Hey fellow males, I want us to be honest with ourselves for a moment. Looking after ourselves – we don’t do it enough, do we? I don’t mean we let ourselves go, put on weight, stop showering now we don’t have to impress anyone and generally slob around, being the archetypal media “lazy man”. No, I mean genuinely take care of our own mental well-being.
I mean we’re too busy trying to be everybody else’s rock, everybody else’s backbone (partly because That’s What Men Do) that we sometimes let our own physical and mental health fall by the wayside. I’ve been very guilty of this the last month or so and I know there will sometimes be repercussions for me.
My girlfriend started a new job in August and though she hasn’t struggled in the job, she has been anxious and found it all a little too much to learn so much much in such a short space of time. She has a learning difficulty which means the change of environment has affected her performance and her mood. Luckily, she has got one of the major government-sponsored disability employment organisations in the UK involved to help her through the coming months. That meant I travelled to see her earlier than expected this month at a time when I have been concerned about another lull in my own work schedule.
She has been up early and fidgety when sleeping, and she has been short fused and emotional. That means I haven’t slept well, have struggled to concentrate on my own work and have been stuck in her rented accommodation most of last week trying to drum up some work living on coffee and little sleep and feeling my mood sink, pulling myself back to my feet long enough to hope her anxiety did not get the better of her today and that she’s had progress with Access to Work.
The real clincher came this weekend when we both went to have a professional massage. I struggled to relax and just as I did when I first started the mindfulness course over a year ago, I really came to understand once again what a noisy place my brain can be as I tried to go with it and enjoy the environment and the masseuse’s very relaxing techniques. Yet what was going through my head was not how calming it was but: Work. Tax return (oh, I’ve done that – cool!) I wonder how she is? I wonder if this weather will keep up? I wonder how much work I will have next week? I’ve got some new stuff which is great, but I need more. I need to write something for my blog. Should we go out for lunch? Can we afford a holiday next year? Can we afford to move in together? I hope she has a better week next week. She seemed happy to bump into her old colleagues, I hope they all manage to find a date for a convenient night out. I hope I don’t miss my train back. I wonder when we’ll see each other next? I wonder what we’ll do for Christmas?
That’s when I realised that in my support of her over the last few months, I have paid too little attention to myself, to what is going on in my own mind. You know when they go through the safety briefing on an aircraft, that in the result of de-pressurisation you should secure your own mask before attempting to help anybody else with theirs? That’s the bit we miss in doing our boyfriend/husband duty – to take care of our own mask first.
It’s easily done because of the expectations placed on men – to take every challenge on the chin, to be the strength in the relationship, to never show fear, anxiety or weakness but when you do you should quickly “snap out of it” and “grow a set”. Trying to be strong for everyone around you is exhausting and we need to acknowledge that sometimes. We also need others to understand, acknowledge and accept that too.
So what are you going to do about it? I know what I’m going to do, or at least try to do, to help cut through the fog and clear my mind of clutter once in a while. I need to stop making excuses and use some quiet time to work on some mindfulness techniques. They’ve helped me in the past and I have valued them too little as a preventive measure – that needs to change… I need to include them in my daily exercise routine.