At the beginning of the movie ‘The Jerk’ (1979), Mabel King, in the role of ‘Mother’ to ‘Navin’ played by Steve Martin, offers him three pieces of advice before he leaves his childhood home to go out in the world. One is: ‘God loves a working man.’ and another is: ‘Go see a doctor and get rid of it.’ (The third is up to you to look up on your own or watch the first ten minutes of the movie.) I relate this scene from the movie ‘The Jerk’ because they mirror my two pieces of advice for understanding and promoting mental health in males.
Before I continue, I would like to be allowed a few observations and generalizations about male behavior. Men are more cutthroat. Men look for weakness in others and seek ways of exploiting it. That’s part of the reason why we start fights and wars and, to some extent, enjoy beating the crap out of each other. Because we, by nature, are more prone to physical confrontation and fighting, we are also less willing to exhibit weakness to a real, imagined or potential foe.
So, let’s say you are deemed a successful male in our society, you are earning a salary that provides for you and your family and you have a house and a car or two. Then let’s say you notice that over the course of a few years, you start to lose interest in doing things that please you. You withdraw from your family and you gradually get more lethargic and, perhaps, confused. Hopefully, people in your life notice and mention their concerns to you in an empathetic manner. Hopefully, you see someone and get diagnosed and, hopefully, you talk to someone about your circumstances and thoughts. I intentionally choose the words ‘circumstances’ and ‘thoughts.’ We (men) do not talk about our feelings and emotions as easily or as much as women do and women should not expect us to. We have all heard the expression ‘The strong and silent type.’ And some of us will know or remember a grandfather or uncle who fought in a war and witnessed atrocities and who did not want to speak about what they witnessed and felt. That said, talking is important. I participated in a This Is My Brave event in Valparaiso, IN in May 2016 and I could not say it better than fellow cast mate, who said: “Talking to my mom about my mental condition opened doors that had been locked for many years. We had a real conversation. I realized then that talking is an important part of treatment.”
At the TIMB event I took part in, I related surviving a violent assault many years ago, experiencing the attendant acute PTSD and then PTSD occurring again about 20 years later. The second time around, I resisted seeking help for the mental suffering I was experiencing and it wasn’t until I had a visceral physical flashback during a mostly sleepless night while away on a work trip that I realized I was not well. When I did start talking to counselors and a psychiatrist, I would start getting a bit anxious one or two days before the appointment but after talking to them, I always left feeling a little relieved and a little better. I think men worry that if they go to see a counselor, they are going to be asked to talk about things they don’t want to talk about and that it’s going to result in exposing a vulnerability. Maybe they’ll break down and cry. And that scares us. Going to see a counselor and talking to someone to address your psychological pain isn’t going to be the same as going to a doctor to get a shot to get rid of ‘it’ but it’s a start.
As for the Lord loving a working man - and I am sure she loves working women too – it was helpful to me in my periods of recovery to have things to do. The summer after I was attacked, I took a job cleaning hotel rooms in Yellowstone Park and the benefits of that were two-fold. The local press had got ahold of my story, sensationalized it and I was at times recognized in public in my hometown which lead to further withdrawal. But in Yellowstone, I was anonymous and it was my decision whether or not to tell someone what had happened to me. I also was seen by fellow employees, as just that, another employee. We all lived in dorms and in addition to working together, we also went hiking and played softball. During my more recent recovery, I found solace in volunteering at a local farmstead where we tap old sugar maples and boil the sap in modified file cabinets that serve as evaporators. We gather wood throughout the year and chop it into small pieces that burn hot and quick in the evaporators. When the sap starts running we lug 5 gallon buckets through the sugar bush to a central container and cook it off in February and March. It’s summer now and our attention has turned to picking berries and making jam.
Idleness can be psychologically and physically poisonous and is a common and pernicious side effect of many mental illnesses. It’s going to cause even more harm when the ill person is in a position where they are expected to provide for others and are then unable to do so. In addition to being physically able to do work there is also an expectation of a mental/psychological ‘fitness’ for the work place too. If you are having difficulty at work due to psychological or emotional issues and your place of employment does not offer help and you don’t have close friends or family to confide in, keep in mind that there are people who can help. May you have the courage to find them.
Paul Fogleman is a TIMB alumni and lives and works in Bloomington, IN. He advocates for people living with a mental illness though involvement in the local NAMI affiliate in south central Indiana.