“Break ups can be brutal. I know from personal experience that your mental health can slip into a blind spot when you’re grieving. You’re all consumed by it. A cloud that hangs over you, blinding your vision and bringing the risk of collision with other unforeseen hardships.”

The ending of a romantic relationship varies. Some conclude with a mutual understanding that the sweet sorrow of parting is a good idea and a friendship may even blossom. While others fade into nothingness, artificially kept alive by habit. Some end with a huge row, raised voices and wide, crying eyes. And others in quiet desolation. The hardest are those that end in heartbreak.

The thing about a broken heart is that pain just pours out of it. It runs everywhere, making a mess. Like spilled ink on a page devouring the poetry that came before. Any panicked attempt to remedy the flow and save what was once beautiful only does the opposite.

Break ups can be brutal. I know from personal experience that your mental health can slip into a blind spot when you’re grieving. You’re all consumed by it. A cloud that hangs over you, blinding your vision and bringing the risk of collision with other unforeseen hardships. 

A particularly devastating disentanglement left me reeling. Friends and family offered support. There were lots of well-intentioned assertions. Lots of opinions dressed up as facts. Lots, and lots of clichés  – “If you love something let it go, and if it comes back…”, “You deserve so much better“, “There’s plenty more fish in the sea” – etc. Well, I don’t even eat seafood, so it mainly served to further confuse me. When the advice didn’t work, it created an isolating distance from those I needed most.

The break up brought out many questions. Who was I away from the relationship? Why couldn’t I just deal with this? Why was I finding it so hard to readjust? Why was I unable to fully process the emotion? I found out later that these feelings are not only common, but part of a much larger issue. Many of us men are surreptitiously aimed away from certain displays of emotion. The archaic residue of a time where machismo was your currency and anything else was your cancer.

I was already under immense pressure at work and in other parts of my life, so the separation hit me harder than expected. I required help that my circle couldn’t give me, but I wasn’t aware of or open to the idea of talking to a stranger in a strange place about my most vulnerable issues. Even after the tears, sleepless weeks, rapid weight loss, irregular heartbeat, and days in bed, I still didn’t think I’d ever need professional help and hadn’t a clue how to ask for it. Like a lot of young, Black men at the time, it wasn’t even an option.

Me, in therapy? Over a relationship? Ha! Strong men aren’t supposed to need help. If there’s a problem, then you deal with it. Alone and in silence. In your cave lifting metal. Asking for help exposed weakness and weakness was always someone else’s issue, like hay fever or nut allergies. Truth is, it was a last resort that should have been my first option.

The uncoupling deflated me and I was down for a long time. I was doing the same things that had worked in the past, but I wasn’t getting better. I was following the Hollywood formula of meeting with friends, working out more, inhaling Haagen-Dazs, crying in the shower whilst fully clothed – the whole gamut. I’d been through bad breakups before, but this was something entirely different. With everything else going on in my life in my life, I didn’t feel strong enough to move forward. It was the unpredictability that I noticed most. Like walking on sand without the wherewithal to handle the terrain. I admit, I fell often.

I’d always thought that life was cyclical. If something went wrong and I stayed the course, good times would come back around. It just happened that way. Highs and lows followed each other, with an overwhelming majority falling on the former. Looking back, I realise – like many men – that my head was in the sand when it came to expressing my emotions.

Thankfully, things are changing slowly. Our masculine and feminine energies are balancing out and there is a push for men to gain a better awareness of their feelings and the corresponding road maps.

There are spaces to discuss the mental health challenges after a break up, with more and more men willing to share their experiences. Breaking up isn’t an exact science with one half of the couple often at the sharper end of the stick. Those who find themselves in this position need to pay close attention and exercise caution.  Much like when frying plantain, some heat is to be expected, but too much leads to ruin. Pain is part and parcel of the process, but you need to know when things are getting too much. Here’s where reference points from others who have experienced what you’re going through can really help.

The past year has been challenging for all of us. Dealing with a life-altering event like a break up is tough at the best of times, let alone in the midst of a global pandemic. Extra care  should be taken when trials arise. Due to the added difficulties of just existing, our skin isn’t as thick as it once was. The hurdles we would have navigated can appear higher than they are when we’re not at our best.

Counselling has taught me that it’s fine to perform an autopsy on the past but it isn’t OK to revisit once the work has been done. Burned bridges charge tolls and the price can be high.

Therefore, I urge anyone going through a tough time to talk to someone, anyone, and vent. Strength isn’t holding it all in, pushing it down into your stomach and forgetting about it. True strength is falling twice to get back up thrice. Counselling is a crutch to help you back on your feet to let you walk tall and truly be the man you want to become. Unencumbered by stereotypical traits of who the world thinks you should be and buoyed by the knowledge that battles will come and go, but the battle will be won by those best prepared.