Sophomore year of high school wasn’t the best experience for me. It’s a difficult period of my life to talk about; so much happened in such a short period of time. It was an incredibly emotional moment in my life. I don’t think that I’ll ever be able to ignore the tired look that often overtook my eyes on bad days.
I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety during that time. I spent time in a mental institute, I took my meds, I did what I could to combat the gaping maw that was waiting for me to loosen my grip on reality.
I tried talking with my mom about what it was that burdened me a handful of times. There were moments when I thought she understood. As a bad day became a bad week, I think that a part of her began to grow exhausted at my struggle.
A bad week became a bad month, and my mom stopped being someone I could go to whenever I wanted to talk with someone about my mental health. I could see the frustration in her eyes– those weary eyes made sour by a son who was struggling and unable to overcome his issues.
I eventually did make it through, thankfully. But the look in my mom’s eyes will always haunt me. Even now, I can still hear her voice during that time.
“Boys don’t cry. Man up already.”
I hated myself enough during that time. Hearing those words damaged my self-esteem. Looking back, I am able to recognize the pain I felt from those words.
What I had endured up to that point had not been easy. There were days when the weight of all that I carried on my back would be the only thing I knew, and I felt that I would never live a peaceful life free of this overwhelming burden.
Hearing those words made it difficult for me to even think about holding on to that peaceful life of mine. If I wasn’t man enough to not cry about the pain mounting on my back, then I surely didn’t deserve a happy future.
The idea that men shouldn’t cry, that we should be brick walls in the face of emotion, is a miserable expectation to hold men to. It’s beaten into us since we were boys. Those boys become young men that struggle to communicate their concerns and emotions. It becomes a struggle to navigate intimate conversations that require understanding and empathy towards the content being discussed. How is one supposed to connect with another on an emotional level if emotional development was never deemed a priority?
Men are expected to meet a specific set of criteria if our masculinity is to be unquestioned. Men are supposed to be tough-skinned, never letting anything affect us emotionally. We are supposed to be tall and imposing, always ready for a fight. We are supposed to meet our culture’s expectations. If we are unable to do so, then there’s going to be someone questioning our masculinity.
Talking about men’s mental health isn’t enough. As someone who has talked about it, it helps, definitely. However, I can’t ever bring up the topic of my mental well-being around my mother ever again. I’ve been burned too many times by her frustrations.
Situations like these need to become less frequent with the passage of time. We must stand together and question the existence of restrictive norms that call into question the wide assortment of gender norms that force us all to exist within a restrictive gender binary. The masculinity of a man should not be in question every time he fails to meet the standards others set out before him.
Crying does not make you less of a man. You are not less deserving of happiness. You are deserving of acceptance, of being able to make your way through this world without having your identity questioned.
I can’t give you a reason to keep fighting; you know yourself better than I do. What I can give you is the knowledge that it’s normal to struggle. More importantly, you deserve to know that there are people in your life that want to help you however they can. I only hope that they are open to the reality that you will be changed by the challenges you faced.
You will heal. You will find a way to move forward with your life. Most importantly, you are the only person who gets to decide if you reached that point. Until you get there, you deserve all the time and space you need.
Whatever happens, you deserve to be well.