These two seemingly innocent words anger me more than I can articulate. They aren’t words of encouragement, they’re short-hand for shut up and stop feeling your emotions.
Honestly, I’d sooner be told to fuck off than to man up.
I feel so strongly about this as I used to be the one who ‘Manned Up’. I subscribed to the ridiculous notion that all men had to be strong, that we should grit our teeth and push though our hardships regardless of how they damage us.
That dread you’re feeling when you head out to work?
Push it down, forget about it.
That trouble you’re having adapting to fatherhood with a disability?
Nah, you’re fine.
That panic attack you had on the motorway that forced you to pull over in town, hold the steering wheel and scream?
No one needs to know about that.
The episode you had in work, where you broke down, genuinely forgot how to breathe, and cried in front of the entire office.
Yeah… maybe you should do something.
These were my thoughts leading up to the episode that would change my life and my appreciation of mental health.
I tried to be so strong for so long, but no one is capable of that. It’s ridiculous to expect this of others, let alone yourself.
I don’t care what anyone says, life is difficult, existing can be traumatic and you need to feel your emotions before the worst happens.
In the lead up to this breakdown, I remember driving home one day and driving right past the house.
I had the dark thought that I should just keep driving. I wasn’t of use to my family, I was crazy, and they might be better off without me. I didn’t get far before I shook off these thoughts, turned around and went straight home to my girls.
I won’t say I felt suicidal because I didn’t but it was so apparent to me how easily people could go down that path, how these thoughts could eventually cloud your mind and result in a tragedy.
I was broken, all because I tried to Man Up.
When you say these two words to anyone, you are making it clear that you don’t appreciate their struggles, that you consider them weak and their troubles insignificant.
Stop. This. Shit.
If you have a friend or family member who is going through a difficult time, such as bereavement, depression, anxiety, jobs loss, mental ill health or a new diagnosis, never say this.
You might think it’s helpful and what they need to hear to find that inner strength to overcome what they’re going through but it’s really not. All you’re doing is trivialising how they feel.
Instead, show an interest, make it clear that you’re available if they need to speak, or even just to have someone listen.
An important fact so many of us overlook is that you don’t need to dig through your mind for examples of when you or others have felt similar. This isn’t a game of pairs, so don’t try to match trauma.
The fact of the matter is, you don’t know what that person is going through on the inside. If you were subject to the same experiences, there’s no way of knowing how you’d cope.
You have your needs, drives and coping mechanisms all your own, these might work for you but not for everyone. By this same token, your own mechanisms may fail you or not be enough resilient enough, that’s totally okay. Just don’t suffer in silence.
When supporting another, make it apparent that you are there, and encourage that person to feel their emotions and to process them as hard as they may be.
We are all allowed to cry, regardless of gender, social standing or any other demographic you care to pull up.
If this is a struggle, encourage them to get the help they need, there’s no shame in it.
If we all keep these simple things in mind, we can legitimately save lives and end this ridiculous stigma. Mental Health is Health, we need to look after ourselves and each other.
I wrote a short poem on this very subject, which you can listen to below. I’ll also include the words below the video. Please share your thoughts in the comments.
You tell me to man up
Once again assuming
But how the hell can I do that
When I don’t even feel human?
Suppressing your emotions?
Well that’s a benefit to none
It’s only when words are spoken
That something can be done
The man’s man is a dying breed
And very rightly so
Drowning your sorrows is futile
Those bastards don’t need air
In time they’ll suffocate you
And smile as you despair
Expect derision immediately
If you utter that ridiculous phrase
A man doesn’t hide from his demons
He handles them face to face.