Tag Archives: depression

Landscapes of Tears Men Cannot Cry

Have you ever seen a man cry? How often?tears of release

I’ve never seen a man break down in tears. It’s a rare event. I’ve seen young boys crying, but the ability to do this seems to get bashed out of us early on. By the age of twelve or thirteen I’d learnt that crying wasn’t on. It wasn’t what the men around me or the men in films did, what my father did, or what my sporting heroes did.

I saw crying as part of a feminine world. It was something you did. Woman. I grew to believe that women were more emotional than men. Well they must be – they cry more often. Right?

crying_lady

On reflection I think I learnt not to be interested in the real lives of women and that somehow, in the man’s world I saw, there seemed a kind of code emerging. If I identified with women, or with my feelings too much, that I would pay a kind of societal price for this. I wouldn’t be valued or ‘succeed’ in this man’s world if I empathised with woman’s emotional life.

I’d wanted to come across as tough and manly, so my primary concern was to protect you. This was part of the ‘mask of masculinity’ I adopted and is still my instinct now. I feel a duty to take care of you physically, to ensure you come to no harm, to defend the territory around you. Lauren Jacob’s interesting blog Why Strong, Independent Women Just Want to Be Taken Care of (Sometimes) highlights this. I want to show you I’m steadfast, in for the long haul, will support you if you fall pregnant, and ride with your emotional storms. I am the first line of defence as far as your protection is concerned. I want you to feel safe and secure. You lie in my arms.

And yet…

We are, of course, expected to not just carry the heavy loads, but we’re expected to be the last off the sinking ship. We’re expected to go to war purely because we have a penis. Someone invades your home? The man is the one who’s expected to fight any attackers. The man is always expected to be the first line of defence. We might be the most sensitive beings in existence, but when the chips are down, we’re still expected to “man up”.  DorianHawksmoon – Guardian Blog

I’d learnt about being emotionally strong, stoic even; I’d learnt though, that to risk vulnerability by revealing feelings was ‘weak’. Yes, I do want to feel like a man in that ‘first line of defence’, avoiding the dark alley when walking you home, and also within a traditional masculine protocol – opening doors, buying flowers. These are ways I can show I want to take care of you. But asking for help? Just another weakness. That wasn’t part of the deal I struck with the masculinity I knew.

The first ‘cracks’ appeared after a relationship break up in my early forties. Until then I’d “manned up” surviving disappointment and loss beneath a mask of masculinity I’d been taught and had adopted to protect myself. After the split I was curled on the floor, wrapped in a raw, gut-wrenching struggle of being with feelings that I could no longer suppress – it was animal pain that overtook my body and it wasn’t going away.

The beginnings of tears.

tears of timeless reunion

That year, 2007, I learnt to cry myself to sleep. The first real tears since boyhood. They only came occasionally, but they were as old, unnamed stones being turned at last. It began a journey to a new landscape of the soul; my exterior was beginning to crack, something painfully new began to unfold.

The pain grew.

I was unable to mourn the collapse of ‘my story’. The rules binding the masculinity code I’d grown up with didn’t allow me to. I’d learned that it was weak to ask for help, that exposing my feelings risked ridicule and I’d learned that the rules of engagement in attracting the opposite sex were to be confident, strong and in control of my emotions. Like many boys, I’d learned to become disassociated from many of my feelings from a young age, and now I didn’t know how to express them.

Crying is emotional release, words the heart can’t say.. So when I had a breakdown, after patches of depression, the emotional avalanche that stormed through my body after years of keeping the lid on deeper feelings was a real roller-coaster – yet looking back now seems no surprise. As well as burn-out, it was an explosion of years of pent-up pain, and marked the beginning of a deeper journey for me into katabasis or descent, to the underworld of my hitherto unexpressed grief, loss and longing. A dying to the old self. A re-birth of the soul-path.

Grief is the first sign that we are becoming alive (Steve Biddolph)

Rose-Lynn Fisher’s beautiful personal research into the landscape of her tears struck me recently as I reflect now on the struggle with the kaleidoscope of feelings I began to bring to the surface.

“It’s amazing to me how the patterns of nature seem so similar, regardless of scale,” she says. “You can look at patterns of erosion that are etched into earth over thousands of years, and somehow they look very similar to the branched crystalline patterns of a dried tear that took less than a moment to form.”

Tears basaltears

Gradually, excruciatingly, tears squeezed from my body. These hidden branches of my emotional core, these storage boxes of feelings spanning twenty years. Fisher’s images uncover some of the strange beauty of suffering for me; reminding me of the complexity of the maps of the heart, the loneliness of faithless life and of ongoing matrices which, lying unexpressed, map out an infinite hell on earth, an ongoing misery of being less than fully human.

