Don't "Be a Man." Be a Feely Human.

Recently, I was grateful and honored to have taken over Instagram at The Mighty for a day to celebrate the #ItsOKMan and #Movember movements. In a series of Instagram stories, I shared what it really means to be a man, and how we, as a culture, need to destroy our current notions of manhood—especially in the context of mental health.

The story below is what I shared over at The Mighty, plus some additional thoughts about my own self and what it means to be a man with an eating disorder.

Thanks for reading.


Hi. My name is Non Wels. I am a recovering anorexic.

I am 37 years old.

And I am a human. As we all are.

I suppose I should say that I am also a man, which I feel weird voicing. It’s not the admitting to my gender part. It’s the declaration—I am a man—part.

Saying so makes me uncomfortable.

Here’s the thing: I am in wholehearted opposition to the gross, perverted patriarchal gender norms that would lend any power or intrinsic value to that “I am a man” declaration.

I am a man, yes. Small m. I’m also, above everything, a feely human who nearly died from bottling up my feely grounding in this world.

In this context of eating disorders, I think it’s integral to call out my gender as both a means to dispel the myth that it’s rare for men to have eating disorders (it is wholly not; about 10 million men in the United States alone are affected by an eating disorder), and as a way to break free of the stigma that boys and men somehow need to ignore or compartmentalize their feelings, and just “man up” or “be a man.”

Yuck.

Look, I get it. We as boys were taught, sometimes directly, mostly indirectly—by our peers, our cultural artifices, our parental figures, our societal constructs, our media sources—to be tough, aggressive, and competitive. We were taught to be beacons of strength. We were taught to be kings.

Not, however, as contextless traits, but as insidious holdstrongs in a war against emotional vulnerability.

We are NOT insidious holdstrongs in a war against emotional vulnerability. We are feely humans. We are men.

Within the context of mental health (and ALL THE PLACES  pretty please?), these archaic notions of manhood need to be distinguished; they need to go away.

Why?

Because feelings are human. And anorexia is a human disorder.


I never thought I’d develop an eating disorder, let alone almost die from one. But I did. And I’m here to describe that journey in part, from the perspective of a feely boy who once felt so out of control he found deep, life-altering solace in the control he had over the food he put into his body—small, precise, precious morsels of caloric retribution.

I was 19 years old when my anorexia started.

But the starting place wasn’t food, which is to say it wasn’t about the food. The food, those precise cubits of caloric intent, were just the mechanism I used to starve myself. And that starving was my boomstick against an unbridled anxiety and depression fostered early in childhood, and then later shocked into overdrive during a period in which I attempted to mediate my parents’ marriage.

For me it was about control.

And a severe lack of emotional insight and clarity.

I didn’t know how to feel my emotions. I didn’t have a name for them. I didn’t have the tools to recognize what the hell was going on.

In early life, I built what I called my Heart-Guard (you can read all about that here in my story), a protective measure, a safety net, a survival technique.

My Heart Guard saved me from the anger and violence of my father.

It helped when my introverted self felt scared, nervous, anxious.

But my Heart Guard also nearly killed me.

It helped me for a time, but I learned—over the course of ten years, through therapy, through the doctor telling me my heart would stop, through the self-harm and suicidal ideation, all the way down to the 118 pounds I fell—my Heart Guard wasn’t going to help me now.

It just couldn’t. It can’t.

I needed to feel the things I was feeling, however painful and disturbing and confusing. I needed to find the path inward. I needed to accept that all of my stirring, all the gnashing, all the emotional mayhem was valid and real.

I needed to know that my anorexia was part of me—is part of me.

I wouldn’t be here today if I hadn’t figured that part out.

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The man I am today is one who is grateful for his feelings, appreciative of the often overwhelming emotions.

The man I am today is one who is in recovery from anorexia, a serious mental health disorder so many of us struggle with.

The man I am today is in love with a heart that will never be shut again.

My heart, dear men, is open. It’s open to you, and to each of us.

For we are men, surely. But, above all, we are feely humans—together.

And together, through the actions of our hearts, through our compassion and empathy and vulnerability, we will change the world.


You want to change the world with me? I’d love to be a safe space for your vulnerability, your open heart, your feely humanity, on my podcast: You, Me, Empathy.

Hugs,

non

You, Me, Empathy - Episode 48: The Mind, Body, and Spirit Connection with Misha Lambert

On Episode 48 of You, Me, Empathy, Misha Lambert and I explore the mind, body, and spirit connection, self-acceptance, body image, and sharing experiences to bring light to the dark.

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Mind, body, spirit. It’s all connected. Today’s show is all about that connection, and how we better integrate the three components into a cohesive, symbiotic entity that works for us—not against us.

In this context, Misha opens up about her binge eating and EDNOS (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified), disconnecting from her body, and ultimately accepting the beautiful reality that it’s not about body size or the cultural interpretation of what is accepted—but of what we are, and what we should be on our own.

