An open-letter from the 'master deflector'
I've never really been comfortable sharing much about myself. I've written plenty of pieces about mental health and other people's mental health but never my own.
I turned 22 last April, and for pretty much 22 years of my life I have been protective about anything and everything in my inner life, I became a master of deflecting questions about myself and especially about my own mental health or feelings. I was comfortable talking about other people's lives and hardships but never my own!
Looking back now I could have really benefited from having someone to talk to and even though so many people cared and were willing to listen, I wasn't open to sharing. Not a word was said to my family, my best friends and definitely not in public which is extremely hypocritical of me because I am such a strong advocate of men's mental health. The last while I've been thinking about how this needs to change and I want to share some of my thoughts.
I know from experience. Growing up, you figure out really quickly how a boy is supposed to act. You learn what it takes to "be a man" It's like a playbook on life: be strong, don't talk about your feelings, get through it on your own. So for 22 years I've been following those unwritten rules. Look I'm probably not telling you anything new here. these values about men and toughness are so "ordinary" that they surround you, completely invisible but still surrounds us like air or water (a lot like depression or anxiety in that way)
It's soooooo easy to feel weak when you speak about your own mental health. Suicidal ideation was a daily occurrence for me until very recently. I've without a doubt had the worst year of my life until now! Every day I'd wake up thinking is today the day! The last thing I wanted to do when I was feeling like this was spoken up about it and I definitely didn't want girls to view me as weak. Recently I've been speaking out a tiny bit more each day to lads I feel comfortable around, I grab a cup of coffee or a big bag of cans and just say "I need to talk" or sometimes just blurt things out. Even though that courage is building up inside me I know I don't have it in me to speak up in front of a woman, that fundamental value is still telling me I can't do it, I don't want them to view me as weak or less of a man. But I honestly don't give a shit what the lads think because at the end of the day after all these difficult chats are had we'll be "grand" and finally get to finish the bag or cans and litre of Lidl whiskey. (cringe warning) right now I've managed to find myself an incredible girl that I'm not afraid to be myself and talk about my feelings with, she knows everything about me and I'd like to think that goes both ways. I trust her! And without slowly building up my trust with the lads and slowly letting out to them how I've been feeling I don't think I would have been able to let myself fall for this girl.
It doesn't matter what you do for a living, who you are, where you're from. We're all carrying around things that hurt, and they can hurt us more and more if we keep them buried inside. Not talking about our inner lives robs us of getting to know ourselves and robs us of the chance to reach out to others in need. So if you're reading this and having a hard time. No matter how big or small it seems to you, I want to remind you that you're not weird, weak, or different for sharing what you're going through. Just the opposite It could be the most important thing you do. IT WAS FOR ME.
All the best,