I revisited what I now understand as ‘major relapses’ twice again within the following two years. Two more journeys to recover Eurydice. Two more visits back to the sleepless, anxiety-ridden, ruminating madness; a completely overpowering blanket where the first few seconds of consciousness after waking are only a prelude to endless days and nights of insanity. Two more dives into the ashes.  Two further opportunities to shed the grief I’d been carrying, the trapped feelings, hurts and disappointments I’d bottled up.

Although the empirical nature of tears is a chemistry of water, proteins, minerals, hormones, antibodies and enzymes, the topography of tears is a momentary landscape, transient as the fingerprint of someone in a dream. This series (of tears) is like an ephemeral atlas.

How many of these delicate tapestries lie unshed in us? These atlases of the soul, these deep, unspoken landscapes of the heart.

Now it is easier. Sometimes tears are daily. There is an inexpressable joy in the aliveness of it all. Most of the compressed pain I stored has moved through my body, each tear a transforming landmark in an opening to a new life.

A few weeks ago I was sitting at my desk planning a rehearsal for a Deep Diving Men Lab theatre project and just feeling the freedom of wetness on my cheeks is enough; tears of love and joy, tears of the impossible made possible, tears of faith, tears of gratitude.

Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean,

Tears from the depth of some divine despair

Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,

In looking on the happy Autumn-fields.

And thinking of the days that are no more.

(The Princess: Tears, Idle Tears  – Alfred, Lord Tennyson)

 

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Does my Black Dog really answer to the name “Depression”?

black dog2

The lake sat beautifully in the afternoon sun; it was late autumn, my favourite time of the year.

I first fell in love in September, when I was sixteen, and if you’ve been fortunate enough to ever feel that and then claim her, you’ll know it’s an unforgettable, indescribable, heart-pounding, rushing joy…

But that was twenty years ago. I’m now thirty-six, and I’m sitting by this beautiful lake with my girlfriend and a pulsating rot in my gut. There must be a medical reason I thought. It must be because I’m with her, I thought. It must be because… And so the whirring began. Creeping up as an oncoming darkness. The last time I’d had a hernia I was making a diving catch in the covers – but this is different. It’s not a hernia. It’s a unique sort of ‘pain’. It languishes in the spreading of its energy; a lost voice, nagging, clouding my thoughts, inducing its unique brand of anxiety.

What was this deep gnawing in my gut? What are these cries? These feelings that everything’s ‘not right’? They are so very deep, deep within me.

Perhaps that moment marked the beginning of the journey to meet my dog.

The black dog scratches at my door, he’s persistent. I let him in from the cold. He cuddles up to me in the darkness. He delights in the loneliness of my soul. His howls are the calls of my heart. Beyond his whining I feel the gaze and lazy smile of my tormentor.

Eight years ago and it was my fortieth birthday. I invited all my friends and I told them all to “fuck off” during a drunken speech. I hired a sports club; nice feel, wooden (it burnt down a few years later) and a bit rough. The usual getting drunk ritual took place. Some friends turned up whom I’d invited but weren’t really friends at all. My girlfriend took me home. I have a vague memory of being in a car and collapsing at my house. I crawled upstairs and Nathan my lodger had to drag me into the bathroom. I didn’t make it and was sick all over the landing. I just lay in it all. Happy Birthday. What a good night etc…

 Something had been wrong for a while.

“Here Dep! Good Boy… Where’s your bone?” He walks in and skulks in the corner, frightened and frightening, saliva dripping, seething dirty energy. He’s old, aged from his tormenting, yet his inner vitality rots at my core. He makes his bed next to mine.

Six years ago, I’m 42 and on West Hampstead station. The train taking me back to Richmond is an arrow firing me into the void. The later email confirming she doesn’t want to be with me is a message from the lips of Medusa. I curl up in a rack of pain, howling like the dog who’s licking his lips just around the corner. I try to cry but I don’t know how, I’m a man without the emotional armory, I’ve no language for this. My guts are razor-like and scooping, churning. Everything inside me is burning. For the next nine months I wake like this, frightened and alone. Crying myself to sleep with unhappiness, I take a lover, who comforts me. I plunge blindly through work; how, I don’t know. Everything is loss, all is lost. I can’t get her out of my mind. I can’t go into town because she’s there.

What was happening?

During those nine distressing but important months, deep losses collided within me. I’d been triggered. She was the object, yet I was trying to mourn something untouched inside me.

