A few weeks ago I focused on an aspect of mental health and social pressures faced by girls. Inspired by ‘Most Girls – a song by Hailee Steinfeld, it sparked a conversation about how attitudes towards this topic need to change. However focusing on girls, is only on chapter of a very intricate story…
Unfortunately the star of this week’s post isn’t Maverick. While he may well be my second in command – my Robin if you will – this conversation wasn’t quite right for him. When broaching this topic to Maverick, he kept it rather light-hearted, clarifying that while I am aware of some of his insecurities, for whatever reason this is a chapter that the world will not yet be invited to read. Quite right too.
So, I turned to Rocco. He and I have been having this conversation for a while. He’s frustrated that when it comes to the topic of mental health, low self-esteem and body positivity, every study, article and social conversation is aimed at girls. No matter what age. What society is forgetting, is that boys and men are just as susceptible, and furthermore the taboo around a man behaving ‘like a man’ only makes this silence worse.
I read an article in Esquire magazine last week. It was written on May 9th 2017 and can be found here. While it focused on male suicide, and I was researching mental health in general for men and boys – teens – it was rather fascinating, and also highlighted what I had been thinking for a while. For men, this topic just isn’t discussed enough. We – and by this I mean girls and women – get to talk about mental health rather more openly now. Men, not so much.
The reason that is so frequently mentioned is that we still have a very aged belief that men should not be the ones to show any ‘effeminate’ emotion. When using the term effeminate I am essentially referring to men crying or being upset, talking and vocalizing how they feel or portraying any personality trait that is typically associated with a woman. In the 21st century, we are still telling boys and men to ‘man up’ and to be emotionally ‘strong’ at all times, as well as physically.
This is something I don’t wholly understand. Strength isn’t something that is solely measured on the physical, so why are we telling people that it is? We encourage girls to be vocal about how they feel or what’s going on, but never ask a boy this. Especially men my age, and teens. They are the ones looking at this as a sign of weakness. I had a friend I spoke about this with, and when referencing the above article replied, ‘I get it’. I was in shock. This man is the loudest guy in the room, the life and soul of the party. Everyone loves him. Everyone wants to be him or be with him. He’s really looked up to, and by societal expectations not someone I had ever thought I would receive that response from. He expanded on his response to me, saying while he’d never take his own life, he’s thought about the ways he would go. Take this from me – this is a dark place to be in, one I’ve often toyed with. He would never talk about this topic though, to anyone. It is not something his friends would ever discuss, not something he would raise with a partner or even to his family. He would keep it hidden. Which is so, so common, and terrifying.
Now while I am a girl, I know that this feeling of depression, I can only describe as… emptiness. With me you’d never guess, and would never even ask about anything beyond the surface of what you can see. I’m happy, loud, I joke around, don’t take myself too seriously and open up about a lot. Most of the time there is light in my world, but sometimes… it is bleak. I cannot fully explain why or understand myself. I can barely even vocalize this aloud to anyone either. I’ve analysed mine like a science experiment, because I need to understand it – and this is how I understand things. Mine differs to a boys – well sort of – because mine is cyclical. It’s about 5 days before my cycle and some months it’s far worse than others. Today – this month – is particularly bad. I cannot explain why and I cannot control it either. Mine is hormonal and something that I have to deal with. Something I long to open up about to a few close people in particular, but fear that what I feel will be met with backlash, and a casual ‘man up’ or ‘get over yourself’ – yes guys, we hear this too. Or the worry that telling them would give them added and unnecessary trouble that they just don’t need. Couple that with not being able to say any of this aloud without breaking down completely – as I write this I can barely see the screen for crying so much – is near impossible, and the people I want to break down to, can’t handle tears. Furthermore, I’m the one they open up to. How do I keep helping them, if I breakdown too?
I can’t control this but within my science experiment, I’ve found factors I can control which, makes the time marginally easier. It’s times like these that you’ll find me in the gym a lot more intensely than usual. I lift a lot heavier and am much more… aggressive / focused. Whatever exercise does to my body, helps my mood. I train late in the evening, meaning I’m less upset and calmer and actually allows me to sleep and shut off. I also focus my eating. What I eat severely affects my mood too. You’ll find my diet to be cleaner, simpler, stricter and far better planned than normal, where I allow myself to be a bit more relaxed. Anything with refined sugar, for a bizarre reason, causes my mood to plummet. It’s only rarely that I don’t eat at all. Like yesterday for example, I was lucky that when I brushed my not eating off as not having the time, which is why I was shaking, the person I was talking to, forced me to walk downstairs with him and get something to eat. For this, I am grateful.
So guys, you aren’t alone in all of this. I may be a girl, and that may be my story, but millions of men go through it to. The question is what can be done about it. Could you talk to someone? Perhaps find a creative outlet? Maybe take up and instrument or write it down. Exercise, change your diet like I do, or go to a doctor if you feel as though nothing is working. There is a stigma, and we need to break this. Attitudes around this and men having feelings need to change too. It begins with raising awareness, and I hope that this in some way has.
Multiple organisations have so much information on this, and could be a great starting point if you are at a crossroads with this. If U Care Share and Mind are just two places you can find more information, someone to talk to, and even to realise that you are not alone – in fact, far from it.