Many years ago I was called into the office one Friday towards the end of November. I was a youth worker at the time, and had just won funding to set up and run a young fathers project as I’d been astounded at the lack of support for young dads at the point I’d become one myself. I thought it was an organisation-wide meeting to both celebrate that news and to assign various work across our teams.
It wasn’t. It was worse than I could have imagined.
Turns out that, with no more than that meeting’s notice, we were all out of work as the charity was closing down. We’d effectively gone bust, and the trustees had decided to cease operations with immediate effect. I was out of work for the first time in my life with no payment for November, no savings, no alternative income, maxed out credit cards before Christmas and with a newborn child and a partner dependent upon my income. In short, I was screwed.
We made do somehow thanks to the kindness of our landlord, me doing whatever jobs I could do to scrape together cash for food and some payment holidays until I could find a new job and we could get back on our feet somewhat.
Many months later my then-partner casually dropped into conversation that the shares she owned had gone up a little in value. Shares I knew nothing about. Shares we could have cashed in to get us through a horrific time period. Shares she told me she was instead saving for a rainy day, even though I thought it had been pissing down upon my head as I fought and scraped to put food on the table.
This story came back to me recently as I was struggling with something. Recently it was Mental Health Awareness Week, a time for us all to be reminded to be kind both to each others and to ourselves. Kindness has been a byword for mental health this year in particular, and the self-care aspect has become especially prominent during lockdown as we’ve all faced life through a lens most of us have barely even begun to imagine until now.
The reason it came back to me is that men are idiots. No, stop denying it and hear me out. We are. In so many ways we are amazing creatures, but within every man you know, ever have known and ever will know is an idiot hidden by varying numbers of layers and thicknesses of confidence and competence, like a Russian doll of sometimes decreasing idiocy. And never is this more true than when it comes to mental health and getting support.
For those who are in loving relationships this support is on offer. Men have people to speak with; even if they don’t do so, they at least usually know that they can. For those of us who are single, however, it’s far more difficult. We are alone with our thoughts and our emotions 24/7, with little outlet to share our travails or triumphs. Just the voices that we don’t realise have been whispering in our ears all day, all week, all month, all year, until all we can hear are whisperings of failure and isolation and loneliness.
We may have friends, we may have family, we may have work and we may have children to speak with. Many of those closest to us often reach out to offer that very support, checking in on us and reaching out just to touch base. If anything, lockdown has made more people conscious of the need to do this than ever before, with video calls, remote beers and brief chats part of everyday life in a way that was unimaginable mere months ago.
Yet men are still idiots. Like having money in the bank in case of a rainy day while the heavens are truly opening above us, we tell ourselves not to tap into the support on offer to us because we may need it even more in the future. As if there’s only a finite amount of support to be drawn down, as if us feeling shitty now and needing nothing more than a vent means that when something else crops up down the line our friends and family will merely look at the clock and remind us that we used up our annual quota last month before turning away from us.
Or we’re idiots who believe that they’ve got their own shit to deal with so don’t need us taking their time up with our own down times. We put ourselves out there to support others, and in doing so feel as we have to be the strong ones who has to be seen to have our shit together 24/7, 365. If others see us as weak, or needy, or prone to sadness after all then they won’t see us as able to help them out and we’ll have taken away the support we know they need so much.
So, like idiots, we shut up. We clam up. We save our “support credits” for a rainier rainy day that may never come, never realising or accepting that in doing so we’re somehow making the rain both more likely and heavier. We’re doing our own mental health rain dance, and unlike the real things which rely a hell of a lot on good timing to provide the desired outcome, our mental health rain dance is guaranteed to increase precipitation. Do it for too long and you might just drown.
Being single is tough at the best of times. Being single during the pandemic even more so. Seeing so few people is tough. Matching with people on apps or through virtual events and chatting knowing that you will likely never, ever meet, or that even if you do it won’t be for weeks, months or years; that’s tough in a way that those who aren’t single or aren’t looking for love will not be able to grasp the depths of pain, sadness and loneliness caused. It’s shitty; there’s no other way to say it. It’s shitty, with no end to the shit-spreading in sight.
If you’re a man reading this, please, please, please stop being an idiot. Stop hiding your emotions away or hiding them under increased working hours, drinking or other destructive behaviours. Stop thinking that you venting to those who love you will make you any less of a man in their eyes or your own. Stop thinking that you need to stay strong all the time. Stop thinking that they’ll just give you advice (because that’s what men do after all when faced with most problems), which means there must be a simple fix that you’ve not spotted because you must be an actual idiot.
You’re not an idiot. Your friends and family love you, and won’t just think of you as “that guy who’s always moaning about not having a girlfriend”. They won’t tell you they’ve had enough of your negativity. If they do then, and I hate to say it, they’re probably not the people you need in your life.
If they do there are always, always people out there to listen to you get stuff off your chest. There are a huge range of organisations who are out there and desperate to offer confidential support day or night. Call them, email them, tweet them. And even though I’m in no way a qualified medical practitioner I’m always there to listen too.
Cash in those shares now, while it’s raining. You’ll be surprised at how quickly it can help the storm clouds clear.