My name Is Luke, that isn’t really important though, what I am here to talk about is that I am a man, proud of my emotions; and yet I am not weak. I am a man who refuses to acknowledge the all too familiar responses ingrained in us since we were kids; “Just have a cup of cement”, “toughen up princess”, “she’ll be right”, “you on your period?”, “have a drink and cheer up”. Nah. Stuff all of that. Society and toxic masculinity encourages these juvenile and naïve responses towards a cry for help. Missing the point and often seriousness of a ‘cry’ for help.
Males commonly refuse to show emotion; crying is as rare as a girlfriend who doesn’t mind you were out all weekend with your mates. Now I’m not generalising here, I know there are men who do show emotion; I am an example of that. I cry and by god it feels good when I do. Sometimes better than the first sip of a fresh pint of IPA. But to be honest it took me reaching breaking point to eventually let myself become vulnerable and show “weakness” to be able to just cry. In time I found that it was one of the bravest and most empowering things I have done, and we can all do.
Letting myself become familiar with my feelings and emotions, I started to realise how much our recovery is based upon opening up and letting go of these preconceived notions of who we identify as. Yes we are men, but why do we need to always act a certain way and be shamed upon if we show too much emotion. We are in a sense institutionalised, by the institution of society that expects guys to be ‘tough’.
And in this charade, our world is losing more men than could be predicted, many more lives than most of the general population are aware of. From a disease that isn’t taken seriously, a disease that took away from me a close friend. That tried its hardest, and I mean hardest to take me too.
Writing this now, my words are driven with a sense of knowledge. An understanding of how my mind has ultimately changed over the course of my experience. From portraying the stereotypical guy with ‘no fucking worries’, to my body gradually breaking down like the 12 Apostles (Famous Giant rocks eroding off the Great Ocean Road, Australia). In time all things that resist against a powerful force will loose strength. But for me, in that lost strength came a beautiful discovery.
The blindfold that was lifted off my eyes revealed a new, inner strength, powered by emotional awareness, and empathy for others AND myself. Gone was the pressure of keeping up an appearance, I could give myself more care knowing I was conscious of my situation. I stopped fighting against it, and started fighting with it.
The last two years of my life have been without a doubt the most challenging, though the most rewarding.
Helping me through these years has been a collection of amazing books on the spiritual practise of Buddhism. Now I’m not in anyway a religious man but spirituality is a great tool to incorporate into your life.
Below are three that really stood out for me:
Buddhist Boot Camp by Timber Hawkeye
No Death, No Fear, comforting wisdom for life by Tich Nhat Hanh
Turning Confusion Into Clarity by Yongey Mingyur and Helen Tworkov
By reading these books I didn’t magically become enlightened or spiritually awakened, but they made me look at my life differently; appreciating certain parts I took for granted. Being mentally unwell desensitises our body to stimulants. Taking in stimulating viewpoints and new ideas produces awareness and more activity in the brain; increasing low mood levels, and lessening the load of the black dog.
In times of complete chaos, when my mind was racing—faster than the scramble to the bar when ‘last drinks’ is called—when I’d have that feeling to inflict damage in a self-destructive kind of way, I learnt to take 5. 5 minutes to refrain from doing what I intended to do to myself. Often my feelings would change, soften, or I would find the strength to get through the next 5. Just 5 minutes, that’s a fair deal. It’s amazing how only 5 minutes can make such a difference in your decision-making. Feelings can be so fleeting; your mind is in a spin. What you want to do to yourself one minute can change the next. So next time you may be in that situation, take 5 minutes.
Bro Code NEW EDITION*
After an appointment with your psychologist or psychiatrist finishes and you leave, plan to have a friend or family member spend time with you afterwards. To be perfectly honest it can be really hard to go from talking so in depth about your feelings, to then being alone. Having a friend or family member there for you afterwards can be another great tactic. You don’t have to share how your appointment went (unless you want to) but you don’t have to be alone either.
Think about your mates; they all have different qualities and personalities that you like. Some may be fun to go out with for some drinks, others follow the same sport you do or have common interests. But how about having male friends who are emotionally available? Mates you can share your emotions and feelings with, who you are not afraid to be vulnerable around. These specific mates are what can really help. I know they did for me.
When self-medicating with substances or other self-destructive activities no longer fill the void, what can be the defining moment and quite easily the turning point is sharing your pain with a close mate while they listen and console you. This breaks down barriers and opens up your support network that you never thought existed—but it does. You will be surprised, if you love your mates and see each other as brothers, they will be there for you emotionally.
And on the flip side, be there for them. Understand how important it is if you notice something wrong with a mate—even the subtlest change—to reach out to him. You don’t know how much of an impact that could simply make, we can all lead by example to break down societies expectations.
Mental illness through the eyes of a guy is tough. It is a constant bad joke waiting to happen. Respecting your self-worth can be difficult at times, but as I learnt, it’s never weak to ask for help, because you deserve to feel better. There are no rules when you are suffering mentally, no limits to what you can do and learn. So exploring all of your feelings and not feeding into how us guys are supposed to portray ourselves is how you will ultimately find happiness.
Written by Luke O’Brien (Fruity Lex).
Edited and supported by Emma Ismawi