Kicking the ass out of loneliness and depression is a noble, if difficult, goal. For many guys, in a world where they are liable to be called a princess for showing any hint of vulnerability, it’s hard to know where to start. And as much as we are used to hearing the well-meaning catchphrases “it’s ok to not be ok,” “it’s ok to show vulnerability” and “speak up” there is a huge difference between intellectually knowing these things are ok, and feeling these things are ok.
After all: a couple of years of shifting public norms aren’t going to magically cancel out 20 years (or depending on how old you are, perhaps 80 or 90 years) of being steeped in a “suck it up” culture. Not that it’s bad to be resourceful and independent, but when toughing things out on your own is the only tool in your kit, when you hit an emotional roadblock you’re likely to get stuck.
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But while there is no magic solution to your sometimes bleak feelings, what almost always seems to help, is opening up and talking to a trusted source about them.
DMARGE recently spoke with Justin Noble, a men’s mentor and workplace well being coach, about this. Justin shared how he had suffered with depression over the years and, after a break up a few years back, found himself in a really tough place.
“Long story short, a couple of years ago I had broken up with an ex-partner and, like most, went through a real rough patch. I’ve actually been prone to depression throughout my life [and] it was about two and a half years ago when I absolutely hit rock bottom and was very, very close to throwing the towel in. Thankfully I didn’t. But during that time of recovery and healing, I came across a couple of men’s groups. One in particular called The Banksia Project.”
Video: Justin Explains The Difference Between Self Esteem & Confidence
During this experience Justin realised how powerful a tool these kind of groups can be.
“I joined the group and over the net six months or so realised how powerful they were for getting men together who had been through difficult stuff – and most of us have been through difficult stuff – parenting or work or relationships.”
“This was a really great way for guys to talk about stuff that was really important and feel validated actually supporting each other. As you probably appreciate, most of the time, when us blokes go down the pub it’s like: getting pissed, having fun, talking about footy, that kind of stuff.”
Justin added: “The older people get, the more isolated they get – particularly when they have kids and the less opportunity they have to talk about this kind of stuff. In this day and age what we are all missing a lot of is that feeling of connection.”
To try to help other guys find this feeling of connection, in the wake of COVID and its detrimental effect on many people’s mental health, Justin has decided to set up a Friday lunchtime meeting session at Salty’s in Bondi, where he lives.
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“I had done a few online similar things, but I wanted to create something that was face to face where we could really connect face-to-face, read body language and all that kind of stuff that we haven’t been getting online. ”
Justin anticipates the common issues that will be discussed will be relationships: “The most obvious one is relationships – whether someone is actually going through a break up or a divorce. The group I have been a part of for a couple of years now, a couple of those guys, one lost a partner to cancer and another, his partner broke up with him and he was 59 years of age so that was pretty devastating after being together for 30 years.”
Justin “a lot of men just adds that rely on their partners and for all the best will in the world, it’s not the same,” he says, as having a group of mates who can really understand where you’re coming from and how you think.
Justin says that having a group of people who have got to know each other over a period of time allows people to talk about various insecurities that they may not feel comfortable talking with their partners’ at home about.
“With people who have got to know each other over a period of time the conversation just flows. What we’ve taken away from these groups is that we’re not necessarily there to solve people’s problems.”
“Most of us have had that experience where we might have talked to our friends about stuff and they give you advice and you’re just kind of like, ‘f*ck off, I just want to be heard, I just want to get it off my chest,’ that’s kind of the ethos.”
“That doesn’t mean advice can’t be asked for or offered if permission is given, but it’s much more on that premise of being heard.”
“The more I share my vulnerability the more it creates a platform for people to do the same and talk about theirs.”
Justin says that part of the reason a lot of men find value in these kinds of groups is “because Blokes are conditioned from an early age to be men, to man up, to not cry, to not show emotion. All those kinds of things when we are just as human as women and we have a similar spectrum of emotions rather than just happy, angry, sad.”
For this reason, it’s really important men can find someone they can talk to and that they trust because the challenge we have is that “we’ve been conditioned to be a man and not to show emotions when difficult situations arise. We really struggle to know what to do with that and we struggle putting our hands up to say, ‘I’m having a tough time and I need some help,’ but when we evolved 300,000 years ago we were in tribes, small groups… ”
“We struggle to talk about stuff as men because of conditioning from an early age. I see so many isolated and lonely men out there who are struggling with their own personal battles and not knowing what to do about it and it takes courage and it’s actually being a real man to deal with your problems rather than to give in to that loneliness and that depression.”
“The #1 thing I’d say is just find someone you can talk to, expand your horizon, it’s often better if it’s not someone you know because they don’t have biases and they can’t cast judgment. Sometimes that could be some professional but it doesn’t have to be. It just has to be someone that you trust, basically.”
“Younger people are a bit more in tune [with their emotions]. But even still there are a lot of challenging mental health problems going on.”
Even though many men are taking the current attack on ‘old school’ masculinity the wrong way (many guys feel the need to defend ‘traditional’ masculinity as an operating software simply by reflex, as it’s their link, however flawed, to history, ancestors , stories, HBO myths, whatever) recognising that embracing traits that have historically been defined as feminine (but are actually just useful tools for all people) is key to being a well-rounded human.
“Being bold and forward and taking action is considered more masculine whereas being empathetic, thoughtful considerate is more traditionally considered feminine and it’s really important to have both [regardless of your gender]Justin told us.
“Most men that I talk to about this, they acknowledge ‘we need to speak up blah blah’ but there’s the rational part of the brain that acknowledges that and the inner subconscious and deep down part of you – the emotional part of you which when that scenario comes up you don’t take that action.”
“You might hear that message but it doesn’t resonate on that level.”
“Even now for me I’ve spent a long time on myself trying to be self-aware, I’ve done a lot of self-reflection, all that kind of stuff, but I still catch myself having difficult times thinking: ‘I won’t bother talking to them about it. They don’t need to know. It’s my shit. It’s just in my head.’ And lo and behold, I go for a walk with someone, end up talking about whatever is on my mind and feel a huge sense of relief after and I realise I have been bottling it up.”
If this has piqued your interest, get in touch with Justin and keep an eye out for his next Friday meeting.