In 2000, I attempted suicide by jumping off of the Golden Gate Bridge. Prior to that, I was filled with extraordinary fear, and desperate shame. Around the world, we lose a man to suicide every minute of every day. This could have been me.
Back then I kept it all in. Instead of opening up and sharing my internal self-destruction, I buried it all, I silenced my pain. I kept the brunt of my symptoms of diagnosed bipolar disorder to myself; ranging from extreme paranoia, grandiose manic episodes, dismal and darkened depressions, powerful panic attacks, lengthy heart palpitations, vivid hallucinations both auditory and visual, and even physical pain caused by my brain malfunctioning.
I kept my feelings and symptoms bottled up inside, in fear of opening up to my father, whom I was living with. My parents had recently divorced. I wholeheartedly believed that if I spoke out about my symptoms, I would be misunderstood or my feelings and thoughts would not be acknowledged or given the attention they deserved. I feared being locked away in a white-walled, padded room, with the key thrown away.
These fears were brought on by my traditional ideas about masculinity. Masculinity makes it difficult for men to talk about how they are doing, and silencing our pain has been the name of the game since man first existed. Historically, men were the hunters, gatherers, and providers. We sought out, found and killed to survive. As time went on, many men, especially seasoned fathers taught their sons to ‘be strong, stop crying and man up.’ This was passed down from generation to generation, affecting men on every continent, and from every walk of life.
Back then, men were not taught that we have both masculine and feminine traits, a mixture of both X and Y chromosomes that have always lived within our DNA. That look at science was either argued against or tossed aside. The reason men have a hard time talking is because globally we have been conditioned not to.
I have thought about the day I jumped off the bridge for the last 17 years, almost every single day. Don’t get me wrong, I have absolutely found closure. But the reality is: it’s hard not to have flashbacks, nightmares, or even visions of that day.
If someone had intervened that day, things would have absolutely been different. Due to my psychosis on that day, I could not say aloud “I need help now.” Yet, I desperately wanted someone to say to me, “Are you OK? Is something wrong?” or “Can I help you?”
Had any one of the hundreds of passersby engaged with me, it would have given me permission to share my darkness, and potentially have showed me that I had the ability on that day to choose life.
There are people in my life today who are tremendously gifted listeners, such as my wife, my brother-in-law and my best friend. They never judge me for what I say or do. They are there in the present with you every step of the way. It’s clear they have your back, and you have their ear. These individuals share the qualities of the Movember Foundation’s ‘Unmute–Speak Up’ campaign which encourages you to support mental wellness by asking the men in your life how they are doing. The campaign encourages you to do this using ALEC or Ask, Listen, Encourage action, and Check-in.
‘Unmute–Speak Up,’ encourages open conversations around men’s mental health is a way to ultimately reduce the high rate of male suicide, which currently takes the lives of 90 men across the US each day.
Today, I reach out to the men in my life every way I can. I reach out just to say hello. I reach out to say I love them. I reach out to show I care. Because of this, having hard conversations comes easy to me now. When my friends are in pain, I ask them if suicide has ever crossed their mind. I ask if they’ve ever planned to take their lives. Or if they are currently thinking of it.
While I take the asking and listening approach with the men in my life at every chance I get, my personal experience doesn’t make this proactive, conversational approach exclusive to me. The truth is that we all have the power to ignite potentially life-saving conversations.
Men are willing to talk, if you ask. Take yourself off of mute and Ask, Listen, Encourage action, and Check-In.