If you’ve watched the Monty Python classic The Holy Grail you undoubtedly remember Arthur fighting the Black Knight who, despite being gravely injured, declares, “Tis but a scratch!” Bro just lost both arms and continues to fight, insisting, “It’s just a flesh wound!”
Sure it’s hilarious, but this scene holds up a mirror to a prevailing mindset of the strength community: we admire the ill-fated Black Knight’s tenacity because we are conditioned to place value on toughness, even if it’s a facade.
When someone asks, “How are you?” I guarantee most of us give the automatic response, “I’m good!” … even if we aren’t. The alternative – being transparent and honest – is often uncomfortable and much more difficult.
The strength community is full of strong people, both mentally and physically. Many of us found our way to strength sports as an outlet for dealing with other things in our minds or our lives. We spend so much time learning to protect ourselves, it can be tough to tear down the walls we’ve built and show the emotions lurking underneath. Doing so can feel like weakness or failure.
It can also be difficult to determine if what you’re feeling is something situational that may pass on its own, or whether it’s something persistent that may require professional help. The signs and symptoms of mental health issues can vary widely in severity and frequency from person to person. No matter who you are or what your situation is, it’s important to know that mental health issues do not need to be “serious” in order for you to reach out for support.
Here are some things to think about when deciding if you should ask for help, who you can ask, and how:
- If asked, “Are you okay?” think about the intention of the person asking. Do they genuinely want to know, or are they being polite and expecting an “I’m good, how are you” response? If they genuinely want to know, and you feel they’ll respect your truth, it’s okay to share.
- If you feel up for it, you can also be more proactive and reach out before that question is asked. Choose someone you trust to have this conversation with who can provide you with the type of support you need. Some people are practical. Some are better with emotional support. Think about what you need, and reach out to someone in your network who can provide it.
- If you can, be specific and clearly communicate your need. It might be as simple as, “I just need to vent and for you to listen without judgment,” or simply asking for help with practical tasks because you’re feeling overwhelmed. It’s also okay to say, “I don’t know what I need, but I know I need help.”
- Try not to take unhelpful responses personally. Not everyone is going to respond in the way that you want. It’s not a reflection on you, and your needs are still valid.
- It’s also important to remember that friends (and the gym) are not a replacement for mental health professionals. If you need it, Psychology Today has a therapist finder based on your insurance and location. You can also ask someone you trust to help you find a professional. It can be daunting, and it’s really helpful to have some backup.
I need you to know that being vulnerable is anything but weak, and insisting you’re perfectly fine when you’re not is only going to lead to further decline. Life is hard, and it hurts sometimes; when you can’t admit that to anyone, you are forced to carry it on our own. And no matter how strong you are, that’s just not sustainable (and it sucks).
Don’t be like the Black Knight. It’s ok to remove your armor. Being open about your struggles could even help and inspire others to do the same. It can strengthen your bonds with those closest to you, and it opens the door for them to ask for help down the road.
We’re here to help in any way we can. All you have to do is ask.