HuffPost UK is running a month-long focus around masculinity in the 21st Century, and the pressures men face around identity. To address some of the issues at hand, Building Modern Men presents a snapshot of life for men, from bringing up young boys to the importance of mentors, the challenges between speaking out and 'manning up' as well as a look at male violence, body image, LGBT identity, lad culture, sports, male friendship and mental illness.
Being a man. What does it all mean? Well, as a starter for ten, it shouldn't really mean anything. Well, other than having a couple of private parts a woman doesn't have, being a man shouldn't be any different from being a woman.
The rise of feminism (more specifically, the appreciation from both sexes - although certainly not either in their entirety - that equality is important), now as much as ever, has led to some men (I would stop at calling them stupid, but agree to call them ill-educated) misunderstanding the issues that women face in their lives, but also the issues that men face in theirs.
Women battle misrepresentation in the workplace, in high-level positions in politics or business, and are perhaps lower paid then men. But happily some progress has been made: Women, at one time, were expected to "get in that kitchen", whereas now it is generally accepted that a woman can be career focussed.
Well done to women for demanding change. Men, like women, need to own their own problems. They need to be the drivers of their own change. They need to talk.
Male suicide, depression, anxiety and mental health in society are subjects that are sorely, sorely under discussed. For full disclosure, I am a man. Parking the jokes about my inability to down pints, "pull birds" or weld, I still have the genitalia that proves once and for all that I lay my hat fully in the 'male' bracket. Also for full disclosure, I have suffered from depression, anxiety and once at least, a panic attack. This panic attack was in a Post Office in Skelmersdale. Turns out it's actually pretty hard to pay for recorded delivery when you're having a panic attack. I'm the evidence.
Anyway, I digress. I'm writing today because I feel the need to ask, nay, implore, males to stand up and talk about things. Not normal things, like how poor the weather is or whether you saw the latest, incredibly crap, LADbible video. Things like emotions. Things like how something has happened in your life and it hurt. Talking about how, actually, nothing of note has happened in your life, yet something still hurts. Depression approaches us like a bunch of emotions are squatting in our brain. It's arrived in our mind, and it's moved in with all its things. It's brought fear with it. Paranoia mightn't be too far behind. Unhappiness has been there from the start. It won't tell us its coming to take over. It doesn't leave a sign. Your brain won't offer you a signal stating that "erm, excuse me, but all isn't too well here at the moment" - it just appears. Silently.
Being a man isn't about being strong. Some men are strong. Mentally, some men can eventually cope with things that are thrown their way. Loads can. And that's great. I'm glad they can. Yet others can't. I'm fortunate enough that I've never wanted to take any serious action against myself, and I'm also lucky that I have only suffered infrequently and for over a year now I have been free of depression and for that I'm glad. For that I am a lucky man.
Being a man in society, it feels like you mustn't talk about emotions. Well I say fuck that. You're a human. You can do what you want (if legally correct...) You don't need to conform to the cake-cutter world that says men build things and women cook things. Men eat steak and women have salad. You don't need to be sad and quiet. Be sad and be loud. Be unhappy and be in a doctors' clinic demanding professional help. I don't know how, but I demanded it. I found strength in myself and didn't let anyone tell me that "you'll probably just be fine, you know?" Find someone who will listen.
Having been through some really shit times, I know who I can rely on when I am low. At first they were people who I never would have considered. But now I know I can lean on them whenever I need to. I know I'm lucky in this respect, and that actually there were times that all I wanted to do was beat myself up. I spent a lot of time alone. It felt like what I wanted to do, but I only made things worse, my life worse. The only thing that helped was opening up.
I'm not here to tell. I'm not here to preach and I'm not here to be gospel. But I hope that someone that reads this realises that opening up will always help. It allows you to be yourself more. It's OK to be having a completely crap time. Say it though. Say it out loud. Speak to anyone. Call the CALM helpline. Speak to your boss, or your mate. Speak to your family, friends, anyone. I am evidence that speaking helps.
I want you to get better. If you're reading this and you don't feel good, pick up a phone. Leave the house. Confide.
It's the 21st Century and men should no longer be prisoners of a social make-up. It's time to scrub off that make up and start again. Once more, like we mean it.
CALM works hard to challenge a culture that prevents men from seeking help when they need it. Part of this is asking real men 'what is it like to be a man today?' You can get your voice heard by emailing your story to firstname.lastname@example.org. CALM is currently working with Lynx to raise awareness that suicide is the single biggest killer of men aged under 45 in the UK, and to encourage people to park the small talk and discuss #BiggerIssues like this. Find out more at biggerissues.co.uk.
(Photo credit: Rashaun Black Photos)
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