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The story behind the shave

So yesterday I had my head clippered, then shaved. This holds a lot of meaning for me, well beyond the attention-grabbing motive for a fundraiser campaign.

I suffered from depression and suicidal tendencies for most of my adult life. My story is not unique, nor is it really important. The point is, that being a woman, there are social constructs in place to help me, because my emotional struggle is almost expected. "Hysteria" after all was once a term specifically used to describe a female state of extreme emotional expression, for which doctors would perform hysterectomies.

Men, on the other hand, are expected to keep it all together. Women can weep and moan and wail to their girlfriends, colleagues and doctors about how hard it all is, but men have to stay strong. "Don't be seen as weak" is the inner catch-cry for many men which drives their stoic behaviour.

Of course, these are generalisations - but the statistics are not generalised. The rates of mental illness in Australia are very similar between men and women, yet men are three times more likely to commit suicide. Is it because men are less likely to reach out for support or help in developing new skills? Quite likely - statistically speaking, men have fewer visits to health professionals than women, and when they do visit, their consultation times are significantly shorter.

I know what it is like to feel the shame of not being in control of one's mind and emotions, and the judgment you feel from people who don't understand. I was silent myself for a long time and know how stifling and desperate it feels to hide my vulnerabilities. I am now much more open, much more healthy, and much more balanced, thanks to people who have helped me learn new skills and reframe things in a way that has improved my mental and emotional well-being.

I really feel for and relate to people who aren't yet as comfortable as I am now in opening up. I know a large percentage of these people are men, and I want to let them know that there are places where it is ok just to be themselves - imperfect, raw, emotive, and not pretending to be "strong" all the time.

So for me, shaving my head in support of men's mental health is about me being brave enough to show my own rawness and vulnerability. It brings out the boyish look in me, and hopefully sets a precedent, even if just for one other person, that letting go of one's ideal image is not the end of the world. It attracts questions and starts conversations that wouldn't have happened otherwise.

The timing is also significant - we are now in the last month of an Australian winter. The last time I shaved my head to support Movember and BeyondBlue I didn't go quite this short, and it was summer - now I have completely bare skin and it's cold outside! I also know that in going this short I will probably end up with an itchy head riddled with ingrown hairs - but that's part of the imperfection and discomfort that I want to show is OK. We don't change and grow by staying comfortable, and we don't find contentment by pretending that we are perfect.

In my own small way, I hope that throughout August, in raising money and awareness for "Secret Men's Business", I can bring winter to an end in more than one way. Because there is warmth and light at the end of the tunnel - I've had the good fortune to be shown the way out, and it only makes sense to share it so we can all enjoy what's on the other side together.

This post was originally published on the Live It Up Events blog - visit the website to learn more about well-being for individuals, parents and businesses.

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