Real Men Don’t Talk About Depression
Not too long ago, I played a small part in a scary video. It was terrifying then, and it's terrifying now. But some things are important, so I'm sharing it with you guys. This will be a long post, but there's a toy surprise if you make it to the end. Okay, not really. Still, you should read it.
Back in 2015, Jenny Lawson put out a call for help with Furiously Happy, her latest nonfiction book dealing with things like depression and anxiety in hilarious ways. She had an idea for a video that would help publicize the book (which would later go on to top the NYT Bestseller list) that was pretty simple: she wanted friends and strangers to tell her why we were broken, but why we're also furiously happy. Because you can be both. At the same time.
I thought about it, then decided to send her my deepest, most secret fear that I am (was) terrified of anyone ever finding out: I am a failure.
I constantly fail. All the time. I try things, they don't work, then I try the same things again, they don't work again, then I try once more. And another time after that. And another after that. Constantly.
It's part of what makes me who I am, both as a perpetual work-in-progress and as a someone who has been in a war with Depression and Anxiety his entire life. But I'm 42 years old now, and I'm still here. Which means I've won every battle against my inner demons. Every. Single. One.
And that makes me mighty.
These days, I have the support of a great wife and an amazing 10-year-old stepson, who see me through the really dark times. However, even when I'm feeling really low, I still hold on to the belief that success is predicated by failure as a necessity; that there are no "overnight" successes, and that anyone who wakes up a success one morning hasn't been sleeping. They've been trying, working, failing, and getting better at what they do until the lightning strikes: skill meets up with luck and timing, the stars and planets align, and Something Happens.
I'm still waiting for Something to happen.
And I'm still trying. And failing. And trying again. It's what I do.
I'm broken because I always fail at everything.
I'm furiously happy, because the only difference between a happy ending and a sad one is where you stop the story. And I'm not done.
I've embedded the video below, but do be sure to go read Jenny's post about it. The comments alone are worth it. If you're looking for me, my ugly mug turns up 5th in the video.
And a bunch of other really amazing people who make me brave. Which is the only reason I'm writing this, because I'm still kind of crippled with anxiety over anyone I know ever actually seeing me sitting there with my sign, admitting my greatest insecurity to the world.
(If dubstep is more your speed, there's an alternate version of the video here, where you can watch a raccoon fly out of my face, with plenty of wub-wubs. Good times, y'all. Good times.)
I tried explaining this strange combination of excitement and crippling anxiety to my wife, and she responded in the way in which I've grown accustomed: "Think of something comforting, then pretend I said that."
It's why I love her.
I write a lot. It's what I do. And I put myself out into the world every time I publish anything anywhere. Sometimes it's ugly, and sometimes it's embarrassing. Usually, it's funny (or at least tries to be) - but it's always scary. To me, anyway. But putting my greatest insecurity out there - letting everyone I know see how broken I feel sometimes? That's downright terrifying.
As I've started opening up a little about my various absurd struggles with depression and all my weird little quirks, I've noticed something not good: there aren't many dudes talking about their feelings.
Not in the way that the women are, with jagged-bone honesty and brutal humor to highlight how ridiculous everything is. The few men who are writing about mental health tend to write like, well, men writing about mental health. It's usually very cold and antiseptic, as if depression could be conquered through spreadsheets and actuarial tables.
Now, I don't subscribe to the idea that men are from one planet and women are from another, because I really don't think we're all that different from each other. Not really. We tell ourselves we're different - and, more importantly, we're told how different we are all our lives - but it's all just stupid marketing. Boys pee standing up; girls don't. And that's about as deep as it goes, except that men can't grow babies in our bodies. I suspect there was some divergent limb on the evolutionary tree that tried this once - men being the baby makers - but natural selection probably kicked in after every single dude just started lying around in the fetal position and crying for days at a time every month, and nipped that in the bud.
