Toxic Masculinity

black and white people bar men
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I’m still new to this blogging game and I still find it hard to write about the things that I want to say and get off my chest – if that makes sense? Once I press publish that’s it, i’ve opened myself up which I have always struggled to do. I invite criticism, judgement, I instantly worry about what people might think, whether they agree or disagree. Blogging and social media have given me a voice that I haven’t always been confident to use in other areas of life. Thankfully, people are being very kind which is giving me the confidence to continue.

There is still a lot I want to say about what I’ve been through and how I’ve changed as a result and I’m sure I’ll get round to it. Today I want to talk about something that I picked up on yesterday which has got me thinking.

One of my favourite writers is Matt Haig. He writes about living with depression and mental illness and how today’s society makes some things better and some things worse. This weekend there has been a lively debate and discussion and Twitter feed about Toxic Masculinity.

I’d heard about the phrase without knowing too much about it. There are lots of theories and definitions flying around but from what I can gather Toxic Masculinity is basically a negative set of beliefs and behaviours that society applies to men which means that falling short of these behaviours  may make them less of a man – I think!

Matt has been leading the campaign against Toxic Masculinity and consistently reminds us that it’s ok to cry – that’s why we have tear glands. That it’s a lot healthier to be who you are, rather than who you feel you should be. This is not a threat to our manhood, it’s about being yourself and not trying to live up to a set of ideals and behaviours imposed by others.

I’m past 40 now and one of the advantages about getting older is that I’m becoming more comfortable in my skin. I feel confident to write on here that I love football (even though I could never play it) but I also love a good musical. Les Mis is my favourite, I cry every time! I use moisturiser, I’m particular about which shower gels and face washes I use. I spend more time in the bathroom than ever before. If I feel clean and good about myself, I feel more confident. I’m crap at DIY (really bad) but I’ll try my best  and don’t feel ashamed asking for help. I can just about change a tyre on a car, but that’s as far as it goes. It holds no interest for me. I’ve never punched someone or had a fight in my life, I don’t have it in me. All these things go towards who I am and I’m not going to challenge a trait or a characteristic if I don’t have a problem with it.

The danger comes when we suppress or bottle up our emotions. When we  “Man-up” – I hate that phrase. The danger comes when violence is encouraged as a way of sorting a problem and when seeking help is seen as a sign of weakness We get homophobia and we get misogyny. We also get issues with mental health and increases in male suicide.

Come on guys, open up, be who you want to be not who you think others want you to be. We’re not under threat or in danger of becoming extinct. The future belongs to all of us and we can make it great.

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Find Your Passion

Staithes

 

Last weekend I visited one of my favourite places – Staithes, on the North Yorkshire Coast. It’s a fishing village steeped in history and tradition with cobbled streets and rows of beautiful cottages. Whenever I visit it has an instant calming effect, it’s a form of therapy! You park at the top of a steep bank and as you walk down towards the village and the harbour you find yourself leaving your troubles at the top and entering a place where you can switch off for however long your stay happens to be.

Every year Staithes holds an arts festival. Artists are encouraged to book a cottage for the weekend and use their space to exhibit their work. It’s fantastic being able to walk around the streets and alleyways and wander into the beautiful cottages and explore some art. On the streets outside are buskers, street theatre, walking tours, food stalls. On the evening lights illuminate the cliffs and other landmarks, it really is worth going to see.

That’s my bit done for Staithes tourism, I now want to talk about one of the artists who has been exhibiting his work since the festival started about 6 years ago, my brother-in-law, Stephen Stott.

Ste has always loved painting and was always told he had a real talent and should “do something with it”. So he did. He enrolled as a mature student on a Fine Art course, gained a degree and recieved great praise for his final exhibition. The first year he exhibited at Staithes he received lots of great feedback, and maybe sold one print, enough for a meal at the end of the weekend. The following year he returned to the same cottage, generated more interest, sold a few more and just about broke even on the cost of hiring the cottage and the materials he needed.

Ste always explained that it wasn’t about making money, he loved people coming in, chatting to him and taking an interest in his work. He kept developing, taking new paintings to exhibit each year and sticking to the type of painting that he wanted to do.

