Moving Forward?

I always try to focus on the future not on the past and it’s advice that I always like to give to others. After all we can’t change the past, it’s what we do in the present that can help influence the future. But sometimes the events of the past can be so overwhelming that no matter how hard you try it can be so hard to shake off the feelings and emotions that it brings back.

Two years ago today I woke up in ICU, very confused, full of wires, tubes and attached to different things. The last thing I remembered was going into surgery the day before for what was meant to be a straight forward operation and I was meant to be back home that evening. Things didn’t go quite to plan and I spent 10 hours in surgery. I was transferred to a hospital 50 miles away where I stayed for 6 1/2 weeks. I got infections, sepsis and pneumonia and spent another week in ICU. The physical scars healed well over time but the emotional and psychological scars have been a lot harder to heal and on an anniversary like this they have been re-opened.

I know I’m smiling in these but my mum has always said I’m the type of person who would still smile if his arse was on fire!!

I have been through 6 months of therapy which was incredibly helpful and helped me come to terms with what happened. I was given lots of incredible strategies (including writing this blog) to help me along the way.

Despite this I still find myself thinking “why did this happen”, “how did this happen”? Without going into too much detail, I now know that mistakes were made during surgery but no-one is willing to take responsibility for avoidable errors. That is f***ing annoying, and I’m not someone who gets angry!

In order to stop these feelings and questions becoming over-whelming and taking me to dark places I like to remind myself of the lessons that I learnt from this experience and how I can use the experience to help me moving forward.

I learnt than I am stronger and more resilient than I give myself credit for. I learnt that I am loved. I kind of knew this, but I guess I took it for granted. I truly appreciated every message, card, prayer and blessing that I received. My wife and family went to extraordinary lengths to help with my recovery even though it was overwhelming for them too and I will be forever grateful. I’ve learnt that looking after your mental health can be hard, very hard. Like physical health, keeping our mental health in shape takes commitment, takes time and it takes effort. To be honest it’s something that I’ve neglected for a while now. I’ve not written a blog and I’ve not updated my journal for a while. I guess I thought I had previously done enough to stay in shape. Writing this today I realise I haven’t, my mental health is out of shape, I’ve been lazy. The good thing is I now know what I can do to make it better. I know what exercises will work. So apologies in advance if my blog posts start to increase again!

Another important lesson I’ve learnt is to appreciate what we have around us. We are bomarded with so much negative shit that it’s easy to forget that this planet is beautiful and it’s filled with beautiful people.

Yesterday I decided that I didn’t want to spend the evening sat on the sofa going over the events of 2 years ago so I went for a walk up a hill and it was beautiful! This scenery is only 10 minutes from where I live and 10 minutes in another direction takes me to some stunning coastline.

I don’t know how close I came to not being here, it’s a question I’ve not really asked. I’m guessing I was close enough and I don’t want to come that close again for a long time. Life is for living and I have so much to look forward to!

x

Mental Health at Work

Last Thursday there was a massive step forward in recognising that mental health should have parity with physical health in the workplace.

Thanks to the excellent #wheresyourheadat campaign, led by the brilliant Natasha Devon a petition was launched which collected over 200,000 signatures. This was more than enough signatures to trigger a debate in parliament which took place last week. See – that’s how democracy and parliamentary sovereignty can work, we’ve always had it! Ok – no more Brexit talk this week! The outcome of the debate was that MP’s from all sides agreed to back a motion to introduce legislation which would put mental and physical health on an equal footing through first aid regulation.

Still some way to go but this is a big step forward, it now seems a case of when not if this will happen. The campaign has been backed by major businesses, mp’s from across the board and members of the public. I know that progress is being made and that a lot of employers are taking mental health at work seriously. But imagine if this became enshrined in law so that nobody got left behind.

Hopefully it would mean phrases like, “pull yourself together” “man-up” “get over it” become phrases of the past Every employer has to have a physical first aider, under the legislation employers will also have to have a mental health first aider. Somebody trained to spot the signs for when someone maybe struggling and for people to go to when they’re feeling unwell. Makes sense doesn’t it! From an employers point of view it should help reduce sickness, increase productivity and all that guff! More importantly it will hopefully give more employees more confidence to admit that they’re struggling knowing that they’re going to receive help instead of suspicion.

MHFA England were also behind the #wheresyourheadat campaign. They are a fantastic organisation who deliver training to staff on how to be a mental health first aider among many other things. MHFAEngland

I attended the 2 day course at the end of 2017 and can highly recommend it. I was at a stage in my own mental health journey where this course helped me immensely and gave me some tools and the confidence to be able to help others.

After the course I wanted to give something back and so I wrote a blog for MHFA explaining how the course had helped me and to encourage others to attend if given the opportunity.

Somethings a chat is all it takes.

