“Each man has his own sorrows which the world knows not; and often we call a man cold when he is only sad.”
-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
For the last 21 years of my life, I have received advice in all its different forms, by different people, and at different occasions. They often came as a response to something I had done or said that did not please. Some sentences were constructive and helped me work on myself in order to become a better version of myself. And while some others were neutral though irrelevant to the situation. a good number were negative and created a sensation of additional weight on my shoulders.
The most shocking thing I was ever told, was “to man up”. It was helpful at times, but it could also be the most devastating thing I could hear.
I have heard different definitions and explanations about what it means to “man up”, based on the different situations I was in and the different perceptions other people had of that situation. From a general standpoint, telling someone to man up can actually be a boost, a way to encourage someone to get back up and fight for what they want. In this situation, to man up can actually be an encouragement, a reminder of strength in order to get through certain difficulties. In general, this would work in moments of physical weakness.
“There is one rule, above all others, for being a man: whatever comes, face it on your feet.”
For the last 21 years of my life, being a man seemed to revolve around the concept of strength irrespective of the situation at hand. Growing up, children are surrounded with fictional images of men who were generally defined and characterized by their strength, stamina and ability to endure pain on a large scale. For example, Atlas had to carry the weight of the world for eternity. Hercules went to the underworld and back in order to save someone. Frodo Baggins had to carry a heavy burden in order to stop an apocalypse. Robin Hood gave up his life in order to bring justice to others.
Even in real life, the history of mankind is full of people who have the same characteristics as well. For example, Desmond Doss constantly risked his life during a battle in World War 2 attending the wounded, despite having been shot twice on the first day. Carles Puyol once collided with the goal post in order to save his team from defeat. Maximilian Kolbe swapped places with a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp, which eventually led to his death.
“Being a man is not measured by the number of packs on your body but rather, the number of responsibilities on your shoulders.”
A man has often been characterized by his courage, commitment, strength in times of adversity. All of those are needed when faced with physical challenges in order to keep on moving forward when it feels that the body is giving way.
However, one question remains: how is one expected to “man up” when faced with mental problems?
This reminded me of the latest song released by Rudimental and Elderbrook, called Something About You. The video clip shows a group of men dancing together during a suicide prevention group meeting. The facial expressions, along with the lyrics, strongly send an important message on the relationship a man holds with suicidal and depressive thoughts. When something goes wrong or that a man fails at his responsibilities, the most common reaction is self-blaming and thinking less of oneself.
Men are not machines, but people; therefore, they also have feelings, weaknesses, and are constantly faced with their own fears and challenges. Men too are targeted by mental illness. It is wrong to think that a man is someone who does not cry, who is not entitled to feel weak, who should never share his emotions because all those things make “him less of a man”. When faced with tragic loss and grief, men are personally told to always be strong for others, that crying is not an option because men do not cry. The problem with this attitude is that the emotions start to bottle inside, until finally the pain can no longer be contained. The end result is seeing someone going through an emotional meltdown, a nervous breakdown and losing control of their life.
These things should not be seen as social taboos.
Listening and being there for others instead of telling them what to do is the strongest and most comforting remedy for any person, regardless of gender. If we use that mentality, men like Chester Bennington and Robin Williams who have respectively taken music and acting to a whole new level would have still been here, inspiring us more every day.
Opening up is hard and very challenging since nobody likes to be seen as vulnerable, but once it is done, a huge burden is lifted from our shoulders. This is what happened in the famous “It’s not your fault” scene in the movie Good Will Hunting, when Matt Damon finally allows himself to break and be vulnerable in front of Robin Williams, allowing the healing to start.
Men are not perfect. They are filled with flaws
Men are not superheroes. They fall down and bleed, and sometimes cannot get back up.
Men are not soulless. They are entitled to emotions and mental illness, such as anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts.
If you are going through pain, anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, loss, grief, despair, hopelessness, I want you to remember this:
“It’s NOT your fault. Even the captain, who usually cheers up the people around him, needs someone else to cheer him up.”