This year, by the time I had visited the festival on Sunday lunchtime he had practically sold out of paintings and prints! He now has people commissioning him to do pieces of art and his work is on display in galleries both nationally and internationally. He has hired the same cottage each year, slowly building his profile and developing his reputation. He also has the opportunity to pass on his skills and knowledge to the younger generation by working with groups of primary school children.

This is not a promotion piece for Ste but if you did want to check out his work…

StephenStottFineArt

The message I’m trying to get across today (probably not very clearly) is if you have a talent and a passion for something, do it, see where it leads you and takes you. Life is short, and life is busy. Find time to do something you love, something you enjoy, something that gives you confidence and that energy boost. If you have a musical instrument buried away in the loft, get it out clean it up. If you enjoyed playing years ago, you will soon pick it back up. If you loved singing, join a choir, if you’ve always wanted to act, join a theatre group. The great thing about being older is there’s less pressure, you’re doing it for you and not anybody else. It’s also great for your mental health to find something that allows you the time and space you need to escape for a bit.

The brilliant Jay Shetty produced this inspirational video which everyone should watch.

Find Your Passion – Jay Shetty

I’m off to practice my piano – see you at the Albert Hall!!

 

Staithes Festival

 

World Suicide Prevention Day

monochrome photo of couple holding hands
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Today – 10th Sept is World Suicide Prevention Day. I have mixed thought about awareness days, there seems to be so many and I always have the feeling “what about the day after or the day before”? If you’re feeling ill those feelings are not going to go away, support will be needed for a long time. At the same time if it starts conversations, raises awareness or funds then a purpose will have been served.

The title  – suicide prevention got me thinking though. When you think about it, to help prevent suicide you do not need to be a doctor or a specialist, there is no funds needed to help research into a miracle cure. Everyone can play a part in preventing suicide by being kind, patient, tolerant, understanding, alert, and most importantly, a good listener. It doesn’t cost anything!

Suicide is the ultimate and final condition of mental illness. An illness that can affect anybody, it doesn’t check your bank balance, it doesn’t look at your bank balance, how many friends you’ve got, how successful you are.

There have been days and times when I’ve struggled, really struggled. Putting one foot in front of the other took a huge effort, the simplest of tasks seemed like the biggest hurdles and minutes seemed like hours, hours seemed like days. I’ve also been lucky, very lucky. I’ve had colleagues and friends who recognised something was up and came for a chat, I’ve got a wife who knowing that something was up would give me the space I needed and the patience and understanding when I needed time to talk. I also found strength to say “I’m struggling” and seek advice. Nobody ever told me to “snap out of it” or even worse “Man-up”.

Wow – I’ve just had to take a moment and realise just how lucky I am, and how I don’t always appreciate it.

Even on the days when I really struggled, I never felt like ending things or start to imagine what that would be like. If I can’t imagine what it must be like to end your life I’m certainly not going to judge someone who has. It must be so dark, so desolate to get to that point. I totally agree that suicide is not a selfish act. If a person is struggling and have got to the point where they see themselves as a burden, they will imagine that the world would be better off without them then suicide must seem like a selfless act. It’s something that takes strength not weakness.

There are so many simple things we can do to help prevent suicide. It can start with a simple question, how are you?  It can then be something as easy as going for a coffee or a pint and taking the time to listen.

Ask your employer about going on a Mental Health First Aid course. I’ve done it and can’t recommend it highly enough. It helped me on a personal aswell as equip me with the skills to help others.

Mental Health First Aid

If we have first aiders in the work place to be able to deal with trips and accidents, doesn’t it make sense to have first aiders for mental health?

A quick google search will point you in the direction of lots of organisations, resources and charities to support people who are struggling. A great one for men in Tees Valley is Men Tell Health, they deliver Speak Easy sessions where you can turn up and just have a chat and a coffee with other blokes.

Men Tell Health

With government and NHS funding the way it is at the moment we can’t rely on the services who should be able to offer the right support to be there when we need them the most – that really is a discussion for another day, I can feel the anger rising already!

Take Care!