The point is, while plenty of brilliant women are writing brilliant things on the subject, men remain pretty silent. Why? If we're not so different, then why aren't more men trying to do what I'm probably failing at doing?
I think it's probably down to gender roles and behavioral psychology and stuff. You know, the same dumb thinking that tells little boys they can't play with dolls, or that girls need to be constantly surrounded by princess tiaras and pink everything, with ridiculous baby headbands strapped to their braincases. But that's all over my head, and best left to people who have, I dunno, gone to school and learned something about it or whatever. The tweed jackets with elbow patches crowd.
All I know is that writing about this stuff has helped me not only keep pushing through serious bouts with depression, but with putting my entire life into ridiculous perspective. Some of the things I've done have just been crazy weird. Most of the things I still do are crazy weird.
I'm crazy weird.
And so are a lot of other dudes. Even if they haven't been able to admit it yet, because no one has told them it's okay.
Men like to hide behind manly manliness, which here in the South means taking long hunting trips or talking about sports. We'll buy things, too. Cars in the shape of a midlife crisis, expensive sunglasses, stupid active wear we pretend does some really cool sciency thing, but that we're really only buying for the stupid logo, etc... We'll even plop down a stack of cash for an overpriced ice chest because it's the cool new thing to do.
Which is fine, I guess. Whatever gets you through it. It's better than breaking up with your girlfriend or cheating on your wife, like a whole lot of other dudes do along their misguided quests to find fulfillment.
But what are guys who don't do sports, despise trends, and would never cheat on their spouses or go to the store for a loaf of bread and not come back until 20 years later supposed to do?
Oh. Wait. I hope you're not expecting me to have an answer for that one, because I don't. I play video games, watch Netflix, read books, and write a lot. And cookies. I also eat a lot of cookies.
I have no idea what I'm doing.
I'm not even sure I have a valid reason to be depressed, which is how depression likes to make you feel. I didn't have a bad childhood. If anything, my childhood was too good, because I constantly want to go back there. Sure, life wasn't perfect back then, but it sure seems like it was a lot better than it usually is now.
Yeah, I was a goofy kid. I didn't have many friends and I was kind of a weirdo, but my parents made time for me and made me feel loved, even if they did worry a little too much about my weirdness at times. In short, things were good.
Even if I always worried about everything.
Even if the emotional scars left by my childhood peer groups haunt me to this day, to the point that if I ever walk near any group of people who start laughing, I'm instantly convinced they're laughing at me, and I start running through a mental checklist of everything I've been doing since I've been in their eyeline, trying to track down exactly what it was that set them off in their open mockery of everything awful about myself. And that goes triple if it's a giggling group of teenage girls, which is basically the scariest thing on earth.
But the way depression works - for me, at least - is that it makes me feel bad for feeling bad.
All the other times, though... Times when things are good, when I've got money in the bank and plans on the horizon, when things are happening and all seems right with the world - those are the times when I hate myself for feeling like I hate myself.
Other people have it worse!
Be grateful for what you have!
Have you tried not being depressed?
Why are you so awful?!
The shouts in my head never stop, even as some other part of my fractured psyche shouts back that I DON'T KNOW WHY.
I don't know why I wake up almost every morning feeling like a failure, even on the rare mornings when I wake up after not having recently failed at anything. I don't know why I don't trust good days, or why I think happiness is out to get me. I don't know why I'm always waiting for the other shoe to drop, the unexpected phone call, the red letter in the mail.
I DON'T KNOW WHY.
I don't know why I feel like I haven't accomplished anything with my life, or why it feels like I peaked in high school when I really didn't do anything in high school. I wasn't class president, I hated pep rallies, I didn't have many friends, and I did the bare minimum needed to pass my classes and graduate. If that's my peak - then my life is a greek tragedy. But, you know, without any of the heroic, monster-slaying bits.
I don't know why every post I write that gets a lot of traffic but hardly any shares feels like a waste of time. I don't know why I keep hoping I'll write The Perfect Thing one day, when I know I never will. I don't know why not writing The Perfect Thing makes me feel like a failure, when being noticed makes me feel like a fraud.
