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$vuetify.icons.faPhone1300 650 620

In the shadow of the Impossible Man

In the shadow of the Impossible Man

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For Beyond Blue ambassador Craig Killian, a lifetime of trying to conform to unrealistic male standards eventually resulted in a mental health crisis. He chats to Housing about living with the ‘Impossible Man’ and learning how to reverse the downward spiral.

Anne-Maree Brown

General Manager of Content

TRIGGER WARNING: This article involves discussion on mental health and depression. It may be difficult reading this story, especially if you’ve had similar experiences or supported a friend or family member. If you’re feeling impacted, contact Beyond Blue for immediate support, Lifeline on 13 11 14, Headspace, or your local GP for support.

Have you met the Impossible Man? 

He’s ‘good at sport, probably has a full-grown beard, can fix cars, and girls look at him’, explains Craig Killian. The Impossible Man can do anything – in fact, he can achieve all the things that aren’t possible for most humans. However, he lives inside your head, messing with your mental health. Just like he did for Craig.

‘This Impossible Man constantly gives me the guidelines of where I have to go, then moves the goal posts as I'm getting closer,’ Craig says. ‘He’s the first thing to criticise you. He’s the first thing to knock you back. It always sounds believable because the Impossible Man speaks in my voice.’

Craig is a husband, dad and works as a trainer with NSW Health. He’s also been around the mental health block a couple of times. As a speaker and ambassador for Beyond Blue, he’s dedicated to helping others by sharing his experiences and the damage that can be caused when we try to live up to unrealistic male standards.

As a boy becoming a man, you are meant to be good at fighting, sport, or women or girls. I was never good at any of them!’.
The combination of the tough crowd, and his chaotic home life, Craig built a ‘gigantic wall’ around his troubles.

The youngest of three boys in a ‘rough and tumble’ family, Craig says his childhood was ‘that old school where you have to fight and fend for yourself’. His father was a horse trainer: ‘just a working man but as a father, I can barely fault him. He was an amazing man who loved us with all his heart.’

His Filipino-Australian mother, who found herself in a foreign country with three boys under six by the time she was 24, took her frustrations with life out on her children. ‘She was depressed a lot and she got a tendency to get violent with us boys.’ Sadly, with no other points of reference for family life, Craig thought this was normal.

When Craig was nine, the family moved from the Sydney suburb of Kensington to Scone, a small town north of Newcastle. It was, basically, a quagmire of ‘toxic masculinity. As a man, or a boy becoming a man, you are meant to be good at fighting, sport, or women or girls. I was never good at any of them!’

In an attempt to fit in with the macho mentality, Craig – a gentler soul who leaned more towards the arts and drama – bravely joined the rugby league team. ‘I hated every game,’ he says. ‘I used to get slammed all the time.’

During these years in Scone, the prevailing attitudes started to shape the Impossible Man within Craig’s impressionable teenage mind. ‘You don't realise it, but each time, it's a brick building up this idea you have of what a man should be. It's not you laying these bricks; someone else is handing those bricks to you.’

Craig finally gave up sport and sought refuge in drama classes. Luckily, he had enough talent to pass the move off as legit. However, in order to cope with pressure of trying to fit in with the tough crowd, and his chaotic home life, he built a ‘gigantic wall’ around his troubles.

‘You don't accept what you're feeling,’ he says. ‘You don't have time to see which bricks are worth it to carry and which aren’t because no-one's teaching you. I mean, no-one ever taught you to unpack as a man. You're only taught between two emotions: happiness and anger. Any emotion in between that is considered a leak in the boat.’

Craig bore witness to the casualties of this toxic mindset: local farmers suiciding with shotguns; a drug-addled schoolmate who deliberately stepped in front of a moving truck. At the age of 14, Craig had suicidal thoughts after of his parents’ divorce. When he confided about these feelings to his school’s vice-principal, he was essentially told to suck it up.

