Photo by Daniil Onischenko on Unsplash

A dude I knew from college wanted to go for a drink with me in November last year.

Lets call him “Mike”

I’ve known Mike for the best part of 26 years I think. We went to many of the same classes at college and stayed in touch on and off over the years since. I went to his wedding about 20 years ago and spent a bit of time with him on the train in the years since in and out of London as we both ended up getting jobs there.

I’m not into “destiny” and that sort of hocus pocus, I’m a stuck in the mud sceptic. But if I were into all that stuff, I’d definitely tell you, the universe just seemingly kept pushing us back together one way or another.

I never proactively set out to be his “friend” as such. Actually there’s multiple things about him that annoy me a bit and many areas we don’t see eye to eye. Plus, I’m not really much of a “friends” person.

However, that’s another related story for another day.

For now, let’s just say, he’s one of three people I’d say are probably “a friend.”

Even so, we aren’t close at all. It’s not that we are together all day every day. I couldn’t tell you his address or the names of all his children.

I’ll see him once every three or four months if we stop for a drink on the way home, or I’ll give him a lift into London if I’m going in with the car. We swap a few messages on Signal every couple of weeks. Mostly silly jokes, complaints about politics, the standard of driving in the UK or rude songs we found on YouTube. It’s more like that.

I didn’t hear from him for about 2-3 months (even the usual silly jokes via Signal dried up – and yes, I did message him in this time) and then he suddenly reappeared and sent me a message inviting me to his birthday party next year. He was organising it at least 5 months beforehand.

A few weeks after that message, he was very insistent we go to a pub near where I live. It was definitely not our usual drinking place.

This was all a bit weird. The silence. The birthday party (I’ve never been invited to a birthday party by him before). The long timeline ahead? Weird.

And weird stuff induces anxiety in me.

I’m an introvert. A real one. Hot, stuffy rooms with lots of noise and people, physically hurt. Especially if there are lots of people there I don’t know.

It’s not that I’m entirely misanthropic. I need some time and attention from people occasionally. But I like it in short, controlled bursts. It needs to be on my terms. Otherwise it reaches a point where I need to withdraw and have time alone. I have to get away and do hobbies and activities by myself. If not, worst case scenario, I become physically ill. I’ll get cold/flu like symptoms, extreme tiredness and sometimes nausea.

In truth, it’s probably a little bit more than just introversion alone – perhaps a mild social anxiety. But it’s ALWAYS been this way for me, probably from the age of 4 onward. It’s just how I am. And you know what? That’s ok!

I’ve learned to accept that the rest of the world isn’t geared up for people like me. I’ve learned to deal with that and with other people who don’t get it. I’ve learnt my triggers and limits. And most of all, I’ve learned to forgive myself.

Anyway, back to the main point!

I could tell already there was going to be some kind of, ask, or reveal with this sudden visit.

I suspected it was going to be an “opportunity” to invest in something. Perhaps news about getting divorced or otherwise some sort of scandal I needed to hear about.

And I suspected “buy in” for his birthday party was going to be a key topic too.

Well, I got that part right.

The opening gambit was agreement to come to his birthday party. He was snotty that his other friend, Ravi, was being “unreliable” because he “might have the kids and wasn’t sure if he could go” (to be fair it’s 5 months in the future? I’m not entirely surprised people can’t plan that far out?).

There was an underlying tone of “don’t let me down like he did” with that point.

“Ok” I thought. “Emotional manipulation noted.”

The other attendees for the party were basically going to be a mixture of people he went to university with – some of whom I met for 25 minutes at his wedding, but most I didn’t know.

So the pressure was on, to commit to go and drink with a group of people I don’t/barely known, 5 months in the future.

Anxiety level 4000. You probably won’t understand this, but that’s a lot of work for me.

Once filled with anxiety about that, for a starter – after the usual jokes and whatnot, we got down to the “meat.” The main course.

He wanted to tell me that in October of the previous year, he had somewhat of a mental breakdown because he couldn’t sleep for a number of days. This in turn led to him remembering some bad things that happened to him as a child (he didn’t explain what, but based on other comments I suspect some sort of sexual abuse) and this led him to depression. After seeing a doctor, he was now going to a therapist about it.

I’ll spare you all the details but there then followed a lengthy and very heavy, 2 hour conversation about his life, mental health and inevitably, gender roles.

