This Movember, FTNB is hosting a series of guest posts by mental health professionals addressing mental health in-Jared A. Godar
Movember is a charity started in Austraila to raise awareness
and funds for men’s health issues including prostate and testicular cancer with a focus on mental health, depression, and suicide. If you are interested in learning more or helping out, please join or contribute to the Fighting the Nashville Blues Movember team.
Our first post is by Matthew Conner, M.D., P.L.L.C. Matt and I have been friends since I moved to Texas in the eighth grade. He completed his medical degree at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, his residency in psychiatry at Duke, and has been practicing in the Research Triangle area for over a decade.
The song’s a catchy one, a deceptively upbeat song about loss, missing the New Orleans and the “real” music of his youth. And of course, his life right now sucks, with the last of his worldly possessions (even his “voter registration card!”) stolen last night. But his sad lyrics have the curve of a smile at the edges, and it’s easy to miss the first two lines.
Men have a reputation when it comes to taking care of themselves. We know unmarried men die younger than married men, and we have reason to assume that’s because left to our own devices, we prefer to cultivate a stoicism rather than go to the doctor. As a result, our cancers don’t get caught early enough. Our bad habits get entrenched and out of hand. And we commit suicide, possibly because we don’t trust that talking to someone can help.
If it wasn’t for the liquor and the weed
We never would have made it through the winter.-David Dondero
So how do men cope with stress? Well, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, we abuse substances, with SAMSHA’s latest report that twice as many male adults have had a drinking binge in the past year compared to women the same age and twice as many males over age 12 reporting illicit drug use. (https://www.samhsa.gov/specific-populations/age-gender-based)
And what’s the problem with that? If it gets you “through the winter,” who cares, right?
It’s avoidance. We can talk about the long-term health consequences of chronic alcohol use, the liver scarring, the memory problems, the weight gain; but I think everyone knows that, and we do the denial thing about it. On some level, we can all point to that alcoholic over there with the shaking hands and know that’s not us, never will be.
But chemistry and physiology aside, when a person hits a lot of stress and drinks it away, he’s not learning about it. He’s not figuring out what he can do to support himself, he’s not building up the support network he needs, he’s not proving to himself that he can feel uncomfortable for a while and that it’ll pass. He’s giving himself the message that he doesn’t have to acknowledge feelings. Shut those down. Do it now, do it fast, don’t let it register, I’m just getting through.
Developed the habit of washing your hands to the point that your fingers would bleed.-David Dondero
And the hand-washing thing, that’s avoidance, too. If I can make it about the germs, even subconsciously, then it isn’t about my life being out of control or my regret for my decisions or the responsibility I’m going to end up having to take. It’s hand-washing. I can do hand-washing. I can do hand-washing until my skin cracks.
And when the skin calms down, when the buzz wears off, when the bill comes due, everything I’m avoiding is right there. So I guess I need to go back and do that thing that didn’t work in the first place. Gotta make it through the winter.
What’s the alternative?
Talk to someone who might understand whatever “winter” means to you, and if you don’t know, talk to someone about the patterns you’re using to cope. If you only cope with stress in one or two ways, those are going to get overloaded, and I promise you, investing in a social network is the best way to develop a broad range of healthy responses to stress. Including joining a book club. Including joining a class at the gym. Including signing up for the open mic night and putting your struggle to music and talking to the people who go on before and after you. Including Crossfit or kickball or the yoga studio. Including paying a counselor. Including going to free 12-Step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, or Al-Anon for people who recognize a need to support healthy boundaried relationships.
Because hey, I don’t know you. But I know enough about you because of the work I’ve been doing with men for ten years. I have yet to meet someone who really lived down to his fear that he can’t handle talking about his pain. Your emotion may be bigger than you right now. I get that. But it’s not bigger than us.
Put the bottle down. Turn off the hot water at the sink. And make it through the winter with the people who hear your music instead.