Thursday, September 06, 2018

Down Day

I'm posting this for myself and for others.

My self-esteem and self-confidence have improved by leaps and bounds over the past couple of years. But every now and again I have an off day. Today is one such day, and in an effort to make sure tomorrow isn't another, I'm going to break these down: ten ways men sabotage their self-esteem.

1) Buying into toxic masculinity.

Nice to see this one right up front. I don't think it applies to me: I've been vigilant about scrubbing every last bit of that shit out of myself. Which isn't to say I don't have more to learn and do. But it's interesting how the writer defines toxic masculinity: I always thought it had something to do with the way men treated women.
  • Believing guys shouldn't talk about how they feel;
  • Thinking you aren't a man because you experience periods of self-doubt
  • Assuming that real men don't experience sadness, shame and depression
How many times have I suggested I can't possibly be a man? I have the thought multiple times a day as I am confronted with the presumed normal behaviour of my gender. I talk entirely too much about how I feel. Periods of self-doubt come standard with a human brain, albeit I really must question why they occur when there's nothing around me to suggest they should. As for sadness, shame and depression...two of those are normal human feelings and the third is a very common mental illness. All "real" people suffer at least two of the three.

If you catch most of us men in a candid moment, we'll tell you we have a man we look up to, a man who personifies manhood to us. For me, that man is my friend Craig. 

He's exceptionally well rounded. He's unstintingly generous to friends, family and total strangers. He has a fierce sense of justice; he takes no shit but gives none, either. And he's completely free with his emotions. If he wants to cry, he's going to cry. 

He's also had a very rough year, the kind of year that might drive some people to the edge and over. It impressed me that he reached out for others when he needed to, and was completely uninhibited about stating the obvious: he was sad and depressed. I wish I could have been more physically present for him. Things are starting to get better for him, finally,  I hope he knows that even in his darkest moments, he was and is an inspiration.

2) Relying on alcohol has (sic) a social lubricant (who edits these things?)

Alcohol is not a social lubricant for me. Alcohol turns me into a six year old, a very tired six year old, in remarkably short order. Two 7-percent coolers and I'm waddling and cooing off to bed.

Twenty years ago, it wasn't like this. Now, granted, I've only ever been truly hammered once, but once was enough. I hated that state: I felt like I was no longer in control of anything. In any event, it took a hell of a lot of liquor to reach inebriation. A lot more than two coolers. Now? Now I only get tipsy in front of people I trust, because I'm told I go a little squirrelly. Not to mention totally limp. Talk about loosening up.

3) Clamming up

The first two examples  -- experiencing a major loss and pretending it doesn't affect you, and minimizing past hurts -- no, I don't do that. But using humour to mask my emotions? Guilty. Not all the time: in fact most of the time, my jokes are  just that, jokes. But sometimes I'll post a bunch in a row when I'm feeling really down, because if I can't laugh, at least I can try to make other people laugh. 

4) Playing negative mental tapes

I really noticed this when I was going through that depressive episode four years ago. Endless loops of poisonous thought. I'm usually pretty good now at policing my thoughts and nudging them out of ruts. The last remaining rut is the size of the Grand Canyon, however, and I'm actually frightened to confront it. I intend to get a start on it with this blog entry. Keep reading, because wouldn't you know it, it's the next bullet point.

5) Unchecked body image

This is a giant ball of shame within me that occasionally floats to the surface. On my best days, I consider myself completely nondescript; on my worst I'm unspeakably ugly. The shame is compounded by knowing I don't have the will to do anything about this. 

"I think I'm allergic to exercise," goes the meme. "Every time I do it I break out in a sweat and get very short of breath." You exercise do you do it? I feel like I'm going to throw up after just a few minutes. I keep telling myself I'm going to join a gym, it's really important now because I no longer get exercise in the course of doing my job...and I keep putting it off, because "no pain, no....pain! DUH!"

Regardless, at 46 years old, I'm never going to have that six-pack and guns that women always drool over. Even the ones who say they don't care about looks drool over them. Me? People search desperately for something nice to say about my body and unfailingly come back to my eyes, which aren't my body at all...eyes are the windows to the soul. Hey, I know I've got a pretty good soul going, and I'm glad to be loved for it. Just once I'd like to experience that speculative glance, you know the one I mean, the one that says I wonder where else he bulges and ripples.

I have that thought, see, and then I clap a mental hand over my mental mouth and ask myself "are you mental?" If a man ever voiced the equivalent thought about a women, he'd have a new asshole ripped for him pronto. But as much as I rail against the fact that physical appearance means so damned much, even to people who claim it doesn't matter at all, secretly I long to be...not objectified, never that, be completely loveable. Outside too. Until I put in the effort, though, I have no right to feel anything other than ugly about how ugly I am. 

6) Denying mental health issues

I don't have very many friends who don't live with some kind of issue of this sort. And I know full well I have a depressive personality. I'm also notorious for taking things literally, so little sarcastic digs at me tend to dig a little deeper than they're probably intended to. What can I say? It looks like bedrock, but it's actually swamp. 

7) Learned helplessness

Seeing this incredibly toxic behaviour in others has alerted me to the fact I have it too. "That'll never work". "Why bother"? Hell, I just did it up in point five to explain why I'm not going to pump iron after work today. Why bother? I'd have to keep doing it, over and over and over again, so much sweat and tears and yes, probably blood too. It's ever so much easier to scream I AM MORE THAN MY BODY and bury the part of me that wants to be not-repellant.

And yes, I know how ridiculous this sounds. I've got two partners who love me very much, and a host of friends who do too, and there's no reason I should feel this way today or any day. But there it is. 

8) Isolating

You can track my depression by my behaviour.
  • writing on a computer screen with others in the room, but unaware of them: mildly depressed
  • playing piano in an empty basement: very depressed
  • ignoring both coping mechanisms and going, alone, to bed: get me to a doctor
I haven't felt the need to play piano in months. Today I'm feeling melancholy and I can't even explain why, or tell you what triggered it. But yes, when it gets bad, I isolate, all the while paradoxically longing for human contact. Who said any of this made sense?

9) Abusing 420

Also not something I do, and for much the same reason as alcohol, because weed has many of the same effects that booze does on me, only amplified. It's amazing for killing physical pain, and it knocks me out better than any sleeping pill I've ever tried, but in the meantime I'm not exactly fit for social settings. My mind goes to sludge. 

10) Blaming others

Never. Whom would I blame for my shit body image? That's on me and nobody else.

I had two choices to escape the hell that was my house as a very young child. I could have gone outside, or I could have gone to my bedroom, shut the door, and buried myself in a book. One guess which one I chose. 
Had I gone outside, I think it quite possible I'd be living an entirely different life now, a much more athletic and mobile life.  But I didn't, and I'm not. I'm living this life.

And this life is full of joy and love and laughter and closeness and friends and family and countless blessings. I know this, I appreciate it, and tomorrow will be a better day.

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