Real Men Don’t Cry

I’m pretty much as stereotypical Kiwi male as they come. I eat meat, drink beer, and can name every All Black to have represented NZ since I was 10 years old. I’m reserved, self-reliant, and can jimmy up most problems in a number-eight-wire type fashion with ridiculous ease.

And in 2010, John Kirwan saved my life.

Ok, maybe not literally. I never quite got to the point of being truly, genuinely suicidal. I couldn’t have done that and left my dogs to the world’s mercy – that was literally what stopped me ever going that far. But he helped me put the pieces back together.

It was spring time. As a farmer, the most critical point of the whole year is a four week window in spring when all the new arrivals are born. It’s the time oft-romanticised in books and movies, sunny days, warm breezes, paddocks full of green grass and white daisies. And new-born lambs and calves playing and frolicking by the roadside. Except, in 2010, it rained.

Not a torrential rain. Not a rain that causes sudden flash floods and road closures. But a persistent rain. A rain that simply didn’t stop for that whole four weeks. Everything was wet. The grass, the sheep, the cows, myself. Even all the sheltered areas, by banks and under trees, got saturated and turned to mud. There was no respite. Every day was a slog, putting on already saturated wet weather gear, and walking to and from work helplessly watching as the previous 11 months work sat down and died around me. Towards the end of it, calves were struggling to get up and thrive. They’re born at around 45kg, and pretty resilient. Lambs are born at about 2kg, and lamb survival was horrendous. Lambs two and three weeks old were dying. It was a nightmare.

And one day toward the end of it, trudging home through the mud, I ground to a halt. I sat down in the mud. And I started to cry. It was too much. I couldn’t go on. Shit, I realised – I’m depressed.

My reaction, as I imagine is common for most people when they first face up to the reality of depression, was one of panic. I have to get out of this, and I have to do it fast. I’m strong, I thought. I can beat this. So I fought it. And fought it. And fought it. But you can’t fight depression. It’s cunning. It’s sly. It doesn’t give you anything to hit.

I booked some leave, under cover of my sister’s wedding in Dunedin, and drove around the South Island for a fortnight. I took a tent, a notepad and a pen. I drove until I saw somewhere that looked nice, and stopped for the night. I also took a copy of John Kirwan’s book. Thank God I did, because it was that book that taught me not to fight it. To instead accept it, work with it, and change it that way. I started writing out all the meaningful lines from the book, until it got to the point where I was largely just transcribing it. I still have those notes today, although the book itself I lent to a friend. I don’t know which one, and I don’t care because I don’t want it back – I just hope it helped them as much as it did me.

It took a long time, but after reading that book, and knowing what to do, I was able to gradually nurse myself back to good mental health. This is probably a complete surprise to most of you – only one person knew at the time, and a few others have only found out recently. I was too prideful to tell anyone else. It made me too vulnerable. Me, who always presents a capable, got-his-shit-together face to the world. Looking back, it was an utterly stupid thing to do. So risky. Trying to get through depression by yourself is like trying to tow a car out of the mud, with the stuck car. So many of you would have helped, and I’m sorry I didn’t ask. For fuck’s sake, if any of you are stuck, go and get another car. Ask for help.

The reason I’ve come forward with this now, is that I’ve recently become stuck once again. Late last year I was dating a woman the likes of which I had stopped hoping even existed, a woman I’d waited my whole life to meet. And she called it off. I was heartbroken, which turned to lovesickness, which has spiralled into depression. There’s no sense of panic this time. It’s a familiar place now. But it’s worse. I hit the mud patch at speed this time, and momentum carried me a long way out. I’m not just stuck – I’m sinking. Drowning. Right now, I’m so deep in the hole that I don’t even give a damn about my dogs. And when they’re what saved me last time I was here, that’s a really dangerous place for me to be.

So here I am. The real me. Weak and vulnerable. Exposed. Figuratively naked before the world. Doing what I should have done last time, and reaching out. Because it’s ok to ask for help. Friends want to help. That’s the point of friends. If a friend came to you and said “Mate, I need help.” You’d help, wouldn’t you? Of course you would. And you wouldn’t think less of them for it. So why do we Kiwi blokes have so much trouble being on the other side of the situation? We have to make this ok. We have to stop people drowning. People get stuck from time to time. Don’t let your pride leave you sitting there by yourself until you drown. Ask for help. Please. Someone, somewhere, can pull you out of the hole you’re in.

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