Jordan Brown is a top writer in Poetry, Mental Health, Love, Psychology, and Inspiration on Medium.com.
I love his passion for raising awareness of mental health issues and making it more accessible to the mainstream.
His voice is poetic, clear, and impactful. He is kind in a way I feel is so rare in men.
Jordan was one of the first people who inspired me on Medium so this is my little sign of appreciation. I’m so honored to have him as the very first guest.
When have you felt the most emotional pain?
For me, it was right after the break-up and moving out from my first long-term girlfriend. I remember I was lying in bed paralyzed for three days. I couldn’t bear the lights and sounds. Stayed there in complete darkness feeling sorry for myself while guilt, shame, and humiliation became my only friends. Suicidal ideas popped up in my head for the first time. It was frustrating because I couldn’t figure out where this pain was coming from and how to deal with it. It was fresh! This experience introduced me to myself and began a journey…
What about you?
JB: I really appreciate you sharing that, Tomo. Those are exactly the kinds of stories that need to be talked about more often because the kind of pain you experienced is something that I know most men have experienced at some point—but don’t always feel comfortable talking about.
I haven’t written about this much, and I think it’s going to be hard to fully depict it here, but I’ll try. I had open-heart surgery right before I turned 25. It was terrifying to realize that I could potentially die in surgery at a point in my life when I felt like I was invincible and just then becoming an adult.
I thought that the physical recovery would be the hardest part of the surgery, but it was actually the emotional recovery. Now I know that developing mental health issues after major surgery is common (although not talked about), but in 2012 I had no idea what was happening to me. I remember resting on my bed and starting to have waves of overwhelming thoughts of shame and self-loathing. My mind was flooded with all of the worst things I had ever done, all of the times when I felt that I was not being true to myself.
These thoughts led to negative self-talk, and the self-talk started a positive feedback loop that triggered more and more negative thoughts and feelings. I mentally and physically felt like a failure, like a person who was not worthy of anyone’s love. Thankfully my then-girlfriend (and now-wife) was there by my side because she helped me through that recovery from the heart surgery.
It would be years of mental health issues and therapy before I got to a point where the shame subsided. To this day, I think shame is the hardest emotion for me to deal with. Objectively, the things I have done are not even that bad, but the thing about emotions is that they are individually experienced. I think it was the major, invasive surgery that made several latent mental health issues emerge and spiral out of control.
I sometimes wonder why I’ve had to experience such intense emotional pain, seemingly for no reason, but now I’m past the point of rumination. I’m committed to using my experiences and my propensity to feel my emotions strongly to give back and empower others to move through difficult experiences.
TL: I’ve read something in one of your articles that stuck with me. You wrote about “manufacturing vulnerability.” To be vulnerable is very modern and popular. Sometimes I caught myself being fake while appearing vulnerable. How do you determine that fine line between sharing something that could change somebody’s perspective and just doing it just for the sake of conversation, manners, or capturing attention? Do you think, for example, being funny, angry, or jealous is compatible with vulnerability?
JB: This is a great question, and I’m impressed you picked up on that and could reflect on how it applies to you and your writing. You’re right—I think that there is a bit of a “vulnerability trend” going on right now. I think it started with Brene Brown—who is a fantastic human being, writer, and fellow social worker, by the way—and her TED Talks and writing on shame and vulnerability. I could be wrong about this, but I think she popularized this kind of writing, and then many other writers rushed onto the scene to see if they could make money by sharing all of their “secrets.”
For me, you have to ask yourself a few questions when you are using vulnerability in your writing. First, I’ll just say that it is hugely important. You starting off this interview by modeling your own vulnerability was excellent. Being vulnerable signals to others that you are a person who is comfortable talking about his flaws, and that creates the space for others to take risks in what they share with you as well.
I believe that vulnerability is necessary to establish a meaningful connection. However, like you said about what I wrote, I see some people using vulnerability as a way to “game the system.” Nowhere is this more apparent than on LinkedIn with the insidious rise of “broetry.”
Buzzfeed did a nice article on this a few months ago that summarizes the bizarre trend. In a nutshell, it’s those double-spaced posts that start off with lines that are intended to lure the reader in and get them to click the “see more” hyperlink to show the rest of the post. Copywriters, who write to get people to buy stuff, know better than anyone how to steal people’s attention away from them.
“Broetry,” in my opinion, consists of creating contrived stories about the allegedly life-changing lessons learned which, oddly, happen for these writers on a daily basis. Sometimes this kind of writing will sneak into Medium as well, but I feel that Medium, overall, is a place for much more authentic writing.
To sum it all up, here is what I think about using vulnerability in your writing. You have to ask yourself a few questions: Why am I writing this? What do I hope to achieve with this article? Have I already processed this myself, or am I expecting readers to validate me and make me feel better? Depending on how you answer that last one, you could be setting yourself up for a world of hurt.
