Telling the Truth
I was fifteen years old, sitting in my bedroom in our Milton family home. My Mum was mentally unwell and my father was at the start of what would become a mental breakdown. The doorbell rang, my Mum answered the door. It was my father’s solicitor and he enquired how Dad was. Mums answer, which she never realized I could hear was “He wants to go and drown himself. He can’t take anymore!” I was scared beyond belief!
Two weeks later I came home from school and found my Dad weeping uncontrollably. Mum was too unwell to know what to do, and my little brother was terrified. I helped Dad into the passenger seat of our car and drove him to Balclutha hospital. I walked in the doors and asked the person at reception if they could come and help my Dad. They came and took him inside and I drove home and got us fish and chips for tea. It was a tough time.
At around forty years of age I suffered my own period of extreme mental anguish, with life for many reasons, having become just about unbearable. One Sunday night, when things were really bad, I drove up the Clock Hill in Alexandra and as I drove around that bottom bend I remember very clearly wondering if I would ever drive back down again. I sat up there looking down at the town and I battled my own demons. Something happened that night up on that hill, that, for me at least, has no logical explanation, but the result was later that night I drove back down the hill, and carried on with life. It was a tough time but I had kids I loved and who needed me. Nietzsche said "he who has a why to live can bear almost any how" I found my why that night.
I have just watched Matt Chisholm’s excellent documentary “Man Enough” and I was struck by the similarities between Matt’s story, the stories of the men he interviewed and my own personal story which of course includes my Dad’s story.
For life is tough isn’t? We all walk that razorblade of chance, at any time our lives can descend into chaos and only the arrogant and the fool ever really think they are tough enough to take whatever life throws at them.
“Existence is suffering” said the Buddha and, I for one, don’t disagree with him.
Suffering comes in many forms, death, decay, misery, inequality, pain, loss, and in the context of Matt’s documentary, depression or mental anguish, and so with suffering being so self-evident to all thinking people, the question is “What do we do about it?”
What Matt does in his documentary, is what all the great philosophers, sages, saints and thinkers have always done, and that is shine a light into the darkness, lay bare the facts of reality and speak freely and courageously about what is there.
Matt is asking us to look for what the truth is about depression and mental illness with regards to our male identity and culture and when we look for truth, we often find the words of the Christ “search for the truth and the truth will set you free” transcend time and speak directly to us.
I would argue that the only way to real freedom is by speaking the truth and one of the questions that is being asked of, and about, men, and this came through strongly in the documentary is, “What defines a man”
The quality that I admire most in a man is the quality of courage.
It is courage that took the hunter out to kill the mammoth and provide for his family and tribe.
It was courage that lead the man to take up arms and defend what he loved.
It was courage that lead Wilberforce to go up against the slave traders, that lead Martin Luther King to love his enemies, that allowed Mandala to forgive those who hated him.
It was courage that lead Matt Chisholm to seek the truth, tell the truth and allow his own personal suffering to be used to help others.
Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is to do the thing you should do in spite of the fear.
We all have stories, we have all experienced suffering, and when we muster the courage to tell our stories about our struggles, we do two things. We allow others to know that they are not the only one’s suffering, and, perhaps even more importantly, that since we have got through our battles, maybe they can too!
Our stories let others know they are not alone, and that there is hope. Those are two very important things!
Well done on telling your story Matt. Much appreciated!