Editor’s Note: If you are having a mental health crisis, call or text 988 to get in touch with the National Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.
I’m a big fan of the 2000s TV show Gilmore Girls, a show about as manly as the title suggests. It follows a single mother and her daughter living in a small Connecticut town. In this town, there is a diner owner named Luke, a surly guy who seems angry about everything and annoyed by everyone. We eventually learn he is a big softy. His gruff outer demeanor is a façade to protect himself from a world constantly threatening to hurt him. Basically, he’s my spirit animal.
In the Gilmore Girls episode, “But Not as Cute as Pushkin” (season 5, episode 10), Luke has a “dark day.” Once a year, Luke disappears. He flees town. He is cryptic as to why he behaves this way. No one knows where he goes, but everyone in town knows about Luke’s Dark Day (except his girlfriend, which is ridiculous, but never mind). This is an accepted part of Luke’s existence. Without dropping any spoilers (18 years later), Luke uses this day to go off and feel his feelings.
Recently, without me being fully aware of what was happening, my well-managed (or ignored?) feelings had begun to break free from my toxically masculine bulwark of denial. The week prior, I had slowly become a bit of an asshole. Everything made me grumpy. I was short with everyone. I had no patience for my children, and as a stay-at-home dad, I let my daily chores slip. The house was a mess, our diet was garbage, and everything was off.
All because I was resisting my own Dark Day.
Death, aging leads to depression
I know the main source of my emotional descent. About a year ago, my brother died. My relationship with him was complicated. His passing, while not shocking, hit me far harder than I had anticipated. As the anniversary of his death approached, those feelings came back. All the good. All the bad. I thought I was finished with the pain and trauma, but grief is an insatiable ambush predator.
A few months before the anniversary of my brother’s passing, I visited my parents. They both have serious health issues and live in a nursing home several states away. My dad’s mind is slipping away. Talking with him was tricky, and the view of his diminished body was particularly traumatic. My mom’s mind remains sharp, but she can no longer walk and has lost use of most of her limbs. The nursing home, while seemingly filled with nice people, is gloomy and old. The environment is sad, and so is seeing my parents in that place, but with their increasingly complicated medical requirements, there’s not much else we can do.
After I had spent the day with my parents, my wife asked how I was doing.
I replied earnestly and honestly, “I can’t really deal with it right now. I’ll feel my feelings when we get home.” We were in the middle of a family vacation, and I couldn’t really afford an emotional breakdown. I genuinely had every intention of dealing with the feelings when I got home. I’d cry it out in the shower. That’s what we all do, right?
I could list all the things that happened when we got home. All the excuses to keep avoiding my feelings. I promise I had some good ones. In fact, I deleted a very self-indulgent list from my rough draft. But the reasons don’t matter. I have mine. Other dads will have theirs. There’s always an excuse. Instead, I let my depression and darkness seep out slowly and cloud our home for weeks.
When the fire passes, healing begins
Look, I’m not here as a writer because I have all the answers. I’m here because I’m willing to admit I’ve screwed up.
I should have gone from my parents’ place back to the hotel and told my wife I needed 20 minutes. Then, I could have collapsed on the shower floor and had a good cry. I would’ve felt better (secretly I don’t feel I deserve to feel better, but that’s a whole other story). I would’ve saved myself weeks of inner turmoil and spared my family weeks of torture.
It’s true most men want to be seen as strong. Emotions make us feel weak, but it’s weak to pretend to be strong when you’re not. It’s weak to hide from your feelings. If you need your Dark Day, go off and have a Dark Day. Have the strength to face your emotions. Let the emotional fires consume you, knowing that when the fire passes, healing begins.
Everyone reading this has something they aren’t dealing with. I’m the hypocrite typing this with a truckload of my own baggage, but I’ve been making a very real effort to feel the feelings when I need to feel them. I’d encourage you to do the same. Yeah, it sucks, but you’ll feel better, and it’s a really great way to justify an excessively long, hot shower.