Tag Archives: mental illhealth

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 

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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

 

 

 

 

 

A spot of bother – No man’s land # 1

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

tedxtalkI’m standing on stage, on a circular bright red carpet. 80 strangers, spotlights and cameras are watching my every move and wanting to hear what I have to say. Silence – my mind has gone blank and I’m thinking ‘Uh-oh, I’m in a spot of bother here. What now?’

I’m tempted to run and hide, but I don’t. I stare at the carpet for what seems like an age and suddenly I’m back on track – not fluent, but continuing to talk about being male, stale and in a shed.

I’ve been a fan of TED Talks for many years (I’m amazed that many of my contemporaries haven’t yet discovered them) which is why I helped organise a TEDx event in Bedford in June 2013 – a local ‘little TED’ that uses the big TED branding and talks format and rules.

My chance to give a TED talk came three years later when I learnt that a TEDx Chelmsford event was being planned for June 2016. It’s not just a question of turning up; I had two auditions with feedback from the organisers to meet the big TED requirements, including having ‘ideas worth sharing’ – the TED strapline.

The appeal of TED Talks for speaker and audience is that none are longer than 22 minutes and many are shorter than that. My own TEDx Talk, including the pregnant pause, came out at around 14 minutes 30 seconds and was then edited down to 12 minutes 55 seconds.

When invited to submit a subject for consideration, I had no hesitation – reflections on being an older man, associated issues around health and wellbeing, and the role of sheds in men’s lives. ‘Male, stale and in a Shed’ was born – an important step in my mission to help keep older men (including myself!) healthier and happier for longer.

To start at the end, I had discovered a very special kind of shed – the Men’s Shed – nearly five years earlier. There’s no such thing as a typical Men’s Shed; most are not even sheds. In Maldon in Essex the local Shed occupies a former mortuary, in Bedford the shared workspace is in a community arts centre, while in Bristol their sports pavilion premises means they don’t disturb the neighbours.

The common theme is that the facilities are communal and accessible to men (and increasingly women) of all ages and abilities. Most shedders (as we are known) tend to be 50+. I call them NIPPERS (Not in Permanent Paid Employment, or Retired) because they’re so young at heart. Many are returning to, or learning afresh, woodworking, metal working and other making and mending activities. The most important elements of a sustainable Men’s Shed are tea and a table for planning and playing around the particular skills and interests of the Shedders. In other words… DIY at it’s most human – self-organised and mutual-supported in equal measure

I’ve been interested in woodworking and doing practical things with my hands from an early age. We always had a workshop at home and one of my dad’s best friends was a master builder. I played ‘chippy’s mate’ from primary school age and into adulthood I’ve made functional furniture (with a specialism in beds) that won’t win any prizes but works. Five decades on from my initiation into the wonderful world of woodwork, and two and half years after helping to set up The Repair Shed in Hemel Hempstead, I realise that my relationship with Men’s Shed is as the best mortice and tenon joint should be – a great fit.

man-on-the-spotBack to that red carpet in Chelmsford on 16 June 2016 and, soon after my first, faltering and frustrating experience of giving a TEDx Talk, I made two resolutions. First, given my difficulty in memorising (a TED rule) even a 15-minute talk, I would stick to talking with notes in future. Secondly, I would write a series of blogs that could shelter under a ‘no man’s land’ umbrella; you’ve just read the first in that series.

Further information:

Male, stale and in a Shed  http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/Male-stale-and-in-a-shed-Chris 

When doctors prescribe sheds instead of meds  http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/chris-lee/no-mans-land-when-doctors_b_13073266.html?1479745146

UK Men’s Sheds Association www.menssheds.org.uk