The Modern Man

The modern man appears as one who is well groomed and seems to be up to date with what’s happening in the world. He keeps up with the latest trends and can easily adapt to any situation that they find themselves in. He is fashionable and takes good care of himself. He is comfortable in his own skin; therefore he doesn’t make others feel uncomfortable. The modern man can be found anywhere in the world but the one thing about him is that he still finds it difficult to open up or express his emotions.

The man of today seems to be evolving but if you take a closer look, you’ll realise that the lessons of the past continue to cause a ripple effect. The man of today, just like the man of yesterday, still finds it hard to express himself or how he feels because he believes that it is weak. Men are very egotistical and would rather suffer in silence than to admit that they’re at a point where a little help could indeed go a long way. This inability to express oneself results in unnecessary aggressiveness and sometimes anger, which acts as a surface emotion for frustration. The constant command to bottle things up even when they’re overly heavy just because you’re a man can be frustrating.

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This then leads to substance abuse which is also known as “slow-motion suicide”. We may not realise it or simply choose to be ignorant about it, but every time we get caught up in substance abuse, we’re getting closer to our final days on Earth. However, death is not the only side effect of substance abuse, there are a lot of them, but one which we seem to turn a blind eye on is the physical abuse that comes with substance abuse, and in this case, we’re talking about abuse that is inflicted on others. It seems that once the man becomes frustrated and has handed himself over to the substance, the adverse effects are that he begins to abuse the people who are close to him. What we need to understand is that all this stems from frustration, but how can we begin to understand that if we do not give men the platform that they need to express themselves so that they can become better individuals? In the same breath, what steps have to be taken to allow men to be ‘weak’ enough to open up?

At this current moment, we are well aware of the suicide rate and its constant increase. This is the time to get involved. This is the time to be hands-on and make the necessary moves for the sake of suicide prevention. Since the death of Hip-hop Icon, HHP, suicide amongst men has come to the forefront especially in black communities, and we realise that the media doesn’t really dwell on such cases, but more people are being moved by this issue. One would think that men prefer to not to talk about things that that bother them but that’s because they have been conditioned not to have feelings. Men have been taught by those before them not to show any weakness because they are the heads of the family or simply because “what will people say?” Who has ever stopped to ask themselves: what does this man need? The lack of freedom of expression that men are subjected to leads to them believing that suicide is the only solution, and in some extreme cases, murder too. There are men that have taken their families with them simply because they could not bear the thought of their families struggling without once they’re gone. This on its own is a topic that needs to be explored further.

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Another topic of discussion is men that belong to the LGBTI community. Not all of these men are openly gay and ready to be accepted by society for their so-called flaws. Some are even fighting their “demons” because society and the church have made them believe that there’s something wrong with belonging to that community. There are men who’ve committed suicide simply because they couldn’t accept themselves as they are and they never make the news. Even those who have accepted themselves still struggle with rejection and sometimes on a daily basis by those that are close to them or those that they work with. Everyone needs a sense of belonging and without it, we become lost. It’s hard to live comfortably in a world that has you believing that you need to fix yourself. Where the LGBTI community is concerned, this is not an issue that is given much attention. We are well aware of hate crimes, which are external, but it’s time to also focus on what’s happening internally.

After reading tons of articles, trying to decipher exactly what it is that gets the man down, we came down to two conclusions: unemployment and marriage or divorce, whichever way you choose to look at it. Men being the egotistical creatures that they are, cannot be in a position where they are unable. The inability to provide for their families is one of the biggest reasons why they fall into a deep state of depression. In some cases, it’s not that they cannot provide for their families, but they themselves feel that it’s not enough and they can do better but because that’s not happening, it leaves them feeling frustrated which then results in depression. Again, because of their egotistical nature, men tend to compete a lot. They’re always on a constant strive to be the one that has more or that can do better. For a man who is unable, this causes serious harm to the ego. Speaking of competition, you would think that a man getting married would suffice as the kind of stuff men would compete over, but in some cases, this is seen as a form of emasculation. Suddenly all those things you used to do as “boys”, you can’t necessarily do because you are now someone’s husband. It’s quite interesting, but this also paves way for the second conclusion we reached: divorce.

