Does talking about emotion make you more of a man? Well, the simple answer is yes. At least in my case. Talking and reflecting on my own experiences is exactly what has shaped me as a man today. I’m 22 years old, I don’t have a beard, don’t go to the gym and if I’m honest, beer isn’t all that. But there is more to being a man than meets the eye. Movember has given me the perfect opportunity to voice my experiences in mental health and masculinity.
In the summer of 2013, I went through a life-changing moment. I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, HLH (google it) and experienced glandular fever levels through the roof. Glandular fever is normal if not strenuous, lymphoma is cancer, but HLH is usually fatal. Scene set. It’s not coming through those experiences that makes the man, but the way in which it is dealt with.
I’m hugely fortunate to be able to tell my story and I know that. What I did not foresee were the difficulties lying ahead. Surely nothing could compare to the 108 days in hospital, the torturous day-to-day life of a hospitals, the brain surgery… the sheer feeling of desperation. But it did. Mental health is something I was typically negligent to, but there I was struggling with the trauma.
Returning to University was a massive obstacle and life choice. I had returned home sick from Cardiff University after 6 months of drinking, socialising and going out every week. When I returned in my second year, time hadn’t stopped for anyone else. They were still lively, busy and full of energy but I was on the other end of chemotherapy… this felt like a premature return.
A man coping with a traumatic experience does not seamlessly fit into University culture. This is nothing against the typical guy at University, but there a lot of students who will do anything if the name of manhood. That was not me anymore.
Luckily, I had some very close friends both at home and University that were very incredibly understanding. That makes them fine men. I owe them so much for landing me at where I am now; completely able to talk about experiences.
While there is no single definition of masculinity, I firmly believe it takes different forms in each man. Experience, perspective and the way in which we lead our lives individually moulds a different view and there is absolutely nothing mistaken about that. The more we start to understand that, the better. I think the majority of my mental health issues came from a core related to masculinity. I believed that if I could not keep up with the requirements of being a ‘lad’, then I had no chance.
THAT was my exact problem. A lad does not make a man. In fact, I hate the word. My naivety had led me to think that people at University downing drinks and going out every night were proper men living life to the fullest. I had lost confidence in myself and my abilities as a man.
When I started to become aware of clear overriding problems, I started to panic. That’s when I knew I had a problem. I panicked over my dissertation, at my best friend’s house and on holiday in Barcelona with my closest friends. What hope does a man have if he is panicking in some of his most comfortable surroundings? That’s when I decided to tackle my panics face to face.
Talking about my problems has boosted my confidence to a level I never thought possible. While I could freely talk about my experiences with my family and girlfriend, talking to the boys is a different phenomenon. You start to fear social exclusion but I couldn’t have been more wrong. In fact, they weren’t at all concerned. If understanding my mental health wasn’t manly enough, my close friends had upped their manliness through pure disregard.
This hasn’t been all about me at all. I hope it is a reminder that masculinity is not what it appears on the surface. I hope that men who, like my friends, are able to come together in the face of hardship to overcome illness, mental health and trauma. University was a struggle, but only because I was too naïve to understand what it took to be a man. Now I understand, I feel a lot more chilled.
A guest blog for the Huffington Post UK which featured on their Twitter as part of the #BuildingModernMen hashtag for Movember. Honoured to be a part of it and one of my proudest pieces. A break from sport.