Why is it so hard to express your feelings? Why is it such a bad thing to feel life’s ups and downs? Is it because the world finds emotion opposite of productivity? Or does society just lack the capacity for compassion?
To be honest, I’ve never understood why I used to feel uncomfortable speaking about what’s going on in my head, especially to other men. There’s this taboo that, by airing out your grievances, you’re submitting to weakness or inferiority.
Speaking out about the demons you battle in your head deems you neither weak nor inferior. It does the opposite.
September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness month, and I’ve been more aware than ever this year. The month of September was eye-opening for me because a lot of my guy friends were really struggling mentally, and it was difficult for them to open up about it. There were multiple late nights when my friends allowed their guards to drop, and some conversations were held for the first time outside the confines of their mind. This came as a shock to me because I had no idea the type of pain these seemingly invincible people had been hiding.
We’ve all heard that a person hides their true feelings behind a smile, but that narrative is harder to hear when you realize it’s more of a biography than a fairytale. Hearing this from my friends made me realize that anybody is subject to their own mental prisons, and we should be open to helping them break out.
For me, speaking my mind has always been met with some resistance. Despite being a writer, I’m not the best at translating my thoughts and feelings into words.
I’ve always been the person who listens to others, gives advice and makes people feel like they deserve to be heard. As a result, I’ve placed myself in the role of the people-pleaser, something my family always reminded me of, and not someone who’s allowed to feel negative emotions. I always thought I needed to support others, not be supported myself.
Turns out, many people have the same struggle, but for a different reason. From the multiple conversations I’ve had with men in my life, I’ve realized that we have an interesting perspective on mental or emotional stability.
In the driveway of my home, my father sat in an old lawn chair while I scrubbed my car’s headlights clean. As I was enjoying picking my dad’s brain, we stumbled upon the topic of self-acceptance and happiness. After going back and forth about the family benefits of escaping the hood of St. Louis he grew up in, I said he must be happy with where he’s at in life.
“Who said I’m happy with who I am?” my father said in response.
In awe, I hesitantly asked him if he wasn’t, to which he said he’s happy with how far he’s come, but would like to improve further. Of course, I was shocked that my father, one of my largest sources of happiness and confidence, wasn’t happy with himself. However, I was more taken aback by the realization that this was the first time I’ve really felt like he’s opened up to me emotionally.
As my father, he’s always been emotionally supportive, but this was the first time we’ve ever really talked about his mental well-being. He’s always been strong, stoic and logical. The emotions I usually see from him are the frustration of work and happiness when his kids come home from college.
It’s sad and I’m tearing up realizing how strong my father is, but rarely hearing about the emotional struggles he’s been through is absurd to think about. However, that has been my father’s philosophy, and many other men’s — to be strong for the family.
To me, my father is one of the strongest and influential men in my life. I acknowledge that he has his down days, and now, I do my best to ask him how his day is going and tell him how much I appreciate him.
I challenge anybody reading this, have your friends’ backs. Even though it’s no longer September, people can still be hurting.
Tell them how much you enjoy their existence. The most important thing you can do for them is simply listen and be understanding of their situation. Not everything will be easy to listen to, and their struggle may not have a definite solution, but being there for a friend is a step in the right direction.
Listening and understanding somebody’s circumstances could help more people open up in the future. Don’t let a fear of vulnerability be the reason you lose one of your closest friends.
Anyone who struggles with mental health can call the national suicide prevention hotline at 800-273-8255. Students can also reach the Northwest Wellness Center at 660-562-1348.