Despite life being generally pretty good in the last year, I’ve had my low moments. I’ve had several bad days in the last month alone. The situation in our country is not helping. For those who don’t know, Theresa May’s (so far) complete fuck up of Brexit, self-serving authoritarianism and my worries about the future the country is taking – into isolationism, xenophobia and attempting to have pissing contests with other EU members are not helping my mood, this situation has not caused it.
The last few months things have turned dark at times and for no clear and obvious reason. I’m happy in my relationship and my work. I’m happy being self-employed and in charge of my own destiny, and happy with the path my life is taking now. None of these things has any bearing on my bouts of depression.
The thing about depression is that it doesn’t need a reason. Sometimes there are triggers, but not always. There are several key ways in which depression manifests itself differently in men – ways that people overlook, brush off or explain away as “toxic masculinity” which is neither descriptive nor helpful.
We all think we understand depression; even those of us who go through it don’t always understand it. For men, this lack of understanding counts for double because few try to understand it. Here are some unique symptoms of depression in men.
Anger and Frustration
It’s easy to label an angry man as having anger management issues. It’s easy to assume he’s foul tempered and dangerous when all he needs is some support. Not all men who are angry are depressed but most men who are depressed will express that through angry outbursts, swearing, frustration at the slightest thing, shouting and ranting. Sometimes that might lead to him collapsing onto the floor in tears, but not always.
Even now after more than three years, my girlfriend still doesn’t understand this. Despite that I have never and will never be violent towards her, she finds my occasional bouts of depression-caused anger scary. I feel distraught to think that I scare her. At the very least I would hope she could see that she should be scared for me and not of me. This, perhaps, is one of the biggest obstacles to depressed men getting help.
Low Libido and Sexual Dysfunction
It’s not that you can’t get it up when you’re depressed (you certainly can’t) is that we are not interested in any kind of intimacy. I know I push her away when I’m low and simply don’t want it. I make excuses about being too tired, too distracted when I know I won’t be capable. We are not having as much sex as we did when we first met but we could be having more than we do. It’s a vicious circle because a healthy sex life is good for a relationship and personal well-being. It helps you feel close to somebody. It should be a great way to counteract depression, that feeling of well-being, closeness and the feeling of being wanted. Yet sexual desire is one thing that depression takes away.
I admit this has never been a feature of my own depression, but I hear it’s common and I know several people who’ve engaged in reckless behaviour when depressed. This can include driving dangerously (drinking and driving, excessive speed), sleeping around without protection, picking fights with random people. I remember reading Derren Brown’s autobiography in which a man got confrontational with him late one night. Brown managed to confuse his potential attacker in the way that only Derren Brown can. He deescalated and ended up in a situation neither expected. Within minutes of this man threatening Derren Brown, the two were sitting on a public street with the man in question poured his heart out about his problems.
Exhaustion and Fatigue
Physical fatigue is a more common symptom of depression in men than it is in women. You wake up tired no matter how much sleep you’ve had. You don’t have the energy to do anything. You can’t get up the motivation to work, you’re tired and irritable – you can’t even muster the energy to take a shower, shave, get dressed or even perform normal tasks. Often, it feels like the weight of the negative thoughts and mood is sapping your physical energy. It’s no wonder that mentally ill men are more likely to be unemployed than a man with any other type of disability.
Memory and Cognitive Processing Problems
You forget things you were told a minute ago. Except rather than recognising that as a sign of depression, people assume you’re not listening. You are listening, but you forgot because you can’t concentrate on what is being said. You’ll try to sum up the energy to absorb it and it takes all of your willpower. However, your brain will not let the information sink in. Seconds may have passed and you’ve forgotten the information already. Somebody talking to you may as well be speaking in a language that only they can speak for all the good it will do.