Men and Mental Health

As kids, most boys were told not to cry. They were told to be tough, to be “real men”, and those men didn’t cry and show emotions. They hid their feelings, no matter the cost.

This piece of advice has had terrible consequences, leading to high substance abuse rates, violence against women and children (among others) and other issues. When you can’t let out your feelings in a healthy way, it tends to come out badly. It also leads to higher rates of depression, anxiety and lack of self-care.

Why Men Don’t Seek Help

Everyone needs to take care of themselves, physically and mentally. This is a well-known fact. Men have a harder time acknowledging this because of the stigma they face in doing so. This will be covered in a later post, so stay tuned, but here are a few examples of what many men fear when going for help:

  • Being labeled as “weak”, “sick”, or any number of labels.
  • Having to be vulnerable. I can say from personal experience that starting therapy is rough. You are opening up with some of your worst demons to someone you just met..many men (and women) are not having it.
  • Being judged by those who know that they are getting help.

This information is in The Stigma of Mental Illness

Untreated mental illness can also lead to suicide, which has a higher rate in men, and men usually use more lethal means.

This fact breaks my heart each time I read it. Suicide in itself is heartbreaking and has far-reaching consequences.

As a mom, I’m teaching my kids that it’s okay to cry. My sons know it’s okay to have emotions. In light of numerous teen suicides in the news and those that I have lost to suicide personally, I feel a huge responsibility to watch out for my kids’ mental health. It’s HARD to be a kid these days.

Cameron started taking daily naps when he started middle school, and at first, I thought it was a phase. Then I worried about his heart because his SVT is pretty severe and can tire him out easily.

He told me that he felt fine, that school was just tiring him out. My next question was if anything was bothering him, and thankfully, he said no. Cameron is a pretty chill kid, but you never know.

Julian is pretty quiet, but he knows where Mom is if he needs to talk. So does Lily, but she is NOT the quiet type. The point of this is, please talk to your kids, no matter how rough it may be. Just check in.

What can we do for the men in our lives?

  • Check in with them. Especially if something major has happened to them recently- a death in the family, job loss, etc.
  • Be gentle. Most men facing a mental health issue don’t want to be forced into talking. Matthew’s parents divorced a few years ago, and there was a lot of drama involved. He’s not a huge talker, so I had to let him talk about it at his own pace.
  • Encourage him through whatever he does, if anything. If he decides to seek help, he needs to know you’re behind him 100%.

Of course, if things are going downhill quickly, please seek immediate help. You can go to the nearest ER or call 911.
Resources:

AFSP

Psychology Today

NAMI

If you are more comfortable seeking help online, this BetterHelp link will be helpful for Michigan residents, but the entire site is full of good information.

The Aftermath of Abuse

*Trigger Warning: this post discusses emotional abuse. If this is something you have a hard time processing please feel free to take time to do self care and/or come back to this post when you feel you can.*

I wrote The Reality Check to discuss my own issues with emotional and verbal abuse within my marriage. I didn’t, however, discuss the aftermath. It’s not pretty. I had to work on it in therapy. I had to relearn self-esteem and self-worth. I’d lost both. Jake had helped me regain my self-respect- I learned a lot about what I was willing and not willing to take from someone.

Those two things aren’t easy to learn, much less a second time. The decision to stay wasn’t an easy one. I stayed up many nights wondering if I’d screw myself, and more importantly, the kids, over, by staying. Did I? In a way, yes. Things have happened that I didn’t forsee and changes are ongoing. If I’d known these things would happen, I’d have left in 2015.

I was guarded. I didn’t trust Matthew to not hurt or leave me. I wouldn’t let him in, talk to him about anything major. Bills and kids? Sure. Anything else? Forget it. I ended up walking around with all kinds of thoughts and feelings.

The Thoughts that Echo

What if he goes back to being who he used to be? This stays with me daily. I think it always will. Matthew has made so much progress, but even my former therapist said this is a legit fear. I believe her.

If we get into an argument, is he going to blow up? Therapy helped me learn tools for this- arguing can be done in a healthy way. Taking breaks is very effective.

It’s okay to talk to him..right? I’ve got to try to trust him. This remains a daily struggle. Even with therapy, I’m not sure I’ll ever fully trust Matthew, much less any man, again. I know it’s okay to trust people, but I don’t want to ever be broken again.

I need to make it all look okay.. I didn’t know it then, but everyone around me knew what was going on. Even his dad knew. I withdrew a lot from everyone. I was severely depressed.

Am I going to mess up again? Is this going to be the day everything goes to hell? This has gotten better, thanks to a lot of self talk, progress and therapy. There are bad days but I am able to get through them a lot easier. This is also known as “walking on eggshells”, when you feel everything you do might upset your partner. This is a terrible frame of mind to live in.

The Drinking Years

I do not blame Matthew at all for my drinking. That was my own decision. The situation we were in, however, crushed me. I could have stopped drinking. I just liked it too much. It was a fun escape, but it got a lot worse after Jake died. My former therapist almost sent me for an inpatient evaluation. As of this post, I’m almost 20 months sober. Many abuse survivors do turn to some sort of substance abuse and that’s a sad fact. It helps dull the pain for sure, but it’s right there the next day.

My liver took a hit, and I’m forever grateful to my primary care physician because she might have saved my life. I’m pretty sure I would have ended up drinking my way into rehab otherwise. It may take years for my liver to return to normal. I damaged my own body because I let someone else destroy me. Let that sink in.

