“Just suck it up.”
May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. I had no idea until just recently. One of the goals of NMHA Month is to hopefully provide a safe space for uncomfortable conversations around mental and emotional health. The unfortunate stigmas surrounding mental health often prevent any conversations from even getting started. That silence keeps us suffering…alone. Alone with the pain and the hurt and the anxiety and isolation we may be experiencing.
That silence, at times, can even even end lives.
As a man, I was taught to keep my emotions to myself. I think most men have been told or shown the same. Expressing emotions is a sign of weakness, they’d say. “Real” men simply “suck it up” or “deal with it” or are told to “man up”. Manhood and emotions don’t mix, I was told. That generational stigma often keeps us from even admitting that we are struggling, let alone actually seek some help and guidance. That stigma is not gender specific.
That stigma needs to end.
I have a rather small number of people I consider friends. The benefit of that is I actually know them some quite well. I’ve gotten to know their stories. And not just the happy stuff. I’ve gotten to know many of their pains, their struggles, and their challenges.
There are friends currently dealing with the heaviness life sometimes forces us to carry…the anxiety, the uncertainty, the unhealed traumas, the emotional scars, the pressure, the unmet expectations, the feelings of doubt and unworthiness, of being in accepted as they are. Often hidden behind the facades of some beautiful smiles or jovial laughter.
Life teaches us many things, but learning to deal with the weight of life is something we’re forced to figure out on our own.
Often we will try and minimize the pain we feel. Others, we tell ourselves, have it much worse than we do. But our pains and hurts and traumas need never be justified. They exist. If we feel them then they are real, regardless of what else is going on in the world. If we minimize them, all we are doing is suppressing them, and the suppressed pains always find a way back to the surface eventually. They seldom simply go away by themselves.
I see Mental Health Awareness Month as a great opportunity for me to proactively begin a dialog with those closest to me. It’s an opportunity to remind me to simply check in and touch base, to simply call or text and let them know I’m thinking about them. To remind them I’m here for them, to support them. Because you just don’t know what others are going through. You just don’t know what may be weighing them down.
Maybe checking in is something we can all do for each other?
Check in with the “strong” ones. Often the “strong” ones are strong because they feel they have to be, sort of their way of attempting to rise above the weight of their pain. Check in with the “quiet” ones, the ones who’ve been less available and less accessible than usual. And those who tell you they’re “fine” are usually anything but. “I’m fine” is a way to answer the “How are you doing?” question without having to actually answer it.
And don’t forget to check in on the most important person in your life. You. How are you doing? How does your life feel? Perhaps you’re feeling overwhelmed or anxious, or simply not feeling like your usual self. Is there someone you could reach out to, a friend or colleague, and let them know how you’ve been feeling?
Struggle, at times, feels inevitable.
But there is no need to struggle alone.
Let’s take care of each other, shall we?