a man stands alone, in search of something. he is wearing glasses and is holding a camera.


I Joined a Men’s Group Online and I Finally Feel Comfortable Again

Nov 19, 2020

It was so easy for me to see. There I was, riding off into the sunset, Hollywood-style. After a long war, I had come out victorious. After many battles, some minor setbacks and more than a few bruises, my family was safe, the evil had been defeated, and we were all breathing easily again.

This was not too far from the way I saw things playing out early on in this COVID-19 pandemic. We were in week one of the lockdown, it was mid-March and the full scope of how this pandemic was going to play out was still largely unknown. Yes, people were getting very sick, and many were dying. But that wouldn’t happen to my family. We, and so many of the people we know, lead healthy lifestyles and with the exception of my parents, we were not in the demographic that needed to be concerned. Plus, they had ME!

And then, things got... intense. The number of cases really started to rise, and one of the worst hit seniors' homes here in Montreal was less than five minutes away. The schools were clearly not going to be opening any time soon, and the messages we were getting from the professionals were, even in the best of times, confusing and often contradictory. And then there were the conspiracies.

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The virus was like nothing most had ever seen, and it was clear that this was going to be worse than expected.

And suddenly, that Hollywood-like ending seemed very unlikely.

Being a man, I did what so many of us were raised to do. No, I did not reach out and ask for help. I doubled-down on doing it myself. And doing it by myself.

I did everything I could to be the one that went out for food or anything else we might need, for me and for my extended family. I worked longer hours at work in order to do everything I could to prove my worth, already seeing people getting laid off or closing their businesses. I stopped reaching out to people that I would normally connect with regularly, removing the “frivolous” from my days to focus on “what matters.” And on and on it went.

And the more I did, the more weight I was pulling on top of myself, and not even knowing it. I started to feel more anxious, more stress. I stopped doing the things to care for myself, including exercise. I was also eating too much comfort food and I certainly wasn’t getting the sleep I needed.

All the while, the image of how I was doing when someone asked was all unicorns and rainbows. I was always “fine” and “good,” “good” and “fine.”

It was only when things really got dark one evening that I was shocked into an awakening. My self-talk about my ability to “do this,” to “save my family” and to "be a hero" did a 180. I went to rest on my bed one evening, and just couldn’t get out. It took all my efforts to put on my best face to take the five minutes to say goodnight to my children before heading right back.

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I fell asleep that night feeling the isolation, the sadness and weight of my imminent failure.

And we were only in our third week of lockdown.

This continued for I don’t even remember how long.

Then, one day, I woke up and as I was prone to do, I looked at the global numbers, and our numbers in Montreal. I suddenly felt like a deer in the headlights, waiting to get hit by a Mack truck. This had to stop. I had to shift how I was engaging with this moment. My mental health was suffering, and if I did not do something, it would just pull me deeper. But I did not think I could do it alone… I knew I couldn’t. And I also did not want to burden my family.

"Two, sometimes three times a week, I could join these men to be seen, to be heard."

I had been a part of men’s circles before, had even started one of my own. I knew the power of community on men in helping to navigate emotions, challenges, my own beliefs about myself. My own socialization around the compelling vision of the lone wolf had drawn me away from all that, and more than ever, I needed that community again.

Going back to some of the groups I was already familiar with, I was amazed to see how much had moved online during the short time that we had been in lockdown, and many of them were free. Zoom meetings were everywhere, and some of them were welcoming in nearly 100 men per call. Not everyone was getting a chance to speak, but the shares were powerful, well-supported and received without judgment. I did not say much at first, and yet I could still feel the cathartic power from these calls.

So many of the stories were much like my own, my lone wolf was suddenly part of a pack.

I focused in on two groups at first, and then whittled that down to one, while also spending more time connecting with the men in the community I had started to build on my own.

There were men from all over the world, and we were discussing everything from experiences within our marriages, the struggles with addictions, feelings of stress and anxiety and depression and, yes, thoughts of suicide.

Two, sometimes three times a week, I could join these men to be seen, to be heard.

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And through these calls the weight that I felt on my shoulders began to lift, and lift quickly. I felt stronger. I started to reclaim those parts of myself that supported better habits around diet and sleep and where I focused my energy — on my family and loved ones. I started reaching out to friends with text messages of support and encouragement, or just to let them know that I missed them, and could not wait to see them again soon.

By connecting with other men, I was given what I needed to better connect with those people I cared about most.

As we continue to move through this second wave, as the winter months approach and the hours of daylight dwindle, I feel more empowered than ever to be the man, husband and father I want to, the one my daughters deserve.

No man should be doing this alone. And I know now, I don’t need to. And neither do you, so let’s hop on a call!

Article Author Paul Simard
Paul Simard

Paul Simard is Director of Community and Impact Partnerships for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Canada. He is also the founder of huMENity — a wellness initiative for men of all ages to grow through an openness to be vulnerable and more aware of how they show up in the world. He is married with three beautiful daughters, who are the motivation behind all he does.

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