For as long as I can remember I have always been quite an anxious person. This anxiety has always been a part of my decision making, my perceptions of the world and how I interact with people. Growing up I just presumed that this was how everyone felt and always had these constant, rapid inner monologues with themselves about every small thing about their life.
Obviously with hindsight I can now recognise how ingrained my anxieties were within me and how much of an effect it had on my life. But why did it take so long for me to do something about it? Simply put, I was afraid to admit to other people as well as myself that I had mental health problems. I feared the judgement that would be put on myself as well as the silent shame that would be associated with this acknowledgement. I felt that as a male that somehow, I had failed as men were strong and showed no weakness. These silent and unwritten rules that are placed upon us just from being born into a certain gender role, in my experience has been one of the biggest hurdles to climb as how I felt was not reflective of these rules. I felt vulnerable, helpless and at times scared by the thoughts I had or the fact
that I did not have the tools to deal with it. It always seemed a lot harder because of how society seems to re-enforce these rules and any push back on this was met with ‘Man up!’ (a term that personally I hate).
So, building up the strength and courage to get help can be the hardest part. Going to your GP, speaking to a friend or loved one, finding help from metal health charities, all these things that we know can and will help us can seem like climbing a mountain because of the stigma attached to not only mental health but also being male with mental health. For myself I felt very isolated because I could not talk to others about it, my anxieties were very high so just thinking about making that step to speak to someone would just increase them even further. As a result, I found myself in a loop:
How I am supposed to feel -> How I feel -> How I want to feel
This would pretty much loop around for about ten years or so. I lost pretty much most my friends as I would “flake” on social activities due to anxiety, I
withdrew away from my family and pretty much everything. I had bouts of agoraphobia as well as panic disorder, which obviously reinforced the isolation and heightened anxiety. It got to a point where I said to myself “I don’t want to feel like this anymore”. And in that desperation, I found the strength to go out and find or even ask for help.
Though this was only the first step and it would still take some time to see signs of progression it was a step nevertheless and the first one is the most important.
Once I talked to my GP and then a counsellor I realised how easy it was to speak about my mental health as well as my general feelings. In some respects, it was quite empowering as I had never talked or opened about these things, previously I internalised it all where it all ruminated in my head and it over thought every situation. Vocalising my problems, for me, removed them from my head and put them in the open and I felt like a massive weight was removed and when I talked with people about it, especially those who had been
in similar situations and could empathise with me made me realise that at some point everyone will meet their own mental health.
What does it take to be “male” is quite a massive question and possibly one that I might not be able to answer. But all I know from my previous experience is that it is almost essential we as men talk about our own mental health. It is not “showing weakness” it being honest with yourself and being honest with those around us.
We would want that for our closest and loved ones so why do not we want that for ourselves?