We all do it, don’t we?
‘How you doing?’
‘Yeah, I’m good thanks.’
Or, in my neck of the woods, ‘I’m alright.’
No further questions your honour.
Most of the time we will be just that: alright; fine; okay. Good, even.
Sometimes though, we won’t be. Sometimes we might feel that our whole world is falling apart. Still, ‘I’m alright.’
But sometimes, all we want is for someone to see. For someone to break through and ask, ‘Are you sure?’
Why do we say we’re fine, even when we are very far from it? I think it’s hard-wired in us. I speak from the perspective of being a middle-aged bloke, that being the only perspective I have because that’s what I am. At least, it was the last time I checked.
I do need to check occasionally. I’m very open about the struggles I’ve had with my mental health. I write and speak about feelings and emotions, all of those scary things that us men aren’t supposed to talk about. Hell, I even write poems. So every now and again I need to check in on myself. Yep, bloke.
And yet, still...
‘How you doing Matthew?’
Even for someone that is so open about my previous difficulties, it’s hard to open up. It’s hard to admit to how I am feeling when I am struggling. Why is this?
For me, I guess I don’t want people to worry. I don’t want people to think I’m looking for sympathy. I don’t want people to feel uncomfortable around me, and to not know what to say. As men, when faced with a problem, our brains tend to head straight for, ‘I must find a solution!’ If we can’t, we don’t know what to say or do. I’ve seen this first hand around me.
I think maybe this is part of the reason that people find it so difficult to speak to somebody that is struggling: they don’t know how they can solve it. Truth is, they can’t. But what they can do, and what can mean more to that person that is struggling than possibly anything else at that moment, is to show that they care.
Battling with your mental health can feel like the most lonely, most isolating thing that you could ever experience. This is compounded when nobody else seems to ‘see’ your suffering. When people accept your, ‘I’m fine’s and go about their day, while you wonder how you will be able to face another one.
So we hide. We pretend we’re ok, if we can. For me, I can’t do that, my low moods seem to radiate from every pore of me, and so I hide myself. I hibernate and I avoid people. I want to be on my own, and not pollute others with how I’m feeling.
But really, I don’t want to be on my own. All I want is for someone to notice. For a friend to say, ‘I don’t know how it feels, or what you’re going through, but if it helps to go out for a drink, or even to sit in silence, I’m here.’ I’m very lucky that I have those people people in my life.
I know that it isn’t easy seeing a friend or family member struggling with their mental health. It’s not easy to feel helpless when you don’t know what to do. But don’t underestimate just how much difference you can make, just by being there, just by asking twice:
‘Are you ok?’