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For many men, but especially women, marriage and a family is one of the milestones that is used to measure how successful our lives are. When all of that is taken away from you, it can feel like your whole world is crumbling right in front of you. What was once a happy home ends up in court over a custody battle and we know that in most cases the men never win. What was once your pride and joy is taken away from you and you feel like there’s nothing left to live for. It’s a heartbreaking situation that would really push one to the verge of suicide and this is such a common thing because almost 50% of marriages, and this is so shocking, but almost 50% of marriages result in divorce. It’s a cause for concern. Is it the men? Is it the women? Is it compatibility? There’s a lot that could possibly be going wrong in the marriage and maybe it’s time to take a closer look at that too because it’s more than just the inability of the man that can cause a marriage to reach its end. Divorce is one of the biggest causes of depression and maybe we need to start stressing the importance of couple’s therapy, something that needs to come before marriage is even an option.

As mental health activists, we are so quick to stress that men should seek mental health services, but in all honesty, those services are limited, especially for men. If they’re not limited, then there’s not much being said about them. We need to reach a point where we recognize that we are losing great men because of mental illness. We cannot continue to turn a blind eye on this matter and we have to take an active approach in ensuring that this vicious cycle comes to a stop. Yes, there are mental health services, but how many of them are customised for the man? How many of them actually look into the anatomy of a man and try to customise their contents or activities in such a way that it not only accommodates the man but also makes them feel comfortable enough to open up. Opening up is not a fun process but it’s needed for one to be able to advance to the next level of their lives. Talking about something doesn’t mean all that information goes in vain, something transcendental happens when we tap into that zone. The government should also be active in taking care of the man’s needs, even if they are; it’s time they did better too.

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The one thing that we need to do more of is to educate the masses about the symptoms they should be looking out for. Things like insomnia or even oversleeping are symptoms of depression. We should be alarmed and be ever-ready to take the necessary precautions. Suicidal thoughts are not the only things we should be looking out for but other symptoms as well which we will compile as a list in our next article. These can serve as a checklist to see just how well we are coping and also aid us in getting the help that we need. Every man needs that checklist so that we can begin to redefine the modern man and see him come to life.

The modern man is a man who is in touch with emotions. He knows himself so well that he avoids anything that could trigger any form of depression or anxiety. He interacts with people that are on the same level as him, people who are self-aware because self-awareness is the most powerful tool. The modern man realises that opening up actually makes him stronger. He encourages his friends to speak up and he’s always ready to lend an ear or any other form of assistance for the wellbeing of those that are around him. He does his research and is open to the idea of therapy because he understands that it’s necessary for his evolution. He’s constantly adopting effective ways to cope with daily stresses and has managed to have everything under control. It won’t be long until this man is a reality. This man probably exists, but it’s time he showed up.

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If you are on your journey to becoming the new definition of a modern man, SADAG is here to help. They have a project called ‘Real Men. Real Depression’ and boasts some of the countries strongest men who have overcome a lot of their own personal challenges. Do give them a ring on 011 783 1474. Until then, let’s keep working on becoming the new age modern man.

 

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suicide, black man, sad, depressed

True Story: I Remember Not Dying…

Reading Time: 15 minutes

If you had told the ambitious and driven 18-year-old me that at the age of 27 he would be referring to himself as a recovering addict, he wouldn’t have believed you. See, at that age, I had big goals and everything seemed to be going according to plan. I knew what I wanted, I knew where I was going and I seemed to have direction. 27 saw me finding my way back to the 18-year-old me but after a heavy struggle with addiction. It took me quite some time and near-death experiences to realise that I needed help. Addiction is a vicious cycle that literally strips you of your identity.

“Addiction is a vicious cycle that literally strips you of your identity”

In the previous article, I mentioned that addiction is normally accompanied by a mental illness, in my case, it was Bipolar II disorder. I was always a happy-go-lucky individual, in fact, the only time I was “moody” is when I was hungry. So when I was told I was bipolar, you can imagine how confused I was because I just never saw myself as the type. What I didn’t realise is that, just like a lot of people, I didn’t even know what Bipolar really was, and no, if anything, it’s not being “moody”.