Stitched to my feet he’s my shadow; he’s my longing, my Peter Pan; he pads silently beside me, manifesting himself in my collected pain. He is part of me. He’s my dog. His eyes are my deepest losses; like those red stockings clinging tightly to her brown legs his saliva dribbles seductively down from his chin.

‘Depression.. a set of symptoms that derive from complex and always different human stories. These stories will involve the experiences of separation and loss, even if sometimes we are unaware of them.’ (The New Black – Darian Leader)

I’m now 49 and the last ten years are beginning to make some sense. This does not mean I’ve cracked it, it means that having unpacked some of this stuff with my therapist, I can begin to gently fold up my clothes again, re-sequencing them in a wiser order. I can see some of my luggage labelled now, laid out on the floor. All the stuff I’d been carrying on my journey. A heavy load.suitcase

For years I’d been longing for the relationship in which I could emotionally unpack. Of course that relationship isn’t about finding the special one; I’m not the first man to lose himself in the seductive, physical offer of The Goddess and I won’t be the last for which she’s the Achilles heel on this hero’s journey. Yet my longing is a divine call to return home. To meet my Maker. I am crying because I am separated from God. They are cries outward and upward, not in.

My soul was weeping.

I want to propose that we are both sent and drawn by the same force.. We are driven and called forward by a kind of deep homesickness, it seems. There is an inherent and desirous dissatisfaction that both sends and draws us forward, and it comes from our original and radical union with God. (Richard Rohr – Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life)

What is Depression?

So what is Depression? Is it simply part of a pharmaceutical circus that prescribes us pills to feed our own capitalist economies? Or to show the NHS that it’s meeting its government-set targets? Isn’t it all a bit of a medical wind-up that we invented for ourselves forty years ago – to make the drug companies millions as part of some big consumerist cover-up? Are any drugs making any of us feel better? Don’t we need to call it an illness to retain this facade? Isn’t it all nonsense?

But it really wasn’t nonsense when I was finally reduced to a shuddering pool of twenty-four hour anxiety, fearful of the next moment, unable to care for myself and struggling to understand the complete despair I felt. What was happening to me? And it absolutely wasn’t nonsense having to return to this state of living hell three times. Perhaps Prozac assisted me in getting through the very worst, the ‘survival’ hours, the bottom of the pit, to help the hellishly, derailed sleeping pattern, to help me feel I was taking some action against the endless despondency, fear and torment. But they’ll never treat the cause. They won’t remove the pain. Yes, serotonin is a factor, but the experience of loss doesn’t lie in my brain, despite what some Government literature might tell me. The NHS can prescribe me a CBT quick-fix course, but it won’t help me in getting to the bottom of me. Drugs are not transformative. They are not the real work.

They can’t tell me that the cause is spiritual. They want to tell me it’s an illness and that it can be treated. And at the time that’s what I wanted to hear. I’m so desperate and it’s an answer! Thank God they can make medical sense of this. But.. What an arrogance! They don’t want to tell me that the only way is through, and not out. They don’t want to tell me there may more suffering on the journey. They don’t want to suggest I need to learn about courage and hope. But of course, don’t ask us to live in this paradox!! We expect to be ‘fixed’ in this postmodern, scientific world…

Leader employs a brutal analogy: quick-fix remedies work in the same way as a missile strike works on a terrorist base. In the short-term it looks successful, but it does nothing to alter the terrorist mindset. When loss and misery enter our lives, we are impatient to condense a process that, by nature or through talking therapies, can only be worked out over years. We want a name for our condition, and we want a timetable. (‘Anatomy of melancholy’ – Hilary Mantel, Guardian)

After my first nervous breakdown I realised I had made a huge descent, a road to my ashes of the type Robert Bly describes in Iron John.

I had finally started to hear my weeping soul.

Darian Leader frames the term ‘Depression’ well for me in his timely new book The New Black.

It is used so widely and with such little care that it acts as a barrier to exploring the detail of our responses to loss.

Overcoming loss will always be painful. My loss is part of me. My suffering is the roots of real transformation. The question I am asking now is – how do I integrate it into my life? Poor choices may mean my dog whines at the foot of my bed for years; wise choices that he’s free to go. Part of the paradox of being alive is that the human condition needs to endure necessary suffering and not suppress it. I see this clearly and complexly in the supreme gift we are offered; Jesus is the moment in time where God steps towards us and shows his human face. I’m beginning to understand this.. and integrate it into how I want to live. Being is about compassion, community and loving the other. Leaving the old behind is tough. I realise I don’t want a comfortable life, I want to live the adventure of life. Jesus asks me to follow – so God asks me to walk on my edge each day.

