I was at a family get together of a close friend some speak time ago that featured a conversation that left several of us uncomfortable for what was said by one of their number. There was nothing aggressive said, nobody was attacked, other than one family member in question. Their attitude to their own life left us with nothing to say. They were vocal, and it was clear we were all stumped.
They simply said it was none of anyone else’s business how long they lived and how they died.
Their immediate family was present
They heard it said. In their demeanour, they accepted that they couldn’t change the attitude presented. I’m not sure what each individual thought, but I was thinking, ‘Don’t these people mean enough to you for you to not harm yourself?’ Even if I’d vocalised it I doubt it would have made any impact. And how can you say something like that without saying, ‘You’re selfish!’ So desperately sad!
We’ve all faced such moments, lost for any hope within us to share, and certainly as a counsellor I’ve had more than my share. But I left that occasion feeling surely there was something more I could have said or done.
Many men seem to be resistant to talking through their problems. Perhaps most. And certainly, those who might venture into self-harm, and euthanasia – if it is legalised – are disproportionately featured.
In some men there is an impenetrable veneer where a fraction of an inch below their exterior lurks dangerous thoughts that coalesce with a stubborn and perhaps fearful heart. No matter how much we say, ‘Are you okay?’ there is an iron curtain raised – ‘Yep, I’m fine… I’ll let you know if I’m not… ‘
It’s particularly disturbing when we know there are issues but the man there before us fears feeling weak. All men can relate.
Many men fear feeling weak.
Ironically, it’s when we’re honest about feeling weak that we begin to feel stronger.
He might be saying to himself, ‘I feel like a sissy,’ or he is probably patently aware that he’s hardly ever (if ever) had the kind of conversation that involves vulnerability. He’s probably had more conversations of the nature of, ‘harden up’ or ‘Here, have a cup of concrete with your whining.’ None of that is ever helpful, even if it does pretend to be funny (which it is not!). Perhaps he’s thinking it’s not bad enough yet. The problem with that is how bad does it need to get? When it’s too late? Maybe he feels he has to be the strength of the family.
But… we are all frailer than any of us realise.
Anyone who has fallen into serious depression knows this. Many people who have never had mental health issues simply have no idea, even if they have witnessed a family member inconsolably lost in fragmented identity. It is incredibly stark, the difference between the mentally ill person and the family member trying to help. One is frustrated by an incapacity to help themselves or receive help, the other is frustrated by an incapacity to help their loved one when they would give anything if they just knew what.
What can we do?
Well, we can raise awareness and be part of ‘being the change’ we seek to see in our world. We can be social media warriors and share posts like this one, and anything that connects men not talking with trusted others when they could and should. We can begin praying for the men we know, especially brothers, sons, fathers, uncles, cousins and friends. You know, the funny thing about prayer is the more we pray the more God works in our subconscious mind to generate creative ideas for action. Pray and we become activated advocates.
For those who are tempted into self-harm, the lives of all they love depends on them. Act on the temptation and soon multiple lives plummet into an abyss of grief that has no return to what was.
Yet there are many who cannot and will not help themselves.
It doesn’t mean we ought to accept defeat. Care comes in many forms.
But we also have to accept we’re doing and have done our best.
We need to start the process of education earlier in boy’s and girl’s lives. Young lives need to be exposed to vagaries of the mind and be taught that these whims of self-destruction can germinate in any of us anytime, but also be taught the essentials beyond such wisdom, like mental self-awareness and the power of safe identity.
If men, or women for that matter, will only speak up, they will feel better. Even if mental health does not markedly improve, there is a companionship on offer to those who will open up and remain open.