Modern society is facing a crisis with men's mental health. In 2017, in the UK alone, 75% of suicides were male and even though 1 in 8 men experience common mental health issues, many men are less likely to seek support or speak to a loved one about their issue.
In honour of Father's Day here in the UK, we spoke to Shamanic Practitioner Eddy Elsey about his experience of anxiety and depression, the role that Shamanism served in helping him recover and how spirituality redefined his view of what it means to be a man.
Eddy is the host of Street Spirituality podcast, is a one-to-one Shamanic practitioner and regularly holds men's workshops at venues such as She's Lost Control and Remind Studio.
You have both experienced and 'recovered' from anxiety. As a man, what was this experience like for you?
I found day-to-day life very difficult. Certain things happened in my life that caused my identity to crumble before my eyes. When this happens, because we don’t have an underlying mythology in our culture to bind us together when our material things disappear - our jobs, our relationships, what we believe our standing to be in the world - we feel completely disconnected and disorientated.
I was having panic attacks so regularly that I could have one silently without anybody realising. I didn’t know which way was up and which way was down - I was utterly lost at sea.
It is fear through disconnection that causes anxiety and it was the hopelessness that the anxiety caused that allowed depression to root itself into my life.
I felt a huge pressure to deal with things on my own. I also felt that it was all due to my own shortcomings. That I had failed somewhere along the line. I had zero trust in life - I walked around feeling that the second I let my guard down, life would bite me. How could anybody help me with that?
What is Shamanism and how did it help you recover from anxiety? How do you see your relationship to anxiety now?
Shamanism is essentially the use of a trance state to receive information that is of use to the person seeking it. Traditionally, this would be the tribe. The Shaman would converse with the Spirits on behalf of the tribe and be the mediator to convey what needed to happen to keep the world around them balanced. When things are balanced - both within us and in nature - sickness, mental or physical, finds it very difficult to take hold.
The Shaman can also track back into the story of your life. We are built from story, really. These stories, if negative, often if not always, have a strong energy behind them - this powers them up and thus we can get stuck in a feedback loop of repetition. Negative habits then form due to this repetition and we often end up cursing ourselves into some form of sickness. The Shaman can enter these stories and remove the negative energies from them, leaving them as what they really are - just a story. It is then up to the person who is seeking healing to replace this story with a positive one and do the work themselves to ground it into their life.
My personal story stemmed from feeling unsafe in the world. Shamanism allowed me to anchor to the world around me in such a way that I slowly began to trust it. After a while I began to let my guard down. It wasn’t that bad things didn’t happen to me anymore, it was that I trusted that if they did it would either be for the good in the long run, or that simply bad things do happen - this is life - it didn’t mean the world had conspired against me!
Once the energy of the anxiety was removed, and all that was left was the residual story - it became much easier to sit with my demons. I stopped having panic attacks almost instantly because the energy that caused them was no longer present. It had been transmuted back to the earth by the Shaman. This also compounded my trust in the world, because if the earth and the Spirits had been so gracious to allow me to heal - they must be inherently loving.
Why do you feel it's so important to bring Shamanism and spirituality to more people, in particular, to men?
A lot of people saying they do Shamanism actually do none of it with any authenticity. People train over one weekend and say they do Shamanic healing - it’s crazy and also actually very dangerous. But, once I had experienced Shamanism in its true form - something called for me to become an apprentice.
I know there are lots of stories about people getting messages that they are the “chosen one” and the Spirits came to them in a vision and bestowed magical healing powers on them - but for me, it was simple. I felt so incredibly grateful to have been given a second chance at life due to this practice that I wanted to learn and give back. I felt that I would have taken my healing for granted if didn’t spend the rest of my life honouring the land, the Spirits and this practice.
As far as being a trained Shaman, I have only trained for three years and really only feel that I have barely scratched the surface. This is a lifetime of work and I would rather call myself a Shamanic Practitioner than a Shaman. There is a subtle difference there - I practice Shamanic techniques - but I am not from an ancient lineage - we are really starting from scratch in this country.
I think it is so important to bring Shamanism to men because it gives them another option. I had trained as a yoga teacher, meditated, explored spirituality in other ways such as Reiki and other energy healing techniques and I had been in traditional psychotherapy for a long time, but none of it gave me what I needed. Shamanism provided that for me personally.
I think men need to know that they can offload their pain to the world around them if they choose to. They don’t have to do it alone or by “conventional methods”. It is not just men though. Although my workshops are based around masculinity, the majority of my 1-2-1 clients are women.
How did you experience of masculinity evolve through your experience of anxiety and healing? How can men identify or find their own sense of masculinity?
I had to first come to terms with where I was really at. When it came down to it, I had to accept that I wasn’t strong. That I needed help. That trying to fit into the societal model of what a man should be was breaking me.
I think that there is a perception that men should be inherently strong - and maybe this is the case. But to have real strength, you need to forge it in fire, like steel. You need to first bend and break and get hammered, dunked in water, over and over until you resemble something strong. So by this definition, you need to be truly weak in the first place, truly vulnerable, to have any chance of becoming strong.
In my opinion, there is no one definition of masculinity. Masculinity is energy and for any energy to be healthy it needs to be fluid. Stagnant energy, much like water, grows contaminated and festers. This fluidity should be seen more like a spectrum then an ideal to aim at. You can be your own beautiful version of masculinity and bring your own unique medicine to the community of men. We need all different types. Find your darkness, enter it with a clean heart and claim the hero that comes out the other side. Understand you may pick up scars along the way.
Your run male focused workshops. Can you tell us about these - what they are for, who can come, what to expect from a workshop?
We get into the nitty-gritty aspects of being men. Firstly, trying to work out if there is something we need to change about ourselves or is there something we need to change about our view on society?
A lot of the men that come to the workshops realise that they actually have all the tools they need, it is the out-dated society ideals of what men should be that are causing the friction inside of them. It takes an awful lot of energy to constantly try to fit into a box you are too big for. But, quite insidiously really, our society often tries to desperately pull you back into a box that you have outgrown, making us consciously or unconsciously feel guilty for outgrowing it.
These groups are a place you can empty. Leave everything at the altar, let something else carry your weight for you.
My background is in Shamanism, so we undertake ritual and Shamanic techniques to get deeper than perhaps just talking will take us. It’s all about restoring your personal power. Refilling that personal battery so you can leave and feel better equipped to share your gifts to the world.
The response has been great to be honest, it is very humbling. I learn so much from every man that comes through the door. It’s amazing to get together with other men who maybe only have one thing in common - being men. We can connect to something deeper than personal tastes, hobbies or football teams and learn from people we may have never even spoken to without this type of container.
What advice would you give to any man who is currently struggling with their mental health or sense of masculinity?
Find that part of you that is longing for something. Sit with that longing - it is trying to guide you.
Understand that true strength is always preceded by vulnerability and weakness. Your vulnerability is your gift - we are taught that the world we know was built on strength and logic and reason above all else. This is not true. We are social beings, we rely on compassion and connect through empathy. Make a little more room in your life for these things. Use compassion and empathy, as the vehicle for logic and reason and you will be unstoppable.
Also, go easy on yourself. Whatever people want to say, being a man is difficult.