For international Men's Day 2021, Declan Cleary, a paraplanner at Anderson Strathern Asset Management, shares his experience of anxiety and reminds us that seeking help is not a weakness.
Content warning: please note that this blog discusses anxiety and depression.
Throughout my life, I have always seen myself as being strong mentally. I come from a stable family background, had a good education, have a good professional career and a close family and group of friends. All things that, from a conventional sense mean, that I should be happy with no worries.
As patriarchal norms would lead society to believe, a successful male with a strong support system would not, but also should not, feel anything other than pride, ambition and sense of accomplishment.
The reality is that none of that matters and I found that out a few years ago when, in a short amount of time, I experienced a variety of drastic life changes.
Suddenly, the stability and security that I had, through my own choices, was gone and a new uncertain future lay ahead. This was something I was not prepared for and it took its toll on me mentally.
Very quickly I became extremely anxious, on edge and worried about where my life was heading. I had disappointed people close to me and no longer felt like myself. This was new to me and, like a lot of men do, I put on a brave face to hide my true feelings and vulnerabilities.
However, the truth was that every morning my anxiety was so severe that I was physically unwell and, although when out with friends and family I was the life and soul, when I was on my own I was very lonely and unhappy.
However, most importantly, I didn’t want to burden anyone with my issues or come across as weak, especially in front of the ‘lads’. I had made my own choices, so it was up to me to deal with it.
Toxic masculinity had made me subconsciously believe that, as a man, if I showed my vulnerable side I would be ridiculed, that I should just ‘man up’ and get on with things.
In this toxic male environment, there is a false bravado and show of strength that makes men feel like they cannot open up to their peers without fear of being pushed to the outside and not taken seriously.
Luckily, my brothers and close friends didn’t follow this societal norm.
They noticed some signs that worried them and decided to get together one day to chat about what they could to do help. They were open with me about how my behaviour had changed and that I seemed different, they could tell that I was not happy and, due to the physical symptoms of anxiety I was experiencing, that I had lost weight.
After a heartfelt discussion, they convinced me that I should seek professional help, to enable me to give myself the time and tools to get myself back into a more positive and happy mental place.
I listened to their concerns and realised I had to take action to help myself. I referred myself to my GP and eventually was prescribed anxiety medication and attended counselling. This was the best decision I could have made.
It gave me the resources to control how I was feeling, to clear my head and now I can proudly say that I am in a much happier place and no longer reliant on medication. I feel much more like myself again.
I realised that it took a lot of strength to accept that I needed help and that this did not define me as a person.
Looking back, if the source of the struggles were rooted in a physical illness, I wouldn’t have thought twice before seeking professional help. Society, specifically within the male community, needs to normalise seeking help when it comes to mental illness.
My message to other men would be, if you are feeling down, anxious or depressed please seek help. You are not alone.
If you have been affected by any of the issues discussed in this blog, please visit our Lawscot Wellbeing pages for resources that may help.