In my late teens, I developed Anxiety.
Panic attacks left me doubting my sanity. On the better days when panic attacks didn't take over, I lived with a ever-present background anxiety that had me constantly on edge and feeling threatened. I'd have nightmares - waking up in the darkness gasping for my breath on sweat-drenched bedsheets. For a long time, nobody knew. I kept it a secret. From my friends. From my family. From my work colleagues. I wore a mask well - coming across as the usual happy-go-lucky Will people knew me as. Except I felt like I was rotting from the inside.
Thankfully, after some time & with some effort, I began to open up about my struggles, got some support, & began to feel better. This one time whilst in the pub, I plucked up the courage to tell one of my good mates what I'd been going through and how I'd been feeling. Looking back at me, his eyes were wide with surprise and what he said next shocked me...
''This is exactly how I have been feeling too''.
Hearing him say this made me feel both relieved & sad.
Relieved because I wasn't the only one in the world who felt the way I did (because my anxiety convinced me I was).
Sad because it emerged that for months and months my friend and I, who meet up multiple times each week, were both struggling with our mental health, and had said NOTHING to one another.
Why did it not occur to either of us to open up and share our struggles?
It's a question that's stuck with me. A question I hope to answer as best I can here.
So more men can get better at sharing their struggles and expressing themselves.
From my own personal & professional experience and through openly asking other men - here are 5 common reasons why Men do not share their struggles.
The Fear of judgement.
This was the main reason why I didn't open up about my struggles when I was younger.
I was terrified of finally having the courage to talk with someone close to me about how I was feeling only for them to judge my anxiety and say something like, ''just man up and stop worrying''.
The truth is - I was judging myself for struggling. I thought I shouldn't be feeling anxious about everything. And it was painful to imagine someone else outside of my head judging me as harshily as I was judging myself.
In reality, my family, friends, and co-workers were compassionate & understanding.
I appreciate I was lucky. Not everyone is surrounded by people who will ''get it''.
So if you are struggling and the fear of judgement is holding you back:
1. Stop judging yourself (if you are).
Struggling doesn't make you weak. Do your best to feel compassion toward yourself. Imagine the person you love most in the world is carrying your struggles on their shoulders, how would you feel towards them? Offer this response to yourself.
2. Talk to someone you trust
Even though you may not know who the right person to open up to is, please don't let this stop you. Start talking and until you know who you can trust to hear you struggles without judgement, trust there are people out there who will. Any professional worth their salt - whether a Therapist, Psychologist, or Coach - will naturally be non-judgemental.
Believing you have to be strong & fix things yourself.
We live in a society where we are rewarded for showing initiative and fixing problems independantly.
As children, we fully relied on others to guide us through life. As adults, we have to fix problems ourself, right? Wrong. There is no shame in asking for help. It's truly a sign of strength, not weakness.
Nobody can walk the path for you but you needn't walk it alone.
If this belief is holding you back:
1. Become open to the idea that receiving help means you can get back on track quicker & easier than you going at it alone.
2. Ask yourself - who can help me?
Believing ''Talking won't help anyway''.
Women talk to be heard. Men talk to fix.
This interesting disctinction was shared with me recently.
Having coached both men and women over the last 7 years, this seems somewhat true. My male clients (typically) favour tools, tips, and statergies to help them move forward. Whereas my female clients (typically) find it helpful to talk through their struggles and goals. The men I've coached who have openly talked about their struggles instead of simply seeking solutions, I feel, have benefited hugely.
One long-term client of mine ends every one of his Coaching conversations by letting out a big sigh before saying, ''It's so good to talk''.
If you believe talking won't help:
1. Be open to the idea that talking may help.
Begin & see for yourself.
2. Understand you feel you may not ''know'' how to begin opening up.
Which is understandable if you've always kept your struggles & any associated feelings to yourself. Expressing ourselves effectively takes practise. You may find writing/journalling a helpful way to organise your thoughts. Begin to make talking about struggles familiar, even if what you're saying isn't clear in the begginning. Even if it's scary.
It will get easier, believe me.
Other people have bigger struggles than I do - I should just get on with things.
Sure - there are people who have bigger problems.
That's a fact. But it's not a fact that should prevent men from talking about the struggles keeping them awake at night. Honour the struggle, even if it may seem insignificant compared to other people's larger life problems.
When someone breaks their arm, they're still correct to tell someone & seek the relevant help, right?
It would seem foolish for the person with a broken arm to think I'll just get on with it, there are people with broken backs who have it worse.
If this belief is stopping you, you can:
1. Honour your personal struggles.
If a struggle is big enough to be causing you pain of some kind, tend to it. It's not helpful to compare your challenges or pain with others. You may live a privileged life. You may have lots to feel grateful for. But don't believe because you are privileged and because there are lots to be grateful for that this discredits the challenges you face in your life. It's not black and white. You can acknowledge the good in your life as well as the bad.
I don't want to burden people.
Men feel the need to protect.
We feel by sharing our struggles with the people around us we're only adding to their load. Not sharing, then, is a form of protection. Except, it's often the case that struggling to struggle alone becomes too much and cracks begin to show in the masks men wear. This may appear as a sudden rage.
If you're struggling but don't want to burden other people:
1. Again, honour your personal struggles.
You, as much as anyone else in the world, deserves happiness.
2. Know that by allowing others to help you, it may in fact help them.
Those around you may be facing their own set of struggles but this needn't stop you from being honest with them about yours. So much meaning in our life comes from helping others, especially those we love. Don't deprive those around you from the opportunity to help you. What if, instead of you sharing your struggles being a buden to those around you, it shows them you trust them? Or gives them an opportunity to share stheir experience? Or gives their life more meaning by helping you through your struggle?
3. Consider working with a Professional.
People enter the helping professions exactly because they care and want to help people.
If those close to you already have lots of their plate and you are considerate of this, perhaps seek support from a trained professional. What's most important is you have at least one person you can talk to.
To end on a positive note, I see and hear more and more men speaking openly about their struggles.
Some of the outdated ideas of what it means to be a ''real'' man - like never show weakness - are crumbling away like an old statue.
Every time a man finds the courage to say the words, ''I'm struggling and need help'', it encourages the men (and women too) around him to take of their masks, reveal their vulnerabilities, and do the same.
Interestingly, the word encourage originally means ''to strengthen, to hearten''.
When a man admits he is struggling, this is what he is ultimately doing - strengthening himself.
Let me know what you think about this article by leaving a comment below.
What else do you believe stops men from sharing their struggles?
Thank you for reading,