I DON'T KNOW WHY.
But I do know I wish other guys were talking about it.
Why isn't there a community of struggling daddy bloggers? Or depressed single guy bloggers (who aren't misogynistic jerks)? Or stay-at-home dads who constantly get emails from their kids' schools addressed to moms?
Are there other guys out there one leaky pipe away from a total breakdown because plumbing is terrifying? Do any other dads try to follow the "some assembly required" instructions of any given toy, only to feel like an abject failure when none of the included, easily-followable instructions make any dang sense at all? Does the thought of interacting with other dads scare the crap out of anyone else, when all anyone ever wants to talk about are hunting, sports, and cars? Are any other husbands kinda scared that writing about all your internalized oddities will freak out your wives, who will inevitably leave you for someone less weird, who's the exact opposite of you and therefore cool and sexy and everything you're not?
Fortunately, there are a few guys talking about it. There is, of course, Wil Wheaton, who has been more open and vocal about dealing with depression than most any other guy out there. (Seriously. He's great. Check out the video below.) Bruce Springsteen has written a book where he opens up about his lifelong struggle with depression, and even 92.9 The Lake's own Gary Shannon has opened up about his personal battles with it. These are good things.
Men need to talk about it more. Depression doesn't have to be a secret shame, because it's nothing to be ashamed of. People don't choose to struggle with it. And those of us who do are stronger than most people will ever realize.
Still, I often feel like I don't have a right to be depressed, or to worry, or to be depressed over worrying about things, and then angry at myself for being worried that I'm depressed about how much I worry.
It still feels like I'm weird for enjoying video games rather than football. It still feels like I'm weird for wanting to pet animals rather than shoot them. It still feels like I'm weird for never feeling like I'm doing enough for my kid, or that everything I am doing is wrong. It still feels like I'm weird when I talk about how much I love him, or that I crave his hugs. Because none of that is man stuff.
It's just stuff that makes me weird.
And that's not even going into all the other things that make me feel crazy. Like...
- How I can't stand for anything to be upside down, even when it's a soggy candy bar wrapper underneath a layer of leftover spaghetti in the trash can. AND I MUST FIX IT.
- My weird obsession with certain numbers, all of which are even. I really dig 4 and 12, for some reason.
- My equally weird aversion to other numbers, most of which are odd. Basically, any number between 1 and 25 that isn't 4 or 12 is suspect, and should be treated with caution.
- My obsession over symmetry. Shelving, for instance, must have EXACT SPACING, and then whatever I put on them has to balance out on all sides or it's just a nightmare and I want to burn the house down.
- My handwriting, which is just made worse by the fact that I can't have a single unclosed letter anywhere in a word. If the circle part of a lowercase d doesn't fully connect to the tall part, I go back over it. With fury.
- My nail biting, which is ridiculous.
- My crippling aversion to change, which has kept me in bad situations for a lot longer than should be legal.
- My outrage over stupid things. Like bad font choices, or bad grammar.
- My debilitating fear of being wrong. Or looking stupid. Or being wrong because I'm stupid.
- My certainty that everyone, everywhere is always making fun of me. Especially those dang groups of giggling girls.
- My tendency toward preserving the past, which has seen me digging one of my kid's school workbooks out of the trash, after my wife thought she could quietly slip it in there and DEPRIVE ME OF MY MEMORIES.
- How I can never click the Save icon just once. Or even twice. And I certainly can't stop clicking on an uneven number, so...
You get the idea.
Do me a favor. If you read this whole thing and got to this point, give yourself a gold star. Great job! Now, if you know anyone - especially any men - who struggle with depression, please share this post. It will help. I guarantee you that someone on your friends list is dealing with things you have no idea about, because they've never said anything. Because that's how depression works: it's a secret shame.
But it doesn't have to be.