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Bipolar II disorder

My battle with addiction started in my teen years. At that time, I was already dealing with the sad truth that my father had rejected me from the moment he heard my mom was expecting me, but somehow, my inquisitive and curious nature would not allow me to take this lying down. After asking a lot of questions, a way was paved for me to meet him and his family and somehow I still faced rejection from them. I remember how headstrong I was about gaining acceptance from them no matter what it took. I feel like I spent my childhood trying to fit into a family that cropped me out of every picture. At first, it felt normal, I was fine with whatever little affection (sometimes none) that I got from them because I so desperately wanted to belong. As the years went, I became angry because no matter what I did, my father just wouldn’t accept me or welcome me as his own. Writing this now, I’m feeling things that I thought I had conquered, but I guess that’s why they say “recovering”. I remember how this made me question myself. I used to question my beauty, my intellect, my existence, etc. What was so wrong with me that I couldn’t be accepted by the one person that meant so much to me?

“I spent my childhoold trying to fit into a family that cropped me out of every picture”

Eventually, when I turned 15 and after a long call with my then stepmother who told me that my father wanted to run paternity tests because I was somewhat dark in complexion as compared to his other kids, I decided to call it quits. He directly rejected me twice, in one lifetime. Even after all the commonalities that were revealed and a heavy resemblance, I just wasn’t good enough for him. It was a lot to carry. I guess it also didn’t help that I was a homosexual, or at least at the time we can say I was “showing signs”. That whole experience really made me numb to everything that was happening around me. The sight of men, any man, brought about uncomfortable feelings within me. I was angry at everything and everyone but mostly at him because if anyone had to make things easier for me, it had to be him, but he didn’t. I was young and clueless, he could have tolerated me but now I know that’s not how the world works. This is such a common story, and I don’t think people realise the massive effect it has on ONE human being.

Meanwhile, things on my mother’s side were great, but I could never be satisfied knowing that there was a part to me that I’d never experience. I felt so lost. I felt unwanted. As young as I was at the time, I was emotionally exhausted. I didn’t know who to blame, what to do and then eventually I had my first drink. I remember the feeling of being intoxicated. For the first time, I felt invincible over my situation. My head was spinning, and I laid there in front of people who were old enough to be my parents, drunk and totally unbothered.

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Matric (2008) was the year in which I fell deeply in love with a boy for the first time. It was out of this world. My hormones were highly active around him. I would get butterflies seeing him walk from one class to the next. I can’t even tell you how we started dating, but I know that as much as it was a challenge, it was also beautiful. He was still in the closet, I mean we were just in matric. I, on the other hand, had started rebelling so I didn’t have time to hide anything. Eventually, that relationship ended too, I guess not everyone is meant to have a high school sweetheart. That’s the point where I started believing that my life was surrounded by a cloud of rejection. If there’s anything that used to get to me, it’s that, rejection.

2009, after having matriculated and not being ready to go to tertiary because I was at war with my mom who felt I should do something in commerce when all I wanted to do was radio or drama, which “won’t pay my bills”, I decided to go look for a job. I found a few of those odd ones where recent matriculants are literally exploited because they’re still clueless. In February that year, the worst thing happened. On my way home from work on the 24th, my cousin told me that my baby brother had been run over by a car and we needed to head home. Upon getting there, I saw the accident scene, his remains were splattered on the street where I lived. The site alone destroyed me, and although I didn’t see his body, I know it was a painful death. That day cemented my hate for men. The man who ran him over lived a few blocks away from my house. I hated him, I wanted him to rot in jail but my mother had other plans, my brother was never coming back anyway. From that day, something changed in the way that I viewed men altogether and that also explains why I had never dated older guys. It seemed like they reminded me of the men I used to blame for how my life turned out. I hated myself because I’d be reminded of my dad every time I looked in the mirror. I wanted to be different.

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May his soul continue to rest in peace.

That was the year that my battle with addiction started. I was in so much pain, I was still dealing with my first break up, a rejection from the man I wished would just one day love me back, and the loss of my baby brother. A lot was happening at once and all I wanted was an escape and I found it at the bottom of the bottle. From that day, I drank every day, even if it was just two ciders after work. When that became hard to maintain, I resorted to cannabis, but I hated the effect it had on me, so I continued drinking. I found a job that paid me well, stayed for a few months and then left because I felt I was still young and employable. All I wanted to do was find enough time to intoxicate myself. I went to a gay club for the first time in that same year and got so immersed in that life. As much as there was drama, it was a nice distraction from what I was personally dealing with. Nobody knew my demons, I never let anyone get too close.

