WELLNESS WEDNESDAY: “BOYS CAN CRY” BY JACK KOLICH, VOLCANO VISTA HIGH SCHOOL
Fact: Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for people ages 10-24.
Fact: More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza and chronic lung disease COMBINED.
Fact: In an average day, there are more than 5,200 suicide attempts made by middle school and high school students.
Fact: Jack Kolich would not be here today if he didn’t ask for help.
“What changed my life and literally saved my life is I just reached out,” Jack shared.
Jack Kolich is a high school student like many others. He also faces problems like many others and sometimes those problems would feel like anchor taking him down. But talking to someone about his depression and anxiety changed his whole world.
“Since the 6th grade, I’ve been clinically diagnosed with depression/anxiety,” he said. “My anxiety would limit my sleep. I was afraid to fall asleep because I knew something would happen that would wake me up. My depression made me feel like I was in the same cycle every day. I felt like I wasn’t there. I was numb to every single thing that was around me.”
Jack admits he used to keep things bottled up, hiding his feelings and emotions. “I didn’t want anyone worrying about me if I was sad or stressed.”
“I reached a breaking point that resulted in a lot of self-harm and some suicide attempts.”
That’s when Jack realized he needed help, someone to talk to. “I started with friends, with people close to me,” he said. “I started opening up just a little bit, to see how they’d react. Finally, I reached out to a therapist and I love it. I love talking to people. I want people to know that you’re not going to be judged for being sad. You’re not going to be judged for having emotions. Reaching out is one of the best things you can do because sometimes you just need someone to listen. The first step to really achieving good mental health is to reach out to someone you trust.”
“Reaching out really did save my life. I don’t think I’d be here today if I didn’t have those people in my corner constantly talking to me.”
Jack says he’s at the best stage of his life. He’s even willing to share his story if it will help others in their struggles. “I want to help people overcome what I’ve been through,” he said. “Being alone is one of the worst feelings ever. I want people to know they’re not alone. Now that I know how to cope with it and I have these people I can trust, it’s been amazing.”
Jack has come a long way. He’s applying to colleges and sharing his story with other educators. In fact, his college essay was titled ‘Boys Can Cry’. “I wrote about the stigma of men not being able to express themselves,” said Jack. “Men should be able to cry. It’s important for boys and men of my generation to speak up and talk to someone. Don’t let it eat you up inside.”
A year ago, Jack had no desire to work out or practice. He would dread going to classes, he would dread doing my homework. Now, he wakes up wanting to do everything. “I wake up wanting to work out, wanting to finish all my work on time, wanting to explore,” he says. “There’s so much in life and you’ve got to live it. It feels so good and I never want to go back to that old Jack. I was at my worst and felt like my life was falling. Now, I feel like my life is rising.”
Jack is now much more open with his feelings and excited to share and talk. “We need to check up on each other because you never know how they are doing,” he said. “People may be smiling, yet they could be hurting the most.”
Jack knows taking that first step and asking for help is the hardest. It takes a lot of courage. “No one judges you if you’re sad,” he learned. “People want you to be happy. I want everyone to be happy. Everyone deserves happiness.”
Boys Can Cry by Jack Kolich
If there’s anything I’ve learned about my friends over the years, it’s that they NEVER cry. They are strong, stoic with unwavering emotional strength. Their vulnerability is hidden behind a mask of steel; I am pretty convinced they are unbreakable. I always wanted to be like my friends. I want to conform to societal expectations of men, put my mask on and glide through my adolescent years feeling nothing other than numb. The problem is, I cry… a lot. That’s how I know I am different.
As a young boy with anxiety, I was an open book; it was the only way for me to understand what I was going through. I basically cried my way through elementary school. I always wore my heart on my sleeve. My parents always encouraged me to express myself and reassured my fragility. I was never ashamed of baring my soul. My home was my safe place; it was somewhere I didn’t have to worry about being weak or sensitive. I felt like I could be myself and be strong.
Showing your emotions is a sign of strength; but that was not the “manly” thing to do upon entering middle school. That was when I stopped crying. I copied my friends, put my mask on and became emotionally bankrupt. I held everything inside and even stopped connecting with everyone. Although I was well known and well liked, I felt so alone. Unable to find myself or feel grounded in who I was becoming, I slipped into a deep depression. On the outside I painted a great picture but, on the inside, I was a walking time bomb waiting to explode. The emotional pain trapped inside desperately attempted to free itself.
High school didn’t add any relief; so, I continued my brave front. Then, my dog died (really) and my girl. I cried seven years of pain out. I knew my emotional pain couldn’t kill me, but running from it could. I ran so far away I got lost. I was unable to find my safe place, my home; however, this was when I met my therapist. She found me, removed my mask and let me breathe again. She welcomed my flaws and let me cry. That is when I knew I was safe again.
Most men aren’t that lucky to have someone to confide in. The traits of manliness leave so little space for other elements of humanity, for instance, being vulnerable. Being vulnerable with ourselves is a risk we must take in order to feel real human connection; however, the society we live in advocates against emotional expression from the male gender. From the time boys are born, it is embedded in their brains that showing pain is a sign of weakness. By the time men have reached adulthood, they have lost all ability to successfully communicate their problems. Without the means of releasing their pain, men find other damaging ways to express themselves; violence, substance abuse, self-harm and suicide. In fact, men are four times as likely to die by suicide than women. There is clearly a desperation for change that lacks recognition and action.
Like my therapist, I want to be an enabler of change. I am drawn to people that crave a deeper connection.
You are not less of a man for having feelings. It’s okay to get sad.
It’s okay to show your pain.
It’s okay to ask for help.
And, most importantly, it’s okay to cry!