One of the most heartening aspects of writing this column is how many men read it, which you may find surprising as it’s always assumed that articles about health and emotions are not their cup of tea.

But regularly these days, a man will stop me in the street, or at some event or other, to tell me that he enjoys what I write and always reads it. This is a terrific bonus for me, and very pleasing.

So, this week, I’m going to focus on a gentleman reader. I’m calling him Tom, though that’s not his name. He wrote to tell me that he had had a bad day recently, which had distressed him and dented his confidence.  

Life is full of unexpected setbacks, isn’t it? But if you’re a positive, get-up-and-go kind of person – as so very many of you are – there’s a tendency to be over-critical of yourself when they occur, and Tom certainly gave himself a bad time in this respect.

It’s important though, when tough stuff rears its head, to try to be as compassionate to yourself as you would be to other individuals in trouble.    

Tom lost his wife 18 months ago, after more than three decades of marriage to “the girl 
of my dreams”.

He told me that his response to grief had been to take on voluntary work, see his sons and their families as often as he could, and spend more time on his favourite hobbies – golf and playing in an amateur jazz band.   

In other words, Tom has dealt with bereavement by keeping busy. Lots of us do the same. And mostly, it works well. It feels positive to embrace all that life still has to offer and to live it to the full.

The only downside is that sometimes we push our sad feelings away while we’re concentrating on our new, single existence. But unfortunately, negative emotions have a habit of tripping us up just when we thought we were doing well. This is what happened to Tom.

A couple, who were good mates with Tom and his late wife, decided to celebrate their anniversary, at a local restaurant, with some other friends. They invited Tom and asked if he wanted to come alone or would perhaps like to bring someone. 

He had no wish to take a guest but accepted the invitation for himself. However, when the day arrived, he felt utterly panicked at the prospect. For a start, he hadn’t been in that particular restaurant since going there with his wife on her last, ever birthday.

And the thought of being the only single person at the table and having to sit through the evening without his beloved spouse, felt like a step too far. So, he rang and cancelled, telling a white lie about his son having to work late and needing a babysitter.   

“I felt a right wimp, actually”, he told me. “I stayed home and tried to watch television, but was really unsettled and somewhat tearful. It was as if I’d hit a wall. And even now I feel hopeless and pretty pathetic.” 

Tom is very hard on himself, isn’t he? He, and the rest of us, need to remember that we’re not machines, who can keep going no matter what. We are very much flesh and blood and feelings. And he has lost not just his special and great love, but the life they had together. 

I really sympathise with Tom, and indeed with anyone ploughing through other difficulties which have made them feel low, and question their competence, resilience, or even their sanity. 

So, how should we deal with these horrid feelings? 

Be kind to yourself. Treat yourself to some tempting food, keep warm and maybe turn in early with a hot water bottle or electric blanket and a great book.  

Allow yourself to be quiet and reflective, and if you sense you need a couple of gentle days before you resume your normal life, then do have them.

After that, carefully ease yourself back into your customary routine and if you want to talk to someone about what you’ve been going through, confide in a friend or relative. The chances are, if they are around our age, they will fully understand because of their own experiences.  

Above all, don’t beat yourself up. When people have disturbances of this kind, they honestly handle them as well as they are able at the time. So don’t keep telling yourself you’re an idiot or should have done better. 

And if you’re single again after a divorce or death of a partner, don’t chide yourself that you should be “over it”. Why should you? It takes a while before we learn to manage the emptiness a bit better. 

Gradually, you should feel much more like you and regain your enthusiasm and your confidence.  

It’s normal though, to have temporary reverses as we negotiate the challenges of growing older. We do our best with the cards we’re dealt, and that’s all any of us can do.