Storyteller Series: Mental Health Awareness – Billy Mawhiney

To my Youth Professional Colleagues

This letter is written with you in mind. It is National Mental Health month and the role you play with our youth in South Dakota is how we make long-lasting impacts. Sometimes, that comes at the price of not taking care of yourself. Let’s take a step back and own that we are all givers. A lot of us see our roles as a listener, a mentor, or a problem-solver. We spend a tremendous amount of our time pouring from our cups into others. While I could tell you that you must also take time to fill your own cup, that’s a bit cliché and not so easy to follow. I ask that you stick with me for the next few minutes as you read my story and (in all honesty) how I still struggle to fill my own cup. 

I currently sit at my desk as a 43-year-old cis man and as I continue to age, I am learning that I need to spend more time listening, despite my best attempt. I mean really listening and not just waiting for my turn to talk. For most of us, listening comes in elevated moments when handling an upset youth. Listening comes when you notice the room is abuzz with activity but there is one youth nervously sitting by themself. Listening comes when you are alone in your thoughts. 

I, like most, have fought the plague of self-doubt and self-sabotaging. I continue the fight today. I remember my formative teenage years spent lying in bed rehashing all the “silly or dumb” things I said to folks throughout the day. I would beat myself up continually for conversations these folks likely thought nothing of. I would fill this void by doing “good” for others. On the surface, that seems amazing, right? The harsh reality is, it only dug my negative self-value hole deeper. I began to align in my mind that making a small mistake was only resolved through over-the-top responses to someone else. It never improved my self-value, instead, this erratic behavior led me down the road of self-destruction. Raise your hand if you continue to have destructive, self-shaming thoughts and behaviors when you say something silly. Now raise your hand if you have tied something positive on the exterior to your self-worth. Sometimes it really hurts to own this truth but only when we acknowledge it can we move from it. 

I’m not trying to therapize my situation or put that on you, I AM trying to be vulnerable and speak out about how holding this in (like the good Midwest human I am) will never allow me room to grow. Admitting there are moments when I need someone to tell me I’m doing well and not doing well is important. The area I am finding really suffocating is when someone compliments me. I’ve literally had to train myself to smile and say thank you. I’m still working on aligning that compliment from the outside that I deserve and have earned with what’s on the inside…that is a work in progress. 

If Mental Health Awareness month allows us to take even one step forward in vulnerability, then we are making progress. If you or your staff are open to talking about the great and also not-so-great things happening with your programs or with you as a person please reach out to SDAN. Everyone on our team is here for you! Let’s be our best selves together.

Billy Mawhiney

Executive Director

bmawhiney@sdafterschoolnetwork.org

 

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The South Dakota Afterschool Network works to better our state and its communities by connecting providers, parents and policymakers with proven tools and resources to increase the quality of and access to out-of-school time programming for K-12 children and youth.

Afterschool is a lifeline that keeps youth safe, helps kids learn and grow, and provides parents the ability to work without worry. While South Dakota is home to more than 300 afterschool programs, the demand for programs exceeds available spaces. In fact, 1 in 3 South Dakota children (34 percent) who are not in an afterschool program would be enrolled if it were available. That’s more than 42,000 children who are missing out on opportunities to participate in programming that supports their development academically, socially and economically.

Afterschool can provide valuable opportunities for students to explore STEM, and we are here to help your program succeed in STEM Learning! From webinars and trainings to our signature TMC Trailers that bring turnkey STEM activities to your doorstep, our diverse collection of resources meets you and your students where you are and provides the support you need to deliver quality programming to your students at any age. 

The South Dakota Afterschool Network wanted to create a mapping tool to better understand the landscape of afterschool and summer programs available for children and families. From the initial launch of the new mapping tool, we have identified some startling findings.