Ok, so now is it time?
After the 3rd NYPD officer in 10 days has taken their own life? Now that 9% more of police officers die at their own hand each year than do in the line of duty? Military suicides always run higher than official battle deaths, so much so that 22 Veterans take their own life each day, so now can we talk about it?
Just look at those numbers. Those are the tough guys. These are the guys you hope to see running toward something that all of us are running away from. And for these “men’s men”, the best option they found, the only way left to stop whatever their pain was, was to end their life.
Why? Why do we feel like there is nobody to talk to, nobody to turn to, that might understand a hurt that can’t be pointed to? Why do we not understand that there might be somebody else out there that is going through the same thing?
Because among men, any of the above would still be a sign of weakness even today. Maybe especially today.
It is hard being a man today, maybe harder than ever. This isn’t the Monday through Friday, 9 to 5, off every weekend and the wife stays home to take care of the kids world that I grew up in. Now, we ALL work. We have divorces and single parents and parents working multiple jobs and shift work to pay their bills and provide for their kids. They work 3rd shift on Friday night so they can drive 4 hours to watch a basketball game or cheer competition on Saturday.
Everyone’s “role” has changed. Dad did laundry this morning, so mom is cutting the grass tonight while he was at work. It is being dad’s turn to work from home today because it is his turn to do so, regardless of how mad the client might get. It is dad scrambling through the drive through while mom gets everyone changed for practice, and dance and we all eat dinner in the parking lot of the baseball field.
We’re not softer than our parents generation, we’re busier. It isn’t that we handle stress any worse than they did, there just is more of it. I bet my father didn’t get 10 phone calls from his employer in all the years I lived in his house. Now…Email? Texts? System Alerts? I don’t know if my kids can remember 10 times where the phone didn’t interrupt our evenings in some way.
Yet despite all of these changes, we still desperately cling to the notion that men are supposed to be without emotion. The man of the house is where everyone is supposed to go with their problems. Dad is who you go to when you need something fixed. But even an expert has to call an expert sometimes.
As I scream towards 50, there are just things I have to do now.
I have to see the butt camera doctor more frequently after they found polyps 2 years ago. The doctor I see about my reflux/hernia now sees me every year because of my father having Barrett’s. (He is in the same practice, so I hope they don’t use the same camera.) I am at the age where I now have to wipe when my annual physical is done (Don’ worry, young guys, you’ll find out.) It is time for me to see the cardiologist for a stress test because I have hit the age where heart disease can become an issue in my family.
Really, I guess I don’t have to seek all of this preventative medical care. I guess I could ignore all of the medical advancements and treatments available but that wouldn’t make much sense in the face of an entirely preventable early death for me not to. How could I ever look at my wife and kids and explain to them that I was going to die because I didn’t do some simple one hour test? Or worse, never getting that chance.
We know things now that we didn’t know years ago. We understand more about the brain and pharmacology. We understand its chemistry and processes.
But “I can just work through this. Everybody gets down sometimes. If I can just get to vacation I will get some rest. Nobody wants to hear my problems. Man I can’t seem to ever get ahead. What is the point?” I just heard each of those in my own voice as I typed them remembering each of them as each day got worse.
Keep being “brave”, men. Be “tough” and “hard” and whatever term it is that you have to use not to turn your attention on yourself. Laugh at the guy who isn’t afraid to be emotional in front of his kids. Talk about the guy that is going to therapy. Make fun of those who take time to take care of themselves. Mock terms like “toxic masculinity”, so that you don’t have to explain how the word toxic doesn’t exactly describe a world in which ourl you this. “Tough” disappears when you have climbed over a ledge staring at the fall that will stop your pain. “Hard” will not cover trying to push back thoughts of what they will tell your wife when they find you. “Brave” leaves you on the 6th U-turn, because you suddenly become afraid that the tree you have picked out to slam your car into will just injure you. If you have ever tasted gun metal in your mouth, you know that you can brush the taste out of your mouth eventually, but you will forever taste it on your soul.
The bravest thing I have ever done in my life didn’t happen in the Marine Corps. Well that is a pretty low bar since I was an Intel guy and the bravest thing I did was work all night without coffee once. It never happened on the playing field where I spent most of my adult life coaching. It was telling my wife and kids that I needed to see someone because I was in crisis and needed to talk with someone. It saved my life and taught my kids a lesson that couldn’t be taught with me in a casket.
It is ok to not be ok.
It is time, men. It is time to admit we are failing ourselves, failing our kids and their kids by not addressing our issues with mental health.