I had a dream last night that prompted this blog post. It went as follows:
I was signed up to run the Glencoe Skyline race.
I arrived just in time, but incredibly flustered. My feet were sore and after registering, I realised that I had my trail shoes on the wrong feet. Not only that, but one of my shoes was the wrong size and had no grip on it. This was a disaster to only realise this right before the race started.
Shortly after that, I looked in my race bag to find I was carrying old pieces of wood that were left over from when I fitted our kitchen, along with some other bulky things – no wonder my pack was heavy!
When the race set off I was struggling to run and couldn’t get my stride going at all, it was very frustrating. Then I got lost as I had missed some of the arrows and markers. Someone was tutting at me to tell me I’d gone wrong, but they didn’t tell me how to find the right way. I was lost and looking all around for a while until I found the arrows again, but I cursed how small and ineffective they were.
Needless to say, I lay awake for large chunks of the night questioning everything I’m doing with regard to work and only finding failure and disappointment.
This dream summed up everything I’m feeling about my work, what I do and in what direction I should take things right now. I don’t think I’ve ever had a more clichéd dream, or one that perfectly sums up the turmoil inside my head.
Perhaps the people I’m comparing myself to are busy being depressed as well?
Anxiety: an attempt to explain
I genuinely believe I have a cycle akin to that of women. Roughly around the middle of each month I have 2/3 days of feeling awful. Not in a poorly way, but in a really low, unhappy way. I sob a lot – except no tears come, only dry sobbing. So, there’s never any sense of release or catharsis that one gets from a good cry. The sobbing tends to come when minor things overwhelm me; opening the fridge and being unable to decide what I want for lunch, knocking something over, having a negative thought or a flashback to a memory of when I behaved poorly or was subject to criticism or embarrassment.
I try to hide my sobbing, but equally I want my partner to see me so she can reach out, hold me. Just hold me.
This double-edged need is not compatible with itself, nevermind with anyone else, so it’s a constant battle. If I think about it objectively it becomes complete narcissism and this makes me sob once again. I feel like all hope and positivity is gone.
I feel immense love for my partner and my children. They are beyond beautiful in mind, body and spirit. But it’s not they, nor what they give me, that makes me feel low. It’s me.
I feel like an utter failure. My mind keeps casting back over everything I have done. It becomes beyond critical and brutally harsh. All my achievements are ignored and all my failures are broadcast up in bright lights. Never does my First Class Honours degree get brought up. Never does setting up a thriving trailrunning community or creating a sell-out race series get a look-in. Never does trailblazing the scene in Scotland for the plethora of trailrunning festivals and weekends that now fill the calendar get celebrated. Never does having the balls to try a shed of load of big, new, scary things down the years get any acknowledgement. Never does all those other achievements, big and small, that are of worth get a mere mention in my brain.
No, all that gets given any credibility is failure. Each one is hammered home loud and clear and on repeat. If that’s not enough, they get articulated in different ways in my head, so as to amplify their volume. It goes along the lines of this: I have no career. I have been and worked in so many jobs and career paths that I will never be more than a Jack of all trades, and not even a good one at that! I have minimal income. I have no savings. I have no pension. I have few friends to share a beer or a gig with. I have lost touch with some really good, close friends along the way. I feel little sense of direction etc. etc. on repeat.
Last night I woke up to go to the toilet at 1.45am. It wasn’t until around 4am that I was able to fall back asleep. The noise in my head was intense. At around 5am one of my children was crying, so I got up to put them back to sleep. I was then awake for a further 30-45mins. When my alarm went off at 6.30 I was in no place, mentally or physically, to begin a new day.
But then the new day starts with a bang! I feel too low to even contemplate early morning circuits with Jo Wicks (besides, I pulled my calf the other day, so just getting up the stairs just now is quite unpleasant!) which compounds my sense of failure, all before I’ve even opened my eyes.
My partner is scurrying around the house compensating for my lack of help as I move around the house at a sloth-like speed saying nothing and only grunting or shrugging when she communicates with me. I know I’m hurting her and being really unhelpful, but I feel so worthless, so useless that I am broken inside. Broken to the point where I don’t have the answers for her. Answers to simple questions like “would you like Weetabix?” I genuinely don’t know. My head is somewhere else, I have no thought process whatsoever on Weetabix. It must be horrible for her. And that, in turn, compounds things further.
In the car she’s being jolly with the children. This morning I don’t have it in me. I’m irritated by the constant noise. I’ve had noisy negativity inside my head most of the night and I just can’t cope with the crying, shouting, banging, crashing, and fighting that goes along with trying to get two under 5s out the door early. I feel nothing more than a thing. Not a father. Not a man. Not an adult. Not a professional freelancer. None of those. I want to hide in the corner of the car, turn off the radio and be still and quiet.
Wondering how my children interpret my behaviour causes me great worry and regret, even in the moment. Yet I feel powerless to alter it. I look at them, force a smile and turn away before I can’t keep up the smile any longer, before staring blankly and silently out of the window.
There’s so much talk of men taking their own lives. It’s the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK. (Yeah, we need to find an answer to this sharpish!) I can never fully understand how or why they actually do it. Surely there must be something here for them to make them stay. But it seems not. It seems some are unable to be saved and that it utterly tragic.
