Soften the Fck Up is trying to reach men who bottle up their feelings due to the whole ‘boys don’t cry,” thing, and that’s a worthy objective. But there’s no point in telling people to open up and get help if you’re not going to quantify that help.
“Talk about it,” we are told in the introductory video on their main page. Yep, good advice — I have no argument with that. “To who?” they then ask. Good question. That’s the one that we really need an answer to. “Could be your mates, your family…” Well yes, it could be, but it has to be someone who would understand. If we are going with the premise that these blokes are in a dark place because they’re too hard to open up to people, I’d say their family and their mates may have had an influence on that. This is assuming the bloke has mates he can talk to at all. Then things get weird. “Could be your neighbour…” um… yes, could be, “…the postman…”
WHAT? The postman? Is this for real? I don’t know where you guys live but my postman has got shit to do. He doesn’t need to hear all my problems. The biggest problem in talking about depression is trying to find someone who gets it, because millions don’t. It’s not just the blokey blokes who need to soften the fck up, it’s the people they might be turning to. Not everyone can be the listener.
I’ve been that postman before. Okay, I’ve never been a postman, but I think you get the idea. I’ve stayed with friends, helping them through dark times until I was sure they would be alright, but that’s one thing. It’s another to get a call at work, out of the blue, from someone you taught the previous year. This happened to me. I had a student with a fairly severe acquired brain injury in one of my basic computer classes. For the purposes of this story, we will call him Hank because nobody else does. It was a four-week course, one day per week.
Six months later, when my role had expanded to reception work when I wasn’t teaching, I get a phone call:
“Hello, can I talk to a teacher?”
Hmm, strange request, but okay.
— I’m a teacher, can I help you?
“I don’t know what to do with my life. What should I do?”
How do you answer that? How does anyone answer that, especially when they have work to do?
The calls continued for a while, and sometimes they were very brief.
“Hello, are you a teacher?”
— Oh hi, Hank. What’s up?
“I should say yes to education, shouldn’t I?”
— Um, yes. Yes you should.
Please understand that I wasn’t giving Hank the brush-off. I wanted to help him inasmuch as I could but like the postman, I had shit to do and they weren’t paying me to be a counsellor. Many times I tried to tell him that I was the wrong person to be asking, but Hank had got it into his head that teachers know everything.
“But you’re a teacher. You know things.”
— Hank, I teach computers. I don’t know anything about this stuff.
Then I got a call when Hank said, as casually as if he were wondering what to have for lunch,
“I’m tired of life. I don’t want to go on living any more.”
Right, that has to be taken seriously, but what can I do? I knew that he must have a regular doctor so I gave him the ‘talk to your doctor,’ speech. That didn’t seem to get anywhere. Then I remembered that he had a worker who had come with him to class. For the purpose of the story, we’ll call him Martin.
— Hank, talk to Martin. He knows you. He’ll be able to give you good advice.
“Martin’s out of the picture, he’s in the past.”
I was confident that Hank wasn’t an immediate suicide risk. He really did sound like he was just weighing up options. So once I had convinced him he should “say yes to life,” (his words, not mine), I called the disability assistance centre that I knew he had been attending, at least at the time he came to class. I told them everything that had happened, including that I’d suggested he talk to Martin. What they explained to me was that Martin had left the organisation and moved on, as professionals (or volunteers, I was never really sure) will do and Hank was a bit cut up about it. Muggins here, had just gone and told Hank he should talk to Martin.
Foot, meet mouth.
I apologised profusely to them for the faux pas and any knock-on damage it may have caused. They assured me it wasn’t a bad thing and that it might have helped Hank by making him face up to the change in circumstances.
But here’s the problem:
Hank had done exactly what STFU are suggesting. He talked to someone. He’d just picked someone who couldn’t help him. And he had even picked someone who had some understanding and empathy for mental conditions. Imagine if it wasn’t. Talk to someone? Yes. But it can’t just be anyone. Are STFU going to take responsibility for the consequences if the postman says, “Shut up, ya poofter. Now piss off, I’ve got work to do,”?
I suppose everyone who is approached by these newly softened, former blokey blokes are supposed to utter the usual platitudes — get help, see a doctor, call Lifeline…
I called Lifeline once.
They didn’t answer.
I spent somewhere between five and ten minutes listening to it ring until it finally rang out. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t doubt that this is a reflection on Lifeline’s resources and not their services. I know they do wonderful work but even so, I can’t help but think of that experience whenever someone mentions calling Lifeline. I can laugh about it now but can you even begin to think about what that does to someone who is trying to get help? It wasn’t a spur of the moment call. I had considered calling Lifeline previously, and when I was finally low enough and desperate enough to call, they didn’t bloody answer.
Now you can give all the rational reasons why someone shouldn’t take something like that to heart but to a depressed person, you’re wasting your breath. That doesn’t compute in a depressed person’s mind any more than trying to tell an anorexic that they’re not fat. What the person involved takes away is that even Lifeline won’t talk to them.
All that isn’t what has rankled me the most about STFU. What has really pissed me off is the stereotyping of men; that the problem is down to blokes being blokes and they just need to let their guard down and get in touch with their softer side. There are several reasons I haven’t sought professional help for the depression I’ve felt but I promise you an excess of blokiness isn’t one of them.
I’m as soft as they come. I was a sensitive new age guy long before there was even an acronym for it. If I were any softer, I’d be liquid. So what do I do now?
Get help, talk to your doctor, call Lifeline, blah blah blah…
It’s as if the emotional repression of macho culture has gone so far that you have to be a big tough bloke before you can soften the fuck up and if you were already there, then too bad, we’re looking out for the tough guys here.
I still want to support them. It’s a good thing that people are putting it out there and sharing their stories. The fact that people are describing experiences that others might relate to is a good thing. If people can relate to those experiences, it shows them that they’re not the only ones experiencing it and it can help them identify their condition. It’s at least better than Hugh Jackman waving his stupid bloody coffee cup in my face. Doing anything is better than doing nothing but doing something useful is better still. It needs to be backed up with sound advice and empowerment to go through with getting whatever help may be required, not just pulling a switcheroo on the “are you man enough?” line. That assumes that men are stupid enough to do anything if you just challenge their masculinity.
This is just my initial reaction. I honestly hope to be rebutted. If someone can show me where I’m wrong, I will shout their praise from the rooftops. I will donate, promote and participate. But right now, both RUOK? and SFTU remind me of the GetUp campaigns: well intentioned, great production values but falling wide of the mark in terms of achieving something useful for sufferers.
I did tweet my concerns about blokiness not always being the impediment to them when they first posted the video. They were kind enough to reply, saying that obviously everyone’s different but for the majority in Australia research has shown it to be due to the socialisation of masculinity.
I guess I’m in the minority then. What else is new?
It’s not as if being made to feel excluded leads to depression or alcoholism or drug abuse or other forms of feeling crap, does it?