I am really not sure how to start this blog. This one is different from all my previous blogs about technology. To be honest, I’m feeling a little scared, but I feel like this will be cathartic for me and maybe, in some way, reach someone going through what I did. So, with a deep breath, here I go.
Let me start with a bit of background. Before covid hit, I was very active in different tech communities. You see, I love what I do, and I love technology. I love to learn and share new ideas with others. I love to teach and mentor. I love seeing the impact on someone’s career that I may have played a small part in shaping. I love interacting with other peers within the industry and learning from them. I have made many friends through these communities.
One in particular that I am passionate about is the VMware User Group or VMUG. I have had the honor of being a leader in this community for ten-plus years now. VMware reshaped my career path, and I’ll never forget the first time I was able to dive into their virtualization platform back around 3.x. Now, don’t get me wrong, this isn’t meant to be a VMware kiss-butt blog, but the impact they had on my career drove a deep excitement to share what I was learning with others in this community, and the same can be said today. This passion was felt within the community, and we grew. At one point, I led multiple VMUGs within Central New York and blogged at every chance I could.
Others noticed this passion, and I took on a new role as a pre-sales architect. I could now speak to customers about this passion and so many others. At one point, I even took on the role of Citrix User Group Leader and Veeam User Group Leader. I was onsite with customers almost daily and planning the subsequent community events with my peers.
While at Sirius, now CDW, I took on the VMware Technology Brand Owner role. I traveled all over the country, teaching pre-sales engineers, post-sales delivery, and client executives about our strategy and how to grow their VMware business. I loved every minute of it. I felt alive and passionate, and I felt valued.
My family at home supported me, and when I was home, I made the most of my time with them to ensure they felt valued. I have some of the most amazing children. My oldest loves horses: my middle son lives, eats, and breathes hockey. My youngest daughter lives on Jesus and sugar. She never walks but dances her way through life. My Wife is a literal saint. I couldn’t do what I do without her tremendous support and encouragement. You must be wondering what in the world my point is. Brandon, it sounds like life is peachy, and everything sounds great. You have a successful career and a healthy family.
You may not know this about me, but I am a Marine. I don’t like to be vulnerable, and I don’t want to be perceived as weak. As a young man growing up, as many men do, we learn not to show emotions. Crying is a sign of weakness. You may even have been bullied and called a girl as a way to emasculate you. So, you learn to hold it in and always show strength. I joined the Marine Corps, which touts the most challenging boot camp in the world, to prove my manhood to myself. That was my number one reason for joining. I had to prove my strength, especially since I had no father to tell me I was or had become a man.
You see, in our society, even today, men are expected not to cry. We aren’t capable of being hurt or abused. We aren’t supposed to feel vulnerable or scared. Men don’t undergo therapy, have body image issues, or insecurities, or experience trauma. Men don’t get depressed. We are considered the stronger of the sexes and should act accordingly. These thoughts lead to every man’s deepest fear, to be exposed, found out, and discovered as an imposter and not really a man.
No man wants to be found out, so most male depression often goes undiagnosed, and we silently struggle. I learned that some reasons for this are failure to recognize depression within ourselves, downplaying the signs and symptoms, a reluctance to discuss this for reasons I’ve listed above, and just a resistance to mental health treatment.
And I am no exception to the rule. If you haven’t guessed by now, I experienced levels of depression during the covid shutdown. Coming from being very social as an extrovert and having all of my avenues closed out really affected my mental health. I went from traveling daily and interacting with others to finding myself stuck inside. My office was in my bedroom, and my bedroom was in my office space. This meant that when I was at work, I looked at my bed and vice versa. Not having that separation from work and home and no travel became difficult for me.
The strange thing is that I had very successful years with my work. I found myself taking on a new role as an Enterprise Architect; I was recognized for my level of effort by my company and continued to produce go-to-market blogs for my work’s site. I was overworking while at the same time neglecting my sanity. I stopped writing for myself and wrote my work. I stopped being in front of peers and customers and found myself struggling to get out of bed and continue what felt like groundhogs day.
I felt I couldn’t express this dark tunnel I found myself driving into because I needed to remain a pillar of strength for my family during this time. And they were experiencing and dealing with the effects of the shutdown themselves, which I needed to help and support them through. This became an almost hopeless conundrum, the blind leading the blind in a sense. At times, my depression was expressed through sadness, emptiness, wanting to withdraw from everything and everyone, and sometimes anxiousness. Ultimately, I lost interest in things I once loved, like blogging for my site.
Through helping my family, I began to find ways to cope. One coping mechanism I found helpful was changing our church family to one that hadn’t closed its doors and went virtual for their services. This got us around other people, and the kids began to attend Wednesday night youth. We began to make new friends, and I found others I could talk to about what I was experiencing and learned that I wasn’t alone. We built a support system of friends whom we could do life with again.
Another coping mechanism we put in place was to begin going to parks and visiting areas of New York we hadn’t before, as the state allowed. We were walking our neighborhood and trying to find ways to be outside as a family. Of course, this was also dependent on the weather. New York isn’t notorious for the amount of sun it receives. Syracuse, NY, has an average of 63 sunny days per year and 98 partly sunny days per year. These new activities really began to make a difference for us all. These activities started to offer some light at the end of the tunnel.
We moved out of New York this past year to Texas for many reasons, quality of life, family, weather, politics, taxes, etc. This move has also been a help to our mental well-being. We have lots of sunshine; we have a new church family. The kids are in activities and back in school, making friends. As covid restrictions have been removed, I am enjoying my interactions with the local VMUG community and traveling to see customers again. I recently expressed to my Wife that I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders, and I feel like I recognize myself again.
What I learned through this struggle with depression is that first, you are never genuinely alone. Others are experiencing what you are, and it may not be apples to apples, but we are all struggling with something and could use a hand. Asking for that hand doesn’t make you weak; it makes you human.
Second, finding healthy coping mechanisms like engaging in activities you typically enjoy, or a hobby can help. For myself, that was getting outside and around other people as we could.
Third, sometimes a change of scenery can be helpful but don’t make drastic decisions during these times. Wait until you improve and feel better. We waited to make our move until we felt like we were in a healthier place.
Last, I am no expert in the area of depression. I can only express my journey, how I dealt with it, and how I found coping mechanisms to help. Depression looks different for everyone, and it affects people in different ways. My advice is to seek support where you can. I found many avenues to get help, and if you recognize symptoms in others, don’t be afraid to lend them a hand.
It feels good to be back in a place where I am involved with the community, whether with VMUG or my local church family. I have people that support me, some that I can reach out to in times of need, and an amazing family. I am writing all this to hopefully encourage someone else who may find themselves in a similar mindset. But I also want to say that it's been sometime now, and I am back and ready to share my thoughts on technology with my peers again. Cheers!
Please know that resources are available to those struggling in silence, and I have listed one below, but you can also reach out to your company's Employee Assistance Program (EAP).