Lessons I’m Learning About My Mental Health

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by Sean Baumstark |

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I participated in a group discussion with fellow Friedreich’s ataxia colleagues Matt Lafleur and Kyle Bryant, along with host Ally MacGregor, to kick off Movember,” a monthlong effort that aims to raise awareness about men’s health issues. Although we’re all in different time zones, we linked up over Instagram and went live for about an hour to talk about men’s mental health and disabilities.

I hadn’t realized that November was the month to bring attention to men’s mental health issues. All these years I have felt somewhat left out of the “no-shave-November” club since I don’t seem to be able to grow any facial hair worth talking about. Mental health means far more to me than a mustache, anyway.

Now that I have a better understanding about what Movember means, I feel better able to share some of my own journey, and I feel more confident about trying to help others share theirs.

I’m not sure if it’s an age thing (I turned 40 earlier this year), or a COVID-19 thing, but it seems as if the subject of men’s mental health and disabilities has been front and center for me lately. From the recent Instagram Live event I mentioned above, to a podcast interview with David Ross, a rare disease patient in the U.K. who is helping lead a men’s support group, to several recent conversations with some close male friends about the value of mental and emotional health, it’s becoming obvious to me that health is bound up in our bodies, our minds, and our spirits.

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I’m Not Alone in Carrying the Burden of FA

Although I’m not an expert in psychology or counseling, I’m realizing just how good for my mental and emotional health it is to have an honest and open conversation with people I trust. I can easily feel embarrassed or ashamed about certain aspects of my life, and I tend to keep those things out of view. But with all the difficult things I’ve faced, I can’t think of a single time when I would’ve been better off not talking to someone.

In fact, I wish I had learned the value of opening up and talking to someone I trust sooner than I have. Just last night, I found this Instagram post from mentor and acquaintance Brian Orme: “What you don’t talk about rules your life.” I can see now that the challenges we keep locked up inside are always bigger, harder, uglier, and messier than they need to be.

I recently wrote about the value of asking for help, leaning on others, and about how important community is. In many instances I think of “community” as being dozens, if not hundreds, of people who “get” me, know me, and support me. But I’m realizing that my success and my progress aren’t reflective of how big my community is; it’s about how open and honest I choose to be with even one person.


Friedreich’s Ataxia News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Friedreich’s Ataxia News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Friedreich’s ataxia.


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