By Freddie Cocker
There is a famous line in 1990’s The Godfather Part III where Michael Corleone, played by actor Al Pacino says, referring to his inability to leave his criminal mafia life behind and go legitimate: “Just when I thought I was out…they pull me back in!”
I’ve felt this line pertinently in the last month or so as I’ve tried to finish my fifth round of therapy and the third round of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). This is because every time I felt I was about to bring it to a close, another issue would pop up which needed addressing and healing from.
However, thankfully I did get to the finish line and finished this therapy in the last two weeks, at time of writing (June 2023). After this concluded, I needed to write this article to reflect on what I’ve achieved as it feels like I’ve closed a chapter on my life.
I’m now into my last year of my 20s (gulp!) and I sometimes forget just how far I’ve come in the last 10 years, particularly the last eight since I did my first ever therapy session in my final year of university in 2015.
At that point, I was suicidal, had just had an episode of psychosis in a university seminar, was clearly traumatised and I couldn’t mention the fact I was bullied until around the fifth or sixth session I did.
Fast forward eight years and I’ve since done two further rounds of CBT and two rounds of Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. The EMDR changed my life in so many ways, took me out of a victimhood mindset and removed the proverbial wool over my eyes to see and enjoy life. I had many conversations with previous versions of myself, stopped self-harming and resolved huge issues which childhood sexual abuse (CSA) had left me with. I wrote about the EMDR in more detail in a previous article you can read here.
Despite all of this growth and progress, I knew there were still issues I needed to address in the last year, which I like to think I’ve done now and which I’ll (largely) outline in this article.
In August 2022, I initially wrote for my friend and previous Just Checking In Podcast (JCIP) guest Sophie Marsh’s platform ‘Soph Talks’ (now renamed ‘Safe Space’) about anxieties and complexities around how to date when you are male and open about your mental health online like I am, which I then published on Vent.
Since then and through unpacking these issues in therapy, some of my views on this have stayed the same whilst others have changed significantly.
As a general rule now, I do not mention Vent or even allude to it when I am speaking to women in the early stages of dating until at least the fourth date and potentially longer, if necessary. I have to build the required trust and work out if that particular woman is worth investing that emotional energy into and also to avoid early trauma-bonding which never works out well (usually for me!).
I also protect my own privacy too. I keep my surname off my dating profile and don’t share my social media handle either as all of my work with Vent is visible on there. However, that does make it tricky in today’s social media-driven dating landscape. For example, sometimes, if you approach girls in real life (IRL) and ask for their mobile number, they will propose sharing social media accounts instead.
For most people, that’s fine but for me, it becomes tricky as I prefer not to do that because of the reasons I outlined above. However, how do you then justify that reason without making them view it like a red flag or that you have something to hide? It’s a conundrum I haven’t found an answer to yet but protecting your boundaries as a man is very important in this arena.
One of the many negative consequences that dating apps have had on young people today is there has been a clear breakdown in trust between the sexes when you are using apps as a vehicle for consent and for judging how someone looks and presents their life on a screen. Women (rightly) need to do their due diligence before going on a prospective date but when they don’t meet that man in real life, who knows if he is what he presents himself as? Social media stalking then takes place, with the end result problematic groups like ‘Are We Dating The Same Guy?’ which is a rabbit-hole I regretted finding out more about.
An example of this is I (naively) had a picture on my profile with a t-shirt with the Vent logo on and I found out a woman I had matched with had used that to google me and find my social media profile (I only know this because at least she was honest enough to admit that to me!).
In a world where men are constantly and consistently being told to ‘just be open about their mental health’, when rhetoric meets reality in dating, the picture is very different to the one in established relationships.
In my interview with personal trainer and mental health advocate James Roffey for example, he explained that a woman he was dating was told by someone close to them that because he was open about his mental health and his eating disorder that he was not ideal ‘husband material’ or someone who would be a suitable father for their prospective children. If we are to remove the stigma for men speaking about their mental health, unacceptable attitudes like this need to change.
For the latter, it is of course massively important for clear communication between male and female partners in heterosexual relationships, especially when it comes to their mental health. If a man is suppressing or bottling up emotions or negative experiences and needs to release that in order to help him, then he should definitely find the right tools to allow him to do that.
However, in dating, I would strongly advise all men to not disclose their mental health history to any woman UNTIL they have built trust, sufficient investment and 100% know that person can empathetically respond to it and not be judged or be put off romantically by that reaction. If that interaction goes wrong, that man may be put off for months or years afterwards from doing that again and risking it going wrong.