Ok let’s get things straight off the bat.

I am an advocate of better conversations between men about these topics and about mental health. If you go back to my series on changing gender roles for men – my conclusion is that we need to be able to slip our traditional gender roles at will in the way women do (and be supported in doing so). And being able to talk about things like this is part of that for sure. So I’m totally up for this.

I told him my view. That really, there’s no stigma or problem around this in my opinion. Mental health problems and depression are just like an injury? But one for your brain and mind and not your body. If he had a broken arm or leg, there would be no problem around it. This was no different.

And if someone did something bad to him when he was a kid, that wasn’t his fault. Also, it didn’t mean he was less of a person, or damaged or in some way invalid or wrong.

What mattered was he gets better and feels better about it. So it’s good if a therapist helps with this. I also encouraged him to work from home more or realistically, leave his job and get something better (this has been an ongoing back and forth conversation between us for a couple of years).

Anyway, in summary, I think I said the right things and in many respects, it was all ok. And I’m supportive of it.

“Theres a but coming” you sense?

Yes. Ok. There is.


I wasn’t really ready/prepared for this? And I’m not entirely sure that we have the closest of relationships for this sort of discussion?

I got the feeling that he had been in some way encouraged by others to “talk to everyone” about it. As if he felt it was a job or task to tick off and get done. I’m not sure he really – enjoyed it? Or got something from it? It was as if he was confessing something?

It could have easily been something mentioned in passing or during another conversation. One of the many, 2 hour chats we have driving in or out of London would have done it. But this was sort of like… a job interview? I was summoned, in a particular way to a particular place and told. And that was a bit weird.

Ok, maybe that’s how he felt it should be handled. But there were two of us in this? And honestly, I found it hard. I was blind sided by it. Unprepared. Especially for an introvert, to tackle this sort of thing takes a degree of energy and emotion which I wasn’t really in possession of.

It was sprung on me. Like a trap. I felt somewhat, cornered.

I found it hard to know what to say. We don’t have that level of relationship and the risk of me saying the wrong thing could jeopardize the one we do have.

On top of the stress with his birthday request, it was a bit overwhelming. I came home, not from a fun drink at the pub but feeling totally and utterly exhausted and fairly depressed myself. Like I’d be tricked into attending a holiday time share sales pitch or something?

Ok. You are probably rolling your eyes. I get it. “Stop making it about you.”

I understand. It was a moment he felt he needed and I should be there to support that.

And I was there to support it. 100%. I did my absolute best to reassure him and ask if there was anything I could do to help. And I genuinely, I don’t view him as any less or worse or disrespect him for having some mental health problems at all. Like I said to him, god knows, I’ve probably got my own. I’m actually mildly enthused he was open about it.

So what is my problem?

I’m making a point. And it goes like this.

Men – yes, we need to talk to about mental health problems.

But the WHO we talk to, HOW and WHEN does matter. It matters for two really important reasons.

Firstly, when you do this, if you just open your emotional bomb bay doors and just commence carpet bombing, you can cause emotional labor for others and that comes at a cost to them, which might not be entirely reasonable?

It isn’t QUITE the same as telling someone you broke your leg. That doesn’t require two hours of recounting your childhood history and talking about the intricate reasons as to why hearing someones name makes you have a panic attack. It’s a different thing. The person you are talking too may have had their own similar problems and may be upset by hearing it.

A problem shared is not always a problem halved. It can be a problem doubled.

I’m not trying to put you off in totality. You aren’t a burden. But you could become one.

Secondly, like I’ve mentioned in other posts here – you need to be cautious you know who you are talking to. In our case, it was fine. But we don’t know each other at that level and I could have reacted differently?

There are people in the world who don’t take well to this kind of discussion, especially with men. There are people who would be mocking, shaming or who would be Machiavellian and take advantage somehow. We aren’t yet at a place as a gender where we can be sure others don’t just see depression as “weakness” and won’t use that against us in some way. It’s terrible I have to say that, but it’s true.

I’m 100% supportive of these conversations then. Yes, if you have problems, do “reach out.” I’m not trying to put anyone off. All I’m doing is encouraging BETTER interactions rather than less of them.

All I suggest is you just pause for a moment to think – who am I talking to, how, why, where and when.

I think women are better at doing this than men – I think we need to catchup!