Ever felt stressed or overwhelmed, but that you had no one to turn to? Or how about held back by a physical disability or mental health issue?
According to men’s health charity Movember, most of us say we’d be there for our mates if they needed us, yet the majority of us also say that we feel uncomfortable asking our friends for help.
Having a close social network of friends and family is hugely beneficial for our mental health, helping us to feel less isolated. We think it’s time to start opening up more and leaning on our friends (old and new).
This is why we caught up with best friends and content creators Matt De Gruchy and Ben Plunkett, whose friendship has helped them both through some dark times and inspired them to speak out about male mental health…
Matt is a disability advocate and motivational speaker. He was diagnosed with a blinding disease at the age of nine, which has since decreased his vision to roughly 6%. He’s an advocate for #abilitynotdisability and has started his own clothing brand to spread his message far and wide.
Growing up partially sighted
When I turned 8, I began finding it difficult to read the eye chart at the optometrist. I went to countless eye appointments and had so many misdiagnoses – I was even called ‘stupid’ by an ophthalmologist.
Once I was finally diagnosed with Stargardts disease (an eye condition that reduces your central vision) it was like a light switch turning off. My vision started to deteriorate rapidly. It was very confronting , I didn’t know what I could see one day to the next and I was ashamed of my blinding disease.
I went on to hide it from almost everyone except from my very supportive family and a few close friends. Going through school was a challenge – I would go through an entire school year without my teacher even knowing I had less than 10% vision. I suffered badly from anxiety, migraines and I would even say depression. Looking back, it was a very dark place to be.
The power of travel and connection
Travelling is a huge part of my life – I live for it. Five years ago, I’d say that my diagnosis stopped me from going away but now nothing stops me. Yes, my vision is very low. I see things differently or might miss it altogether, but as long as I take care of myself and am surrounded by kind, positive people, my 6% vision barely affects my travels at all. I’m grateful for people like Ben in my life who inspire me to take on challenges head on.
A few months ago, I went on a Contiki tour to Europe and it was hands down the best experience of my life. I met some of the most genuine humans and we had a blast – they were all so good to me! After years of feeling ‘less than’ because of my blindness, it was empowering to be on a trip with 50+ sighted people and to be treated as if I was no different.
The whole experience was hard to put into words and I felt such a range of emotions. I felt full of life and there was so much good energy and adventure. Sure, sometimes I was frustrated from walking what felt like 10,000 stairs but I didn’t have a care in the world – even when we got lost in Amsterdam or bought a dodgy shaver. I probably ate 20kgs of crepes and gelato, it was unreal.
Travelling with Ben is a blast, too. We thrive together and push each other to be our best and I think that’s what a male friendship should be about. I like that we can always be open and honest with each other. We both tell each other what we think – no judgement, good or bad – and if we’re having any issues personally, we talk it out.
Friendship can pull you through
As a child I was very dependent on my mum – she’s a single parent and I’m her only child. I wanted to be by her side all the time so when I spent time away from her at school camps or sleepovers, I became very anxious.
That all changed when I became friends with Matt. I still remember the first night staying at his house as I didn’t mind that I wasn’t home with mum! Our friendship was a new beginning for me and I’m forever grateful for that.
In fact, if we hadn’t become friends, we both believe we’d still be the shy, anxious kids we were years ago. Having a long-standing bromance pushed each other to achieve, reminding each other that we can do anything we set our mind to. Our connection has made us the strong, independent and adventurous people we are today, driving each other to make a difference in this world.
Opening up about our mental health
That’s not to say that speaking out doesn’t come with challenges. For a lot of men, poor mental health is associated with shame, embarrassment and weakness. People don’t want to ‘dump’ their negativity on others, when really your close friends and family would be more than happy to listen and help. It’s a societal belief that we’re meant to be the strong ones. Although the world is becoming more open-minded, it’s still a stigma that will only diminish if we talk about it.
That’s exactly what Matt and I do. We’ve created a powerful male friendship that’s allowed us to get out of our heads during life’s tough moments. When my grandparents passed away for example, we talked it out and helped each other through things. Having someone that can support you means the world.
That’s why we created The Visionary Brothers. We’re determined to share our story and the power of friendship to as many people as possible.
Join the community
We want to take The Visionary Brothers far and wide, creating a platform where like-minded people can gain motivation and inspiration to achieve whatever they want. Listen to the Visionary Brothers’ podcast where we talk about our experiences with anxiety and the light at the end of the tunnel.
You don’t have to be special to achieve your dreams – you just have to believe you can do it.