Fast forward to 2012, my ambitious self was about to turn 21 and I had nothing to show for myself. All I had was a brand new “screw everything” attitude, and a couple of mistakes and regrets. I remember it was on the 3rd of May 2012 when I realised that everything I was running away from was making its rounds again and this time, it was intense. I still had a hard time connecting to a man in a relationship, I still missed my brother, and I still wanted my dad in my life, even after everything he never put me through. What was it all for? The night before, I lied to my housemate and told her I had a headache, she had a bunch of pills in a packet and I knew what my plan was so I told her to give me the whole packet and I would return it. The next day, when everyone went to work, I went for it. I gulped as many pills as possible, which when the packets were counted, amounted to 72 pills, most of which had paracetamol. I remember sitting there, crying my eyes out, but I couldn’t hear a thing. I tried getting up, but I couldn’t, the next thing I knew I was on a hospital bed. That nurse kept on asking me what I had taken and I was just so annoyed because there was a pipe down my throat, I just didn’t understand what was going on, everything was a blur, I was in between a deep sleep and whatever was happening there. I passed out again and the next morning, I woke up to a nurse who welcomed me to a hospital. I spent four days in ICU feeling all sorts of terrible things.

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I was so disappointed in myself and also annoyed because I knew that from that day, the people in my life would no longer see me as the strong person I convinced them I was. I really wanted to die, I felt like my existence in this world was pointless. It was on the very same day that I was diagnosed with depression and then later on in the week Bipolar II disorder. I didn’t even understand what that meant but I was just bored with this planet and couldn’t wait to leave so I could have a drink…or twelve. I remember when I was given a second chance, I made sure I came out of the closet, with a bang. On my 21st birthday celebration, my boyfriend at the time sat next to me at the main table, this happened in front of the whole family and the neighbours. I wasn’t concerned about their reaction, I just didn’t care. I felt like I was just moving through life because I had to.

2013 saw me quitting alcohol for three years after struggling to keep up with my treatment due to drinking. I got into my 3rd serious relationship and even that went South, it was at that point that I thought, “you know what, it’s cool, relationships will never work for me”. I checked myself into rehab and focused on healing and on finding myself again. It was a big year for me and I made a lot of progress as an individual. I decided to go back to school but even that was tough because there were no funds to keep me afloat so I opted to look for a job but by then the recession was bad and I would find myself sitting around, hunting and getting even more depressed, unemployment is depressing.

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In 2015 after almost a year of just surviving, I experimented for the first time with recreational drugs. I didn’t want to drink because I knew that I would go back to the person I did such a good job at running away from. Recreational drugs were great but when the buzz was over, the pain was unbearable yet even with all of that, I still wanted more. All I wanted, was to stay intoxicated, something I never want to experience ever again. I struggled with those for five years. I was so desperate to quit but I couldn’t. I’d think I was doing okay, and then one morning I’d wake up and just find myself buying them. I’d probably cry before doing a line by myself because I knew that I so badly wanted to stop but it was so hard, in the meantime, I maintained a happy face around my friends. Around this time, I got to know myself. I sat with myself and tried to figure out exactly what was happening. I had to make some hard decisions and sacrifices because I so desperately wanted to be clean. This year, I decided I was done and I wanted out. I didn’t even know where I was going to start, all I knew is that I was on that mission, and this time, I kept it to myself so that I never had to deal with the pressure and that dreadful “didn’t you say…?” question. My battles were my own. I stopped seeking external help and relied on my own strength to make this happen.

My whole experience introduced me to some interesting characters. People that I would meet either as dealers or as people that took drugs too. I was exposed to a lot of wonderful people who were pushed by circumstances to resort to questionable ways of escaping. Suddenly all I wanted was to be an ear for people who needed to talk which was rather unfair of me because until very recently, I never really liked to talk about how I feel, in fact, I would hide behind, “No, I’m listening, you talk”.

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I don’t blame the authorities for calling us “recovering” addicts, because every day we recover from our small ways of living. When I started The Filling Station, all I wanted to be was an inspiration to others. I didn’t want to wait until I was “perfect” in the eyes of the public. I wanted the public to see me becoming perfect, perfect in their standards. I knew that if I wanted to change, I’d have to depend on a power that was higher than me. I had to seek love, validation and acceptance from a higher power because down here, it felt like there was nothing for me. It’s only when I found the God of my understanding that I started recognizing all the important people in my life. I started backing away from people that had agendas. My eyes were opened and I knew what I had to do. I had to accept myself for who I was so that I could become who I’m meant to be. I am committed to recovery and I know that I’m not the only one. Someone out there is going through the most, but always remember that before you judge someone for what they do, find out why they do it. We all have themes. It’s not about whose story is more gruesome than the other, It’s how you felt when it all happened. It’s what you took from the experience, both positive and negative.

