Staying Strong: How to Preserve Your Masculinity While Experiencing Depression
Our minds are not simply the creators of thought and keepers of memory; they are also battlefields upon which wars are waged. When men experience a mental illness like depression, we are often confronted by the fact that along with our mental health, our masculinity is under attack. Not only must we struggle to overcome the illness – we must fight to regain our manhood.
Depression, for all its faults, does a wonderful job of making men question what it means to be masculine. This awakening of the mind, especially as it begins to see that our societally-crafted conception of masculinity is incompatible with depression, is a brutal and painful experience.
This has led me and countless other men to wonder how one can possibly be masculine when living in the grips of depression.
The Core Issue: Feeling Powerless
When it comes to depression and masculinity, the true problem lies in the fact that we’re playing a zero-sum game. Whenever depression wins ground, masculinity loses.
This friction seems to be caused by the fact that while depression is defined by feelings of hopelessness and a lack of control, masculinity is typically defined by strength, power, and emotional stability. For many men, the hardships of mental illness are amplified because the illness challenges their perception of their own masculinity.
My personal experience with depression taught me that this conflict can be just as painful as the symptoms of the illness itself. Wanting so desperately to maintain my masculinity while my strength and hope were taken away was a deflating experience, to say the least. While I fought to remain functional and social, my mental health was deteriorating so quickly that I couldn’t keep my emotions in check.
A Challenge to the Masculine Lifestyle
Of course, the battle between masculinity and mental illness is not confined to the mind. As my depression ate away at my feelings of masculinity, my daily routine was affected. The overwhelming fatigue I felt made it impossible to exercise, socialize, and put real effort into my work. When getting out of bed is a monumental struggle, going to the gym might as well be flying to Mars.
While I thought being a man meant being in control of my life, depression was showing me very quickly that I had no control whatsoever. The smallest, most insignificant task could drown me in a sea of despair. The illness changed every aspect of my life that I felt represented my masculinity.
Do We Need to Change Our Definition of Masculinity?
When confronted with this battle, men have to adapt if they are to survive. Jed Diamond, writing for Huffpost, argues that we have to do away with the traditional conception of masculinity altogether. While I understand his perspective, I’m not convinced.
Characteristics that are typically described as masculine, such as strength, resilience, and self-control, should not be cast aside. Simply because there is a great deal of value in feminine characteristics does not mean that masculinity is wholly awful. Instead, I feel that men should look for ways to preserve what is best about masculinity while coping with depression.
How to Feel Masculine While Experiencing Depression
This leads to the big question: How can I maintain my masculinity while feeling depressed?
If I had one answer that would solve this issue for every man, I would gladly share it. Instead, I’ll simply explain the strategies that have helped me in the past.
Before I do this, I should be very clear that I am not discussing treatments for depression. I’m specifically talking about how to preserve your sense of masculinity while experiencing the illness.
These are the three strategies that I have used in the past:
- Give yourself something to control. An activity like writing or carving can give you a sense of purpose and power when your emotions seem to be out of control.
- Be generous. I quickly learned that generosity is an expression of power; when you use your own talents, money, or time to help someone in need, you will feel empowered by the fact that someone relied on you for help. Helping others is a fantastic way to help yourself.
- Find someone with whom sharing feels like cooperative problem-solving. Many men do not enjoy sharing emotions and thoughts with others. Instead of making the interaction about sharing, think of it as problem-solving. Talk to a loved one that will make you feel like you are simply tackling a problem with a partner.
Who's My Battle Buddy?
Written by Tim Hickey
Tim is a writer and business owner from Ottawa, Canada. He has provided thoughtful and well-researched blog posts about health and fitness, entertainment, and technology for numerous publications. His passions include writing and martial arts.