31U: Ben

three questions. one of you.

Periodically, I will be asking a friend three questions about his or her experience with mental illness. This person might be a guy who deals with mental illness or someone (like my wife) who is a supporter. Over time, the 31U series will show how men of all sorts, with all backgrounds, and of all personalities can be inflicted in a variety of ways and how loved ones can better understand and support them. The hope is that this series will serve as a reminder for those in darkness that we are not alone in this fight and that it will be a resource for supporters.

So without further ado, meet Ben. He is currently finishing a doctoral program in psychology before moving on to a job outside of Seattle as a school psychologist. He digs music, reading, writing, watching TV and movies, and always using an Oxford comma. Here’s what he has to say:

1. When did you first realize that you dealt with mental illness?

I started realizing I had a problem in high school. I’d always had extremely low self-esteem and self-confidence. I’d had serious social anxiety and was engaging in some self-harm behaviors, but hadn’t really ever realized there was a word for what I was experiencing. I didn’t know that what I was feeling was called depression. Part of the problem was that I was a successful, bright student who was pretty widely-liked, so I wasn’t on anyone’s radar. Other people liked me, and I was good at most things, but I never thought I was good enough and hated myself. I felt numb. That’s one thing I think is important for people to know- being depressed isn’t just being sad. For me, a lot of time, it’s feeling nothing at all.

2. What are some challenges particularly for men with mental illness?

Because so much of mental health is associated with emotions, it has a stigma as being a women’s issue. Our culture has created ideas of masculinity and femininity as dichotomous. We paint femininity as emotional and frail, and therefore masculinity must be emotionless and hard. So when guys have emotions, they tend to suppress them or only allow the ones typically associated with our cultural masculinity to be observed, namely anger. As a result of this suppression, when they do let them out, they tend to be severe in expression. Men are actually at higher risk for completing suicide because they typically use more aggressive methods for doing so. Because we are culturally expected to ignore or not express our emotions, many don’t develop the skills for expressing and regulating their emotions in a healthy manner.

3. What advice would you give to other men regarding mental illness?

Seeking help for mental illness is one of the strongest things a person can do. It takes courage to admit you’ve got more than you can handle. Humility is an admirable trait. Emotions are important and owning them and knowing them is empowering. It makes you a better person, it makes you a better friend, it makes you a better boyfriend, husband, father. The machismo that some people see as a male ideal is really a weakness; it’s characterized by being out of control. Someone says something that makes me angry so I yell or I punch someone. That’s immature and weak. Real strength is being able to know yourself, to control yourself, to understand the consequences of your actions for both yourself and others, to put the well-being of others first. Also understanding that there’s a biological basis for mental health; it’s much like any other illness. You wouldn’t think yourself weak for getting the flu; why would you think yourself weak for having a neurotransmitter dysfunction?

Want to thank Ben for sharing a slice of his story? Tweet me @DaddingDepressd or comment below and I’ll pass it along! 

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