Tag Archives: health

On being a new father – No man’s land #9

Reflections on masculinity, mental health and trying to make a difference 

Years before I was even considering parenthood, I got seriously concerned about the prospect of being a father. I don’t really know why, but I got burdened by just thinking about the parental responsibility of influencing a growing child by everything said and done in his/her presence. Now, of course, I know better; parents are just not that influential – much of what they say is rarely heard, let alone acted upon!

Which is not to say that our lovely daughter has even gone out of her way to challenge her upbringing; it never ceases to amaze me how lightly we’ve got off as parents. When she was a toddler everyone talked about ‘the terrible twos’ but that never happened. Then people warned us about the teenage years – they came and went. We’re still waiting for the storm…

Which is not to say her birth was without incident. In fact, for my wife it could be fairly described as traumatic. 14 weeks before her due date, my wife’s blood pressure rose alarmingly and two weeks later our very special daughter was born by emergency caesarean section. She weighed in at 2lbs 1.5 ozs – “less than a bag of sugar, but infinitely sweeter” was how I reported the news to my parents (and a surrogate grandmother from Uruguay).

The NHS care our daughter received for the next nine weeks was brilliant. Even at her birth in the operating theatre there was one team looking after my wife, one for our daughter, and a nurse for me – in case I fainted. For the record, I didn’t. I had absolute faith in the doctors and nurses and the bank of life-supporting equipment in the neonatal intensive care unit to which we had access 24 hours a day.

My wife was less calm and with good reason. She’d trained as a maternity nurse and knew too much about the hazardous journey ahead for our seriously premature baby. This, combined with a new mother’s strong maternal bond and hormonal turmoil, made our daughter’s nine week stay in hospital a particularly massive ordeal for her. My role as the ‘supportive husband’ included daily lunchtime visits to get photos developed that had been taken the day before and then visiting the hospital each evening. I felt it was very much a walk-on part and I now wonder whether I really understood what my daughter and her new mother were going through, or acknowledged my own true feelings.

Two weeks ahead of her due date, our beautiful daughter came home and some sort of normality returned to our household. Having a nurse and health visitor for a wife was both reassuring and slightly isolating. I didn’t think to ask questions about our growing child’s development assuming if all had not been normal my wife would have said something. My wife appeared to be in control but I’m not sure I ever thought to check.

I feel our daughter has developed and demonstrated her resilience by surviving those first precarious 12 weeks of her life. That and ‘willingly’ being sent to school at times she was probably unfit to go – that’s what comes from having a nurse for a mother! As parents of an only child with such a precarious arrival into this world, it would have been easy to spoil her, but we’ve tried to leave that to others.

We were warned that lung development might present problems for our daughter in later life (she had an emergency intervention when she was 12 hours old) but apart from a short stay in hospital aged 2 with bronchiolitis, her development has been smooth and untroubled. The medics said she’d be average weight by the age of two and that’s just what happened.

In earlier blog posts I’ve referred to the well-known advice for parents – that they should give their children ‘roots to grow and wings to fly’. But all parents will know the mixed emotions as they watch their young ones go off to school alone or with a friend for the first time. We  celebrate their new-found independence while regretting that one more parental tie has been broken. And then comes the recognition that our children have reached an age and stage in their lives when their pain can’t simply be removed by a kiss and a cuddle. I’ve sometimes look on feeling helpless and inadequate not knowing what to say. But then maybe just being there says something worthwhile?

We also want to shield our offspring from the darker side of life forever, but that’s just not possible. I’ll never know how my mental ill health during my daughter’s formative years may have affected her, and I don’t think the health professionals would know either.

So, was parenthood as concerning as I thought it would be all those years ago in my late teens? No – it was much less daunting thanks to the support and love of others. Before taking paternity leave, my then work colleagues reassured me that babies could be dropped without breaking (not that I ever put this to the test). And while parenting was not the number one topic of conversation at the fathers’ nights out after leaving London, we compared notes about sleep deprivation and joked about taking our daughters to football matches in the interests of being politically correct (remember this was nearly three decades ago…)

I know it’s a cliché to say so, but raising our daughter and seeing the person she has become is my proudest achievement. Her love and support have enriched my life and given me strength when I was at my lowest. She has inspired me to take on new challenges, her values, wisdom and approach to life have shown me new routes to a better world. I am truly blessed.

