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Why Men Still Won’t Talk About Their Feelings

From a man who has learned the hard way.


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Leon Macfayden

4 months ago | 7 min read
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“Bad things happen to people and if you believe in God, it was all meant to be anyway. You need to get on with it.” — My extremely caring doctor.

I had been suffering from PTSD for years and was sinking into a deep depression. I couldn’t take the pain anymore. The UK National Health Service is lauded over like a sacred cow, so surely a doctor could help me, right?

I gave the doctor a brief overview of my problem, unsuccessfully holding back tears as the memories triggered like knives. He looked me up and down and said the quote mentioned above.

I sat in stunned silence for about 30 seconds before leaving.  I was not only still traumatized with no end in sight, but now I was a coward. The doctor said as much, and he must know what he is talking about.

If the above might sound like a disastrous one-off experience, I later saw a different doctor. Through gritted teeth and sobbing, I told him my problems with PTSD and depression. He went under his desk and got something he thought might help — his daughter’s teddy bear.

This doctor then proceeded to do a ventriloquist show for a few minutes with the teddy bear dancing around his desk. Unlike the betrayal I felt from the previous doctor, I was initially too amazed to be angry. He kept this teddy bear to hand for cases exactly like mine, and I wondered how many other people he had treated to this cutting-edge medical performance.

I have written extensively about my treatment in therapy. With the above examples, you can see why I have no time for the medical profession and learned without a shadow of a doubt that “opening up” to the wrong people is not only a waste of time but is dangerous.

Here in the UK, we are fond of saying, “The National Health Service… not all hero’s wear capes.” To that, I say, don’t make me laugh.


Mixed Messages.

My two experiences with doctors highlight the mixed messages men receive from society. The modern trend is to bombard us with messages that “It is good to talk.” Whole advertising campaigns are set up to get people talking. Even Prince William is out there baring his soul for the world to see. You would be forgiven for thinking the concept of the silent, stoic man was a thing of the past. On the surface, society wants you to believe this.

But old habits die hard. Men like myself see a break between what society SAYS it wants and what it ACTUALLY wants. Look at this list of iconic movie characters. Not many soft and sensitive men are to be found there.

The reason I suffer PTSD is that I was a police officer. I joined in 2002 and left abruptly in 2009. As far as the bosses were concerned, there were ample systems for the (primarily male) officers to talk about their feelings if the need should arise.

In reality, policing was (and I suspect still is) an extremely macho world. Canteen culture ruled, and the officers that fitted in best were those that boasted of their sexual conquests, enjoyed attending fights, and loved driving fast and looking good while doing so.

If police officers on the ground knew you were soft, they would start avoiding you. They would feel you are unreliable at serious incidents, and gradually you would become an outsider. You would no longer fit into the “boys club.”

It was in this environment that I developed PTSD. Several senior officers noticed and attempted to get me to talk but do you think I could risk opening up in the atmosphere I just described? Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t.

The incident which caused most of my trauma occurred in 2003, and I stuck with policing for six more years. I kept quiet about it for most of that time and stayed in the boys club. Other officers saw me as reliable, tough, and strong-minded. If only they knew!


Men Stigmatize Themselves.

Men are not just the victims of society at large. We expect ourselves to be tough and stoic because it is what we see around us, and it is the example we see from many successful men.


So if we feel like we are not living up to the archetypal tough guy, or even worse, if we suspect we have a mental illness, we often develop a deep sense of shame.


If you suffer a physical illness, there is no judgment about your character. However, a MENTAL illness has connotations of being weak, cowardly, unreliable, and perhaps not even a “real man.”


Men do not believe that society wants to listen to their problems. So we sit in silence and judge ourselves as weak and pathetic to spare us from society condemning us on a much grander scale.

When I developed PTSD, I felt there was something intrinsically weak about me. Every other officer at the scene seemed fine, laughing and joking as if nothing was happening. How could I admit that out of all those officers, I was the one who broke.

Years later, I learned I was not the only one. Several officers suffered traumatic reactions. They were all pretending like me.


How Minor Difficulties Grow out of Control.

Due to men’s reluctance to seek help when an emotional problem arises, we often ignore it for so long that it grows into an unmanageable monster and overwhelms us when it becomes too advanced to contain.

I was treated for PTSD relatively successfully in 2004 after I had admitted to a select few senior officers that I needed help. I did not admit I was struggling to any of my colleagues who just thought I was off sick. (The rumor mill is powerful in the police, and looking back, I would be surprised if there were not at least some whispers about the real reason for my absence).

After a brief period, my therapist declared me cured. I certainly felt much better. If I had left the police at that point, there is a strong chance I would be PTSD-free to this day.

Unfortunately, the therapist gave me the green light to return to policing, and, not wanting to be weak and pathetic, I went back to work immediately. This resulted in many traumas piling on top of each other. All of my therapeutic hard work was undone, and in 2009 I was considered 100% disabled for the rest of my life.

The lesson here is to seek help for the little things before they grow out of control.


Men Often Display the Symptoms but Not the Cause.

I medicated myself for a couple of years with alcohol. Most weekends, I used to hit the bars and clubs in London. My purpose was to get so drunk that I couldn’t feel the pain anymore, and it always worked temporarily.

I have lost count of the number of times I have woken up in an alley, covered in vomit and wondering where I was. Looking back, I could have been mugged, beaten, or even killed. Inevitably, when I woke up in this state, I felt just as emotionally savaged as before, only now with a splitting headache.


I also became more angry and intolerant. My family noticed it did not take much to get me shouting, and I overreacted all the time, leading to many apologies and feelings of guilt.


Men try to hide their symptoms because they are ashamed of them. This may delay them getting help because the mask is only apparent to the careful observer.


That guy you know who is always angry — maybe he is traumatized.


That man who likes a good drink — maybe he is masking depression.


Sometimes, the mask gets so bad that you have to address it before getting to the underlying problem — alcoholism and drug addiction are two examples.

After reading the above, you may not be surprised to know that the biggest killer of men under 45 is suicide.


What Can Be Done?

Since childhood, the stereotypes surrounding what it means to be a man have been pumped into us. We see the stereotypical male hero of the silver screen and judge ourselves against him. There is no place for emotional support in this narrow worldview.

I still believe talking helps, but you must have absolute confidence that you have found the right person to confide in. I could easily have gone down the same route as many men and never opened up again. Luckily, I have a fantastic family that I can open up to, which has helped me completely turn my life around into the happy and successful one I enjoy today.


The most crucial step to begin changing this situation is for men to start having conversations with other men. This requires a massive mental shift because you have to remember each man is likely playing a role, so only the bravest will make themselves vulnerable enough to be the first to take this step.


Another hurdle is that the older men get, the fewer male friends they tend to have. We get in a vicious circle of working, coming home and collapsing on the sofa until bedtime, and repeating this cycle over and over. Friends go out the window.

It is only when the fundamental archetype of what it means to be a man is challenged that it begins to break down.  Honesty is the best policy.

Some men have let their problems go on for so long that they cannot manage them alone, and therapy might help. Although I have been disparaging toward mental health professionals, sometimes you have to take the risk. They can’t all be bad.

By having these honest conversations, bit by bit, we can break down the falsehoods surrounding masculinity and mental illness. Eventually, this will benefit women too because mental illness knows no gender and fundamental truths about what it means to be human affect us all.


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Leon Macfayden

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From Depression and PTSD to a life of Health, Love, and Joy. I am passionate about sharing my experiences to help others. Open to writing gigs lmacfayden@yahoo.com


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