“A lazy part of us is like a tumbleweed. It doesn’t move on its own. Sometimes it takes a lot of depression to get tumbleweeds moving.” – Robert Bly, Morning Poems
Growing up the son of a WWII vet, my dad’s parenting style could best be described as minimalist: punishment at his leisure as alcoholics are prone to do; hard, physical labor built character; and praise came from athletic accomplishments like football which prized hitting.
Crying? Only once as a young child. Dad’s reaction? “I’ll give you something to really cry about if you don’t knock it off. Only girls cry!” Looking at him through the eyes of a child, the message was clear: Crying (or any display of sadness) was never to be done again if I wanted his approval (In essence, his love which never came). As I grew older, he added this maxim: Pain, physical or emotional, was to be endured, if not conquered.
“I Need Help”
Diagnosed with Major Depression at 38, I didn’t know any men with depression, let alone any that would dare talk about it. So, I fell back on dad’s advice: endure it. Suck it up. However, that strategy became unsustainable as my depression worsened. The first time I recall crying during depression was at my therapist’s office a few months into my struggle. Sitting with John, I felt my psychological defenses start to falter: I couldn’t keep the lid on the pain I had been stuffing. I held my hand to my head to support my chin mumbling, “I understand” to his observation that I couldn’t run from my depression any longer. Pharmacological reinforcements were needed, he said. The cavalry would soon come in the form of antidepressant medications.
“We’re out of time,” John, a hulk of a man with a neatly trimmed grey beard and commanding presence, said. He could have been a whaling boat captain in “Moby Dick.” He hugged me: another thing real men did not do according to my dad’s playbook. I felt vulnerable and uncomfortable. But I also needed it – – badly.
Before going to my car, I stopped in the bathroom. Sitting on a chair next to the toilet, I covered my eyes, out of shame, even though no one was present. I sobbed thinking, “It’s come to this. I’m crazy (like my father!) and need to see a psychiatrist (like my now long-dead father once did!).” I felt searing shame, like a “loser.” Having managed a good deal of success as a lawyer, I had mostly felt like a “winner” in the sweepstakes of life. What a terrible fall from grace, I thought. In all of this, I heard the critical voice of my father that I had long since internalized as a child. The voice kept telling me to bottle up the sadness and put it on a shelf. I considered quitting therapy but knew I had to walk this path if I wanted to recover. I stayed.
It’s Okay to Cry – It’s Okay to Get Help
Years later, after learning that it was okay to cry, I finally felt it was okay to do so in front of others – – both those with and without depression. Sharing such tears brought me closer to my humanity – and theirs.
My father was wrong – real men do cry. And the sharing of pain is part of one’s healing.
I was asked recently to do this public service announcement video showing men gathering and showing it’s okay to talk about depression and get help. That it’s human to feel pain and want to get help to cope with and heal it. With therapy, medication, and self-management tools, most men recover from depression, as did I.
Be a man.
Get the help you need for your depression.
By Daniel T. Lukasik, Esq.
“Male Depression: Understanding the Issues” – Mayo Clinic
“Depression in Men” – Head’s Up website