I was talking to my best friend the other day, and was slightly surprised by how many times he said a simple phrase that is forbidden in my home.
You see, Luke is going through many of the same things I am. Come to think of it, since we met 12 years ago we’ve, more often than not, gone through very similar ups and downs around the same time. So we reach out to each other. And I’m happy we do.
But there are certain things with which we cannot help each other. Luke was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder over the past few months. We have many of the same feelings and emotions and episodes, but I haven’t yet been diagnosed. So I’m not positive if we share that. And even if we do, that doesn’t mean we’re both experiencing it the same way.
Thus, I sought out professional help. I’ve recently started my long journey into mental health treatment. I am willing to see therapists and counselors and psychologists and psychiatrists and nurses. I’m willing to try behavioral therapy or hypnosis or medication. I just want to be the best person I can be. And, to me, being the best person I can be is getting the help that I need.
Luke is taking a different approach. He looked to me for answers.
I told him that my only advice is to seek professional help. I told him he was welcome to come sit in on one of my sessions, just to get the feel of things. And this is when he started saying that forbidden phrase — “like a man”.
He told me he didn’t wan’t help because of his “pride”.
He told me he had to be “strong enough to deal with it like a man” for his son.
He told me he didn’t want his son to grow up thinking he needed medication. And that he wanted to be a good role model by teaching him to “man the fuck up”.
He told me it was “in his blood” to deal with his own problems.
But all I see is this horrible illness and damaging societal expectations.
We talk a lot about the stigma people with mental illnesses have to endure. We talk a lot about unfair gender roles. But I don’t hear people combine the two very often.
There’s a reason “like a man” is forbidden in my home. I don’t want my son to learn how to be a man according to society. I want him to grow into his own person — whether that person identifies as male, female, both, none, or other. But, for the sake of this argument, let’s say he will identify as male for the rest of his life. I refuse to let the world win by telling him exactly what a man is. Why can’t a man be whatever he sees fit?
Why can’t men seek help? Why is our perception of strong equivalent with hiding from oneself? Pushing aside your feelings or problems is not strong. It is harmful. Standing up and accepting them as your own and doing what you can to work through them is strong. Is it not?
Why can’t a man ask for help yet still be considered strong? Why can’t seeking treatment be considered prideful? I take pride in my choice to do so. Is that only allowed because I’m technically classified as a woman?
As a best friend, I mourn for Luke’s life, as it may have been had society not filled him up with these twisted views. I try to reach out to him and help him a guide him, within the best of my ability. I try to encourage him to be his own kind of strength — the strength that will help him be happy with himself, better his life, and make his son proud — even if it’s not considered “manly”.
As a mother, I refuse to sit back and watch the same thing happen to my son. There’s so much he’ll already have to deal with — the stigma surrounding his father, who is in jail in part due to his mental health; the stigma surrounding his mother, who is just finding out what’s really going on with hers; possibly the stigma surrounding himself, although I hope he never has to suffer through it.
As a mother, I want the very best for my child. I want him to grow and be free and feel safe being himself. I want him to know that it’s okay to ask for help, and to accept help. It’s okay to admit when you have a problem. It’s okay to be human.
And as a human, I want the world to be a better place. I want to one day not have to worry about our youth having these feelings of inferiority because of who they are. I want them to be able to do the right thing without being chastised for it. Not only that, but I want the right thing to be their right thing — not according to what society says.
Let’s change the world. Tell our men that they can be strong in whatever they do, because strong isn’t about who can hide themselves from the world the most — it’s about who can be open.
Tempest Rose has a story to tell, knowledge to share, and opinions to be voiced. She feels like she doesn’t belong and she wants to make a difference. She is dedicated to spreading truth, awakening minds, and changing the world. She recently started her journey in mental health treatment, and also writes about an array of topics such as gender, addiction, abortion, and pretty much anything that’s controversial. She can be funny, too . . . sometimes. To read more of her work, visit her personal blog, Nonsense & Shenanigans, or Bipolar Parenting Project, where she is a contributor.