Depression in men – the awareness within
Depression in men – the awareness within
We, all of us, may be prepared to admit that choices we make on a day-to-day basis have contributed to a downward spiral of diminishing vitality and self-confidence. These choices can be as simple as staying up late so we miss out on the best quality sleep, food and drink indulgences, and putting things off until we have to rush to get things done, causing anxiousness. The fact that many of these choices occur on a day-to-day basis means that they drain our energy reserves, reduce our natural immunity to illness and lead to exhaustion. They can also make us grumpy and moody.
Without addressing the reasons why we may choose these ways of disregarding ourselves, our attempts to get fit, change our diet or improve our relationships will tend to fail. Confidence to change gets further eroded because we simply do not have the energy to change. So we may get to a point of not being able to see a way out of a gradual downward spiral towards male depression, or if we do see a way out, we lack the motivation to implement it. On top of this we add feeling self-critical, guilty and frustrated – "I know I am better than this!"
Yet being prepared to admit responsibility for where we are and the not so loving choices that have contributed to getting there is a starting point to seeing things from a new perspective…
In this opening statement I have alluded to the fact that there are reasons underpinning the choice of behaviours that can drain our energy reserves and lead to bouts of depression in men. We need to understand what these reasons are and how they come about in order to truly address and begin to shift the ingrained behaviours themselves. The way to do this is actually quite simple, but at the same time, may not be so easy for men because of our tendency to see the solution to everything as doing something to fix it.
There is another way – a way to begin to deepen our awareness without outwardly trying to do anything to change. It makes sense that if there are underlying causes that keep us making poor health choices, they first need to be seen clearly, felt and understood before any true shift can occur that can then result in our making different choices.
The first step
The one step we men perhaps fear the most and avoid the most is to open up to our feelings. We have such a strongly conditioned inclination to ignore our feelings. This could be because of a misplaced assumption that ‘feelings' mean emotions and that being embroiled in an inner melodrama is futile. However, through the simple act of bringing our attention back from an outward focus of trying to do something to fix ‘a problem’ and instead to refocus our attention on our inner world, we are already actually beginning to save ourselves an enormous amount of energy.
Because our inner world contains so much and can be so overwhelming to begin to tune in and experience the myriad of feelings contained within it, it is super important from the outset that we make that 'tuning in' a certain quality. Firstly, we need to simply develop awareness of this inner world and that means not trying to make sense of it, or trying to make it feel different, or making it feel better (such as trying to relax). Instead, we allow ourselves to simply be with all we feel and the only useful process of reasoning would be saying to ourselves that all that is presenting itself in our bodies to feel, is exactly what we need to feel – raw and real and unchanged. This is actually the first courageous step towards changing our relationship with our bodies and with feeling.
In allowing ourselves to feel everything as it presents to us in our bodies, we begin to feel a settlement: a 'taking the edge off' all the emotions, reactions and self-judgment that normally keep us wound up and, ironically, seeking indulgences to ‘take the edge off’ in daily life.
So the first step, as is so often the case, is one of the most challenging – bringing your mind to your body and simply opening up to feeling… simple but not easy.
So here are some suggestions to support this first step:
Start with simple sensations – like the sense of your bodyweight in a chair, or if standing, your feet on the floor and your weight balanced evenly. Then you could feel the clothes against your skin and feel your temperature around the surface of your body. You could also note any adjustments your body makes as you become aware of these things.
Then begin to allow feelings of tension to surface. Note where the strongest tension is. Don’t try to change this by trying to adjust or stretch, just allow yourself to feel.
Every time you are able to be with that tension and not need to do anything about it, just be with it, you are changing your relationship with the tension in your body. You are saying, ok you are there but you are not who I am. Then…
In staying with tension without trying to change it, you allow yourself to feel more. Willingly allow this. Give yourself permission to open up. This is like a kind of fitness – a strength of awareness without placing any control over what there is to feel.
Then, note what you feel. Is there heaviness, lightness, aches or pain, coldness or heat in different parts or deeper in the body? There is nothing you need to do about any of this, just observe and in doing so, you are actually giving yourself ongoing permission to feel more. The name of the game is simply opening up to layers of feeling.
Are there parts of your body that draw your awareness more than others? What do they feel like?
Allow yourself to extend this little check in with yourself to any other feelings, such as emotions: do you feel happy, sad, vital, tired, agitated or calm and so on?
Making this a simple, playful exploration can lead to the understanding that any uncomfortable feelings in the body need not be held onto so tightly anymore – they do not need to define us and make us feel bad about ourselves.
As awareness deepens there is a shift from needing to do something to feeling accepting of yourself just as you are. It is beautiful to then feel in your movements more rawness and honesty of what your body has presented to you, and with it a degree of more care and tenderness as you go about your day. It may not last, but here’s the thing; this deeper sensitivity you have experienced is not forced or unnatural – it is who you truly are.
In having made this choice to stop trying and just be with yourself, you have opened a door back to your tender sensitive self, and what is on the other side of that door will call a little more powerfully to you from now on. It will become easier to check in with yourself and feel how reclaiming what you feel is the beginning of a path of healing will allow you to find your own unique way out of depression and back to not only health, but back to joy – a sense of purpose for being alive and back to the unfolding of a deeply loving relationship with yourself and others . . . the things in life which makes living so worthwhile.