Our friend Logan killed himself today. I wish we had known how badly he was hurting. We just spent most of this past weekend with him, and had no idea things were nearly this bad. If we had known, maybe we could have helped. But maybe not. These things don’t come from nowhere.
It’s kind of a no-shit thing to say in hindsight that Logan had struggled with depression. Thing is, many people do, and never take their pain as far as this. It’s also kind of a no-shit statement to say that I wish I had known he was hurting so badly. And the problem is, he did what so many people – men especially – do: He played the Strong Silent Type until it killed him.
And when he finally did reach out, hours before the end, he got smacked in the face for doing so. Repeatedly. In public, on his Facebook. By his so-called “friends.”
Maybe this is just because I am so goddamned hurt and angry and sad right now, but that’s the part we really need to talk about.
Bullshit, read the first comment on his final cry for help. That is so defeatist. You don’t always have a choice in what happens, but you get to decide how you react.
Work through it, said the next one. Things always gets better!
I’m sorry it feels that way, said another. I feels that way for a lot of us. I get that this was supposed to be commiseration, not criticism, but it doesn’t take much to read it otherwise. And if you’re so depressed that suicide looks like a viable option, then you’re reading things that way to begin with.
Other comments suggested that he go for a walk in Nature – you’ll get a better perspective. More crudely, one told him been there got over that. This was the second-to-last comment he saw before he decided that enough was enough. The very last (I imagine – I don’t know his exact time of death or the final post that Logan brought himself to read) was more sympathetic, but ultimately futile in nature.
No wonder he figured he was better off dead.
When I got the news a few hours ago, I was cleaning house for a friend of mine who’s a retired therapist. When I told him how I wished I had known what was going on in Logan’s head this past weekend, and that I wished I could have helped, my friend got angry. “Statistically,” he said, “far more women talk about suicide, and attempt suicide, then men. But four times as many men than women actually DO kill themselves.” I checked his statement as I’ve written this down, and he was right.
I’ve written before about how the toxic culture of masculinity demands that men “man up” and “don’t be a pussy/ whiner/ little bitch” when we are hurting. I’ve also noted how “invisible” illnesses and conditions like depression are stigmatized, blamed upon the person who suffers from them, and considered one more failing on the part of a person who’s already considered “weak.” And I’ve written about how perceived “weakness” is the cardinal sin in the masculine creed, a sin so awful that it turns a man into prey – into someone not worthy of being considered a man at all. As a man who has struggled with my own anger, identity, and masculinity issues, I know that it is way past time for a new mode of thinking about our selves, our genders, and the massive case of cultural PTSD we collectively suffer from as human beings. This culture, these ideas, our PTSD – they are literally killing us, and killing the world around us.
Today, it killed my friend. And I didn’t even know that was a problem because he didn’t feel he could fucking speak about it until it was too late… at which point, he got slapped for doing so. Because really, how dare he, right? What bullshit. He should have just gotten over it.
In conversations over just these last few days, before I had any idea how relevant the subject would be right now, I’ve been pointing out that culturally, men are not only not taught healthy ways of dealing with our emotions, we are actively taught UNHEALTHY ways of dealing with them. We are expected to be stoic and brave and “strong” even when we are hurting at soul-deep levels. We’re told to be “commanding,” “dominant,” “assertive,” not “wishy-washy,” “wussy” or “limp,” no matter how we feel inside. Women, too, are told to “keep it in and be strong for us,” but men are socially emasculated for being otherwise, with no acceptable outlet for our emotions save violence, sex, intoxication, or sports… which kinda combine all three. And yeah – the sexual connotations (and implied misogyny) of all of those impressions are absolutely part of the equation, too.
It’s not my place to write here about why Logan took his life, but I know that it had to do with him being made to feel as though he’d failed as a man. Failed so badly that he had no choice but to stop being anyone at all.
Now, it’s easy to say, I guess, that we should just smash the patriarchy. That men expect ourselves to be superhuman, and that men need to change what’s in our heads before we can be healthy. And those statements are not incorrect.
But here’s the kicker: All those comments about “getting over it,” and Logan being full of “bullshit” for expressing his pain?
They came from women.
It was men (and one woman) who expressed support for Logan when he finally called for help.
It was women who told him he was being weak.
On our way home after I picked my partner Sandi up after work, a few hours after we had learned about Logan’s death, we were talking about how men are not socially allowed to express pain and weakness. Women are, indisputably, treated poorly for “being too emotional” (translation: weak), but women are still allowed to feel something other than anger, joy or victory without having their identity shredded for expressing emotions. When I pointed out that men have very few safe spaces to be raw about anything but rage, Sandi said something along the lines of “But men can be vulnerable with women.”
No, I told her, not always. We really can’t. Because here’s the thing: We may or may not be safe expressing our feelings to women… and if we’re not, then we usually find out the hard way after it’s too late.
As I told her, I had one now-ex-lover tell me how I was being “needy and bleedy” the last time we got together, and so she didn’t find me attractive anymore. (A friend of mine had died a few days earlier, but I was supposed to be cheerful and strong and sexy, I guess.) Another told me how “your energy was totally inappropriate”after I’d hugged her a little too long… two weeks after I had been raped and did not yet understand quite what had happened to me; when I told her I had been hurting that night and needed contact, she snapped “That’s not my problem. You should have had a handle on it.” One now-former wife got angry at me for getting on Prozac during a hard bout with depression… because I had not done it sooner, and so had been ” a burden” on her. From one side, I absolutely see how those women felt uneasy with my expressions of vulnerability… and yet, like most men, I’d never been taught HOW to be fucking vulnerable in anything resembling a healthy fashion, and so it’s not exactly rocket science to figure out why I kinda fucked it up.
It’s a nice little social illusion that women provide safe space for men to be vulnerable. The reality is, that’s often not the case. A man – and this is true of gay men as well as “straight” men (yet more pervasive toxic social messaging there!) – has no idea where, or if, he has safe space to be vulnerable about emotions. We are taught to suppress our feelings until we die inside or explode. And so, all too often, silence or violence (to one’s self or to others) is the only expression that feels safely “masculine” and “strong.”
Do I even need to point out how utterly fucked that is? And how much harm it inflicts upon everyone involved?
We need better than this. All of us need it.
We need to speak, and to hear, and to act, more carefully with one another, regardless of gender.
We need to be more compassionate, and more aware that we don’t know what’s going on in one another’s heads and hearts.
We seriously need to STOP MAKING A FUCKING SPORT out of shredding one another in public for fun.
We must stop holding each other to, and stop teaching our children to expect, impossible standards with unhealthy results.
And when someone cries out – regardless of their gender and our thoughts of how they “should” be acting in that time of crisis – we goddamned well should fucking LISTEN. And not make it about ourselves.
It’s too late for our friend Logan. Rest well, my friend, and I hope whatever’s waiting for you over the next hill is better than what you endured on this one.
Now, maybe next time, we could all pay a bit more attention, have a bit more compassion, and stop expecting men to be strong and silent if they want to remain among the company of men.