The stigma surrounding mental health isn’t just a battle between those who suffer and those don’t. It’s an inner battle as well.
I feel like most of the time, I have my guard up. It used to be because I didn’t want to show any weakness – mentally or physically. Back before I knew I had any mental issues, at the very least, I wanted to show that I was tough – that I was a “real” man.
I used to fall into all the same traps that society warns you about gender expectations and not crying or showing emotion or feeling pain. I lived the first 20 years of my life like that before realizing the pain was real and eventually that accepting I had a problem that needed attention was as brave as never feeling the pain at all – and I still fight those tendencies.
“That’s stupid”. “Who cares”. “Why would someone cry about that?”.
You may have heard the deflections before, but they were a huge part of my vocabulary and my general survival technique to push down all the scary, unknown feelings.
Even now, it is often my natural reaction to dismiss any sort of sappy story and let other people worry about worrying about it.
That’s why I have found it important to disconnect in order to reconnect from time to time. Now, when I’m feeling a little vulnerable, I try to embrace it with the tales of others and let myself fall right into the hands of the storytellers trying to yank a tear from your eye.
Read some entries on SickNotWeak. Follow a thread about an inspiring hero on Twitter. Watch a 10-minute documentary on a motivated youth sacrificing for their dreams. Let the stories of other people’s pain be the inspiration they hoped it would when they decided to share.
Yeah. It is a little weird to be sitting in my room alone, hunched over, staring at my phone as a couple tears roll down my cheek. But it makes me feel alive and connected and not alone.
Whether you suffer or don’t, if you want to fight the stigma – particularly for men – sometimes it takes a little practice accessing and feeling your own emotions before you can really listen to and understand someone else’s situation.
Of course, just lending an ear can be helpful, but for us to really make progress, we must get better at remembering the complexity of our own emotions and mental makeup. Don’t be afraid to feel things.