It was the first time he’d felt any sense of calm in years.
Jeff was in the middle of Bulgaria on holiday with friends. The sun was beaming. Everyone sat around the table engaged in idle chit-chat about how perfect the weather is, how cheap the beer is and what they’re going to do when they get home.
“Today’s the day” he silently thought to himself as he sipped his cold beer.
Having decided to do it, the screeching voices in his head suddenly seemed bearable. He could finally see an end to the exhausting non-stop mental movie that appeared to have the painful past on repeat while simultaneously dreading the future.
It was a summer holiday with friends in 2016 just like any other holiday with friends. Except this was the holiday, he decided he wanted to die.
Jeff and I had grown up together, and he’d been ‘manning up’ his entire life.
Despite being bullied as a child, confused about his sexuality as a teenager and constant feelings of not being good enough as an adult, he kept it all in.
Men were supposed to be strong after all, right? Men aren’t supposed to cry. Feelings? What are those? Men are supposed to get on with it. He’d been ‘manning up’ his entire life, and it was exhausting.
Suicide is the #1 killer of men under 45. Over 6,000 men each year decide they’ve had enough. Of the self-inflicted deaths that happen each year in the UK, 75% of them are by men.
And the reason? It’s because we try to be “the man.” It’s because we “man up.”
As young boys, we’re told we need to be “big,” “strong” and “tough.” If we fall and graze our knee as a young boy, we’re told “you’ll be OK” and encouraged to just get on with it.
Considering it’s in those early years that our brains are forming the neurological foundation of everything to come, it’s no surprise that by the time we get to teenage years and later we’ve already built the habit of not opening up, not acknowledging how we feel and finding any other outlet other than talking.
As a society we praise men that appear to be tough. Men are encouraged to be “warriors” and “soldiers.” There are books and podcasts with the title of “man up” helping men to get on with stuff as if it’s a badge of honor to keep everything bottled up.
But I’ll have you consider this: it’s neither strong, courageous nor tough to keep everything bottled up inside.
In 2017 it takes more strength and courage to talk about your feelings as a man than it does to comply with society’s idea of being a silent and robust warrior type of man.
Keeping everything bottled up creates internal tension and stress. Stress leads to a dysfunctioning brain and addictive behaviors.
Manning up is absolutely killing you, me, and the entire nation of men brought up to believe that manliness is about appearing strong and silencing emotions by any means possible.
As a man that’s considered suicide on many occasions, I don’t blame Jeff for taking his life. For him, at that moment in time, it was a way out of the chaos.
In the end, it was his passing that forced me to learn the lesson: you either confront your inner demons or let them eat you alive one way or another.
Opening up and talking about how you’re feeling doesn’t mean men everywhere should sit around crying about how hard life is. This sharing doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get on with things. What it means is you’ll be far better off talking about what’s inside your head while simultaneously getting on with things.
Had I done this years ago Jeff might still be around.
So the next time a friend asks you how you’re feeling, resist the urge to blurt out the British pleasantry of “fine” or “alright mate.” and tell the truth for a change.
You never know, you might just save someone’s life or even your own.
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