Second time lucky

There have been a lot of encouraging stories coming out of the Man Week posts, but the one that tipped me over the edge to actually participate was from Scott Drummond.

Gavin Heaton and Mark Pollard are putting together a book of these kinds of collections, ready in time for Father’s Day, called The Perfect Gift for a Man. I’m planning on picking up at least one copy. If you’d like to contribute to the book by writing a post on the topic, there’s still time.

On to my post on this topic: I’ve had to leave out some of the details to be at a point where I’m comfortable to tell this story: it’s more a story about me than the other people involved, and so I’ve left them out.


When I was twenty one, entering my last semester of uni, and having just moved out of home, I had a phonecall that really upset me. I managed to keep my composure over the phone, but afterwards I was pretty shaken up: I think I may even have cried. I turned to some friends, who helped me think things through a little, but ultimately I realised I was out of my depth dealing with the aftermath.

I asked around a few people, and someone mentioned a counselling service that might be some help. I dutifully went along for a number of weeks, and we worked through a few methods that he thought might be useful: sitting in one chair, and having an honest conversation with the person you imagine to be in the other, empty chair.

It was a big deal going to counselling: to spend money on something that really just signified being a failure as a man: not being able to handle yourself, and needing someone else’s help to deal with things that – let’s face it – you should be able to deal with.

The problem, though: it didn’t actually work. In my last counselling session, there were some awkward pauses as the counsellor realised that he didn’t actually know what to say to progress any further.
So I stopped going. I toughened up, internalised whatever else was going on, and everything was fine.

For about ten years.

Another incident occurred – this time face-to-face, and more severe: I was married now, and had a mortgage. Generally, a face to face situation is even harder to deal with than one over the phone, but for the first time in the history of these things I kept my cool, outlasting the other side of the argument. As it turned out, I’d kept my cool too much: I’d managed to shut down my emotions so successfully that I couldn’t even tell how upset my wife was from the argument.

I felt a sense of pride that I’d finally mastered my emotions. At the same time, I felt like something wasn’t right: this wasn’t how I wanted to be able to handle these things, and it certainly wasn’t the kind of thing that I wanted to pass on to any kids I might have.

A few more conversations with a trusted friend, and I found myself booked in to see a psychologist. If you ever find yourself in this situation, be prepared to wait – it was a few weeks before I made it to the end of her waiting list!

I’d always assumed that counsellors and psychologists were pretty much the same thing: in fact, that’s what I told the psychologist in the first session. She explained that a counsellor can be qualified in as little as a few weeks, but to become a psychologist requires years of study. I found this a little reassuring, but better yet was that the things she would ask me made sense.

After a few sessions, I had some ways to deal with the way that I processed emotions. After a few more, I even felt confident enough to talk to my GP about getting the government subsidy for a few more sessions.

I preferred to pay for the sessions in full, up front, than admit, even to the GP, that I might need help thinking things through. The high price of male pride.

In the end I’ve reached a point where I seem to be handling things better. I have a better framework for understanding my relationship with the people involved in these incidents, and a somewhat healthier relationship with my emotions. For nearly a year, I haven’t seen a psychologist.

Though there’s a long way to go, it’s comforting to know that there’s help out there, and it’s worth swallowing your pride to ask for it when you need to.

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4 Comments

  1. Thank you for this post Dave. I really appreciate the courage it took to put your thoughts down in writing.

    You make an excellent point: sometimes the first person you seek help from first won’t be able to fix what’s broken. As long as your long-term goal is to confront and healthily process the emotions you’re feeling though, you will find the right guide. It’s the quality of the relationship you have with that person that really matters.

    It shows real determination to confront your own emotions again and again, and for that I applaud you Dave. I’m also realistic. Remaining healthy and growing as a man may well require support throughout my life – whether from family, friends or professionals – and I’m cool with that.

    At the end of the day everyone is a little bit broken inside, it’s just people prioritise fixing themselves in very different ways. We all self-medicate to some extent but eventually it’s better to stop treating the symptoms and confront the causes.

    Thanks again for this post Dave. I hope your honesty will help others who are experiencing difficult times in their life.

  2. Dude, nice post. I’ve spent most of this year seeing a psychologist and it’s been a great experience for getting me back to a stable mental state. We hit a point a few weeks ago where I’d run out of things to discuss really – I’d snapped out of my depression and my whole outlook had changed radically. In addition, I now have a bunch of tools to manage myself with and cope with the world. It’s been a month or so since I stopped (of my own choice) seeing the psychologist and I’ve been through some stressful times since but I realised today that I am getting through; that I am coping. Regardless, the psychologist will be touching base with me in September to see how I’m doing.

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