By Brent Jaster, MD
"In the last 6 years, I have started a business, been separated, divorced, heart-broken, overwhelmed, isolated, burned out, angry, and so much more, but because of the support of other men I remained resilient..."
Recently, my 7-year-old son expressed his envy of his older sister, but really girls and women. In his short life, not understanding the many gender inequities of the past and present, he sees a disparity in events that support girls (an overnight summer camp my daughter will attend) and celebrate women (Women's March). He expressed, "Daddy, I wish there was a summer camp for boys and a Men's March." I felt sad for him, remembering my own childhood when I felt alone, afraid, and unsure how to best navigate boyhood and eventual manhood without a clear map, or obvious models beyond stereotypical masculinity. I could play at the game of posturing competition and trophy-seeking toughness, and succeed quite well, but something felt amiss.
It was not until 30 years later that I joined a Men's Group and I could witness other men being real, vulnerable, and sharing openly. With other men as mirrors, I could see the layers of armor that I put on to cover shame, fear, mood swings, failure, uncertainty, pain, doubt, and more. All while I occupied roles as breadwinner, father, husband, doctor, but rarely face-to-face friend or peer. I could begin to see blind spots where I might blame, play the victim, and revel in a well of anger without an apparent bottom.
During this time and for years before, I sought answers to my restlessness and unhappiness—therapy, mental health diagnoses, medication trials, distractions, more distractions, and even more distractions from my distress, new activities to channel my feelings in an acceptable way (Australian Rules Football), creative job options, and self-help books. Not even considering the damage the medical profession dished out over the last 20 years, in the last 6 years I have started a business, been separated, divorced, heart-broken, overwhelmed, isolated, burned out, angry, and so much more, but because of the support of other men I remained resilient, determined, and successful in continuing forward and rallying when I needed to for my children and my patients, my family and my friends.
My Men's Group likely saved me from despair without perspective. It was both celebratory and humbling when witnessing excessive habits like porn, alcohol, drugs, sex, video games, cigarettes, pills, television, and cannabis, all of which were nearly always used to bypass negative emotions. In the group there was a suicide, patterns of abuse (looking for opportunities to be bullied), relationship and work challenges, spiritual crises, sexual dysfunction, family struggles, and more; yet, personal breakthroughs also occurred in changing dysfunctional relationships, starting school/new careers, expanding one's successes personally and professionally, asking for/getting help, deepening intimate relationships, pushing one's edge and overcoming obstacles, breaking through addiction and past self-defeating patterns, and other achievements. This personal growth nearly universally occurred due to the support of/accountability to men in the group.
New masculinity allows for letting down defenses and being real with other men on the same path of self-improvement, but opportunities to do so are not obvious. In the situation above, my son expressed innocently that he wanted to be acknowledged. He wanted to be seen and heard. Like his sister, he wanted to feel celebrated, along with other boys and men. So I told him that we would look for that boys’ camp that does all of the above and teaches our boys (allied with girls) to be leaders, and brings in a new era of men and masculinity, without such narrow boundaries, interconnected and accountable, and with holistic views of health and impact in the world. And if we did not find that camp, that support system that he and every boy and man need, then we would create it.
At L.I.F.E. Medicine, we now have an awesome opportunity for men to support men and receive healing while improving health, and specifically Mood Optimization. (Coming soon--womxn supporting womxn*, and people supporting people.) Mood Optimization is the first focus, but other programs will center on high blood pressure/cholesterol, weight loss, pre-diabetes/diabetes, and other conditions.
We all have challenges. We all need support. I hear daily from men at L.I.F.E. Medicine who share their challenges and struggles with me. We, also, all have expertise to share. We are all worthy. So embrace your own health improvement journey and join us!
Contact our clinic at 800.651.7126 to receive more information, and I can call you to answer any questions, if you like. This program is a medical appointment and general research shows better satisfaction, improved quality of life, and superior outcomes to traditional one-on-one medical care. Next programs start 4/11, 4/18, and 4/25**.
*We have chosen here to use gender expansive language as all of our gendered groups include all womxn-identifying individuals in our womxn’s groups (and mxn in our mxn’s groups) -- transgender, nonbinary and any other gender expression. You are welcome.
**We have a few more spaces for the Mood Optimization program starting Thursday April 11th. If this date will not work, we will have others starting soon. Call for more info. In health and healing…for all people.