By: John Poehler
When it comes to the topic of male stigma, I have quite the extensive experience.
Right now, I am a 39 year-old male.
I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder right before my 21st birthday.
The expectations how a man is supposed to act and react in certain situations is both raw and real.
I use the word “supposed” because it is an old way of thinking that is implied in our current society.
These expectations have made it difficult for men to reach out and receive treatment. Specifically, treatment related to mental health.
It happened to me and I know it will happen again.
A man is looked at as the provider and protector of his family.
He is both tough and strong.
If you stray from this predefined role of manhood, you are looked as weak, incompetent, no good and a host of other adjectives.
Let’s take a look at some common expectations related to manhood.
1. Be Tough
I’m sure you have heard stories of your grandfather or great grandfather walking 5 miles to the bus stop in 5 feet of snow with no boots or shoes. This is a slight exaggeration, but as a man, we are supposed to be tough.
We are not allowed to let things bother us to any degree.
2. Don’t Show Emotion
I had a friend who told me during her entire life, she never once saw her Dad shed a tear.
When it comes to discussing our feelings, it is something we should not be doing.
I remember when I first went to talk therapy. I seriously felt guilty. Almost like talking about my feelings was breaking a law.
3. Suffer in Silence
As a man, we are not supposed to talk with our friends about anything deep. Mental health has just been a topic that is off limits.
If I have an issue, I need to deal with it myself. I’m not allowed to talk to anyone else about it.
Better yet, no person should know that I am dealing with any type of adversity.
4. Provide Solely For Your Family
I would like to point out that gender roles are slowly changing in our society.
Just because this is the case, does not negate the fact that many men still feel pressured and required to provide solely for their families.
Losing your ability to provide for your family humbles a person.
It is almost like losing a part of yourself when you can no longer financially support your own family.
5. Don’t Ask for Help
I’m sure you’ve heard of this one.
As a man, I should never ask for driving directions or read the instructions how to put something together.
This sounds silly, right?
When I was younger, asking anyone for help felt wrong. In regards to my mental health, I had no clue where to start let alone what I was looking for.
Moving forward, it is clear our expectations for men need to be reevaluated.
These expectations need to be reconfigured to allow for an open dialogue between men, medical professionals and with their support network.
A certain level of machismo is expected when it comes to guys. After all, we have surging testosterone running through our veins. This should not overpower the ability for men to get the help and support they need.
I was lucky.
From the start, my medical providers created a safe environment to open up about my thoughts, ideas and experiences. If I never felt this level of safety, I don’t know if I would have ever opened up.
I had to get over my idea of self real quick.
Just because I broke down the walls of the previously mentioned 5 expectations, does not mean I should feel weak or less of a man.
I felt empowered going through this process. It put more of the control on myself and less on outward influences. Becoming more of a fighter, the word victim left my vocab.
I have to admit, it was extremely scary at the beginning. Once I broke down those expectations, I grew as a human being.
You don’t have to be “tough”.
It is okay to show emotion.
You don’t have to suffer in silence.
It is okay if you are not the sole provider of your family.
It is okay to ask for help.
Remember, bipolar disorder is an illness, not a choice.