Further reading:

My father’s shadow https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2017/08/01/my-fathers-shadow-no-mans-land-6/

For other posts in the ‘No man’s land’ series go to https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/category/no-mans-land

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How to stay healthier and happier for longer

In June 2016 I gave a TEDx Talk – ‘Male, stale and in a Shed’ with mixed success. Following that scary but exciting experience, I resolved to write a series of blog posts under a ‘No man’s land umbrella. The blog posts attempt to explore the issues in my short talk and, in particular, to try to identify the roots of my mental ill-health over the past two decades.

12 months ago I published the first of my ‘No man’s land blog posts and, although I only intended it should be a year-long series, the posts continue. The more personal they get, the harder they are to write.

One thing that writing and reflection has done is to help me identify what I think has worked for me in keeping at bay for the past two years what Churchill famously described as his ‘black dog’. There are three main ingredients in my recipe for staying healthier and happier for longer, the first is connecting…

Connecting with people – I used to say with like-minded people, but some of my most interesting recent encounters have been with people with whom I disagree but who are prepared to debate in a grown-up and respectful way. It can be scary but exciting to have your views challenged!

Connecting with places – I believe the need to belong is powerful for many people. It’s one I associate with places as well as people and it can be something as simple as going into town knowing I’ll probably meet someone I know. But it still took me around five years after moving from London to a market town of 17,000 to get that level of connection.

Connecting with our feelings – perhaps the most difficult for many older men. I try hard to fight an inbred tendency to supress emotions, particularly negative ones, and I avoid talking about my innermost concerns. I haven’t yet cracked it and I know I’m not alone. I organise school reunions and it was only six months ago that a friend from school days admitted to me something he’d told only his wife until then – that he’d been sexually assaulted when he was nine years old.

Then there’s creating… I most enjoy being in a Men’s Shed, or any shed for that matter, when problem-solving and being creative – it’s the closest I come to experiencing what they call ‘flow’. But that’s not what I’m talking about here. I mean creating stuff: making things; writing – stories, poetry; or cooking – creating a special meal, preferably to eat with others.  It could be gardening – growing plants of even creating natural colour in a garden, or maybe it’s artwork – painting or photography. It doesn’t have to be brilliant, but I think it’s important that it’s something that pleases the creator; something that matters to them. And if it pleases others, so much the better.

I once made a wooden case for carrying and displaying books. I still remember my mum – forty years ago – looking at it in wonder and saying to me and others present ‘He made this! He took pieces of wood and he made this!’ She was so proud and, looking back, so was I.

The last ingredient for staying healthier and happier for longer is carrying on… When older people say ‘I want to die’ I don’t believe them. I think when older people really want to die they simply stop carrying on – and do so. Until then there’s something – anger, curiosity, love or something else – keeping them alive.

Carry on learning: There’s a famous Gandhi quote… ‘Live like you’ll die tomorrow, learn like you’re going to live for ever.’ I love it for urging us to never stop learning new things – facts, skills, whatever. We know that learning keeps our brains ticking over and wards off deterioration. I’m learning to hula hoop – there’s no time to explain why I took it up and my longer term plans if I succeed. Suffice it to say I’m still learning!

Some years ago I read a book called ‘How to Age by Anne Karpf. I was struck by her observation that we talk about ‘growing’ old but ageing is usually seen in negative terms – a winding down rather than a process of growth and development. The University of the Third Age is the fastest growing community organisation in my home town and that delights me (I’m hoping a new Men’s Shed will come a close second) as they share that thirst for learning in later life.

Carry on moving: For me that means running and walking, for others it may be swimming, cycling, even dancing. It doesn’t have to be long, hard or fast – just regular and enjoyable (which raises the brain’s serotonin and lowers cortisol; good for managing stress)

My wife works in the NHS and knows the stresses and strains that afflict the service. As  a consumer of a full range of medications over the past 20 years – from Prozac for depression to Alendronic Acid for osteoporosis – I consider it my duty to try to now stay clear of the health service for as long as possible through self-medication with connecting, creating, and carrying on.

Male, stale and in a Shed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZ1e8FVcWEo

No man’s land https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/?s=no+mans+land 

Let’s talk about health and haircuts

 

 

 

Mental Health Awareness week is 8-14 May but, like dogs at Christmas, talking about mental health is for life, not just one week a year. So what about the reference to ‘hair’ I hear you ask. Bear with me…

We all know that men (myself included) are not very good when it comes to talking about the ‘important stuff’ – personal feelings, health and wellbeing etc.

