Mental Health – A Male Perspective, by LJ Nicolle.
** Trigger warning – This post contains information on Mental Health and may trigger some unwanted emotions. **
Being in my late 40s I grew up in a culture where men had to be men. By that I mean when you go out, or at least went out, and one had a drink it had to be beer, lager, or cider. None of which I liked, so I was the nominated driver. Similarly, men were to put the bins
out, do the DIY and the dirty jobs in, and particularly outside the house. My mother was a stay-at-home mum, did the housework, cooked, looked after us children, supervised the DIY, etc. Dad was the quiet type, whereas mum would talk for hours to anyone. To be honest I doubt my experience is or was uncommon during that period.
Mental Health, particularly Men’s Mental Health, was not a subject discussed, and emotions
were “for girls”
Even more so if they had to be discussed!!
Men, or boys, didn’t talk about
feelings, emotions, or any of those types of struggles, and if you got bullied, then, it “probably was your fault” for being too soft, wimpy, etc. I can even remember many of my male friends discussing who was the more “manly”, maybe because they had 10 more chest hairs, or started shaving their face first.
Girls on the other hand were soft, to look pretty, to be chatted up and wolf-whistled at. Retrospectively, I/We know that to be wrong. Also if you had a lot of girl “friends”, you were seen as wimpy and rather should be watching the football with the lads, etc.
Oh, How times have changed… Or have they?
I could discuss at this point how, when I was young(er) girls/women were judged on their physical attributes by us lads, and I would like to honestly say that things have improved in society. Yes, personally I have grown wiser and now understand and appreciate that everybody is much more than the sum of their physical looks and skills. Unfortunately, I fear that this is still not the case for society as a whole, perhaps, it is even worse now with the
emergence of “Social Media” and photo-shopping/editing. However, I want to leave that for another day. Instead, I want to focus on Mental Health, mental health wellbeing, and more significantly, when our mental health isn’t quite right.
Mental Health Issues
Mental Health is a relatively new subject matter/term used for discussion when it comes to the general population. For years many have called it Mental illness or “They are mentally ill”.
Although the more contemporaneous term of Mental Health and Mental Health issue/problem is more probably a better description. In the same way, we all have physical health and have physical health issues, whether that be temporary or chronic conditions.
As a man, husband, father, and qualified healthcare professional I have experienced both acute and chronic mental health issues, both personally and professionally. Initially, it was not easy to admit to this. After all, I was in the midst of a “good time in my life”, so it would appear on paper. I was a specialist nurse, doing my Masters, a father, a husband, good income, respected trainer for the St John Ambulance, public speaker, etc.
Then all of a sudden, I became ill.
Diagnosed with an “acute stress episode”
I was having a breakdown for all intent and purposes. I took time off work, went to see my brother and family, told them all what was going on. On return home, my wife (at that time) said “don’t you feel better now telling someone.” I replied “no”, and that’s when it all happened. Yes, someone opened all the tidy little boxes in my brain that I had safely compartmentalized everything into. Each aspect of my life was now merged, a jumbled mess much like a teenage boy’s bedroom. Nothing was where it should be. “I had failed”, “I couldn’t cope”, “I had let everyone down”, so I was telling myself. I was an intelligent successful nurse, husband, father, and Man. I should be able to cope, what was wrong with me.
At this point, I had failed to admit that I was struggling at work due to bullying by a manager, and my marriage was not what it should have been. Ultimately, the persona I had put on for everyone else had cracked, I was broken. I couldn’t speak clearly, unable to construct a sentence, wouldn’t/couldn’t go out of the house, I slept for long periods during the day, I had the shakes, even simple tasks were a challenge for me most days.
So, what did I do? Well, I did what every man in my situation would do, pulled myself together, tried to be a good husband, tried to be the good dad, stopped my Masters (obviously was too much), changed jobs, and left the NHS. Basically, I just got on with life after a month off work. That was until a year later, and it all happened again, except this time the acrophobia was worse and the social phobia had become anxiety. Yes, another “acute stress episode” was on my sick paper from a doctor. Although, deep down I knew this was more, didn’t admit that to anyone, so life went on again, this time another new job, and a divorce, Surely, that would work.
Well, surprise, surprise, as time went by, I changed jobs several times. Normally after 9- 10months in a job I became anxious, stressed, unsettled, irritable, lost sleep, focus waned. Eventually, after a failed suicide attempt in Feb 2018, and after another brief “episode” in 2019, I left nursing. The doctors eventually diagnosed me with Endogenous depression and anxiety. By now I had been referred to the Mental Health Services. Only now did it sink in that I had a serious problem and should be more honest about it.
I was, and am receiving therapy, allowing me to talk more about issues in my life and how I feel about them, including being aware of how my body responds, sensations, twitches and, tensions. I am now remarried to a beautiful woman with whom I can be open, and honest with. I have a new job, non-nursing, even had a promotion (not that I tried for it, I need to avoid pressuring myself) and I make time for myself, to relax, chill do my thing. This may seem like a boring story of my life, but I need to share where I have come from in order to share where I am going.
I have started the journey to healing, being strengthened, honesty, and managing my condition (rather than my Mental Health diagnosis/problem managing/controlling me). After all, as with any physiological health issue, you take measures/steps to manage it and keep yourself as healthy as possible, so too with Men’s Mental Health, “My” mental health.
I talk more openly about my diagnosis, I own it, rather than being owned by it. This allows me to have bad days without feeling emasculated, as though I am week, or failed anyone. It allows me to say “no” because I know it would be too much for me. It allows me to find time and a place for myself, think, quiet the mind, and reflect on how and what I feel. I don’t start conversations about mental health, but I do talk with greater authority about it when it comes up, both as an ex-professional with experience, but more so, as a Man.
By sharing has opened up conversations and allowed other guys to begin to explore their own thoughts and feelings. No, it’s not easy, no, men will not readily come forward with their “internal struggles”, but we can see the signs, be open, be available, being honest such as admitting to going to therapy, may, be just enough to prompt the right question.
One word of advice, never force it, and never be “woolly”, a Man is a Man, be direct be straight, “are you thinking of taking your own life?” “are you struggling with your mental health? “I think you are struggling mate, if you are come and talk, I didn’t and nearly killed
And for those whose partner is going through something, let them, tell them you see something is wrong, and you love them, you will listen if need be, or direct them to a local support group or even to someone like myself. Being online, chatting via Twitter, etc, can be a good first step, it’s less confrontational, and they may feel more control. Just remember, that despite equality, we also need to recognize diversity, and everyone is an individual and will need to deal with the stressors, the issues, the #MentalHealthMatters in their own way. But it must never be on their own. Thank you, together we are stronger.
About the author of this post –
I was born in the Channel Islands, moved to Wales in 2001 after qualifying as a nurse.
I was nursing for over 20yrs, achieving a specialist nurse role in NHS, then a senior clinical trainer, and eventually a nurse manager. However, I burnt out, and have left nursing. Not before I was diagnosed with Endogenous depression and anxiety. Currently, I am working in a Covid test centre, and as a healthcare/first aid trainer.
I took up blogging in the 1st lockdown as I found it helped with my mental health, and focused my perspective on life. I have a passion for Men’s Health both physical and mental, Dementia awareness, Blogging, and Training.