17/03/2016 5:40 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST

A Man's Mind Is A Battlefield

From a bloke who's dodged bullets and bombs, taken on a 600kg cow head to head on my family farm, and owned being a dad, hardening up was exactly the issue. I was so hard I couldn't feel.

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A portrait of a soldier suffering from depression or PTSD. Very dramatic lighting used to help enhance the depressing mood.

I find myself in the bottom of a shower, crying uncontrollably. A thought passes through my mind -- "Thank God there isn't anyone else in here". I'd just returned from the hospital at Tallil Air Force Base in Southern Iraq, having had shrapnel removed from my head. The surgeon left it in my arm for fear he'd do more damage than good.

After five minutes I "pulled myself together". I got out, dried myself and put on my uniform and body armour; both literally and figuratively. I was the commander of 110 Australian soldiers of Combat Team Eagle. I was a frontline soldier, an officer, I was meant to be infallible. 24 hours earlier I refused aero medical evacuation after a roadside bomb hit my vehicle, because I wasn't leaving without my men and my vehicle.

When I finally returned to Australia, I couldn't hold a conversation for nearly seven weeks. I was physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted. Then, without notice, it descended upon me, like a foggy cloud I didn't see coming; nor could I explain.

I started to see people as threats, even when they were actually trying to help me; reach out to me. I saw their approaches as intimidating, and so retreated inside to a place I thought safe; a place I thought I could control. I isolated myself. Not a great place for a husband and father to occupy. And as I was to find out, a place where I had no control anyway.

The next 12 months were confusing. I was doing really well at work, but when I got home I'd fall apart. As is so often the case, those closest to us experience our darkest side.

My story may have military written on it, but it is the same story for an increasing amount of men throughout Australia and the western world. Emergency service personnel, tradies, miners flying in and out, veterinarians, truck drivers and the list goes on. A story of men withdrawing inside ourselves because we are confused -- often hollow -- and we can't fix it.

So how can I sit here with peace of mind and of heart; with a connection to my family that is amazing and gets better every day? How can I sit here with an outlook on a life of happiness and joy, playing with my daughters with only a smile on my face.

James and his daughter. Image: Supplied.

Because I owned my shit. I put my hand up and admitted to myself something was not the way I wanted it to be inside, and I didn't know how to fix it.

I owned the angry outburst directed at my wife Kirsty, who'd just asked how my day was -- "Don't you take their f**king side!!!!" What right did I have to direct my anger at the people in my life who were just trying to help me? So I found out how to release my anger in appropriate ways. I took to a punching bag like a rabid dog.

I owned the anxiety attacks that would come on because I smelled hot asphalt.

I owned the foggy days when I couldn't think straight and the most innocent or basic thing would set me off.

I allowed myself to feel the pit of sadness so deep I thought I was going to drown.

I went into the fear that sat deep inside, underneath all the anger and sadness, like a dragon surrounding the gold in the mountain. Why gold in the mountain? Because under all this muck was where I found the real me, and upon finding me things started to fall into place.

My old journey was one of losing myself by doing things I thought I was 'supposed' to do. What people told me I 'should' do to be successful.

But at what cost, and what were their measures of success?

My new journey is one of finding and knowing myself by going inside, owning my stuff, owning how I feel, and, most importantly, finding the ability to forgive me for what I'd judged myself as having done.

For this process to start, I had to get rid of the false belief that masculinity is a tough chin; that a resilient man is someone with huge shoulders upon which he can carry more 'stuff'. This is exactly what broke me inside. Everyone has his or her breaking point and this false belief is literally killing men.

This is a man's issue. I mean this with all respect in the world to women who are much needed in the process; for without their love and support more and more men will take their own lives.


It's we men who need to own this. No one else can. It is time for personal male leadership.

"For crying out loud James, how? How?"

Harden the f**k up doesn't help.

Matter of fact from a bloke who's dodged bullets and bombs, taken on a 600kg cow head to head on my family farm, and owned being a dad, hardening up was exactly the issue. I was so hard I couldn't feel. Feel what was actually going on for me deep down inside.

So if you're hurting inside -- you know the place I mean; the place you drown with another beer, or laugh off for fear of what your mates will say -- then put your hand up and ask for help.

Find someone who you really trust and can use as a confidant, not a crutch. My brother, this is your journey. You need great help, love and support, but you have to walk the path. And I stand as an example -- it can be walked.

Then find a therapist/counselor/healer/priest/mentor who you really resonate with and feel they can help you. There are many options, but always look to the future. If that therapist/counselor/healer/priest/mentor is pessimistic, then go and find another because you don't need pessimists in your life right now.

Surround yourself with positive people who you want to be like. Time to cut those negative people from your Facebook timeline.

Watch what you ingest in your mouth and in your mind. Alcohol drowns your sorrows and too much deadens your soul. Fast foods have chemicals in them your body has trouble processing and it needs that energy to help you on your journey of recovery.

And then smile, because some poor bastard always has it worse than you.

So men, let's man up; let's put our hand up.

If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 131114. For further information about depression, contact beyond blue on 1300224636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.