What makes a strong man?


As anyone who has suffered from depression knows, at times all you want to do is hide and hope it goes away. Perhaps distract yourself and hope it goes away. Maybe not pay any attention to it and hope it goes away. But most of all, more than anything, you just want it to go away.

And many feel they can’t talk about it. maybe because talking about depression can make it feel more present in one’s life. Saying to someone “I have depression, I feel depressed” means it’s there. Someone’s just heard you say it. Shit just got real.

It’s bloody hard. Depression. Any mental health issue anyone has is a tough old nut to crack.

The press reported this week that the cricketer Jonathan Trott decided to leave The Ashes tour because of a  “long-standing stress-related condition.” Trott is undoubtedly one of the most talented players in the England team. He was ICC and ECB Cricketer of the year in 2011, and while his form has dipped a bit of late he is without an incredibly gifted player, a brilliant sportsman, and someone who deserves all the help he can get to see him through this bad time. Anyone who goes through a period of low deserves help and support without judgement.

When this was announced I felt a number of things. Pleased that the media were reporting positively, and without judgement, about a sportsman with a mental health issue, but also sad that anyone has to suffer from such a thing. I was pleased that he’d made that decision for his own health despite the enormous pressure he must be under, but also sad that a very talented player, decent man and loving father was going through a crisis. I’m also pleased that he will get to spend the time at home, at Christmas with his wife and daughter, rather than facing constant press and media scrutiny, and comments about his form and place in the team.

Marcus Trescothick, another cricketer, made the same decision when his mental health suffered and returned home from two tours in 2005 and 2006. He said of depression “There’s no hiding place from it, it’s 24/7. It doesn’t take into account what house you live in, what car you drive, what job you do and how much you get paid.”

This might seem weird to some people. Some might say “If I got paid that much I wouldn’t be depressed” but the problem with this beast of a disease is that it doesn’t discriminate. And, if it gets bad, it can prove fatal.

1 in 4 of us suffer from some form of mental health problem. So, those 12 guys in the pub on Friday night, 3 or more of them could be suffering at that time. They may look as if they’re having a good time, a laugh, but three of them may feel disconnected, lost, depressed and alone.

Do they do talk to their friends about this? Well, men are funny creatures. We don’t always do that talking thing. In some people’s eyes, men are supposed to be strong and men are supposed to act in a certain way. Many men don’t talk about their feelings at all, and many many men don’t talk about depression if and when it hits them. As men, fathers, we have a role perhaps. To protect those around us, to provide for those around us and to be strong. So we can’t show any sign of weakness can we? Especially not to other men. And, in some ways, admitting you have a problem is a sign of weakness.

But, I see it differently. What makes a strong man is one shows their feelings, has respect towards others, and someone who can stand up and face their problems, whatever they are, at the moment when Life turns darker. If those problems are affecting you and your relationship towards others then show others respect, and please show yourself the respect you deserve, by seeking the help you need to make things better. Because they will get better.

I know. I’ve been there.

To use a cricketing analogy, we all face deliveries we can’t deal with sometimes. A short pitched ball that catches us by surprise and suddenly we’re out. But we have a second innings. If we feel bowled out we can take time to recover, talk to people, friends, medical professionals and those around us. We can’t all be strong all the time, and sometimes we need help. You wouldn’t expect to be able to lift a piano up a flight of stairs without some assistance. You can’t fight a war on your own.

As I said above, any mental health issue anyone has is a tough old nut to crack. And coming from a right old nut I know this. From experience. I spent years hiding my depression. Knowing something was wrong, not understanding it at all, and certainly not feeling able to talk about it to anyone. My family, friends. Certainly not my family, the majority of whom, hear the word depression, think of the words mentally ill, and visualise a mad axe wielding homicidal maniac.

I had counsellors to talk to in my teens, medical professionals as I got older, and the GP when things really went tits up. At times I didn’t take these routes and once I tried to kill myself, but that didn’t work. To feel a failure, so much of a failure that you don’t want to live, but to actually fail to kill yourself is quite funny really. Gallows humour, but bear with me.

In my eyes, it means you’ve failed at dying, but succeeded in living.

And that’s better for everyone. Especially those around us, as you can be damn sure that whatever you feel, however you feel, if you succeed in killing yourself, someone will be left behind with a hole in their lives. Everyone means something to someone.

If you feel like you’re struggling please get help. Now. Talk to someone. Yes, talking it about does make it real, if depression or any form of mental health issue is new to you. But without that help you’ll struggle even more. That goes for men, women, sports people, celebrities or anyone with a pulse.

I wish Jonathan Trott the best of health and hope he comes back as soon as he can. I’d like to see him smiling, raising his bat and taking the applause in the middle for another beautifully crafted century. And I hope he has a lovely Christmas with his family. He’s got his priorities right, in my opinion. Some things, some people, are too important.

I’m writing this post for a couple of reasons. Firstly, because I want to say that seeking help when you’re going through a dark period and the light has left your life is the way forward and I’ve included some links to organisations which may help someone at the end of this post.

And secondly, because I’m working on a project with @OnlyDads about fatherhood and mental health.

We’re looking for bloggers, writers, video or film makers, artists, musicians… ach basically anyone and everyone who goes by the title ‘dad’, who has had experience of a mental health issue, to share their experiences. We’ll be setting up a website which will be a collection of stories and experiences. It’s an exciting and very open project, and one which might help others who are going through tough times. Even if you’re not particularly creatively minded, sometimes just writing or drawing your feelings might help.

So if you’re a dad and would like to contribute to this project, or know a dad who might like to get involved, then please email me at adadcalledspen@gmail.com.

And if you’d like to share your thoughts here, then please do.

And once again, thanks for reading.




5 responses to “What makes a strong man?

  1. I’ve suffered on and off with depression through my life, as you know it never really goes away. The waiting lists for talking therapies is so long and all I was offered was anti depressants. Some days my children are the only thing keeping me here. Remembering someone needs you helps. If I was a dad I’d help 🙂

  2. Great post. My dad and partner have both suffered from serious depression, and they both suffered alone & in silence for a long time before getting help. They both said they felt men should be strong & only weak men would ask for help but thankfully both realised how wrong that is, and that a strong man asks for help. Xx

  3. Awesome. Tears of recognition in my eyes Spen. You’re bloody right mate – you may have failed at dying but succeeded in living – and that is the most important thing there is. Kia Kaha (Maori for stay strong) from New Zealand. Vix x

  4. Spen, I am just reading this for a second time, because bits of it resonated with me so much. (I’m not a man, but I do know some.)
    I have always liked your blog, but the more I read it the more I marvel at what a beautiful writer you are. You don’t need to use long words or clever devices, you simply do what a writer should do which is touch your readers’ hearts and make them feel something.

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