You have to calibrate a lot. Work. Family. Friends. Ambition. Learning about what’s going on in the world. Trying to improve yourself while staying grounded enough in the moment to enjoy it.
With all that on your plate, I wouldn’t be surprised if you think your feelings might feel too decadent. Like they’re a cannoli nut cake that you can only indulge in once in a blue moon so they don’t throw everything else in your life off-course.
Things look a bit different for me. I’m a woman. Expectations are less grandiose for us. If less forgiving of our individuality. I do think we’re allowed to let our ids hang out more though. It seems like such a measured task: being a man.
The first word that comes to mind is “stoic.”
Now, by “stoic” I don’t mean “no feelings.” Everyone knows men have feelings. Samurai flicks are full of feelings. Loyalty. Admiration. Hope. As a man, you’re expected to love and protect. You’re supposed to want things. Badly. And to grieve your losses.
But not for too long.
And that’s the sad thing about masculinity. You’re not supposed to linger. Longing & mulling & non-linear perceptions of time are seen as feminine traits, whether that’s true or not. Stoicism, an admirable quality for sure, means you take whatever fucked-up shit that’s happened to you and stitch it seamlessly back into your philosophy. And it has to be in a far-reaching sense. A personal one’s just not good enough.
We all want to make our pain that productive. Problem is, if you’re suffering from mental illness, any shred of objectivity you conjure up is going to go straight down the hatch.
I bet anxiety is hard for you. A man’s expected to have a plan. But anxious people can get so scared of the worst-case scenario that they can’t act on anything at all. Anxiety is fear of the unknown. How are you supposed to feel competent while dealing with that?
Bipolar disorder is terrifying. You might have a time-tested way of processing stress if you’re a guy. That control probably gives you some ease. But during an episode you’re so caught up in one all-encompassing emotion that any systems you have for dealing with it become void. It’s a complete loss of control.
If you’re a guy with a personality disorder, you’re bad. BAD. If you were a woman, people would be asking what happened to you. Not that that’s any better. One of the best ways to strip someone of their emotional autonomy is to demand that everything they are is the result of some man done them wrong fifteen years ago. But still. If you’re a man, you’re an asshole. If you’re a woman you’re a victim. We need more highbrow ways of looking at people’s problems than that.
Autism’s my specialty. I’m a spaz chick. But we all know this is a male disease. Not completely, mind you. I do think there’s more women like us than we realize. But since us girls get obsessed with more conventional topics & are more likely to show our feelings we often get diagnosed with something else. And that 4-or-5-men-to-every-woman statistic can’t be encouraging.
Aspie guys: I’m jealous that you throw yourselves so completely into your intellectual pursuits. And you’re jealous that I can get laid. It doesn’t have to be that way though. I know enough guys on the spectrum who get girlfriends. Sometimes the girls are autistic. Sometimes not.
I’m sure it’s hard not to be bitter. But keep it inside. In my experience, men aren’t actually more forgiving of partners with autism anyway. Aspie women just pass the first hurdle more easily.
Also, the inner monologue. Please keep it to yourself. (That’s for you, CB.)
I read somewhere in the darker corners of the Internet that being a man means being in control of your own destiny. But you’re not. And that goes for all of us. We’ve all got genetics, upbringing, and all those embarrassing little pathologies we take on & can’t shake off to contend with. Why do some people have more willpower than others? The world may never know.
I think that’s something women understand better than men. We let things take their course. Granted, we should probably be hacking through fate a little more to catch up with you in the workplace. But maybe you need to allow yourself some ease.
Mental illness is one of the worst things in the world for your resolve. But it’s okay to talk about. You can wallow in it for a while if you need to. It’s okay if you’re slower at life than you thought you’d be. I know so many men feel unworthy of a relationship if they’re not earning a decent living. Which isn’t true.
If you’re a man with mental illness, you probably don’t talk about it much. If at all. It’s a good thing you’ve got the Internet. You’re no John Wayne to the NSA. Obviously you know that you’re not the only man feeling this way, but you can’t let yourself absorb that fact. It might seem like women are leading the conversation. But the rates of mental illness are the same.
Shit, just the other day a male friend confided in me that he’s bipolar. I almost laughed, honestly. I’ve been a mental health writer for a couple of years now. And I’ve been hanging out with neurotic dudes for over a decade. His dark awful secret is a pretty routine thing for me.
There’s no reason for shame, seriously. You can help people like my friend. I bet a lot of guys you know are just waiting for a guy they know to start talking about it. The more people talk about mental illness, the more it’s seen as a thing that you can cope with instead of a personal failing.
You’re not alone.
Oh, and if you liked this piece you can check out another piece I wrote at Thought Catalog last year called 11 Things I’ve Learned About Men. It’s still one of the essays I’m most proud of.
*Image from nogreaterjoy.org