It's Mental Health Week here in Australia, and I'm very pleased to see many organisations and individuals talking about the topic of mental health in order to provide hope for healing and reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness in our community. I'm also a little anxious because the issue is close to my heart. There are many people who suffer from mental illness in my extended family and I know we still have a long way to go as a community in tackling the problems underlying the recent rapid increase in mental illness.
Having suffered from debilitating panic attacks, social phobia, generalised anxiety, depression and chronic fatigue myself, I know that these are real biological conditions which you can't just “snap yourself out of” or simply wish away with positive thinking or well-intentioned affirmations alone.
Especially for men.
Destigmatising mental illness is certainly a step in the right direction, but if we want to help people living with mental illness to free themselves from their suffering, we need to go a step deeper and destigmatise the emotions behind it too.
Let's face it: Men have feelings, and it's time we stopped holding them in.
As a young boy, I initially learned to suppress my emotions by osmosis being brought up by emotionally unavailable parents who routinely suppressed theirs. Early experiences at primary school taught me that boys weren't supposed to cry nor to experience emotions such as sadness, fear or anger. Even expressing love to my best friend of the time resulted in a jolting negative reaction because he was another boy, and boys weren't supposed to feel love towards other boys. I'm straight by the way, so I can only imagine the torment gay kids must go through over the strong feelings they are taught to suppress.
Over time, the emotional harshness and bullying at an all-boys high school cemented the deal until I was emotionally paralysed on the outside; yet inside I had fierce emotional energy running almost all the time with no effective outlet. During adolescence, the most painful and frightening area for me was my relationships with women, who are generally better at expressing their emotions than us guys, and who seek partners who can be emotionally available to them. Something I hadn't yet learned to do. Women, dating and sex became a minefield of powerful feelings and fraught expectations.
A successful career as a Computer Engineer satisfied the analytical, thinking part of my brain for some time and made me plenty of money, but did little in the way of providing an emotional outlet or teaching me the skills to express what was really going on deep inside my emotional brain.
Eventually, I burned out and had to face my internal emotional world, rather than constantly seeking external validation to provide me with a sense of safety and assuage my anxieties.
Since then, my life's journey has been about developing my own emotional intelligence, learning to express what's really going on for me emotionally, and teaching what I've learned to other people.
One of my most powerful mentors on my journey towards heart intelligence has been Nicholas de Castella from The Institute of Heart Intelligence. Nicholas is running a free online seminar on Saturday 11 October at 11.00 am Australian EDT about how to use emotional intelligence to break through barriers in your life. He likes to focus on creating a positive future rather than dwelling on unnecessary suffering, so although he may not talk directly about mental illness I believe what he teaches is the key to recovering your mental health.
I've worked with Nicholas many times before and I know he's the real deal. So if you'd like to do more than just talk about mental health and want some practical strategies for moving forward towards a happier future, click here for Nicholas's free Breakthrough To Freedom training.