2012 was the year I got the phone call: a phone call that changed my life forever. My father had committed suicide.
The news was a total system shock that began a long and exhausting battle with depression that killed a six year long relationship, got me fired from my job, burnt my bridges with all my friends and helped to completely destroy my sexual identity. Depression is easily identified in retrospect but when you’re taking each day as it comes, you won’t recognise the monsters in your bed.
Bereavement and ED
It took a while for me to notice that I couldn’t get it up anymore. In some ways, I didn’t want to notice. I was stuck in a rut. After taking multiple critical hits to my psyche, I was hurting badly. I sought comfort in isolation. This combined rather nicely with the worst excesses of masculinity which told me to never, ever, talk about my problems, creating a cycle of misery and self-loathing which it took hundreds of hours of therapy to break.
Erectile dysfunction takes many forms and the causes are specific and unique to you, but something that’s universal is the performance anxiety. It’s good to remind yourself, then, if you’re going through this, what people are attracted to: self esteem. ED is a critical failure of self-esteem. It’s a crisis of confidence. It’s not about your ability to perform. You can perform. You just panic and overthink – and overthinking? That leads to total paralysis.
The short answer to ED is to seek therapy with a qualified professional, much like I did, but hearing that often feels unhelpful and dismissive. So while seeking out a professional is a good idea for anyone, not just people struggling with their sexuality, here I’ve drawn together the things which helped me break the cycle when it came to my bereavement and ED.
Connect and reconnect with the people you love
While recovering from ED, maintaining friendships was crucial to healing me. Perhaps you already do that, but if you were anything like me, ED strikes hardest amid the miasma of depression. Holding it all inside and refusing to tell anyone how I felt slowly but surely enacted the process of dissociating from people who cared about me. In time, when I started to repair those roads worn away by sadness I found that people do want me, they do care about my issues.
If you’ve let some friendships slide while going through ED, consider picking up the pieces – this might involve an apology, it might involve a gesture of good will. It might involve swallowing your pride, but do it. If people are important to you, and they should be, it’s going to be worth it. No man is an island. We need people to support us. Men, in general, need to acknowledge this more. Don’t be afraid to reconnect with the people you love.
Explore your creative side
Finding some creative sexual outlet often helps, too. For me, writing about sex has given me a fresh appreciation for the physicality, for the emotional intimacy of the act of sex. Sex is so often about feeling comfortable and open in the presence of someone you care about, so finding some creative method within that is a great way to open up about your problems related to your bereavement and ED and break the cycle.
I wrote about the mutual feeling of being wanted and desired. I became fascinated with how despite all the kinks and fetishes, the nuances of sexual identity – none of that would work if the desire to feel wanted wasn’t mutual. Once I’d found that outlet I felt more switched on and engaged in my sexuality again. Chipping away at the anxieties causing your performance issues can only ever be a good thing, and as men we need to dispel the stoic masculinity that keeps our problems intact. Give it a try. Put pen to paper and write, or paintbrush to canvas – whatever feels comfortable for you – Just try it.
Do something for you
The basics matter, too. I never cared about how I looked. Arguably, that’s my male privilege, but eventually I started to get sick of feeling ugly, of feeling sexually unappealing. So I started to look after myself more in terms of my appearance. I started to care about what I wore, about how my hair looked, about my general presentation to the world, where previously I would just throw on whatever I had because my self confidence often told me “why bother?”.
Even basics like keeping my room clean and tidy started to become far more regular. I started to decorate my living surroundings more to reflect myself more. I started to work out more, to try to make a dent in my beer gut (hey, still working on that) and made real attempts to be more active and energetic, which worked wonders. In a really general sense, first impressions count. Not for other people looking at you, but for yourself, looking in the mirror. Do it because you want to like what you see. The change doesn’t have to be drastic. It can be as simple as a new pair of shoes. But just cut yourself some slack and do something for you.
I promise you it’s going to be OK
Dealing with erection problems is never going to be easy. Even after recovering there’s no guarantee it won’t rear its head again every so often, but you can really control and limit the damage it has in your life.
Therapy was key to helping me break the spell of depression that resulted from my bereavement and ED, so if you’re really struggling like I was, you should always consider speaking to one of the many wonderful professionals available to you.
But reinstating your self-confidence, taking care of yourself, and rebuilding a foundation of self-respect is absolutely vital. Remember your friendships, trust people with your vulnerability, and maybe get that hair style you always wondered about. I promise you it’s going to be OK.