Guys aren't supposed to have anxiety disorders.
BY DREW BROWN
Guys aren’t supposed to have anxiety disorders. They’re supposed to be logical and analytical. Stoic and serene and somehow bold at the same time. Confident in everything they believe in. Self-assured. 6’5’’ and ripped.
But I’m a guy, and I’m practically none of those things.
I’m not 6’5’’, and I’m not ripped. I’m a feeler—my emotions hit and burrow way deep down. And to understand these feelings I have to verbally process them, leaving me far from stoic or serene. I chase my imagination like I chased fireflies as a kid: it sometimes lights up right in front of me then goes dark only to light up again across the yard.
I don’t know how to fix an engine, change a flat, or tell you exactly what fluid is leaking from your car.
And I also have an anxiety disorder. More than anything, that has made me feel less than a man.
Anxiety Like Ivy
My anxiety is like ivy growing over an abandoned house. It grows over its trellises, stretches out its fingers, and covers the windows and doors of my brain. Once it gets big enough, it squeezes, constricting light and air from getting inside, trapping me in the darkness of mold and dust and panic—making me feel like I’m suffocating.
My brain can’t let go of irrational fears. It paws them, chews on them, shakes them—a dog with a chew toy. When that happens, my world becomes small—the ivy constricts and tightens. My eyelids become lead. My brain traps me in my body. I begin to think about where the nearest place for me to close my eyes is. My car, my bed, anything. Anything to forget my worries and panic.
For the longest time, I felt unmanly and hid my anxiety disorder. I told myself that I must be doing something wrong for my ivy to be growing so quickly, for my anxiety to feel so present and real. I told myself that guys are supposed to think their way out of these feelings, but my mind couldn’t think about anything but fear. I kept everything bottled up and packed in, but it kept threatening to burst out through tears or panic attacks.
I didn’t want anyone to know about my anxiety, partly because I didn’t want them to think I was unmanly.
But the more I kept it inside, the worse it became.
Community and Health
Everything changed one day when I got coffee with my best friend. We sat outside in the Oklahoma summer, when the sun is so big it turns the grass brown and my hair blonde in front.
“Drew, I have something to tell you.”
“I have depression.”
“Yeah. My brother and dad noticed it first. I wasn’t enjoying sports or games or any of the stuff I usually love. I was just sleeping all the time and sad and stuff.”
The ivy around my brain relaxed.
He continued. “So my dad took me to a doctor, and I got prescribed an antidepressant. I started taking it a month ago, and it really works. It makes me feel normal again.”
I could have started crying. I confessed, “That’s me too! I’ve been sleeping all the time, and I don’t wake up happy anymore. I’m sad and fearful and don’t know what I’m doing wrong or what I need to do to get better.”
The sun reached through my ivy, through my panic, and entered the windows of my brain then. I began to breathe, to relax my shoulders.
He gave me the name of the doctor he visited, and two weeks later my dad and I left the doctor’s office with an antidepressant prescription in hand.
My best friend taught me that guys can express feelings and still be men. Guys can have anxiety disorders and still be men.
That conversation happened eight years ago. Since then, I have been officially diagnosed with mental OCD—an obsession with perfection—something that will probably stay with me my entire life. I’ve been prescribed a new medication, and I’ve had an amazing counselor who taught me how to cope.
My ivy still returns. It took me an extra week to write this piece because of it. But I’m learning how to accept it and pursue health.
I’m learning to eat healthy. And work out. And get enough sleep. And spend time in my faith tradition.
And I’m learning that it’s okay to be a guy and have an anxiety disorder.
I’m learning that masculinity looks incredibly different than the stock image I had growing up. It is much more rounded and whole, three-dimensional and vibrant. And I’ve learned that masculinity needs community. It is not rugged and purely individualistic. It needs people to talk with, to feel with, to hug and laugh and cry with.
That’s what my best friend did for me eight years ago, and it changed my life. May my story and my life maybe do the same for you.