Breaking the Stigma
It’s hard to believe that during this exact time last year, I was in a deep depression. I was unmoved emotionally and mentally. I would spend 18 to 20 hours a day awake, tormented by my thoughts of worthlessness, doubting that my life had any greater meaning and I had constant desires to attempt suicide.
I isolated myself to the extent that I would only speak to one of my closest friends, and that was only because he would start a conversation with me. He would be my only communication in days since I isolated myself from my family and friends. I didn’t feel like talking, didn’t feel like expressing my thoughts, and didn’t want to “defend” my current emotional state.
A few years prior I was very popular amongst social circles. I was living the life; never being home, always having fun and always surrounded by people that I loved. Then the heartbreak, failure, and disappointment happened. I soon started to turn down invites to events; I didn’t want to be seen or heard from. I wanted to be alone.
At first, it started as a defense mechanism to not have to speak of my feelings in regards to how I felt during my break up. The conversations would cause an acknowledgment of the pain I caused to someone that I loved. It would serve as a remembrance of my lack of empathy, discernment, discipline, and responsibility.
That defense mechanism soon became a norm. A norm that I was not only used to, but one that I would make my home for a few years. That period of isolation became my gateway into depression since I had no one to talk to. However, I failed to realize that my decision to not speak to anyone was fueling my false belief that nobody cared.
Now, let's take a deep breath after that sentence (I need one after that truth bomb).
So many of us men (and women), make decisions that directly or indirectly fuel our false beliefs, may it be a false belief that nobody cares, nobody could ever love us or that we’re unimportant or unable to achieve greatness in life. The importance of self-awareness in times when depression is overwhelming is critical because self-awareness is the most important tool that allows us to identify reoccurring triggers and binding cycles.
This brings me to the tips in which I believe could help us men in combating depression:
Check-in with yourself: I know that when it comes to self-care, it’s a term that a lot of times is directed towards women, but it is something that we could benefit from as well. Also, when I speak of self-care, I’m not only speaking of baths and face masks. We could do that too, but I’m talking about questioning and analyzing the people, the environments and/or situations that cause you to stress and/or have anxiety.
Learn what it is that triggers you and/or influences you to gravitate into a state of depression. Be willing to confront yourself. Be honest with yourself if you’re hurt, disappointed, upset or even mad; for only when you’re honest with yourself, may you be honest with others.
Speak up: Now, you might say, “Oso, I don’t have any problems with talking. I’m very social”. To which I’ll reply, “No, sir. I’m not referring to being able to maintain a conversation, but referring to the act of being able to be transparent about your intimate feelings and thoughts.”
Men, we must do better in being transparent to ourselves in how we feel and also being honest to those who love us because they do care. Begin to ease on your pride and deconstruct the untrue ideas that men cannot feel or show emotion. Do not mistake vulnerability for weakness.
Be bold in your ability to speak up and express how you feel or the possible thoughts that torment you because a drowning man cannot be saved if he is not willing to extend out his hand.
Community: The importance of being surrounded by those that love you is something that I cannot stress enough. It is important in times when our emotions and thoughts seem to define our self-worth and shape the point of view that we have of ourselves that our loved ones' presence and encouragement help counteract it.
Answer that text, pick up that phone call and go out for that cup of coffee with a friend. The fact is we all love that feeling of being heard, being loved and being embraced, so allow your tribe to be there for you.
Tips for allies: Don’t get tired and stay with us. I’ll tell you guys a story. I once lived in a dorm with a few guys as a part of an internship. During the internship, an alumnus arrived and moved in with us. Once we became acquainted, we’d engage in small talk, but we didn’t really become that close. A few weeks in, I guess he noticed that I was off and he would ask me, “You good?” to which I’d reply, “Yeah.” Then he’d say, “You sure?” then I’d say, “Yeah,” to which then he’d say, “Okay,” and walk away.
That exact dynamic would happen every time he felt I wasn’t okay for the next few weeks until one day when he asked, “You sure?" I said, “No, I’m not.” And that night we had a four-hour conversation.
At times, his persistence seemed irritating, but it was also comforting because his simple act of asking let me know that he cared, and his act of walking away, let me know that he respected my space until I was ready to talk. Please, be patient.
Also, don’t feed into the false idea that men are just naturally reserved; a man who does not easily voice his emotions and/or his ideas is a man who was not provided the outlet and/or did not have an example of a vulnerable or emotionally transparent man in his time of development and may not be able to do so, because he’s never known how. Again, be patient.
In conclusion, on average, one in eight men will experience depression at some stage of their lives. Trying to go it alone when you’re feeling down increases the risk of depression going unrecognized and untreated. Remember to not bottle it up inside, check-in with yourself, speak up and reach out to your tribe.
If there’s anyone who feels that they're more comfortable speaking to someone else other than to someone they know, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available.
Call the toll-free, 24-hour hotline of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255); TTY: 1-800-799-4TTY (1-800-799-4889).
Photo Credit: Ian Espinosa