The Black Spot
Movember is here. So is my mustache.
I’ve been growing out my fuzzy lip caterpillar once a year for the past five. I did it at first because it allowed me to look like a 70’s porn star while raising some money for a great cause (donate here please). But as the years progressed, I noticed its message evolve from one of advocating for more funding for testicular and prostate cancer research (which it still does) to one that encompasses men’s health as a whole.
Movember is now more than a month where I can simply grow a mustache with impunity. It cuts a bit deeper, and in all honesty, I was a bit wary when deciding to write about this for my post; friends and family will see this, future employers, current employers, neighbors and former classmates.
But the stigma surrounding men’s health, the inability of many to talk about it, needs to change.
So here goes.
I have a friend. Let’s call him Chris.
Chris didn’t know about the black spot. He thought that that one day back in high school when he’d almost failed out of AP Biology, before getting chewed out by his lacrosse coach, was just a gloomy day, a rain cloud above his head. The thoughts that whirled through his mind while sitting at an intersection, wondering what would happen if his Dodge Intrepid was t-boned when the light turned green, were just that, just thoughts. He was certain they had no lasting impact on his psyche. He was in a miserable mood and that was it. Nothing to ponder or turn over in his mind.
It was just a blip in his memory at that point, a rough patch that needed to be sanded over.
But that blip was a dark spot, one that would grow with time.
It was during his third year in college that the dark spot began to grow, sending out its tendrils. Chris was unprepared for the sudden bouts of sadness, the brooding silences that would sometimes take over when he was walking across campus, the pure emotionless fugue that seeped in. He couldn’t shake it, couldn’t pinpoint where this was coming from, why it was slowly devouring his time and energy. He was tired, bone-tired, and wrote it off to the typical freneticism of college, and ignored the fact that the black spot ran rampant in portions of his family tree.
Then he found himself late one night, crying on a bench, staring at a cave full of candles, at a loss for why. Just why. His brain was miraculously free of thoughts but for this one. He couldn’t find himself, couldn’t extricate himself from the bile that was spreading through him.
The next morning Chris swallowed his pride and got help. He went to the campus health center and poured out all the bile that he was embarrassed to show family and friends. He poured out his embarrassment, his loathing to be rid of this dark spot that took over his psyche. It came out in torrents, his inner demons flooding the counselor’s office. She looked around, black coating her carpet, chairs, and curtains, smiled back and him, and told him it was alright, let’s talk.
And talk they did, for the rest of the semester. Chris came to realize that the gloomy day back in high school wasn’t that, but rather a deep manifestation of something darker that he was pushing deeper.
His talks with the school counselor didn’t fully eradicate the black spot. There isn't cure, it will always be there, waiting to spread in ebbs and flows. Breakups and fights, bad jobs, stress, and uncertainty feed the beast. It manifests itself in withdrawal from others, in night terrors and silence. It brings him low, turns his mouth to ash, his mind numb. Sometimes it attacks without provocation, no reason for its outbursts given and none needed. It can’t be reasoned with, can’t be overpowered or banished. This is something that will live with Chris for the rest of his life
Chris continues to get help, though. He realized he couldn’t do this on his own, couldn’t bottle it all up and assume that it would go away. And there’s never one way for him to deal with it, either. Sometimes it’s a hurricane, dark and dominating, contaminating his day and forcing him into solitude, batten down the hatches and wait out the tempest. Other times it’s a little voice whispering in the back of his mind, a little shadow trying to bring him down, one that can be silenced with a long run or meeting with friends and family.
Chris wouldn’t be where he is today in battling the black spot without this support base. His close friends and family have provided him more comfort, more advice and stern talking, more camaraderie and loyalty and understanding and listening and time than he could have ever asked for or expected. He wouldn’t have made it this far without them.
Chris is doing better now. He’s learned to reach out to counselors, to know when it’s coming on and how to properly deal with it. He talks about it more, gets others’ insight and input, their support and assistance. And sometimes he just wants to be by himself, doesn’t want to talk about it but rather figure it out on his own for a short period. He knows, though, that he doesn’t have to carry it by himself.
But more importantly, he’s no longer embarrassed to talk about it.
This was a tough post to commit to. Only a few people know this about me and now this post is out in the void for all to see. And I understand that the way I wrote about it may seem hypocritical, may even damage my argument for more conversation, in that it doesn’t state what the black spot is: depression.
Movember Project isn’t the only one willing to discuss mental health. In fact, I’d highly recommend reading a post called "Depression Part Two" on the blog Hyperbole and a Half. For those of you who’ve had a hard time discussing these issues with someone you know, someone you love, who has depression, this may help. Or not. Either way, it’s worth talking to them when they want to, or simply be the silent support in their dark days.
Because this post isn’t a way for me to provide answers or to state that everyone deals with it the same way, or should deal with it the same way. I’m not advocating that talking about your depression is a way to cure it; sometimes a counselor and talking with friends isn’t enough, and medication is indeed needed. It’s a complicated issue for many, with complicated solutions and outcomes.
This post, in the end, is just a way to start a conversation about men’s mental health, to shed some light on the darkness. It’s a personal anecdote that I hope kickstarts some of your own discussions about depression with someone you know, even if it’s yourself. Because I’m not the only one who deals with this yearly, monthly, weekly, sometimes daily. I have close friends, closer family, who just need someone to talk to, let them know that it’s alright to talk about it in the first place.
So this November, let’s talk.
Beer I drank – Belgian Quad by Blackfoot River Brewing Company
Song I heard – After the War by Branches
Book I read – Rogue Heroes by Ben Macintyre