Men Have No Emotions

by Justin BirckbichlerSurvivor, Testicular CancerMarch 1, 2021View more posts from Justin Birckbichler

As a society, we’ve decided that men are not to show their feelings while women are painted as emotionally transparent. Cancer has shown me that I can’t afford to do that. I kept my emotions in before and during cancer. On the outside, I usually appeared to be calm and collected, but on the inside was a different story.

Internally, I was thinking about dying (even though the mortality rate from testicular cancer is low), the future, and various other worries, but I never shared that with the vast majority of people around me. I felt like I was already enough of a burden that I didn’t want to add more to anyone’s plate.

Since my testicular cancer diagnosis in 2016, the last four years have been filled with a lot of major life changes. Back then, I was engaged, had a cat and a dog, owned a house, and taught fourth grade. Nowadays, I am divorced, have two brand new kittens (though I still dearly miss my first cat, Conner), and work as an instructional technology coach. I’ve still got the same house, though!

In a nutshell, 2020 was a reset in my life. No one really expects to go through cancer, divorce, and the loss of a pet in their twenties, let alone all of these major upheavals within four years of each other. To be perfectly honest, my mental health hit rock bottom in the spring/early summer of 2020. 

While I didn’t initially write or share too much about it on A Ballsy Sense of Tumor, things were not going well for me. Between a global pandemic forcing me to stay at home (in the midst of contentious divorce negotiations, wherein my then-soon-to-be-ex-wife insisted on living under the same roof until we had reached a settlement – talk about a stressful quarantine) and the loss of Conner, it felt like the “bad” in my life was far outweighing the “good.” 

However unlike in 2016, I did openly talk to friends, family, and my therapist about my struggles and emotions as I experienced this barrage of bad feelings. This helped me to process and move forward, which was something unheard of from me in the past. 

I began to see these obstacles and ways to grow, inside of something to hide from and avoid. All three of those events caused (or I suppose more accurately, amplified) a lot of anxiety, depression, and mental health challenges, yet they also helped me to grow into the person I am today. I would still give anything (even my remaining testicle) to have Conner back, but I am on the path to healing and recently adopted two new sibling kittens: Downey and Pepper. They won’t be a replacement, but rather a new beginning. 

To be clear, the first half of 2020 absolutely sucked, but I am now the happiest I have been in many years. In addition to sharing my emotions and feelings with my loved ones, I continue to take anti-depressants, have regular therapy sessions, and focus on the strategies that I’ve found help me to maintain strong mental health. 

My bottom line is that a bottle can only hold so much before it explodes. In the past, when I would spiral into negative emotions and thoughts, I would often snap about things that weren’t a big deal. When I realized this, I started trying to express how I was feeling and why that was. If you’re going through a trying time, be open about it. Even now, I continue to work at doing better with expressing how I am feeling so if I appear to be mad at something, the person knows it’s not their fault. 

There is no shame in sharing your emotions. True manliness comes from being strong enough to show how you’re feeling – inside and out.

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All of the posts written for Elephants and Tea are contributed by patients, survivors, caregivers and loved ones dealing with cancer.  If you have a story or experience you would like to share with the cancer community we would love to hear from you!  Please submit your idea at https://www.elephantsandtea.com/contact/submissions/.

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One Comment

  • Joe Baber says:

    Thanks for sharing Justin. Your journey resonated with me. My father was a career Army NCO. He was the living definition of macho. Things I learned as a child: Be the best! Honor is most important. Real men don’t carry umbrellas. Never hold hands with your loved one, or show signs of affection in public. Always wear a GI haircut. Never tell your father he is wrong. And get this, REAL Men never cry.

    My father died at age 54 with a heart attack. In our thirties, my two brothers and I got his uniform in order for his funeral. As kids we often did this for him. We spit-shined his shoes, polished his brass, placed his award ribbons and name tag on his uniform coat and so forth. We always did it to absolute perfection.

    We loved our father, but over the years, my brothers and I discovered he was wrong. Real men do cry. Real men are not afraid to show their true emotions. We each had to endure some hard times in our lives in order to figure this out. I have never in my life been happier than I am today. Be you. Be happy. Enjoy life Justin!

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