“I had to accept myself for who I was so that I could become who I’m meant to be”

I’m taking accountability for the mistakes that I have made and acquiring a new mindset so I can change my life. You can do it too, no matter how old or young you are. My experience has taught me never to judge anyone and to treat everyone with the same respect. I’m more open about what’s happening in my life. I’m open to love and meeting new people. I actually complain less because when you “almost” die, you somehow become more grateful for the life that you have. I’ve met a lot of individuals that are fighting silently and I pray for them before going to bed at night, because I know how lonely this war can get. Get as much support as you possibly can, if addiction is a disease, then it surely can be managed, you just need to believe that you can do it and stay determined. Remember why you started.

Remember to share this on your social media pages, you never know who it might inspire. Thank you for reading ’til the end.


True Story: Beauty In The Mess

Sometimes, situations in life force you to succumb to new beginnings whether you’re prepared or not. For me, this happened as a teenager when my mother, who is my rock, was diagnosed with Schizophrenia. I won’t lie, at first it was not easy and eventually I had to come to terms with what was happening in our lives. When my mother was diagnosed, I was confused and I blamed myself because of the lack of knowledge I had about the illness. I was also too young to have an opinion on the matter and all sorts of things were tried including consulting traditional healers. Seeking help for any mental illness, let alone Schizophrenia, is extremely difficult. As a teen, I also felt embarrassed because I did not understand how my mom, a person I knew to be the strongest human alive, could acquire such an illness. For me to live in this new reality, I had to accept that my mother was not the same anymore and for me to help, I had to ensure that I got rid of the overwhelming feelings I had about the whole situation.

Looking back I also realise how difficult this was for everyone. Along with taking care of his wife, my dad also had to be strong for me and my little brother. My little brother had a chunk of his childhood taken away from him and he didn’t even understand why that was happening. He also depended on me as his older brother to be strong for him. I thank God for my mother’s family and our neighbours otherwise I don’t know how my father and I would have coped.

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Teaching myself about the illness also made me realise how much my mother needed me and my family more than ever, because if this whole thing was scary for us, can you imagine what she was going through? I see so many people being obsessively drawn to characters we see on the media with mental illnesses and some statuses about mental health from people who don’t really understand or pretend to care for the sake of likes on social media. The truth of the matter is that people are uncomfortable with the mentally-ill, be it people suffering from anxiety, depression, etc. They look with judgment and turn the other way when an ‘unstable’ person asks for help and when it is too late, we see posts of sympathy and all kinds of statuses on social media from those very same people. Meanwhile, for some of us, the whole topic is very close to home.

I had to learn to take care of myself so I could be there for my mother. I realized that I had to allocate time for myself to ensure that I learn or do something new every year. I wanted to make sure by all means that I succeeded with my studies so that I could have a good job and be able to take care of her. It took me a while to accept this reality but when I eventually did, things got much easier and this felt like a new beginning. As I had promised myself, I started learning new things like aerobics when I started university. I learned Ballroom and Latin dancing and took some swimming lessons, just to mention but a few. These helped me not to be constantly consumed with thoughts about my mother’s illness. I think to some degree it put her at ease when I would come home with medals and trophies and we would always celebrate. This made her see that whatever she was going through was nothing we couldn’t handle because it did not stop us from living our lives and achieving our goals.

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Finding her a good psychiatrist was the best thing we ever did – this is, unfortunately, a necessity that not everyone can afford. However, it did not only help her but all of us as a family because now her illness is managed. It also made me realise that as much as we wanted her to get better it was something that she also had to want for herself. When she saw us living and doing our best to succeed it also motivated her to want to be better so she can continue to see our achievements and be there to celebrate them with us no matter how small they are.

“Ask questions, we do not know everything.”

I hope whoever is reading this will realise that life is a journey and not an easy one. Ask for help and seek support systems that are available to you. Ask questions, we do not know everything. Life is not a lesson that comes with a manual but that’s what makes it beautiful and meaningful. My mother’s condition has not only taught me resilience, but it has also further given me the courage to be open-minded and keen to learn more about the condition so I can educate others. Worthy of a mention, is how my mother’s condition has motivated me to stay consistent and keep going in the stream of my dreams. You see? Nothing is out of place here and everything is as should be.

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