The amount of daily stress men are under makes Irritable Male Syndrome a very real condition.
I remember the movie, Network, and the fictional T.V. anchorman Howard Beale when he loses it on camera and shouts,
“I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”
Many of us remember him as a guy who went off the rails and “lost it.” But we forget what he was so crazy mad about. Here’s some of what he said leading up to his diatribe:
“I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It’s a depression. Everybody’s out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel’s worth, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there’s nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there’s no end to it.
We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TV’s while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be. We know things are bad – worse than bad. They’re crazy. It’s like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don’t go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, ‘Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms.’
Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won’t say anything. Just leave us alone.’ Well, I’m not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get mad! I don’t want you to protest. I don’t want you to riot – I don’t want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn’t know what to tell you to write. I don’t know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you’ve got to get mad. You’ve got to say, ‘I’m a HUMAN BEING, God damn it! My life has VALUE!’ So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, ‘I’M MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!’”
The film, written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Sidney Lumet, stared Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter Finch, and Robert Duvall, came out in 1976. I believe it is even more relevant today. In 2004, I wrote a book, The Irritable Male Syndrome: Understanding and Managing the 4 Key Causes of Depression and Aggression. In the book I describe the unique ways men experience depression, bipolar disorder, and increasing stress. I focused both on the personal, interpersonal, and social pressures that lead men to become irritable, angry and depressed. I believe that the issues I raised in the book are as important today as they were ten years ago.
At the time I wrote Irritable Male Syndrome there were lots of jokes about irritable men, but very little understanding of what was going on.
Q: What do you call a man who is always tired, miserable and irritable?
Q: How can you tell if a man has irritable male syndrome?
A: You ask him to pass the salt and he yells: “Take, take, take—that’s all you ever do!”
These little zingers which appeared in the London Daily Mirror illustrate some important aspects of what many men, and those who must live with them, are experiencing these days. First it seems that stress has become a normal part of modern life and more and more men are taking our frustrations out on those closest to us. Second, men’s irritability, blame, and anger seem excessive and more explosive. You ask an innocent question and he jumps down your throat. What’s going on here?
If we fail to recognize the large stresses that are going on in the world that impact our lives, men’s irritability and anger seems excessive. But when we see how the personal stresses and the larger stresses of society interact, they become much more meaningful, understandable, and treatable. They tell us that if we’re going to help individual men and their families to deal with IMS, we first have to take what men are saying seriously.
There was a time when we laughed at and ridiculed women who said they had emotional changes associated with hormonal fluctuations. Most now accept that PMS is real and can be treated. Columnist Liz Langley writing for the Orlando Weekly feels this same understanding will soon be extended to men.
“Just as men have had to concede that there’s a real, scientific reason for our moody silences and sharp behavior and it’s PMS, not RBS (raving bitch syndrome), we might be able to take comfort in the fact that they have to confront this crap, too. It might just be IMS rather than IBS (insensitive butt-hole syndrome) that makes them as dumbfounding as they can be.”
It’s time we recognized the Irritable Male Syndrome is real. Men’s irritability and anger are telling us something important about the stresses individual men are experiencing. IMS is also telling us something about the state of our world. We need to address the symptoms both at an individual/interpersonal level as well as a social/cultural level.
What we do to the Earth we do to ourselves. In order to heal ourselves we must heal our relationship to the Earth and to heal the Earth we must recognize that men experiencing IMS are the “canaries in the coal mine” alerting us to the dangers that face us all. Women are impacted by these larger social changes, but men have a special role to play in the healing. Our anger and aggression can be directed at waking people up and engaging them in action. We’ve all got a little Howard Beale in us who is “mad as well and refuses to take it anymore.”