I was raised with very clear ideas on how to be a man, and giving in to my emotions was definitely not one of them.
It started with “big boys don’t cry”. Once I mastered holding back the tears, I was taught to hit first and ask questions later. Most of my friends came up the same way, and by high school, the lines were drawn between the real men and the pansies.
We’d rather die than become a pansy.
So, I, along with millions of other men from around the world had a common problem. We had absolutely no clue how to express our emotions. Hell, I didn’t even know what most of my feelings even meant.
Alcohol always helped. Weekend keg parties in college carried me through one semester to the next. After graduation, however, my friends started settling down, focusing on their careers, and getting married.
But I didn’t.
Now, I was really stuck. Why I couldn’t move on like they did? I needed to drink every day just to get through the day. As time went on, I became anxious and depressed, because I couldn’t live my life with it or without it.
I became so afraid that people would find out what a wuss I was that I started having panic attacks. I called in sick three times in one month, and my boss was getting suspicious.
As I sat at home staring at the TV, I watched a documentary about stress-related illnesses, which gave me an idea. I could make an appointment with the doctor, tell him how lousy I felt, that I was under a lot of stress, and he would give me some anxiety medicine.
When I got there, the nurse had me fill out a health history questionnaire, and I checked off every little ache, pain, and symptom I had, figuring he had to give me something that would make me feel better.
But the doctor had other ideas. He saw right through my charade and diagnosed me with depression.
I tried to tell him that I had been under a lot of stress at work lately, but he interrupted me and said, “Do you know how many men come in here with the same complaint? Feeling stressed is often a sign of depression.”
I started getting angry. This was not going the way I had hoped. That’s when he dropped a bomb. “Anger, he said, is depression turned outward, and depression is anger turned inward.”
That got my attention.
It turns out that there are many reasons why men keep their depression a secret:
Some of us are so out of touch with our feelings that we don’t even know we are depressed. So we say we are stressed.
1. We are embarrassed to tell anyone how we feel, because we think it’s a sign of weakness.
2. We don’t know how to explain it. Years of suppressing our emotions leaves us unable to verbally communicate.
3. We are afraid we might cry.
4. We are conditioned to stuff our emotions deep down inside of us.
5. We think that any emotions we feel should have been dealt with years ago.
6. We believe that real men do not get sad.
7. We cover up our depression with our addictions.
We are so busy avoiding any vulnerability, that we dig ourselves a hole that offers us a false sense of security. Stepping out of that comfort zone is the bravest choice we will we ever make, and there is great power in it. It is how we become truly strong.