In my lifelong battle with anxiety and depression, I have learned a lot about myself as a person and as a man.
Unfortunately, a great deal of what I learned wasn’t always positive. I allowed this disease to control almost every aspect of my existence from my love life to my career. There truly isn’t any part of my being that has not been impacted in some way by it.
Those of us who deal with the dark cloud that is depression have found ways to hide and mask the symptoms. No matter what the issue or conflict was, I could always find ways to justify in my mind how it was never my fault or my depression but always someone else and their demons. Never being able to accept responsibility was a big problem for me and my relationships. Being unable to show any more signs of weakness beyond what I already felt I couldn’t control, led me further down a path of desperation.
One hurdle was my personal view of masculinity and what I believed it meant to be a man. In my mind, there should have never been a time when a man showed any type of vulnerability. There was never supposed to be a time when freely expressing emotions were normal or common for a man. This, for me, was more than just cultural it was a defense mechanism. The depression and anxiety only amplified my need to protect myself from letting people in and potentially discovering and exploiting any of my weakness.
It truly all came down to this twisted sense of masculinity and how I viewed my place in even the smallest relationships or interactions. Most of the time I never even realized it was happening, mainly because I was able to justify all of my thoughts and lay blame at the feet of others. I developed in my brain, an ability to completely overlook or justify my faults.
My masculinity was under constant assault, not by any outside forces but within my head. Depression was, and to some extent still does, draw my manhood into question. It’s only recently that I even began to recognize some of the ways I was negatively impacted.
It amplified my prejudices– I wanted to be known as a man’s man, at least, that is the role I tried to portray. Knowing within myself that something wasn’t right made me focus more on other people’s perceived defects. Things like homophobia and sexism seemed to manifest themselves on an all too regular basis. In short, if there was something wrong with me, then there was something wrong with everyone else. The tendency to attack others because I couldn’t fix my issues seemed to grow daily. Looking back, I see now how utterly ridiculous that was, and how wrong I was on most subjects. It was a major tool at the time, and it was one of the main ways I used to mask what was going on internally.
It magnified my low self-esteem– I have had a lot of successes in my life, at least, about the things I have attempted. I have built a decent career; I have a beautiful happy family and a lovely home. None of that mattered when I was untreated, to me nothing was ever good enough. I could never go high enough within my company; I could never provide enough for my family and material things never satisfied me. I always believed someone else could do things better than I was doing them. I always believed that no matter what I may have accomplished, I was still a failure. This was probably the most selfish position I could have taken because it was not only unfair to me but to those who believed in and depended on me.
It restricted my ability to show love– A variety of issues have held me back at times from expressing my love for those close to me. I suppose it was another fear of showing weakness, or vulnerability. The way depression would control me was simply keeping me from saying what needed to be said. I physically couldn’t make certain words come out of my mouth or express important emotions. I know I did a tremendous amount of long-term damage to a number of relationships by the sheer inability to tell people how I felt. A lot of that damage can never be repaired completely because the hurt was too great or the people are no longer in my life.
It ignited uncontrolled anger– Rage over being wronged was an emotion I absolutely could not control. Take the constant feeling of inadequacy and failure, and then top it off with a perceived disrespect and I would explode. It didn’t matter if it were my wife, my children or the poor soul who forgot to signal in traffic. My wrath would spew forth, usually in a profanity-filled tirade. I would lose control of myself and in my mind, the only way I could regain the respect I deserved was to completely denigrate whoever was responsible in my mind.
The emotions and reactions to them were never under control when I was living a life without treating my depression. That’s not to say it’s still not a daily battle, one that I still fail at with far too much regularity. The difference is now, I can more easily recognize when it’s happening and actively search for ways to diffuse myself and the situation.
While it doesn’t dismiss the behavior, it is helpful now that those I love to understand what I am battling. Simply having the support available when I am having one of those days is a tremendous aid in battling this disease. A loving and understanding partner makes all the difference to me.
I now understand masculinity while battling depression is much more than projecting strength and power. It means being able to admit weakness and vulnerability. It also means you can be wrong, and you can show emotions. The most important thing I have learned is masculinity doesn’t mean you have to overcome things on your own.
There are many things that impact our masculinity negatively; your mental health does not have to be one of them.
Photo: Flickr/ Mike Hoff