I remember the first time I gave a 225-pound bench. As a former gang-wise teenager who could barely lift 145, I celebrated the occasion with far more zeal than war. It is not too much weight for serious lifters and most professional athletes, but it was everything to me. All of this was because 225 pounds seemed to be manly as a symbol of strength. This was all because strength is often considered the most desirable trait a man can have in our culture.
|Why I Go to the Gym
I go to the gym regularly for almost a decade. I never questioned the habit; For a long time, this was only my default. But in an ongoing search to examine my behavior more closely, I found that I didn’t bump into the gym because it’s healthy – or because it gets me out of the house, or because it gives me something to do . At least, they are not the primary reason.
In fact, I go to the gym because it is manly. Because, after years of training, I can leave you and give you 50. I can grind through 25 consecutive pull-ups. I can put 225 pounds on the bench-press and take out some reps.
I know that I do not say anything about that person, and I am not telling you these things because I hope you are impressed. This is not a story of how much weight I can lift or how many pull-ups I can do.
It’s about how we hide things that we don’t want other people to see. It is about how we hide these things from ourselves. This is when we feel how we react, we don’t know who we are, and how we try to get rid of that realization.
It is about hoping that everything I find in the gym will distract me from the fact that I am missing so many ways. This is unacceptable, according to some narrowly-defined and mostly-ignorant concept of parochialism, depression, and anxiety. About realizing that if I can’t act like a man or feel like a man, I can at least look like a man.
I cannot define masculinity in a few coherent, concise sentences, but I know what is not.
Depression is not manhood.
Panic attacks and anxiety are not manly.
There is something particularly embarrassing about panic attacks. Control the wheel about your mind and drive your body with a rock. If I had been stronger, the narrative would have proceeded, I could have prevented this from happening. A real man is not considered a panic attack. A real man is supposed to fight anxiety and stop being such a cat.
Doing something about depression, which is about feeling – as if there is no point in living, or that everything is hopeless and ridiculous. If I had been stronger, this story would have proceeded, I would have stopped myself from feeling that way. A real man should not be depressed A real man should be angry.
It is believed that a real person is supposed to devour a giant bloody steak and he works really hard with his fist and shouts about television and then maybe one before being with his life. Confirms the actual object to the woman.
Does Clint Eastwood get depressed? Don’t go to hell. He walks for a while and then tells everyone to get off his lawn.
Does the hero of an action film have a panic attack before saving the world? Don’t go to hell, he kicks ass, takes the name, and gets the girl.
If you look at manhood through this narrow and ignorant lens, anxiety and depression are everything a man should not be. There is nothing about needy help.
I had a coach in high school who said that this is not real. There was no reason one should stay in bed all day; Couldn’t they just eat something?
“Just get up from bed. Just eat a saliva sandwich. It’s not hard,” he would say.
I am only 30 years old, but the mental health we were talking about today was not happening when I was growing up. Yet, while things have improved, many boys and young people continue to hear the wrong message about depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions. The result is a desperate struggle to avoid power and power and manhood, whichever is contrary. The result is denial in the name of manhood, or refusal to ask for help. The result is fear.
There is something mysterious about anxiety and depression. How difficult it is to understand why this happens, or how to feel better. Why everything is fine today, but tomorrow is terrible. There is a level of powerlessness that is exceptionally challenging and frustrating, which makes me feel weak and fragile and there are a hundred other things that are in conflict with a real man who must feel.
But there is nothing mysterious about Jim. When I feel like a man there, a man must feel hell. For that hour, I am not my depression or anxiety. Jim offers replicas for shame and fear of not measuring.
There is also something about the gym that makes me feel in control, as if my feet are on the ground and I am getting stronger. Of course, this is exactly the opposite of how it feels anxious and depressed.
Looking at the way we talk about masculinity, the term itself can be synonymous with strength. Being a man and being strong, it seems impossible to imagine one another without the other. But I don’t think the point is that those two words are inseparable, and I don’t think that is the issue of how much we emphasize men being strong.
The issue is how we define strength.
The issue is how we define weakness.
The point is what we do to get over that false sense of strength, and what we do to avoid being weakened.
The point is that so many men are not getting help because they are unable or unwilling to accept that they need it, out of fear that it says something about their manhood. Instead they choose silence and suffering. Eventually, they can begin to believe that the only strength they can find in the gym.