for each and every one of us to do.

As a chapter, you cannot compare yourselves to the other groups on campus. Our Sacred Purpose already sets us apart from every fraternity on campuses across North America. Keep innovating and challenging the stereotype. Look to the other men in your chapter and challenge them to be extraordinary. Know who you are and be that person. Be that person no matter the consequences. What have you got to lose? Go out and get after it.

Be Prince; that’s what he would have wanted for you.

css.php