I had been manning up and powering through things for years. I thought I could live the rest of my life without having to actually face the horror of the past. I was foolish.
Cliche or no, nervous breakdowns are most often associated with women. On TV, in books, and even around town, you’ll hear the oft repeated phrase, “Oh, she had a nervous breakdown.” It’s most marked among the rich and famous like Elizabeth Taylor, Nina Simone, and Britney Spears. The phrase often conjures latter-day images of women lying on couches swallowing Valium by the bottle.
Here’s what you don’t hear about: Men and nervous breakdowns.
This is caused primarily by social conventions. Men aren’t supposed to be weak and vulnerable according to the patriarchal script. Which means if a man’s emotional life has degraded to such a state that he just gives up and stops—hard stop—that must mean he either isn’t a man and can’t handle his responsibilities, or he needs to “man up” and power through it.
I had been manning up and powering through things for years. I ignored advice to see therapists and deal with my tortured childhood that was filled with emotional and physical abuse. I just took it, day after day. When I hit 18 and was ready to start moving out into the world, I thought I could live the rest of my life without having to actually face the horror of the past or the emotionally enmeshed relationship with my parents and my absent biological father.
I was foolish.
For a while I thought I could do it. Even being expelled from the conservative Christian college my Mom required I attend (traumatic enough) was not enough to break me open and get me to look back and face the horror, the trauma, and the destructive social habits I had developed due to a traumatic and sheltered childhood.
I’m the male face of a nervous breakdown and this is how it happened.
Nervous Breakdown Day 0:
When this happened, my life was looking good. I had just inherited a modest amount of money to get my life going. Nothing to retire on, of course, but a nice sum at 21 years old to get a house going. The recession was just beginning to deepen, so it was nice after being severely broke through college to have money in my hand. I had a loving girlfriend at the time, and I had just graduated from college in two years. I was focused on grad school and keeping my freelancing business afloat.
I was also looking forward to having some fun after doing a B.A. in two years. However, as my relationship struggled to get on its feet, my life stopped. I stopped. I simply collapsed emotionally and psychologically. I was lying in bed and I couldn’t get out of it. I had no will to live, and all the latent emotions that had plagued me underneath the surface since I was 16 began to surface.
Fortunately, I could reach out for help, and I could use the phone from bed. I reached out to the only person I trusted. She gave me the name of a therapist. I made an appointment, and I went to sleep with an alarm set. The next day, I woke up, put on some clothes, got in my car and drove to her office. I was scared, intimidated, and I didn’t know where else to turn, but it was all that I could do.
My first session discussed the particulars of my care. She was pleasant and became the best therapist I ever had, but the situation was sterile and foreign. I couldn’t handle myself. The first day we talked for two hours. We talked about everything including my use of drugs as self-medication (a concept at the time I didn’t understand) and my past trauma.
I visited her every day for the remainder of the week. By the end, she had exquisitely helped make me functional so I could finish moving and win back the love of my long-suffering girlfriend at the time. We started to meet each week, and like an onion I started to peel back the layers. I finally decided to quit therapeutic treatment in 2012 and pursue other methods of self-actualization including tuning fork healing (very powerful for me) and my spiritual path.
What I Learned and Why It Matters
Anyone can be stopped at any time by their own psychological break. Having a breakdown where your body and your mind won’t let you function happens. The important part is actually dealing with it and not descending into a substance-fueled journey down a dark pathway. I’m not saying I didn’t do plenty of self-medication in the years following, because I did. And therapy was no magic fix for me either. This article has two points and they are as follows:
1) Women don’t have the market cornered on psychological issues. Nothing human can be removed from us.
2) Deal with your actual issues and trauma. It’s more manly to seek professional counsel than to put the people closest to you at risk by nursing your hurt with a bottle, a line, or a pipe.
Don’t “man-up,” and don’t bury your feelings.
They are your feelings.
They belong to you.
They are valid.
Male feelings are invalided just because they come from a man. Imagine how much better the world would be if more men, regardless of how they conduct the rest of their lives, actually opened up about their feelings a little more, even if just to their friends? There are plenty of articles here at The Good Men Project about this subject, but I would like to give it a human face, a very human face.
Mental breakdowns aren’t just the purview of the weak or effeminate. I’m a strong person. People consider me to be emotionally stable and often come to me with their problems. Just because you’re strong doesn’t mean that you can’t be the victim of your own psychology and you know what the best part is? That’s totally and completely ok. Give yourself permission to break down so you can build back up. I’ll lead the way through the dark valley. Care to follow?
Image credit: LAZUR tomek pietek/flickr