My name is James Knutson, I’m 29 from Red Shirt, SD and I have been battling anxiety for a few years now. Growing up I have always been high strung and wore my emotions on my sleeve. I just figured it was who I was and accepted it as part of James’ life. It wasn’t until a confluence of events made me realize it may affect me more than I let myself believe.

In 2020 I was working at Oelrichs High School as an Athletic Director, Teacher and Basketball Coach when my son Jhett was born. Being a new parent is hard enough as is but doing so right when the world shut down made it a truly unique experience. Add on top of that the fact that I was hired for a dream job as Athletic Director of the brand new Lakota Tech High School. I was so excited to get to work on being a dad and the first AD in the history of the school, things were looking up for me. After making it through a once in a lifetime type of school year which included an all road game schedule, students playing in masks, and playing any and every school we could schedule I was looking forward to going into the next year when I was informed I would be non-renewed as the AD.

Being someone who wanted to be at the school long term, this was definitely a gut punch when it happened. That very day was one of the first times I had a panic attack and it was hard for me to know how to deal with it. I started going into a dark spiral in the days, weeks, months after that news. I started to cope with stress in unhealthy ways. I have always been my own worst critic and I started to pick apart every decision I had made over that year hoping to find what I did wrong. This just led to more anxiousness as I started to turn on myself, blaming every mistake on my leadership. It got so bad I finally decided to go to therapy and counseling which I attribute to the reason I was able to get myself under control.

I truly believe that there is nothing wrong with people admitting they need help, whether that’s therapy, medication, or otherwise. Being a person who comes from a great family, I couldn’t accept that I had legitimate problems. I thought it was all in my head and I was just making things worse than what they were but once I went to therapy I realized there are so many people, men and women, in all levels of careers and success who struggle with these same problems. I take anxiety medication daily now and monthly therapy visits to help me. I feel a million times better now than I did a few years ago. I recommend all people take the time to seek proper care especially if things are affecting your daily life like mine were.

If there is one thing I want to emphasize is that it is OKAY that Native Men like myself and so many others want to show emotions. Being a Teacher, a Coach, an Activities Director working with our tribal youth, I believe it is my duty to show my players that you don’t have to be the stoic person who never shows any type of emotion. There is nothing wrong with asking for help or telling your support circle you need help from time to time. At the end of the day, your happiness and personal wellbeing is what should matter the most.
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