Too often being silent and facing huge challenges by yourself is seen as a marker of being a ‘real man’.
This myth of manhood has a long history. Thomas Paine wrote in 1783 that ‘I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection.’ More recently, Markus Zusak described a romantic vision of the resilient, stoic man: ‘Imagine smiling after a slap in the face. Then think of doing it 24 hours a day.’
Even now, there is a part of us that expects Australian men to suck it up and accept whatever they are struggling through. Movember is a month where we confront this myth. It is a month where we recognise that being strong is not taking on the world by yourself, but that strength comes from recognising when you need help, and getting that help.
Like many Australians, I have confronted serious anxiety and depression and got through it. I’m still getting through it. It would have been impossible for me without the support of the people who love me.
When I first started working full-time after five-and-a-half years of university, I found it really, really tough. A mix of the death of my grandmother, the end of a long-term relationship and the pressure of dealing with other people’s difficult situations as a first-year lawyer was overwhelming.
It was so overwhelming that things began to unravel. Every day I faced thoughts of failure, that I wasn’t good enough, that I was a waste of space.
It took time for me to start to deal with it. But, with the help of family, friends and colleagues, I got through it. I had friends who would insist on cooking dinner together, even if I only sliced up onions. Others persisted in going running with me, even when I only talked about the miserable ideas that ruled my mind. But with time and help, I managed to find a way out.
My experience is not in any way unique. Whether they know it or not, just about everyone knows someone who has gone through something similar. It’s why it is really important to make sure you take that phone call from a mate going through a tough break up and actually talk to him about it, and not just say, ‘she’ll be right mate’. Sit and listen, and be there.
This can sometimes be hard. Recently, I’ve been concerned about an old friend who is struggling. I reached out to him and said I was here to talk when he needed. He said he didn’t, and that he just needed to batten down the hatches and struggle through. I’ll be honest: it really worries me. Why does he feel like he has to go through it alone? He doesn’t. But nonetheless, I hope I reminded him that I was there for him, and that his life was made a little easier by knowing he wasn’t alone, and that I cared about him, and was ready to help.
The importance of Movember to me, and my friends in the Mobart Mo Bros, is in breaking down the stigma against men talking about their physical and mental health. It confronts those taboos that prevent us from talking honestly and challenges the idea that to be a real man you have to be quiet, resilient and strong and never admit weakness.
Instead, it celebrates the strength of recognising when you need help. It shows us that being a strong person is talking to other people about your feelings, your fears and the challenges that you face.
Please donate at http://mobro.co/alexsmckenzie or come along to the Mo Flow charity concert at Room for a Pony from 5pm on Sunday 27th November. Tickets on the door: $20.