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.