Great news then that various new campaigns – In Your Corner and Heads Together being just two – are focusing on removing the stigma around mental ill health and getting people to talk (particularly men) about emotional health.

One of the problem for well-meaning people is that they don’t quite know how the get conversations started – they worry about ‘saying the wrong thing’. But you needn’t worry – just starting a conversation is a major contribution in itself. Ask ‘how are you feeling today?’, resist the temptation to interrupt if there’s a pregnant pause, and above all, listen.

Choosing the right time is another concern – we all lead such active lives (which may be part of the problem!) and it’s easy to use ‘busy-ness’ as an excuse for delaying/ putting off the conversation.

Which is where hair comes in. Readers of an earlier blog will know I’m intrigued by the recent growth in the number (five at the last count) of barber shops in Royston where I live. Taking a lead from an initiative in London, I’ve launched a little local campaign – Two Heads – to get barbershops (a good place for head-to-heads) talking about men’s health. I’ve created a Facebook page and a resources pack for the five Royston barbers – with posters, a list of useful resources, including apps, organisations, and links to professionally produced information sheets. I’ve offered the barbers informal training in mental health awareness and the tell-tale signs of self-harm. Watch this space.

So what are you waiting for? Put together your own pack and get on down to your local barbers – whether or not you need a haircut (or, like me, have no hair worth cutting) – this Mental Health Awareness Week.

www.facebook.com/TwoHeadsHealth

https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2017/02/28/hair-care-in-the-barbers-chair/

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/mental-health-awareness-week

https://www.time-to-change.org.uk/news/be-in-your-mates-corner

https://www.headstogether.org.uk

 

 

 

 

 

Nine Healthy Signs (NHS)?

Some years ago a wiser man than I observed that, while the ability to demonstrate on the streets is often cited as a manifestation of democracy in action, this is not necessarily the case.

He argued that a public demonstration is, in fact, a last resort when all other means have failed to get our voices heard – as such is it a failure of the democratic process. He’d had more than enough time to come to this conclusion having spent many years in solitary confinement in a Middle Eastern jail – fallout from a clampdown on free speech.

Without meaning to make a trite comparison, it felt a bit like a last resort to me last week as we gathered in Tavistock Square (home of the British Medical Association’s HQ) to proclaim and reclaim #OurNHS. The march from WC1 ended in Parliament Square, home of a government that seems bent on dismantling the NHS in the name of increased efficiency – by which they mean meeting an ever-growing need with ever-decreasing resources. Even the best miracle cures cannot square that circle.

In the face of such apparent indifference to reality, ignoring the views of health professionals at the frontline, and a dogmatic refusal to consider other views, maybe marching, chanting, and singing is all we have left in our armoury to foster a sense of common purpose, fellowship and, however small, power and influence?

In the end the #OurNHS march was a great day out with family and the weather was kind. But it didn’t feel like a mass demonstration and the mainstream media coverage was disappointing, even the rallying speeches at the end seemed a bit tired. But in one respect the loudest noise was made, not by voices, but by the messages on placards and banners. Each competed for attention with their soundbite 140-character quips and some seriously clever imagery.

 

With camera phones capturing and communicating every detail, we live in hope that social media might somehow magnify the impact of the march itself and make it all worthwhile. Maybe those placard bearers will have the last laugh. I share some of their messages here in the hope they will help lift your spirits and stave off the need for you to use the NHS for a little longer.

Green and Grey Repurpose – standing desk

img_0006Did you know that standing up at work for an average 3 hours a day for a year is the equivalent calorie burn (approx 30,000 calories) of running ten marathons? I discovered this amazing statistic when I discovered a beautiful standing desk (the Eiger) at the Entrepreneurial Spark ‘Hatchery’ in Milton Keynes (where I also got excited about their reclaimed scaffold board tables).

I couldn’t afford the Eiger, so it got me thinking… could I make one by re-purposing a slatted wooden chair? I put a call-out for such a chair through our local Freegle group. I got offered three!

With a bit of head scratching (I haven’t got hair to pull out) I can up with a low-tech height-adjustable design which also folds flat for easy storage and/or transport. I’m pretty happy with the result – I use it now at my work – and some days I stand up all day.

