May 22, 2019
This content contains explicit and sensitive information that may not be suitable for all ages.
To recognize mental health month in the U.S., I have decided to write about the silence of men.
This pervasive fear to discuss the inner pain among men is, so I believe, a long standing tradition embedded in men. The traditional man code states “he shall not speak for he will be seen as weak.”
“Be a man.”
At forty-three years young, I have lived and breathed this code every since I was a boy. It was a slow conditioning, this man up mentality, that systematically went against the grain of my authentic self. I have a natural inclination to be compassionate and sensitive to the pains of others, two qualities that are stifled if you are a man. Being oppressed and having a definition of manhood forced upon me allowed the seeds of anxiety and sadness to grow in the little boy I was.
I heard them all growing up. “Be a man.” “Stop your balling.” “Just keep yourself busy, it will go away.” “Men don’t talk about that kind of stuff.” After a while you become the narrative that was passed down through the generations. Looking back, I am now convinced that this is one of the primary reasons I ended up hating myself. The real me locked away behind what are essentially nothing but cliches.
So I memorized the code and became the man I wasn’t meant to be but rather, a mirror image of the typical man of society. Sadly, I was painfully unaware of the tragic consequences of going against my own grain and the impact it would have on my mental health. Denying the authentic person that was buried deep under every tragedy I had ever witnessed both as a firefighter and a long term care worker, was but another layer my true self had to try and free itself from.
“Stop your balling.”
The code taught me that this was all normal, it’s just the way things are. But I needed to talk, I needed help and in my darkest hours, my fire service family was nowhere to be found, also entrenched in the teachings of the man code, so I don’t blame them. My workplace also left me to cope alone, it assumed that because death and violence are part of the job that somehow it’s expected that I just deal.
Well here I am, the result of buying into the silence of men. Because I was forbidden to be who I truly am and because I had to go it alone, the slow emergence of my mental illnesses became a monster and its voice has claimed rights to my mind and body. Anxiety, depression and PTSD has battled for supremacy for so long that all I feel is its pain.
“Men don’t talk about that kind of stuff.”
I believe that this is a form of oppression, our cultural expectations have been a tremendous burden on our psycharatic health as men and still looms large in our society to this day. There have been incremental changes in this mindset, crack in in this triditional minset are making it more acceptable for men to chat about and get help for their pain; including their mental illnesses.
If you have been raised up on this code and are either scared to talk for fear of ridicule and being perceived as weak or that you will fall apart at the seams, please heed my words and do what you have to do to find your authentic self, avoid becoming the man codes next victim. So man up on mental illness, deal with the pains in your life. Trust me, stigma doesn’t hurt half as bad as the mental illnesses this manly myth produces.