There were other issues in this sphere that I needed to address but I’ll keep those between myself and my therapist and I would advocate that mantra for everyone too. Healthily sharing positive and negative mental health experiences privately or publicly is great but oversharing can potentially backfire. I’ve seen far too many celebrities oversharing extremely sensitive and private details about their life and relationships on podcasts and other media that would have probably been best to keep private for their own sake.
The other main issue I needed to address and one which is much harder to ‘overcome’ for several reasons was intense feelings of broodiness I had been experiencing.
Until I interviewed my good friend Dr Robin Hadley on the JCIP who advocates for greater awareness around men who are involuntarily childless like him, I (ignorantly) thought that broodiness was an emotion solely experienced and confined to women. How wrong I was!
When I’ve felt brave enough to disclose these feelings of broodiness in public settings with friends, I tend to self-deprecate by saying something like; “I’m feeling broody and I don’t even have a brood!” However, if I’m honest, that’s probably been a way of me deflecting from a difficult conversation I was uncomfortable having at that moment in time.
As I mentioned earlier in the article, I am 29 at time of writing and in the last year of my 20s. It’s a time of reflection and realisation men have about many things in life. It’s also a time where more people I know (not too many in actual reality) have begun having children and taking that next step on their journey.
In the last three years, I have been blessed with two wonderful nephews who have brought so much to my life. Inevitably, this has likely been one source of the broodiness I’ve felt.
I have seen the monumentally positive impact they have had on my two elder siblings becoming parents and how my nephews have both developed as they’ve begun crawling, walking and talking. I want what my siblings have and I now have a focus to achieve that goal myself.
There have been times where I feel slightly anxious when they are in my care purely out of a fear of something bad happening to them on my watch as they are still at the age they need near-enough constant supervision. However, I hope that this gets better with time as the last thing I want to be is a ‘helicopter parent’.
What I didn’t bank on with this broodiness was how intense these feelings associated with it could be. On two consecutive days around a month ago, late at night I cried intensely without warning. The second day was the worst I’ve felt mentally for several years and the next day I felt like I had an emotional comedown, such was the intensity of these emotions. It’s the closest I’ve ever felt to feeling stereotypically ‘hormonal’. The only positive I took from those two days was that it felt like a wake-up call to proverbially ‘sort my life out’.
I know some people in my life may baulk or laugh at the idea of me being a father, much like some people in my network joked about me being drunk for the first time or driving because of how highly extroverted I am but the thought of not being a father and ending up being involuntarily childless terrifies me far more than the prospect of being a dad instead.
To that end, I have tried very hard not to chase or rush into something from this broodiness as I know that would not produce a positive outcome.
What it does mean is that every date that doesn’t go anywhere or progress in the way I’d hope seems like time lost. Not time wasted as that would be unfair on the other person but a sense that the clock is ticking and I need to beat it.
I know I’m not alone as a man who feels and has felt this but its not something I regularly discuss in everyday conversations. When you combine this with the societal-wide ‘delayed adulthood’ that men and women in my age bracket currently experience due to economic and social factors, this means that I feel I have a different mindset to most of my peers but I can’t elevate yourself out of it yet. That is very tough to deal with on a daily basis.
What I wanted to achieve with this article was to book-end a chapter of my life which has contained all of these various rounds of therapy on-and-off and to hopefully help other men my age who have felt the same feelings of broodiness as me. I also wanted to help any other male mental health advocates who have had the same anxieties about how to disclose their mental health history to new prospective partners. It is a shared experience that only a small group of us have, which brings some solidarity at least when we discuss it.
In addition, as the title suggests, I hope that this is the last time I ever need to do therapy but I know that life is not as simple as that and there may be a time in the future where I need it again to resolve from a future trauma (fingers crossed that doesn’t happen!).
In the six years since I started Vent and over four years of doing the podcast, I sometimes forget how far I’ve come and where I was 8 years ago and going further back, the traumatised teenager and young adult stumbling through life.
It’s hard to have perspective when you record the number of podcasts I do and listening to so many other people’s journeys as it has become such an integral part of my routine. I am happy to admit I have a (healthy) addiction to helping people (apologies for how cringe that sounds, I couldn’t think of another way of putting it)
It can make me more reticent to speak about myself in everyday conversation as my mental health first aid training sometimes make me think not to insert myself into a regular interaction as well as a difficult conversation, which is its actual purpose!
I will finish this article by making a promise to myself to take a moment to reflect and pat myself on the back more often.
Hopefully in five years time I can look back on this article as it being the springboard to achieve my next set of life goals and what allowed me to put words into action.
As always, #itsokaytovent
Freddie Cocker is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Vent.