I drank to forget all kinds of pain- the pain of being what I thought was a horrible mom, definitely not a great wife, and the crumbling of my marriage. I kept drinking to forget the pain of losing the future I’d planned. I’m so glad I stopped.

What Happens After?

Abuse, in any shape or form, is wrong. I chose to cover emotional abuse because it’s not discussed nearly enough. What happens after needs to be looked at so much more.

The effects can last for years, even if the survivor is able to move forward and find a loving partner. The scary thoughts remain in the back of their mind. Some, like me, always have a backup plan just in case the nightmare comes true- they end up where they never thought they would be again. Some avoid relationships altogether for a long time out of fear. Some, sadly, end up in a chain of abusive relationships.

No matter how things turn out for you, please remember that the abuse is never your fault.

Pics courtesy of Unsplash and Pinterest

Resources:

Curejoy

Healthy Place

The Reality Check 

There is never an easy way to share this kind of story. I originally shared my story in October 2017.

*TRIGGER ALERT*This post discusses emotional abuse and infidelity.

The Unforeseen Changes

I always thought that domestic violence meant that someone was getting beaten and getting out to save their lives. I had no idea I would end up in an emotionally and verbally abusive marriage. It was a huge reality check.

I can’t pinpoint on a calendar when things went downhill but I do know that once it did, there was no stopping it. At the time, Lily was in her therapies for developmental delays and Julian was starting to show signs of what would be diagnosed as ADHD and autism.

No parent wants to hear that their child isn’t “normal”. Some parents go straight into denial. That is where Matthew went. I went into “mama bear” mode and will never leave it. Obviously, this causes clashes. We began arguing over what should be done for Julian. He clearly needed help. He was aggressive, destructive and not doing well in preschool.

I gained weight. I stopped sleeping and eating well. All I could do was worry about my children. Matthew began yelling more and understanding less. He even asked once why I couldn’t admit that I couldn’t handle two kids with special needs.

I broke at that moment. I knew then I was in my own. He continued fighting with me the whole way through two evaluations.

Julian was finally diagnosed in November 2011, and he still refused to understand. We fought over putting Julian on medication, which I did. Matthew just couldn’t understand what was going on, even when I explained it to him many times.

He continued to put me down, wouldn’t listen to my fears and worries. I learned to hold everything in and watch what I said. I began to shrink inside myself.

I was losing weight because I was so anxious. I made the kids clean the house daily and made sure things were perfect before he came home from work. Most of the time, it didn’t work and we still argued. The tiniest things could set him off. I lost everywhere I turned.

A Way Out of the Pain

I became so depressed that the only things that got me out of bed were my kids and my job. I loved my job as a mental health associate at a mental health facility. They were the two things I couldn’t mess up.

This is where Jake came in. I don’t recommend cheating at all. I never planned to meet someone else while I was married, especially when I was completely broken. I do regret hurting Mathew and damaging my marriage, but I do not regret meeting Jake at all. He changed me forever.

We met while working together. He had seen posts on my Facebook (low-key stalking me) about Julian and…bam. For two years, until the day he died, Jake taught me so much about myself. More than that, he helped me heal from Matthew’s words. As Matthew has said, “, he fixed what I broke”.

I learned that I am worth anything I could ever want. I learned what I can and cannot take. I learned that I am worth so much with or without my clothes on, which I had struggled with. I deserved so much more than what I was living in.

I began looking for apartments and running numbers to live on my own with three kids. I even got a lawyer and was eight days from officially filing for divorce when Jake died. A person can only take so much and I was at my limit.

Matthew had never laid a hand on me but sometimes I wish he had so he could just get that over with. The words he said were almost as painful as being hit. The bruises just aren’t visible when someone continuously hurts your soul by telling you that you’re not a good mom, that you wouldn’t have anything if it wasn’t for him and a lot of other things.

Jake helped me be myself, something I just couldn’t do with Matthew. I became me again. I was happy, strong, and ready to start over. Jake died on September 1, 2015. It shattered my soul to attend his funeral. I felt like I had to restart my life, but all alone.

The Unknown Path

Somewhere in the middle of all of this, Matthew began to realize how much I meant to him. He had finally accepted Julian’s diagnosis but not me being happier and ready to leave him. I had informed him to be ready to be served. One of my first goals in therapy was to decide whether or not to stay with Matthew.

It took three months, but I decided to stay. I wanted to give him a chance to see the new me.
He walked me through losing Jake. He knew how much he had meant to me and the pain was something I can’t describe. In the early days, I cried myself to sleep and he let me be.

He also became nicer. I didn’t trust it at first. I had so many negative thoughts about this. I questioned his motives frequently and didn’t know what to do. We are still working on our marriage. It’s working and we’re happy, with a few bumps in the process.

People can change. Sadly, many don’t. That’s why domestic violence month is important. Know the signs. Emotional abuse is real. It takes a long time to heal from. I still struggle with a lot of things. It’s not just a few mean comments.

This topic is not talked about nearly enough, which is why I chose to tell my story. It’s not meant to make Matthew look like the bad guy, because he’s a great dad and husband.

He changed a lot. We still argue, I still get scared. I have times in which I close up- but I have gotten a lot better.
I’m a survivor. I’m not alone. This is partially what led to my drinking, and I am now sober.

For more information on marriage counseling, please see Better Help
Resources:

signs of an abusive relationship

domestic violence resources