The 'Hard' Exterior of a Man With Bipolar Disorder
For many, and for me as a man, pride can get in the way when it comes to opening up about my struggles with mental illness. When you are supposed to be strong, and silent, and successful in the societal sense, you shouldn’t project any kind of weakness.
But fear is also at work too. How much can I say, and how much will I allow myself to ask for? People will surely think I am sick, that I am damaged, that I cannot contribute as a productive and healthy member of society. “He’s bipolar, he’s this, he’s that, he’s not maybe right for us.”
And how do I go about saying it? Of letting it out slowly and honestly, so I am truer to myself? How much support will I allow myself to receive from people, in a true sense, a modest sense?
It has taken a long time to be able to admit to myself, a seemingly well-put together person, that I could possibly be afraid of speaking to people or be afraid my words won’t ring true, that I’m faking it, that I might sound ridiculous, or that, well, you know, I’m acting like I’m confident, but inside I am shy. I’m from a successful family; I couldn’t possibly be insecure or afraid of certain situations that others may quite possibly glide easily through.
It takes incremental steps to forgive myself. Because the shame of living in your own inner darkness, when you are trying to project to the world that you are a well-put together human, is an utterly exhausting exercise.
“He couldn’t possibly be insecure or have low self-confidence. He has a job and a wife, and he did well in college, and, well, he looks OK.”
So, it comes down to being honest with myself. OK, shrink down the demons, put them in a manageable perspective. OK, so I couldn’t get the talk right because I was nervous and shaky and a little inadequate with my feelings today. Well, it was maybe good enough. I showed up and did it at least 50 percent well. And if I have to call in sick, I have to call in sick. And admit to myself that, “Hey, you don’t have it today. Maybe you’ll have it tomorrow. And that’s OK.” It’s OK to be off your game, to admit that, “Well, I just don’t think I can do it today.” And this honesty, this nudging of the pride, has been a step in facing a horrible illness but knowing I did my best with what I had that day.
Out of shame and pain and difficult moments of depression when you think everything is as bland as bland can be, when your deepest thoughts are broken, when you feel you can’t go on longer, that hope has left you forever, wonderful richness can arise, over time. But, as I go there, I have to use language that complements the real me and doesn’t exaggerate the demons I have. Accept I have issues, be open in a way that doesn’t compromise myself, and in that I mean building things up in my head, often projecting them in an inauthentic way, that don’t reflect the true person I am.
So, being hard on myself is ingrained. It is part of who I am. It helps me in many ways to “succeed” in a conventional sense, but it does not serve. It is not serving the person I am and the person I strive to be. For, I am not a hard person. I am a person who is extremely hard on himself. I was just acting like a confident, stable, successful, strong and silent man because that was the way I thought the world wanted me to present myself. And when the insides are in conflict with your true nature, depression and anger and sadness mount. A man like me has bottled these things up for so long, living in a shroud of fear and insecurity.
But I want to be softer. I am softer now because I have learned how to let out my inner feelings in a more sustainable, cautious and natural way. I am less afraid to reveal my feelings, and to do this you have to trust yourself. Then you can trust others who can provide support and compassion. I use softer language now, tell the hard pride to just go rest for a while, I don’t need you to overwhelm me today. It’s OK to be soft and open and honest, to show weakness, to let down your guard in your way, to do it in a way that works for you — even for a man others might look at and say, “Wow, he’s so strong and confident.” While inside the story is different. And it is OK to tell yourself too. And to tell others in the language of your choosing. “I’m trying my best with what I’ve got. And that is enough. I am enough…”
I will play with you and tussle with you gently, pride and shame, but I will not let you engulf me anymore.
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