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standing-desk-cropped

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I’m a runner, but I don’t do marathons (standing is more my scene)

9 more health benefits from using a standing desk:

  1. When sitting down, your metabolic rate crashes to an absolute minimum. You only burn 1 calories a minute – that’s less than chewing gum!
  2. As soon as you sit, electrical activity in your legs shuts down and enzymes that help break down fat drop 90%
  3. Sitting 6+ hours a day makes you up to 40% likelier to die in 15 years than someone who sits less than 3 hours (even if you exercise)
  4. Worldwide studies have warned that a sedentary lifestyle could be causing as many deaths as smoking
  5. People with sitting jobs have twice the rate of cardiovascular disease as those with standing jobs
  6. Regular exercise regimes do not negate the effects of a sedentary lifestyle – going to the gym two or three times a week isn’t enough
  7. Being sedentary slows down the circulatory system, blood, oxygen and vital nutrients
  8. In the UK, 30 million working days were lost in 2013 from musculoskeletal disorders
  9. Research published in The Lancet in 2016 on more than 1 million office workers found that sitting for at least 8 hours a day could increase the risk of premature death by up to 60%

Source: www.iwantastandingdesk.com  (click to learn more about the Eiger)

Interested in other re-purpose projects?  https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/category/green-grey-repurpose

Repair Shed Star – Bob

The Repair Shed brings older men (and women) together to stay healthier and happier for longer by making, mending and learning. Member profiles are based on recorded interviews by evaluator Nick Parsons

IMG_7958“Even when I’m out shopping for clothes with my partner, which I used to hate, I now look at the display units and think what we could make in the Shed”

Bob, Repair Shed member since July 2015

I really enjoy making things from wood. My background is in all aspects of computing – hardware and software. I’ve helped the odd shed member with their IT problems, but in fact getting away from computing and making things is really so relaxing and rewarding. Its learning old skills again that I learnt at school.

I come into the workshop every week, but also help on other days in the community. I helped with refurbishing an outdoor metal play train at a nursery, and went out to look at a lady’s kitchen which needed some work.

The Shed group works well – I like meeting other people. But it’s important to see others who may not be integrating so well, pair up and involve them.

Making something that was defunct work again is rewarding. I also get a buzz out of making something out of a pallet that would otherwise be scrapped. I’m now making things at home – always thinking about new ideas for things. Even when I’m out shopping for clothes with my partner, which I used to hate, I now look at the display units and think what we could make in the Shed. In the more ‘arty’ shops that have things made out of wood – I think – we could make something like that. I sometimes take photos to study back at home. Even my partner has started to look at things and suggest ideas for me!

I feel good, happy to be here meeting people. I always go away from a session with more information and understanding than when I arrived which is good. Everybody has experiences of life that they are happy to share. Having been out of work for three years, being in the Shed shows a commitment on my part and is a real boost to my confidence.

More about The Repair Shed at:

www.facebook.com/TheRepairShed                                www.communityactiondacorum.org/The-Repair-Shed

A circle of care

Circle of supportOn the eve of the first strike in 40 years by England’s junior doctor, I wanted to recount a very recent experience of the NHS.

Readers of this blog may remember that 13 months ago I shared my frustration with getting a hospital appointment in connection with prostate problems. The problems continue and yesterday – a Sunday evening – I arrived in A&E [Accident and Emergencies] at the same hospital in considerable discomfort. It was not an emergency, but my bladder thought differently.

I was greeted (yes, I do mean greeted) by a plain-clothed doctor who asked about my problem and even managed a joke “You don’t look old enough to have prostate problems!” Three hours later that same doctor helped me find my car (I’d parked in a hurry, taken a circuitous route through the hospital to get to A&E and, anyway, I had other things on my mind …)

The doctor handed me over to a colleague to get me booked in and I was given a wristband in case I got lost or the hospital confused me with a similarly young-looking 60-year-old. Over the following three hours, I was seen by ten health professionals in what, apart from one small hiccup, felt like a highly co-ordinated routine. All staff were consistently professional, communicative and, above all, caring. Remember this was a Sunday evening – the end of a weekend at a time which covered a shift change – with more urgent cases to be seen (including a younger man who’d overdosed and an older man who’d had a fall)

It confirmed what I already knew – NHS care is already 7 days a week; it has to be. I left A&E much-relieved (pun intended) that we have the health care system we do and so grateful to the dedicated professionals taking care of us. Thank you Addenbrooke’s Hospital.