Partly why I write these blog posts is to:
- hopefully help others find comfort or recognition in what I’m saying
- to give me some self-help. I know that if I don’t express myself in writing when my head is so full of negativity that it will build up. The more it builds up, the lower I will sink.
I have ZERO intention of being another statistic, but I have to be brutally honest with myself and acknowledge that when it feels like there is no hope and no direction it can be a very lonely, dark place.
This may be shocking to read these words from me, but I think it’s more shocking that the single biggest killer of men under 45 is them taking their own lives. Perhaps some would be saved if more men felt able to, or allowed to talk frankly like this?
We can’t always be strong – nobody can, unless they have buried their emotions. Women are allowed to curl up and cry. To talk and cry openly with their friends. I feel like a failure every time I feel weak. I feel like I’m not as good as all the other men out there being strong. Yet, perhaps many of them are struggling too? Unable to release their own emotions for the same fear that that’s not what we men do? Perhaps the people I’m comparing myself to are busy being depressed as well? Perhaps they are questioning everything and agonising over their own place and direction in life? If so, then we, my fellow men, are in sheer and utter crisis! If not, well it actually is just me then.
Who Am I? Where Am I?
One thing I find troubling being a parent is keeping time and space for me. For me to still be me. It’s a common thing for parents to struggle to try and retain a sense of themselves. I feel conflicted; on the one hand it seems very selfish, yet on the other it is SO important. For me, without a sense of myself, then I feel I actually am nothing.
Yet, how to do it? I lack the funds and the time as well as the energy. I really need quiet, alone time for thinking and writing. Writing is my outlet which I find both cathartic and energising. Yet, my writing time is virtually nil. I eked out today’s writing time by not going to a workshop I had planned to go to. I may yet regret that, but right now, as I write, I am really enjoying the release I am finding in expressing all of this.
I long to be fit again. To lose the ‘dadbod’ that keeps threatening to become noticeable to the wider world. I long to gain the speed and endurance to be a fast, competitive trailrunner. I crave the opportunity to go to a gig or a club where dancing is the object of the night. I long for days in the hills, either walking or running. I know I can’t do it all, but I’m craving it all because I can’t do any of it.
Yet, in all of this craving to be me and to do the stuff I once did, or always dreamed of, I fear bad karma. My family is the pinnacle of importance and love for me and to spend time thinking about the things I want to do makes me uneasy as I entirely do not want to wish them away. So, it feels very tricky to want these things while still wanting my family.
But is that right? Does it have to be one or the other? Is there a better balance? How do other people do it? Are they really rich and can afford childminders all the time? Do they have extended family and friends on the doorstep for childminding? Do they choose their own fun over spending time with their children? Are their children older and more independent? Do they have a very strict routine for all family members that each must stick to on any given day of the week? Answers please.
I can get envious (not healthy or fair I know) when I see people doing really well for themselvesand achieving great, personalthings while being a parent. I’d like to know how they do it. There must be sacrifice in there somewhere, but where? Do they leave the bulk of the parenting to their partner while they pursue their own goals (not a scenario I personally endorse)? Do they exist on 3hrs sleep a night? Do they not have jobs to do? Do they not see their children for weeks on end?
The Unhealthy Envy on Social Media
I know some (much?) of this envy and angst comes from what I see on social media. My timelines reflect my interests (mainly trailrunning), but a great deal of it results in me feeling envious and like a failure. My thoughts race about like “How
did they manage to do that when I’ve drawn a blank?” “How is he/she able to run so fast when they have children?” etc. It can skew my perception of others and, therefore, of myself in an unhealthy way.
Social media can be a force for good and a force of detriment. Personally, I feel that those portraying their lives as though they are on cloud 9, 100% of the time are a big part of the problem around people feeling not good enough. Nobody, no matter who, is on cloud 9 every single day. Telling the world that’s the case is a sham and causes a lot of damage. Where’s the honesty gone?
Trailrunners are some of the worst culprits. We run for freedom, connecting with nature, getting quiet thinking time. Yet, you’d be forgiven for thinking that all trailrunners on Instagram are on a commissioned photoshoot; every post seems to be a well-timed, carefully composed, overly contrived, narcissistic, ‘natural’, action shot of a mid-run jump! Come on guys, let’s get real. For everyone’s sake.
There’s no “and now I’m better and won’t feel like this again” end to this blog post. As anyone who experiences depression and anxiety knows, it comes and goes. The goal, I guess, is to recognise when it’s coming and to know how to deal with it when it does.
What I’ve learned in the past 24 hours is this:
- Yes, I believe in the male period! I believe I have a hormonal cycle that bring about depressive feelings and anxiety every month. I will continue to monitor this to try and get a more specific pattern
- I know that when I feel this low I NEED me time. Time to be quiet. To be still. To be in my own space, with my own thoughts and, most importantly, I need to write. I have always thought of this as a luxury, but I now recognise that to be able to function as good, healthy parent, partner and version of myself, I NEED to do this as much as I need food and water.
- I don’t have the answer to male suicide and depression and anxiety among men, but I do love to talk, write and analyse feelings and behaviours. If those elements can be put together in some way to help men be less fearful, then we should talk about how we go about making it happen.
- I will continue to rant about the bullshit of social media. If you want to follow me I will endeavour to keep it real. @ryanjohnscott