This article was originally published on Medium and shared with the author’s permission. Please note that this blog contains strong language. We ask that you use your own discretion.
Thank you for your note. I am so grateful for your vulnerability and your beauty. Although I am not the most qualified person to talk about the issue of being a man with mental illness, I have been there and I have insights from my own journey that I think may help.
Before we start, know this. You are a more of man than most. You have more strength than you know. Lean into your fear. Be authentically who you are. Be a lover. A fighter.
And most importantly, speak up for what you believe in. Together we can stop the rise of suffering amongst our fellow men. Together we can start a movement of ambitious men who care deeply about meaning. Together we can be a light in the darkness.
There I was, kneeling on the subway platform, frightened by what had just happened. After trying to bottle up my anxiety and depression from the world for so long, I finally exploded. I thought my life was going to end that day…
I tell you this to say: I have been there. I am a man who has struggled deeply with depression and anxiety. I was so embarrassed that I could not even tell my fiancée or my friends, for the fear of being viewed as less manly. So, I kept the darkness deep inside. And as you now fear, I too thought that I was now less of a man. That I was weak.
There were months upon months of chronic anxiety. Fearing that every step I took or every word I spoke would be the straw that broke the camel’s back. I felt like a firework waiting to explode. I had so much pent up tension and stress but nowhere to release it.
Then came the guilt and depression as I watched the woman I loved cry because she could not help me. Cry because she did not know what had happened to her man. Her man that used to be the life of the party. Her man that was once filled with joy and laughter was now filled with fear and resentment.
She would be better off without me, I thought to myself. I am not the man she needs. I am weak. I can not even control my mind and thoughts. How can I ever be man enough to take care of her?
I kept beating myself up, day after day, until our relationship started to rip at the seams. I was so tired of hiding my emotions from her. From the world. There was a monster inside of me, and it took every ounce of energy I had to keep it caged up. I had no energy to take her to a dinner. Or watch a movie. Or even be the strong man that she needed.
I was going through a life or death battle, every single moment of the day.
I thought I was no man…
So, instead of leaning into my illness and opening up, I decided it would be better to play along with the demons and drink the pain away. Everyone was doing the same thing, I told myself. And besides, if I ever told my male friends or colleagues what was going on inside of me, they would assume I was weak, unable to be “mentally tough.”
No, it’s better this way. I will hide it. I can do this. Suck it up.
A year and a half went by in a fog before my depression and anxiety finally came to its crescendo, it’s apex.
On a Chicago City subway platform, I had a visceral feeling that my anxiety was once and for all going to finally shatter me into a million pieces on the front of the subway car. I couldn’t breathe. The world came to a stop as my mind began racing in a million different directions.
Fear. Confusion. Death. Suicide.
All of my worst fears culminated into a single wave of the fiercest panic I had ever imagined. I finally and completely broke down. As I knelt on that damn subway platform and started my descent from high tension to low depression, my life came into hyper-clarity. I began asking myself some deeper questions.
Why am I here? Do I matter? Why is this happening to me?
After months of fog, I had clarity. No answers. But for the first time in a long time, I was asking better questions.
I started talking to myself out loud. At this point, I no longer cared what others thought. I had come to the edge of life; I turned back, and I decided to go on.
Ben, your life does FUCKING matter. You do have a purpose on this earth. You are a man. No illness or sickness could keep you from being a man. Anxiety does not define who you are. You define IT.
From that day forward, I vowed to start viewing life as happening for me, rather than happening to me. I came to grips with the fact that if my fiancée and friends rejected me based on my illness, that was OK. I would find others that loved me for the scars. Luckily for me, they were more loving and caring than I could have ever imagined.
I was now ready for growth. I was willing to be a man who wore his heart on his sleeve. Sure, I may lose some friends or business opportunities along the way. Sure, some men might view me as “weak.” But that is OK too. I no longer care about appealing to the masses. I like my small circles. They are where the Big Magic happens. They are where life happens.
The road to growth is still an ongoing one, but I have moved out of the weeds, and I am heading upward. Each day brings a new battle. Each day I get a little better. Each day I try to get more grounded. Some days I fail. Some days I succeed. But no longer do I believe that this condition is terminal. I will overcome it…
…AND WILL YOU TOO.
But at the end of the day, it is up to you to own who you are. You are just as strong of a man as the next guy.
And maybe, just maybe, if you create the space to tell others about your struggles, you may notice that you start to feel even more manly than you ever have before. I believe in you, man.
I have faith in you. I believe your struggle has a deeper meaning than you have even come close to realizing yet. Tap into that source. Be the man who you are. I believe in you.