Guys on Mental Health: Part Two
There were several reasons for this lil series. We want to know how to support the boys in our life, be it partners, friends, brothers, dads or colleagues. The second was to challenge the man-up mentality that we assumed existed. But as we started hearing what the guys had to say, we realised the conversation has evolved from that. As a country we seem to be slowly moving away from avoiding mental health as a whole, but we are yet to empower and equip people to know how to actually offer help when someone does open up, or to help them understand what it feels like to struggle. We hope that hearing from the three following guys will provide some insight into that, as well as encourage you to seek more and more knowledge, understanding and empathy for your own loved ones.
So massive respect and appreciation to Sam, Cam, and Jeremy who have shared a bit of their wisdom with The Oh Nine, as you will read over the next week.
Cam, 28, Photographer/Cafe Owner.
My story doesn’t have big crisis moment, but involves a gradual coming to terms with caring for my own mental wellness, and in turn learning to see friends, family and those around me with a new lens surrounding mental well-being, instead of misunderstanding it. Growing up, mental health and the issues around it were completely unknown to me. It wasn’t the kind of thing we talked about in my family, I guess it was assumed that people with mental health problems were 'broken people' and I just always thought I wasn’t one of them and never would be. Those people were over there, a long way away from me. And that was my view on it for quite a long time until the conversation around anxiety and depression became closer to home. As real life began I saw it hit my friends, and myself.
You’ve talked before about things starting to get real for you in your late twenties, how did this play out?
I think a lot of us expect things to just kind of happen and that we deserve an amazing life, and we grow up assuming it’s all going to work in the future, like "oh yeah I’ll have it together when I’m 25". Then you turn 25, 26, 27 and then you’re like "oh actually life is happening right now not at some point in the future". So it begins to play on your insecurities around life not working out the way you hoped or thought. Disappointment and doubt creep in as you wake up out of this fairytale that we get sold and buy into. For me it’s that gravity pull in your stomach, a constant nagging of the big questions robbing you from the ability to participate and be present.
When did you start to experience things personally?
When things with life, relationships and business no longer just ticked along automatically and things didn’t work out the way I had assumed they would. I guess I woke up out of the dream, or the hangover, from my teenage years where I assumed life and everything was going to work out and be fine. In amongst that process and growing up into real responsibilities and real relationships, I started to notice myself being overly anxious in situations where I didn't need be. I started to realise “oh I’ve been feeling down for the past couple of months, what am I going to do about that, that’s not really how I want to be”. I could see that the anxiety and depression might not be intense disorders in me, but they impacted on me in my everyday, my relationships and business performance and way of life - so I knew I needed to look after myself.
What are some things you put into place to take care of yourself?
I went through a year of psychotherapy. I wondered if there was some patterns in how I had grown up that were beginning to outwork themselves now. I was really motivated to look at my past, be honest with how I was feeling and sort my shit. Psychotherapy is like a psychiatrist or a counsellor that creates a space to let the things inside you kind of emerge in a really natural way. It’s pretty free and open, just talking to draw out what is deeper and underneath all your layers. I think that things like that are really awesome when you as a person are willing to engage with the process. I had been to different counsellors and therapists over the years, and I never really gelled with any one person, so after a few sessions I would just quit. I think I also wasn’t prepared to participate in it. It’s important to actually want to go, and go along with the therapist’s style and process even though you might think you know what you want. I had researched and thought I wanted this and that from my therapy, but you have to just go with it and trust the person. It was great to have a therapist who could trawl through the emotional layers and then pull out a textbook and read me an epic explanation of what’s going on in my mind.
It also seems quite basic, but I’m quite passionate in advocating for doing the basics well - sleeping, eating and exercising well and being in good relationships. I think relationships is a key one. Relationships where you can express your feelings and be mutually vulnerable. It doesn’t have to be intense feelings all the time but you need to feel free to be yourself, share your heart and speak your mind about anything big or small.
Do you find it easy to talk to your friends about this stuff?
I went through a pretty rough year and there were friends who were present and friends who were not, and that was quite revealing. And that obviously sucked to have people who didn’t want to engage on that level at all, but looking back they weren’t at their best place either. The friends who I did grab were the ones I knew were healthy and could be there for me. And I think you can be intentional about creating those kinds of friendships with people. In some of the times where I felt anxious about a bunch of stuff, and things relationally for me were pretty messed up, I had a few friends where we would go for a beer and kind of set the ground rules. We would have a good yarn about that hard stuff rather than just being mates and talking shit.
So yeah, I think you can be intentional with your friends and be like “hey let’s have this kind of relationship together.” One of the biggest obstacles it seems people are facing is an inability to understand mental health struggles when they haven’t personally experienced it. I was one of the people who didn’t get it, I tried to be understanding but ultimately I didn't get it, I was like “get over yourself.” That came from ignorance and misunderstanding. Education around this whole thing is so important because the language around mental health is really confusing. Mental illness, disorders, spectrums etc. There’s a confusion around what we are even talking about. I really believe that we need to stop thinking about mental illness as something you have or don’t have and that we all need to take our own ‘mental wellness’ seriously.
How would you suggest to be there for other people, guys in particular?
I think for guys you either run away and avoid problems, or become full of advice and 'the expert' - it’s hard not be either of those extremes. Either way we are distancing ourselves. Being present and real is what we need. You just need to be there in the hard times, say what you think and offer advice you have with a caveat of “I don’t really know”, while still being able to gently encourage people towards self-care. Encouraging people to exercise, or eat better, or change a daily rhythm could appear to minimise what people are going through, but I do think it often can be the beginning point of what helps - the basics. Listening and then giving advice in the right way can help each other as friends to move forward.