Guys on Mental Health: Part Three
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.
Jeremy, 24, Student.
I honestly don’t know when my journey with mental illness began, but I can trace it to my teen years. My parents moved for work and I moved into a school where I didn’t know anyone. A lot of my support networks were gone and I was doing ballet full-time (I did ballet for 10 years at a relatively high academy level). I was world’s apart from the other people; I was from a low decile area, they all were from wealthy backgrounds, and I found myself in a school where I knew nobody and spent all my spare time doing something I loved with people I didn’t talk to. I remember at one point my sister said she was worried that I never had friends over I was like oh, yeah.
During that time I became aware of a melancholy nature I carried; I don’t think I was clinically depressed then but I was heading into a darker place. I stopped ballet when I was 17 and started studying English and History, and through a long process, I ended up becoming incredibly anxious. I remember sitting in class and feeling like everyone was looking at me - that seems crazy ‘cause it was 500 people looking at the lecturer, why would they look at me? But I would get so anxious I would leave class, and I ended up only being there be half of the time.
When did things come to a head for you?
In the end it got to a point where I was starting to ideate on taking my own life. I didn’t know what it looked like to talk to people because I had been removed from my support networks for so long. I ended up going to the uni counsellors and scored dangerously high on the depression and anxiety self-diagnosis scale. Shit hit the fan and I had no choice but to reach out, so I did and got help I ended up on some medication for a while.
And how have things progressed for you since then?
Since then it has been a daily journey of figuring out what that means. I didn’t want to die, and I didn’t want to say where I was. In some sense it was kind of liberating getting diagnosed. There is a flawed idea that if you have meds you’ll be sweet when really there is so much else going on, but for me it was liberating to think this could actually help me. But part of the rugged individualism of NZ masculinity has meant that I have had this constant internal struggle of “does medication make you weak?” I’ve tried to survive without it, going on and off, and then I hit rock bottom again. My doctor said some people spend their whole lives on this, and that’s okay - you just need to figure out if that’s you. So I’m doing it for the sake of myself, but what also keeps me going is my fiancée and wanting to be healthy for her.
Are there things your friends do that help?
My best friend doesn’t necessarily understand, which is fair enough because he’s never been in that place, but he understands I need sleep, that if don’t sleep well then stuff starts to unravel. We used to hang out late all the time but he’s realised that’s not helpful for me, so we’ve changed what we do. He’s also really good at listening to me as I am - even if he hasn’t been there himself, he just needs to listen. I think if stuff stays in the darkness it festers, but as you open up and bring it outside of yourself, you start to see it and it make it easier, less heavy. It’s stuff psychologists say all the time so it’s easy to brush it off as cliché, but it’s true.
We’ve started having lots of conversations about self-care, are there practices you have put in place to look after yourself?
I find self-care real hard. I’m a two on the enneagram which means I want to help everyone and forego helping myself. But I feel good when stuff is done and when I’ve got good sleep, so I do that by getting up early and being creative for a little while. That’s really therapeutic for me, to do that before I have done anything else.
Also, a lot of social work and counselling models look at a person’s physical, relational and spiritual well-being. I share a room with one of my best friends, and often we will wake up in the morning and for 10-15 minutes, we’ll engage spiritually together. For us, that’s within a Christian paradigm, and that stills me and I find peace. I also love dumb TV shows like Rick and Morty - they create opportunities to just be and laugh.
We're both also twos on the enneagram, and to stay healthy we’ve had to learn that we're not limitless with the number of people we can actively have in our lives. Have you had to cut things or relationships out?
The past few years have been a process of simplifying and being selective about who I spend my time with, which is hard as a two. I’m realising more and more that we can’t do big things, but rather small things with great love. Too often I’ve been trying to do big things with just a little bit of love.
One thing I had to cut out was the time I spent with the homeless population in the CBD. I did this for many years, and that was really formative for me, a really great way to spend a night. But ultimately, I couldn’t give to them what they deserved of me and still give to my family or friends, so I’ve had to step back from that part of my life. I miss that, and I miss them. But I’ve realised I’m little help if I’m not healthy.
Within the homeless population, there is an openness about their own problems, I don’t see the same closed off-ness than I do in my other friends. I find that an interesting dynamic, that the community within the homeless population is so strong that people are incredibly open - their life is out there for everyone to see. They know each other truly for who they are. We have a a lot to learn as the housed community about what it is to be open. We barely know our neighbours or our connections locally; we don’t know one another very well.
Is there anything else you want to touch on?
If you are going through something, no-one has no-one that they can talk to. We feel like that’s the case, but think about someone that you trust, or even is just trustworthy, and hit them up. Say “hi, I think you are trustworthy, would it be okay if I talked to you?” The chances are they will say yes! Get it out in the open, don’t carry it around longer than you need to because life is good and it would be a shame if you missed out on it.