What are things like in your workplace? Could your employer be doing more or is there good practice taking place that deserves to be shared?

Final word, if you are struggling please get help. I know it takes strength and courage to ask for help at a time when you’re not feeling particularly strong or courageous but help is always there. I’m more than happy to help point you in the right direction. Feel free to message me or get in touch.

Take care x

Change Your Vision

For today’s blog I want you to come back in time with me – cue dream like music and wavy filters!

I want you to picture yourself in primary school between the ages of about 5-8. I have to go back a lot further in time than most of you!                                                          

Now – think of your friends. How did you choose your closest friends? Was it based on where they lived, what clothes they wore – the colour of their skin? Or was it based on how they behaved towards you and others?

If somebody joined your class who was from another country or another culture, how did you react? With fear, with suspicion, with judgement? Or with curiosity, with a load of questions that you wanted to ask, with excitement, with a desire to get to know this new person and be the first to include them in your group.

Did somebody in your class have a disability? Were they in a wheelchair, or struggle with communication? What happened? Were they left to get on with it or did you look for ways to include them? Did you adapt so you could fit in with their world? Did you get excited by learning a new way to communicate?

If somebody in your class was hungry and didn’t have their dinner how did you react? Just leave them, or did you look at your lunchbox and realise that you had more than enough and could spare something? Then did you tell someone that your classmate did not have any food with them?

If one of your best friends was feeling sad what did you do? Did you tell them to get over it, or did you try and make them feel better and if they were still feeling sad did you go and tell someone so you could get some more help so your friend started to feel better?

Ok by now I’m sure you know where I’m going with this. Seriously, what happens to us as we leave our childhood? Why do we turn to suspicion, why do we start to judge people based on anything other than how they behave towards us. Why do we look for reasons to exclude rather than include. Why do we stop questioning and just accept? What happens to compassion?

I have my own theory. As children we put our trust in authority, in grown-ups. We believe that people with knowledge and power tell us the truth and have our best interests. Our lives become harder and more stressful. The papers will come up with reasons why our lives aren’t perfect, the politicians will tell us it’s nothing to do with them, it’s always the other lot. We’re conditioned to become fearful, to be suspicious, to look for evidence to reinforce views that we’ve been fed. We’re told to look after No1.

But wouldn’t it be great to start seeing the world through the eyes of a young child again? To question, to use our eyes and our ears to see the world around us. We’re coming up to Christmas, one of the most magical times for most children. Let’s embrace that joy and wonder. Find your compassion x

International Men’s Day

So today, Nov 19th is International Men’s day. Be honest  – who knew? I certainly didn’t until I saw it trending on Twitter this morning. I mean after all, every day is pretty much men’s day. We’re not an endangered species, we don’t need protecting or any campaign groups to start crowdfunding for us. We’re doing pretty well. We hold nearly all the top jobs, we make up the majority of the boards of directors, we’re still much more likely to be paid more than a woman, even when doing the same job. We don’t have the same pressures to constantly look good, to be constantly judged on our appearances, we don’t have the same expectations when it comes to raising a family. To the women reading this, I sincerely apologise for not listing all the many, many ways in which it’s easier to be a man but that blog would take weeks! It is still very much a man’s world – love that song!

The fact that it is still a man’s world does come with it’s problems, not least of which we are a long, long way from having an equal society. Another issue comes with the expectations and labels we place on men and the roles that we expect them to play. Toxic masculinity is a huge problem.

Toxic Masculinity

Not every man is going to want to fit into stereotypes of what a “real man” is meant to be and yet the pressure to do so can be crushing. If we’re struggling there is an expectation to “man-up” (hate that phrase). Crying is seen as a sign of weakness but why give us tear glands if we’re not meant to use them? Asking for help and speaking about your feelings is still frowned upon, real men don’t do that – right? Is it any wonder male suicide is a massive problem, my home town of Middlesbrough has the highest suicide rate in the UK. Bottling up your feelings is never good, suppressing your emotions is going to cause problems eventually. Not asking for help – why would you do that? In every other part of your life, especially if you were struggling physically you would ask for help. (Man-flu)! Why should your mental health be any different? It takes strength to ask for help but help is out there, I know!

Thankfully the conversation around men’s mental health does seem to be slowly improving. The conversations on Twitter today are mostly positive and encouraging, lots of people offering help and support, encouraging fellow men to open up. You still get the odd doyle who is worried about any perceived attack on his masculinity, probably the same person who is scared of a woman boss, or who has never watched a romcom! We are getting better at talking but there also needs to be better mental health services for everyone so people don’t have to wait a long time to access help.

The other thing that comes to mind for me on International Men’s day is all the great men who have had a bearing on my life. The fantastic dad who raised me and is still there for me, the great teachers who educated me, who taught me music and encouraged me, the men who gave me opportunities, who advised me, who influenced me.

