This blog post is part of a series on men’s mental health for Movember. In this series, different men give their perspective on male mental health. What does it mean to deal with mental health as a man?
In certain cases as with the interview below, people have had the courage to partly reveal their identity. This is both brave and vulnerable, congratulations to them!
What made you want to share your story? Please introduce yourself
I’m Nick, I’m 40 years old and I am a salesperson. I was furloughed in April and made redundant in September. I wanted to share my story with a focus on the last 7 months of lockdown and the pandemic,the effect this has had on my mental health and that of people I care about.
Have you ever experienced a mental health or wellbeing issue? If so, when was the first time you became aware of it or experienced it?
My wife and I separated 2 years ago. Our split was amicable and we are still very close,we just became different people. I decided to see a therapist because I wanted to make sure that I was managing my own mental health, and how I react to other people and situations, post going through such a big emotional event.
What did you experience that made you aware of it, and what did you do about it?
When we decided to separate I felt like it was the right thing, but like with a lot of traumas I was mindful that the shock could make me feel like I had control of the situation when I didn’t, and the pain could come further down the line. I decided to see a therapist because I wanted someone I could speak to, who didn’t know me or my wife, who would listen, rather than advise and who would be unbiased. I wanted my thoughts and feelings questioned in a way that I might not be able to do myself.
How did taking those steps make you feel, and have they helped?
I shopped around. Had intro sessions with some different people to make sure I was getting what I needed. I remember saying to friends “some people are promiscuous after a relationship ends… I’ve seen three therapists” which reminded me of a New York type joke. I’m glad I saw different people though,it made me understand the process more. There were some people I saw who I felt would be great for me at another point of my life, but weren’t for now.
What are your lessons learned with regards to taking care of your mental health? Did you experience any challenges throughout your journey that you felt might have been more specifically “male”?
I have continued with therapy ever since, and find the process valuable. It has helped me become more resilient during the last 7 months of the pandemic for sure. I have had friends and family ask me when I am going to stop therapy, as though me going is a sign that I am not “cured” yet. I think this is a common stigma associated with mental health, but I tell them that talking is important and doing that with a professional is making me more mentally resilient.
I have become more aware that I am different from most men when it comes to talking. I am comfortable being open to family and friends about my emotions. I never thought about it before but realise I am appreciative that I am like this. I know it’s a cliche but men do find it more difficult to talk,particularly in the moment. When a male friend goes quiet, that’s when it’s time to reach out to them.
Yoga and meditation have helped me handle some turbulent situations. Again, something that a lot of men are only just understanding the benefits of. Running is also a great mindfulness tool and I believe the combination of running and mindfulness apps have helped men reflect on their mental wellbeing more generally.
For me, the pandemic has provided a number of mental health challenges both related to my identity and the direction I thought my life was going in professionally and personally. Losing my job and the subsequent job hunt has been extremely challenging. It’s very tough out there for people looking for work at the moment. I also had another relationship come to an end during the pandemic.
The whole lockdown situation made it untenable. In some respects, this was harder than my marriage ending. While the latter ended of natural causes, the former was a sharp and sudden shock. I experienced panic attacks after, for the first time in my life. Again, the relationship ended for good reason, and amicably, however the emotional pain was intense.
It’s not been the situations themselves that are painful, but the absence of joy.
I think this is something a lot of people are experiencing during lockdown in one way or another. A yearning for the delightful moments that made life worth living. The lessons I have learned regarding this point, is that I need to enjoy each wonderful experience I have for what it is and remain in the present. A weekend with my family, or a night out with an old friend is a blessing and, whereas in the past I may have been mindful of other things going on in my life, I now make sure each moment is valued for what it is.
What are your next steps for your own mental health?
I keep reminding myself that I am doing well during this period. That I am not feeding my shadow side with too many negative thoughts or bad habits,that I am being productive and seeing the joy in life.
I am also being kinder to and more forgiving of myself and others. A phrase that I keep saying to myself is “everyone must do what makes them happy”. Times are tough and joy can be in short supply. So long as people aren’t negatively impacting others, it’s important for them to find joy where they can, and be tolerant of others doing the same.
Can you talk a bit about society’s perception of male mental health, do you think this affected your own perception and your ability to deal with your problems?
I think the perception of male mental health has changed a lot in the last couple of years. The phrase “man up” is something a lot of people would use, however it now feels extremely outdated.
Coming from a working class family who moved out of London when I was born, I was constantly battling with what I thought was expected of me as a man and what I felt was the right way to express myself. I felt I had to put on the bravado and to project a certain image of strength which didn’t sit right with me, whereas how male strength is defined now does a lot more.
I have now split this into 20th Century male vs 21st century male. The 20th Century male was the strong silent type. They would be competitive and would not show vulnerability. They would also do anything not to be “made a mug out of”.
The 21st century strong male is able to talk about how they feel and are able to lead with empathy. They have a self belief that says “I am going to be the best version of myself that I can be and I am going to do it by being open and generous. If people want to take advantage of that, so be it. It will not stop me from being someone who wants to be a positive force in the world”.
I have seen instances where these two personas get tangled:toxic masculinity sneaking into better male behaviours. This can be done intentionally or by accident, but is something to watch out for. Awareness is important.
According to you, why is it important for men to speak up about their mental health, and for society to address it as a whole?
We live in a patriarchal society and this needs to change. For this to happen, men need to understand their own mental health better. This will help us see our place in society as a whole, will put less pressure on us to live up to a stereotype, will give us confidence to express ourselves in a positive way and ultimately, not lead to our suppressed or repressed emotions manifesting themselves in ways that are harmful to ourselves or other people.
What would you like to say to other men who might be suffering in silence from a mental health issue?
Talking is the cure and the power to do this is in your hands. By talking, you are investing in yourself and your own mental wellbeing. Get all that stuff that’s in your head out of you and see what it sounds like when expressed aloud.
The act of doing this in itself is powerful. It’s fine if you don’t feel comfortable doing it at first. You will get better. It’s like going to the gym, the more you practice, the more you improve. The Samaritans is a great place to start, if you have no one else. Look for people in your life that you feel comfortable talking to,who give you what you need when you express yourself. If you can afford it, engage the services of a therapist.