Misha and I also talk about being intense feelers, anxiety as an act of “preparing for nothing,” how connected breathing is to our mental health, conquering fear at a young age, and Misha’s early childhood phobia of elevators and the unexpected immersion therapy that helped her through that fear. Oh, and of course we talked about Misha’s friendship with Ariana Grande!

Thanks for listening, and thanks for empathizing with us!


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Special hugs to David Grabowski for the music for You, Me, Empathy and special hugs to Grant Snider for the art!

You, Me, Empathy - Episode 47: What It Means to Be a Mental Health Advocate with Rebecca Lombardo

Trigger Warning: In this episode, suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, and self-injury are mentioned.

On Episode 47 of You, Me, Empathy, Rebecca Lombardo and I explore what it means to be a mental health advocate, and how we can improve our mental health advocacy through education, listening, loving, and leading with our hearts.

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We also talk about therapy pets, Rebecca’s bipolar disorder diagnosis at the age of 19, her suicide attempt and the feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness that come with it, the tragic and painful loss of her mother and brother, and the need for people in our lives who will listen, embrace empathy, and meet us where we are. Rebecca also gushes about the wonderfully supportive and loving mental health communities that exist on Twitter and Instagram! Check out #KeepTalkingMH and you’ll see what I mean.

Rebecca Lombardo is a pillar of strength and passion when it comes to mental health advocacy—and I was so grateful to speak to her! To celebrate and support Rebecca, I am giving away three copies of Rebecca’s book, It’s Not Your Journey!

Follow You, Me, Empathy on Twitter and Instagram to lookout for how you can enter the book giveaway!

Thanks for listening, and thanks for empathizing with us!

Note: Rebecca’s brother, who was mentioned on this episode, recently passed away. It’s heartbreaking, and my heart goes out to Rebecca. If you feel it in your heart, send Rebecca empathetic thoughts and hug gifs.


You, Me, Empathy - Episode 46: How to Be an Active Participant in Your Own Life with Tony the Therapist

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On Episode 46 of You, Me, Empathy, Tony the Therapist is back to explore how we coexist with someone who’s struggling, communication and vulnerability in relationships, and being an active participant in your own life.

We also talk about how to be a better active listener in our relationships, the Speaker-Listener Technique, the important distinction and clarity between objective truth and subjective truth in experiences, the difference between condoning behavior and validating it, some nuance of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and . . . the reminder we all need: your self-care practice is a journey—so be kind to yourself!

Do you relate to any of the things we talked about in this episode? Please share your experiences and empathy below or over on social media @YouMeEmpathy on Twitter and Instagram!

Thanks for listening, and thanks for empathizing with us!


Support You, Me, Empathy:

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Special hugs to David Grabowski for the music for You, Me, Empathy and special hugs to Grant Snider for the art!


Disclaimer for "Tony Time" episodes of You, Me, Empathy:

Anthony Ramynke is a California Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, licensed by the Board of Behavioral Sciences, license number LMFT47805.

Read the full You, Me, Empathy disclaimer here.

You, Me, Empathy - Episode 45: Your Cherished Empathy Experiences

 Photo by  Everton Vila  on  Unsplash

On Episode 45 of You, Me, Empathy, it’s a mini-episode all about your cherished empathy experiences. From empathetic pole dancing teachers to flatmates finding the courage to say they don’t know how to deal with your bipolar disorder but are open to learn. It’s an empathy wonderland!

I also talk a bit about my current lack of self-empathy and the empathy shared with me while I was studying abroad in Wales during the darkest depressed and anorexic moments of my life. Special thanks to Katie, Kate, Sarah, Thuo, Rachel, and Keely for sharing your empathy experiences with me!

If you liked the episode, please let me know if you’d like to hear more like it—with your joyful participation!

Thanks for listening, and thanks for empathizing with us!


Support You, Me, Empathy:

Empathy Links:

Follow You, Me, Empathy on Social Media:

Special hugs to David Grabowski for the music for You, Me, Empathy and special hugs to Grant Snider for the art!

You, Me, Empathy - Episode 44: The Transformative Power of Compassion with Virginia Hunter Sampson

On Episode 44 of You, Me, Empathy, author and speaker Virginia Hunter Sampson and I explore the transformative power of compassion, how living compassionately boosts mental health, and the limits of compassion.

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Virginia has done extensive writing and speaking on the subject of compassion. Some would say she’s passionate about compassion! Check out her books on compassion for adults and children, Compassion Magic and Superhero Sam Saves His Family.

We also talk about Virginia’s own mental health journey, losing her husband, and how that loss affected her and her kids. We define compassion, explore the evolutionary biological basis for compassion, how our culture focuses on gross overwork and achievement over kindness and compassion, how living compassionately reduces anxiety, depression, and inflammation, the principles of self-compassion, setting boundaries with your compassion, and more!

For links we mentioned during this episode, scroll down.

Thanks for listening, and thanks for empathizing with us!