"Do you cry?" I was asked this once, "of course" I said, "I’m human, I have emotions". Living with a mental illness feels stigmatising enough. Judged, I guess, felt sorry for, avoided, over-cared for in some respect. Being a man with a mental disorder brings a whole new level of stigma. In old-fashioned land, men are the bread winners; they go to battle, they work hard, fix things and are strong, they don’t cry and certainly are never depressed. But we all know that’s just a dreamers world. Maybe I am a dreamer that wants to be like that, but I’m not. I have my own label of mental illness, bipolar disorder.
It's a disorder that is known to be a bit of a trend, or words that I heard like ‘made up’ or ‘attention seeking’. I don’t normally side with genders. I like to raise awareness to all, but I feel I needed to write something to encourage men.
As I got older into my late teens, I was regularly depressed, unknown of my illness. Depression is something that nobody would understand unless they have had it themselves. Sitting here thinking of what it felt like for me was kind of like hitting the shops, but your bag is always empty or jumping in a swimming pool and never getting back to the surface. I found this quote online;
“It was not really alarming at first, since the change was subtle, but I did notice that my surroundings took on a different tone at certain times: the shadows of nightfall seemed more somber, my mornings were less buoyant, walks in the woods became less zestful, and there was a moment during my working hours in the late afternoon when a kind of panic and anxiety overtook me…” William Styron, Darkness Visible
I recall many times of wanting to do thing,s but this weight inside stopped me, so I never did them. Simple things, like an older teen-like meeting up with friends, I would find myself pacing around in panic. I never felt like I fitted in. They had confidence.
My concerns are that many teenage young men feel like this, as you leave your teens you fall into the bracket of the 20-49 club. Apparently the biggest killer of men is suicide in that age bracket. But why is this? Are these poor souls who feel they no longer need to live worried because they don’t live up to the man culture?
So what should we be doing about it? Well awareness is key for me. If any of my friends, in my late teens, had noticed my lows back then and gave me an opportunity to talk how I’m feeling, conversations, I feel, I would have had happier memories. It would not of been a miracle cure for my later diagnosis, but a chance to seek help earlier. I sort of made a list of my key signs of depression, in no order
- The person avoids you.
- I do this still now! You avoid or don’t reply to texts or calls because you feel a burden on them or you may cause offence some how.
- The person looks a mess.
- If you notice a change in someone’s appearance eg they appear to have not washed or shaved, lost weight or gained
- The person becomes reclusive.
- They never want to come out, sleeping more, saying they are tired.
- The person talks about a change.
- Talking about moving on, not happy with work or house, negative on everything in there life.
- The person is emotional
- I found the smallest things make me upset, feeling constantly emotional is another thing.
There are many more, but that’s just a few!
So how has being a man with a mental illness made me not a man? Well it hasn’t I think. We all need a little encouragement, so if you're a man but not feel a man because of your diagnosis or ongoing mental health problems, then stop. You are. You're stronger than you think. You have strength to keep going. You can fix things too – yourself, daily if anything, and can you cry? Of course! It's natural. You must of heard of the saying ‘only real men cry’, that’s true as human beings. We have emotions. The men around that say they have never cried are, well, liars.
The thing we all need to remember is we are not alone. There are many support groups on various social media sites or through charities that you can make friends with and share feelings with each other. Try talking to a close friend; a good friend will listen, a bad friend won't. Try and remove negative people, it's hard to do, but in the long run, you'll feel better, trust me. I could count my true friends list on 20% of 1 hand!
I don’t care about stigma no more. Speak out, let's get talking. If you feel or are worried that a man is not himself, talk to him.... he needs it!
A brilliant insight from Scott into living with bipolar disorder. I wonder how many of them you recognise? If you could add any more, what would they be? Let us know in the comments below.