Being vulnerable, to me, means writing something that, like in face-to-face conversations, represents some kind of risk. It is taking a less-than-favorable perspective of myself and sharing it with others. It’s genuinely wanting to share a difficult lesson that I’ve learned. If you can honestly say that what you’re writing is coming from a place of good intention, then it’s appropriate to be vulnerable. If you’re writing it as a way to “beat the algorithm,” like what’s happening on LinkedIn, I think it’s best if you take a different approach.
TL: What’s your vision on mental health awareness ten years from now? How do you see future society in comparison with today?
JB: I’d like to think that the world would look totally different and that we’ll all be having meaningful conversations about our feelings every single day, but I don’t think that will happen. I’m genuinely horrified by what I see happening with addiction to smartphones and rampant social media usage.
My vision for ten years from today is to live in a world that values open conversations about mental health—in schools, in doctor’s offices, and in public spaces. Ultimately, because of our lives being rapidly consumed by technology, I think it will be incumbent on each individual to develop routines and systems that prioritize mental and physical well-being.
Something that I believe will need to change is how we treat mental health issues. The mental health system in the United States is not much of a system at all; it’s a fragmented collection of siloed institutions and professionals all trying to make a buck in a competitive world.
More and more mental health professionals I know are fed up with the stranglehold that the insurance industry has on determining who can see which provider—and how much they will pay to see them. Personally, my mental health co-pay through my insurance is significantly higher than my “regular health” co-pay. It’s not right.
Therefore, I think the way we deliver mental health services has to change. It’s one of the reasons I created my site, Nerve 10—to start a conversation that cares about mental health issues in more accessible and meaningful ways. The current system is not sustainable. It’s too difficult and time-consuming to access services. And through my work with families and individuals, I know that, all too often, people need to have some kind of crisis before they get the services they need.
The biggest mental health treatment facilities in the United States are prison systems, and that deeply disturbs me. Ten years from now, I hope to continue to be part of a positive reframing of mental health issues. Mental health is a basic fact of life; it’s not a dark secret that stalks only a few. It’s something we all have, and the more we can talk about it and learn about it, the better off we’ll be.
TL: I’m obsessed with layers of my relationship and relationships in general. I resonate with your thoughts on how commitment to somebody brings a structure in one’s life. If you could point out one powerful quality from your relationship which helped you become more of the person you crave to be, what would it be and why?
JB: It would be honesty. Honesty is such a big deal for me. No relationship can survive if it is not based on honesty. I really appreciate that my wife can be honest with me. I’m not saying that she needs to share every little detail of every single thing she’s done in her life, but she speaks up if she knows I’m not representing my best self. She will let me know if I do something insensitive to her or to someone else.
I’ll share something that was hard for me to deal with at first. Years ago, my wife told me that she didn’t really like my writing. That really hurt because almost everyone who read my writing told me they liked it. My wife is a phenomenal writer, so I knew she wasn’t just being jealous. After I got out of my emotional, reactive brain, I was able to ask her more about what she meant. She told me that my sentences were too florid and that they would drag on and on. And you know what? She was right. My writing from years ago is laughable compared to how I write today. I have drastically shortened my sentences. I write with more clarity and persuasiveness because of my wife’s feedback.
I’ve always tried to be honest in my relationships, but my deepening relationship with my wife has made me feel more confident in being authentic and honest even with those I don’t know that well. I’ve found that people appreciate honest feedback if it’s delivered in a respectful way. We’re so used to a world that is built on superficiality that it is nice when a person can take a stance on something and own what he has to say.
TL: What does it mean to be a man today?
JB: Another great question. This is something that I’m not entirely sure about. If you asked me two weeks ago, I’d probably have a different answer. This is the kind of question that I’ll likely struggle with until the day I die. Society places a lot of pressure on men to be a certain way. All I know is that I never felt like the “typical guy.” I’m really sensitive. I feel emotions very strongly.
I hardly ever watch movies because I’d rather read all day, but I remember the way I felt when I saw the movie “Get Out” a few months ago. If you’re not familiar, it’s the brilliantly crafted psychological thriller by Jordan Peele. I was so disturbed by some of the scenes in the movie that I felt like I was going to have a panic attack. I’ve only had a panic attack two times, and that was due to a side effect from a malaria medication.
I’m really not a fan of dramatized scenes of psychological and physical torture. I’ve experienced some difficult things in my life and have had tons of difficult conversations as a social worker, but there is something about seeing it on a big screen that overwhelms me. I’ve always had this ability to attune to other people’s emotions, and it took me until about three or four years ago to appreciate what a valuable skill that is.
The men of today and tomorrow are starting to realize the importance of emotional intelligence. Being a man in this modern age means being comfortable in your own skin, however you feel and whatever your interests are. Living congruently by embodying your feelings and values is how I wish all men would act. I’m trying my best to model what I expect from others.
That’s all from this episode of microTALKS!
Wait just a second.
Let’s end this interview with a piece of music selected by Jordan himself.
Video credit: YouTube
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