For a bizarre fucking reason growing up, I was taught to bottle my feelings so that I could reserve my place in ‘real-man’ heaven.
I always believed that crying was an expression of inner weakness which I needed to contain so I could keep up the appearance of this red-meat eating, lumberjack who was impervious to pain: both physically and mentally.
Pride was the driving force behind my attempt to create this seemingly herculean-like man on the outside whilst protecting the frailty and fragility which I knew existed on the inside.
I was trying hard to substantiate my position of alpha male.
What a load of shit that was.
As a teenage boy, school was a confusing time. You fall in love for the first time, you hate your parents for something new every week and everything is a popularity contest. In addition to this: kids are dicks. I don’t care what you’ve heard, teenagers are savages who have zero regard for the well-being of others.
In this environment, you have two options: become a victim or avoid it entirely and act as if none of it exists. Well, I did the latter. I hated waking up on a school day knowing that I’d have to suffer through another 7 hours of cliché personalities and so, I refused to participate.
But, as time passed, it wasn’t just waking up that bothered me anymore. It was walking to school, being in class, taking lunch and walking home that bothered me.
I didn’t have the energy to continue to mould this sculpture of strength and courage out of the little I had left to offer.
I hid away from the world so that people wouldn’t notice my weaknesses breaking through the surface. Isolation was where I repaired the seams and where I sewed together my brave face for the next morning.
This process continued for 3 years. I was gradually scratching out the canvas which once showed a normal, happy young-man and, instead, painted this dark cloud which consumed everything in its path.
This dark cloud was around all of the time and I couldn’t figure out why.
I always thought to myself: ‘Is this normal?‘ or ‘I suppose most teenagers go through this’.
This constant state of denial and ‘mental dysmorphia’, caused me to experience my first panic attack.
Not being in control of my body’s actions cemented my decision to finally speak to somebody about this. It was at this time that I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder with a side-dish of Social Anxiety just to really spice shit up.
I was enrolled in CBT sessions which I persisted with for 6 months and made little progression.
Why? Because I was still so damn stubborn that I refused to truly open up.
What did that do for me? Jack-shit.
All the years of hiding my emotions and pretending to be okay, ironically, were the main ingredients in this diet of destruction.
I refused to let this be it for me. I knew I was in a bad condition but, I was the one who put myself there: I’ll be the one who drags myself out of it again.
I completely reversed my thinking. I spoke when I could about my feelings to people that I trusted, I wasn’t ashamed to admit that I was having a bad day: I constantly pushed my boundaries for 18-months, every single day without fail.
Did I have bad days? Of course. That’s completely fucking normal. But, and this is super important, the bad days I had, NEVER changed into bad weeks or months. I fought the supple grip of anxiety with every ounce of my fibre.
That is what truly makes a strong person.
View it this way: if you shake a bottle filled with coke and leave the lid on, you can feel how tight the plastic is as it tries desperately to deal with all of the pressure. Now, what happens when you take the lid off?
All fucking hell breaks loose but, at least you relieved that pressure.
Now imagine what would happen if you did the exact same thing but with the bottle half-full. Sure, there will still be pressure but it’s manageable once you twist the cap. You can stop it from overspilling by releasing the pressure little-by-little.
Treat your mind in the same way. If you keep your thoughts, emotions and fears locked in the dark, one day, when you do decide to talk about them (or forced to), you will splurt out years worth of pain: which will be completely unbearable.
You need to realise that your ego needs to take a fucking seat for one minute. Speaking about your problems does not make you weak: it makes you incredibly strong. Hiding from the bullshit is easy: everybody can do that.
It’s the real bad-assess who embrace the sacrifices which need to be made. The real Rambo-type motherfuckers are the people who understand that things need to change.
I’m here to remind you that anxiety (and any mental illness for that matter) couldn’t care less how much of a man you think you are: it will still break you down. Pulling pieces from your health, confidence, and ability to function day-by-day like an eternal game of human Jenga.
The stigma around men speaking up about their mental health needs to be abolished. I, for one, will shout at the top of my lungs about my accomplishments and my flaws. I’m not ashamed of either.
As long as you are being true to yourself – fuck what everybody else thinks. If you don’t commit, you won’t change shit.
Ryan is a mental health advocate and writer who has been kicking anxiety’s ass since 2016.
Ryan Ritchie can be found on his Twitter