So maybe International Men’s day isn’t such a bad thing. After all, we need all the help we can get!

I give the final word to one of the greatest men in history.

My message to Youth (mainly an apology but also a message of hope).

Today is World Mental Health Day with the focus on Young peoples mental health. I’m struggling to find the latest statistics regarding mental health and young people. The Children’s Society in 2008 reported that 10% of young people (aged 5-16) have a diagnosable mental health problem yet 75% of children and adolescents who experience mental health problems have not had appropriate interventions at a sufficiently early age. Ten years on I would strongly expect these figures to have risen and I imagine that the true figure is cleverly hidden somewhere.

How have we got to this situation? Lots of reasons I guess but I will attempt to cover some of them in my message to youth.

Hello young people (i’m down with the youth),

Today is world mental health day and you may hear about how mental illness is a very big issue for young people, and it’s true, it is. It’s not your fault, let me start by saying sorry. You have been very, very badly let down by a lot of different people. You will have heard that there are different factors that can help improve your mental health and reduce the risk of becoming ill. Let’s look at some of them.

  • A good diet and exercise – No arguing with this. Eating healthily and taking exercise helps your body produce lots of good stuff which helps your mind and body.

Yet – you’re bombarded with adverts for food which isn’t great even though it might taste nice and doesn’t cost much. We sell you chocolate bars that are “king-size” or doubled. We give you more and more choice and sell you energy drinks that are packed with tons of sugar and crap which can get you addicted to them. We sell off playing fields, playgrounds and leisure centres making it harder or more expensive for you to get exercise.

  • Attend a supportive school – Despite what you might think schools are good, you make friends, you learn and compared to work the hours and holidays are fantastic!

Yet – schools tell you what to wear when to wear and how to wear it. What pens and pencils you must have, what bags you are allowed. You are inspected before you get past the school gate. You do learn but your school might place more importance on teaching you the stuff that will get you through the sats, mocks and GCSE’s and get the grades which will help the big bosses of the school look good. There may be less opportunity to allow you to be a bit creative, to learn a musical instrument to find a hidden talent that you didn’t know you have that will give you the confidence to grow. As I said though, schools are great and if you are struggling please, please, please find someone you trust who you can speak to. They will believe you and they do want to help.

Hopefully after school you will go home to a supportive and stable family home. I wish that you have  parents who make you feel safe and loved, who encourage you. Times are hard for us adults, it maybe that jobs are under threat or the money that your parents make doesn’t go as far. This makes it harder for us to give you the time and attention you deserve. It maybe that unfortunately your parents are divorced and you feel under pressure to pick a side, that’s tough. I really hope this isn’t the case but I would imagine it is for some of you. Again please speak to someone if you’re struggling.

We’ve invented some amazing phones, computers, games consoles, tablets, apps, filters and games. I love them, I spend too much time on my phone and I know you probably do too but who can blame you, the technology is amazing! Us adults would love for you to spend a bit less time on them. Too much time spent on them can affect your mental health and there are some people out there who will try to take advantage of you. When I ask my kids to maybe spend less time in front of a screen, I get asked “what else is there to do”. After telling them off for answering me back(!) I stop and realise that they might have a point. We used to have youth clubs and community centres. But a lot of them have been shut along with the playing fields and playgrounds! When they do go out we worry about who they’re with, what they’re doing, how long they’ve been out. We have been conditioned to live in fear and to fear the worst.

We’ve made it harder for you to get a job when you have finally navigated your childhood and adolescence we’ve also made it a lot harder to get a house. You will probably start off in debt because you chose to go to uni get an education and get the best qualifications you can. We’re handing over a planet that’s in a bad way and we look to you to come up with some solutions. We are about to take away your right to travel, live, work and study freely in some amazing and beautiful European countries. They’re a lot of us trying our very best to stop this.

So I truly and sincerely apologise for making life a lot harder than it should be for you. But you know what – I look around at your generation and it fills me with hope and pride. I see young people all the time accepting their friends and peers for who they are and who they want to be. I see your generation being a lot more inclusive and accepting people of different beliefs, of different orientations (I hate that word) of different abilities. I see young people not swallowing the lies and bull that our generation have been fed from the media. You question people and you stand up to authority  – keep it up. You are so resilient and talented. Bottle your resilience, develop and be proud of your talent. Think for yourselves, when you become future leaders, future scientists, future influencers we are going to need innovation and new ways of working. Learn from our mistakes.

We trust you and we love you x

Toxic Masculinity

black and white people bar men
Photo by Gratisography on Pexels.com

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.

backlit dawn foggy friendship
Photo by Helena Lopes on Pexels.com

 

 

World Suicide Prevention Day

monochrome photo of couple holding hands
Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

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!