2017 is turning out to be a bumper year for men’s mental health. Given the torrent of data about suicide being the biggest killer of men under 35, the infinity of screen inches about the relationship between men and depression, and public figures such as Prince Harold urging everyone to “open up”, then if you do nothing else this year, chances are you’ll have at least considered addressing your own emotional flaws and fragility.
But how to do it, this “opening up”? After a lifetime spent conducting all comms in the language of banter – and silence – what is the correct channel to switch to? Opening up may be something of a challenge for most men, but what about the individual who is opened up on? How can one be sure he’s not just going to throw your bag in a tree and run away laughing?
Try these steps, as recommended by leading internet search engines, to make sure you have a throughly enjoyable first stab at opening up.
In the event that Prince Harry is unavailable to meet your emotional needs, make sure you’ve chosen a genuine friend to open up to.
A study last year published in the scientific journal Plos One (beware: unreadable) using a group of 600 European, Israeli and American students came up with the curious insight that only about half of your “friends” consider you a friend in return.
Work out which is which by comparing how often you do the same things together – high incidence=probably friends, low incidence=probably not. To reduce the chance of your “opening” going straight to social media, choose from the former group.
Don’t overshare at first.
Of course, your predicament may not require much of run up – the data dump that is “I am gay” doesn’t take long to run through.
On the other hand, if you’re grappling with an invisible source of anxiety that’s causing you to have frequent intrusive dark thoughts that are pushing you towards desperate measures, well, you may overwhelm the poor recipient if you’re too keen.
If 80 per cent of your conversation was previously about Formula One, and that suddenly switches to a solemn monologue about your gender dysphoria, then his sudden unavailability for future openings up may not be because he’s a transphobic bigot.
Rather, you may have just overloaded a system that was delicately calibrated to filter information about tyres and petrol, and cannot cope with the same confidence with talk of wigs and feelings. At least not straight away.
Of course, if you’ve identified a real friend, they should be delighted that you’ve chosen them over all others to share your innermost turbulence with, not to mention thrilled at the prospect of hearing the fascinating detail. It’s the flaws that often catch the eye, and as Leonard Cohen mumbled, “There is a crack in everything/ That’s how the light gets in”.
If you see them turning into a cobweb covered skeleton, though, you may have gone a bit heavy on the background or overdone the inessential details. They are there to listen, not die of boredom.
Have a sense of what you hope to achieve.
This is a really important point – you need to have a notion of what you’d like to happen next.
Although it may require a tremendous effort to heave this terrible problem off your chest – and well done for doing so – it’s not acceptable to then feel that it’s now your confidante’s responsibility to solve it, and to do so this minute.
And not all predicaments are the same. There’s often significant relief in just hearing yourself vocalise a problem to another person. The act of forming the words that describe your unhappiness with your very own mouth can be a transformative experience, as what felt like an exitless maze of torment in your head can suddenly feel manageable once spoken. So perhaps that’s all you want to achieve.
Perhaps you feel a need to confess something and hear from another person that there’s nothing to worry about. So your goal is just a little reassurance and understanding.
However, if you need help addressing a problem, you may have to ask for that help, but not expect immediate Harley Street levels of expertise to be lasered at your predicament. You will probably also need to be clear about how you expect them to help, and be prepared to discover that they may not be able to. They may, for instance, already be helping everyone else on your quiz team with their mid-life crises, and don’t have the stamina to take on another case.
Likewise, if you’re worried you are about to commit some act of violence against yourself or another (or already have), you need to rapidly upgrade from pub chat and seek professional help immediately. A “By the way…” type of share with a pal is unlikely to bring that process to the appropriate conclusion.
You can say anything, except these two phrases.
Whatever the level of torment, try your utmost to avoid responding to any inquiry with either “I don’t know”, or “I don’t care”. The talking cure only moves forward with your commitment to the process. Somewhere in there you do know, and if you don’t care, why should anyone else?
If you self-diagnose either of these two circumstances, then you’re on your own.
Not all scenarios of emotional despair are worthy of a friend’s compassion. If you are just feeling a little bit sorry for yourself, like Donald Trump seems to all the time, then you’re best off keeping it to yourself. There’s little social capital (or vote-winning appeal) in self-pity.
Similarly if your unhappiness is brought on by hangover – that’s your responsibility. And as any fule kno, there is no cure under the sun for the common overhang, least of all wailing about it. You did it to yourself. Suck it up, princess.