What shall I write about today? Well, I’m going to write about a subject I know a little about because I’ve been one as long as I’ve been alive…men. I know technically I didn’t become a man for a couple decades, and my wife is still waiting for me to become a grown up, but I think I’m qualified. Men are strange animals, with strange qualities, and even stranger odors. We grunt. We sweat. We make messes. We’re rough around the edges and soft around the middle. We have dad bods. We have bad habits. We do gross things and we laugh at them. Now excuse me while I go try to belch the alphabet…
…I’m back. Sadly I only made it to “L”. I’ve regressed since middle school when I could make it to the second half of the alphabet without breaking a sweat. No time to practice now, because I have important writing to do.
There is probably no other quality that defined a man more than our “toughness.” Men need to be tough. We need to be strong. We need to be in charge. People depend on us so always have to come through for them.
Think back to the olden days. You had movie stars like John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, and Chuck Norris. You had songs like “Bad Bad Leroy Brown”, “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim”, and “A Boy Named Sue.” You had manly men who oozed toughness from every manly pore of their manly bodies. Men who could single-handedly take out an army, then take out a beautiful woman to a nice dinner. These were real men who showed no weakness and would never, ever stop to ask for directions. They could do it all on their own and they didn’t need help from anybody. We men should strive to be more like this because we never need help.
Or do we?
I want to talk about a different kind of toughness. Not one that is measured by the ability to take out an army, nor by the ability to shoot lots of bad guys without missing a single shot and somehow never running out of bullets. This kind of toughness takes a whole lot more bravery, and it is far more important than the other kinds of toughness. I’m talking about the toughness it takes to admit when we need help.
Over the last 15 months I’ve been through a lot. I was transferred from a job I loved at my alma mater to another school in the district, hid under the stairs with my family as my hometown was decimated and my own home severely damaged by a category 5 hurricane, saw daily reminders of the storm, lived with eight other people and four dogs in my in-laws’ three-bedroom house for five months, moved into a travel trailer in our driveway (in which we still reside, and will do so for another three or four months), and lost my mother, who lost a nearly twenty-year battle with Multiple Sclerosis in March. Any one of these calamities would have a huge impact on any man, but the combination of them is enough to bring even the toughest man down.
(For the record, I love my wife’s family and I am incredibly appreciative that they allowed us to live there for so long. However, the living situation was definitely less than ideal.)
For months I knew I had to be a tough man. I was hurting and stressed out on a daily, no, hourly basis. I couldn’t sleep at night because of the weight of being a tough man. I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t because I had to hold it all in for the sake of my family. I was a rock. I was tough. I was wrong.
Deep down I knew that I needed to talk to somebody, but I didn’t know where to turn, nor did I have the guts to ask. In March, 2019 I was called into the Superintendent’s office and he told me I was transferring to another school. In all honesty, these have been good moves for me, but in that moment, all of the stress, pressure, and emotion came to a head and I began to cry in his office. It was an ugly scene, but it was necessary. I told him what I had been going through and he referred me to a counselor. I was hesitant because real mean don’t need mental health or depression counseling.
I decided to make an appointment and met with the counselor several times. He listened as I spilled my guts and spilled my tears. He reaffirmed what I had been feeling and assured me that I wasn’t alone with these feelings. He offered several suggestions (including writing) and I have felt a million times better since then. There are still moments that get to me, but for the most part I feel great…even if our house is still nearly gutted and we will be lucky to move back in by Christmas (which would be 14 months since “The Storm” as we call it around here).
I didn’t tell you about all those bad things so you would feel sorry for me. I appreciate the support of my friends, but that’s not my goal. I write these things…these things I haven’t told anybody but my wife…in the hopes that somebody else who needs help will be convinced to seek help. You may not have gone through the same exact situations, but you feel the same exact pressure and depression I, and so many others have. Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a manly man. Don’t be an idiot. If you need help, get help. It’ll be one of the toughest decisions you’ll ever make, but it will be one of the best.
As a Christian, I don’t want to neglect the spiritual aspect of dealing with depression and stress. Believe me, I did a lot of praying during this time. Prayer is essential no matter what you’re going through, but there are times when opening up to another human, being willing to tear down the facade, and sharing your problems with that other person carry benefits as well. Even if you’re not a religious person, there is still help available if you’re tough enough to ask for it.
I hope these words help at least one person out there. And I hope all you tough guys out there are tough enough to get help when you need it. Don’t try to go it alone…even if you’re as tough as Chuck Norris.