‘So, you learn, OK, I'm doing it wrong. I've got to stop crying. That's how I fix this. I've got to just shut up and put up,’ Craig explains. ‘As you get older, when you're stressed or under pressure, you fall back to your defaults. And that was my default. Push harder whenever you're feeling stressed but that puts you into this downward spiral.’ 

After school, Craig moved to Brisbane and found work in door-to-door sales. The job dovetailed beautifully with his outgoing personality and acting talents. Within six months, he was running the number-one sales crew in Australasia. This formed the foundations of what was to become a successful career as a corporate trainer. In the words of Ferris Bueller, life moved pretty fast during these years. He didn’t know it at the time, but the inevitable bumps in the road, including the devastating loss of his father, were all accumulating, becoming more grist for the mental health mill.

The actual tipping point came quite a few years later, once he was happily married. His wife fell pregnant with their son, and suddenly the Impossible Man turned up and ‘took control’. Craig had to man up as he had a family to provide for. He pushed himself harder at work, getting promoted into a bigger role. More money. Also, more responsibility, longer hours, more pressure. 

 
Self-care is for the benefit of everyone around you.
Learning that he was to become a father made Craig feel he had to be “the impossible man’.

‘I'm that dad bringing the bacon home, food on the table … I was that guy. But your brain never tells you that you're actually doing it. It always tells you what you're not doing. And the Impossible Man is constantly telling me that I'm not doing enough.’ 

Striving to meet the demands of the Impossible Man, to be the strong provider, is what finally brought Craig undone. A stressful power-play at work destroyed his self-belief: ‘I'm bad at this job. I'm bad at being a father. I'm not home. And when I'm home, I'm thinking of work. I'm bad at being a husband.’ One day he found himself in the car, struggling to breathe. ‘I thought I was having a heart attack, but I was actually having my first ever panic attack.’

Eight months later, the physical manifestations of his stress and anxiety were so severe that he quit work. But reaching out for help was hard. Sitting in the GP’s waiting room, Craig says he felt like a fraud, thanks to a lifetime of lessons about ‘toughing it out’. ‘I thought, oh, it's just me being Craig, the drama queen. Maybe I'm just being a sook.’

However, that one visit to the GP set him on a new path and Craig’s life is now transformed. He’s learnt to accept help; to answer honestly when asked, ‘Are you OK?’ He describes psychologist appointments as ‘physio for the brain’. ‘My mental health, it's an injury that may last for a while. So when you have a knee injury, you have to learn how to play around it. You have to learn what's going to put stress on it. You have to learn what relieves it.’

Craig spends time de-stigmatising the concept of mental health.
Craig Killan is a speaker and ambassador for Beyond Blue.

As a volunteer speaker for Beyond Blue, he spends time de-stigmatising the concept of mental health, de-throning the Impossible Man, and promoting the idea of self-care. ‘Men get terrified of the steps of getting help because you're taught as a man to provide, not to take,’ he says. ‘Men find it hard to grasp: how does looking after myself help everyone around me? Because your kid doesn't want to go to your funeral. It’s realising your self-care is for the benefit of everyone around you.’

There are countless ways to reach out for help and Craig acknowledges that when you’re feeling depressed or anxious, this can feel overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be complicated. ‘Just take the first step and talk to a GP. Then the GP will send you the next steps. Just take each step as it comes.’

In terms of self-care, he recommends the usual strategies: exercise (he’s a fan of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu), eating well (‘not too well, you still got to have fun!’) and doing things you enjoy. But he also suggests being nice to yourself. ‘I remember reading this beautiful line: “Talk to yourself like you would talk to somebody who's in your care”. And that's how I talk to myself. I've always been quick to show empathy and to give things to everyone around me except for myself. I'm able to do that to myself now and that's made it easier to deal with life in general.’

The HIA Charitable Foundation are committed to the mental health issues that affect one in four people in the residential construction industry. For more information or to make a donation, visit online.

Published on 7 Feb 2024.

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