Yet it’s not all about psychotherapy and religion, it’s about the integration of a real truth into my life. Richard Rohr speaks of the truth as always being the truth, it can’t be questioned once established. Much of this truth can be found in the myths and legends of ancient cultures and civilizations. Jesus’ image in Matthew’s Gospel of a winnowing fork is used 700 years before by Homer in the Odyssey, yet might the image be at home in a modern trainee therapist’s thesis?

His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire. (Matthew 3:12   New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition)

wheat-from-chaff

I don’t think my dog wants to answer to the name ‘Dep’. He’s Smudge or Joe or Monty. And he doesn’t need to be black. I think my ‘depression’ belonged to an old identity that has died. An identity that bled to death in his own ashes – no longer the big ‘I am’ – and then knelt quietly, and surrendered his soul to his Lord.

So as I begin to sort out the wheat from the chaff, it’s time to stand by what is real, and leave what is unreal, to stand by what lasts, and leave what doesn’t last behind me.

 

The Day I Lost My Edge

What do men really need?

What is ultimate bliss for a man? What is that special something that makes me different from those desires of a woman? What makes me in essence, unmistakably masculine in my heart?

I was talking to a good friend of mine yesterday. He’s doing a TEFL training course. He’s under pressure yet inspired by it, tired yet thrilled by the intensity of his experience – and in his late 50s he’s rediscovering his edge. Undiscovered country. New land. A new test.

How does a man find his purpose?

A man’s edges thrill, inspire and challenge him. I like being challenged. I need to map out new boundaries and terrain. I have only met a handful of truly fulfilled men, and they are constantly within their adventures, mapping out new lands, charting new territory. My experience of men is that we admire each other for our activity and courage, often in the face of danger or risk. Women admire us for this too. When I shy away from that risk, I neglect something about my core, my essence; I withhold my spiritual gift.

I’d worked as a drama teacher for over 20 years, a master of creative inspiration and technique, a man with the Midas touch: miracle-maker! At a jot I could turn the most mediocre theatre work into gold. I led class after class to their creative brink, to doors of their newly found artistic freedom. But I’d mastered my edge long before. The inspirational production line stopped rolling, breakdown and burnout came knocking. Depression began to eat me up as my soul shrank, my offering crumbled and the lights began to go out.

I didn’t want to see it.

I couldn’t hear the cry.

My edge was clear back then. My purpose unclouded. I was a teacher and I shaped theatre. We made the unrealised possible and the undiscovered known. I’d held that unchartered land for many rising performers and students. My edges were the windows I provided for their creative potential. How beautifully or thrillingly I could make that happen was my ultimate edge. I thought it was about them, and of course it was, but actually, it was still deeply about me.

Understanding that your life is not about you is the connection point with everything else. It lowers the mountains, and fills in the valley that we have created. (Richard Rohr – Adam’s Return)

I’d lost my edge long before I eventually ‘broke down’ at work. I’d danced a thousand dances on and over it. I was standing on a flat, over-trodden, worn-out landscape with not a mountain in sight. As I looked up that day, the only light for my office was from a single window which framed an unused, concrete wasteland. It was a September morning, the start of term, and I was running a large Drama Department single-handed. As I sat down at my desk after the morning’s deadening briefing I felt numbness spread through my body and deep emptiness within me. It was as if my soul was stirring. A deep longing and breath within me was saying “I’m here, I’m here. Why are you still treating me like this?” I looked at the walls adorned with photographs of past triumphs, bibles of dramatic knowledge and at the names on the lists of the new students coming in. I didn’t want to be there. I knew. The edge had long gone.

Where a man’s edge is located is less important than whether he is actually living his edge in truth, rather than being lazy or deluded. (David Deida – The Way of the Superior Man)

Looking back, I wonder how I spent so long inviting these years into my life. Many of my colleagues just seemed dead men walking. How was I still working with these half-alive people in this completely uninspiring institution? 

Laziness.

And Fear.

Fear of change, of not being needed, of being broke, of being lost, of drowning out of the pond, of not knowing. Fear of finding out who I really was.

I shift the paper on my desk. Students mill around outside waiting, excited, nervously expectant. The pendulum of another academic term swings and the ensuing tide carries me unerringly with it.

I did eventually listen to the voice within, but I needed a strong dose of divine intervention. Four years later an Almighty hand finally plucked me from the safety of that pond and lay me like a fish writhing on the concrete, flipping and jumping, strangely tossing and twisting its last.

Only when the struggle for that life was over, could I hear.