The cracks are starting to show…

“Share this to show you’re willing to listen”. “It’s good to talk”. “My Door’s always open.”. Positive in intent, posts like these abound on Facebook and other forms of Social Media, designed to promote awareness of mental health issues. Amongst men, misguided testosterone-fuelled bombast often muddies these waters with trite nonsense like “Stiff upper lip”, “Grow a pair”, “Man up” – cliched and old-fashioned attitudes that can make men feel inhibited when it comes to sharing their feelings and talking about mental health issues.

This is extremely damaging; recent statistics for the UK demonstrate that whilst the overall suicide rate rose to 11 deaths per 100,000 in 2019, for men alone that figure rises to 16.9 deaths per 100,000. The stigma of talking about feelings needs to be discarded in favour of more openness in the male mindset. Talk doesn’t have to indicate that something is wrong, it’s all about keeping mentally and emotionally fit. Gym for your mind, not your abs!

Listening but not talking?

Thinking of myself for a moment, I have never been one to intentionally hide behind male bravado beyond occasional inappropriate levity, despite having played rugby (with its perceived “manliness”) on-and-off for nearly 40 years! I feel honoured that many friends, who feel able to talk and share, have found a willing confidante in me over the years and have been comfortable sharing. I don’t feel however, that I’ve done enough talking myself. I’ve not consciously avoided doing do, nor have I arrogantly believed I didn’t need to. I think perhaps, a comparison with how I approach nerves during amateur dramatics (I used to be involved in local Village Hall pantomime) would explain better…

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My village puts on a Pantomime each year, and for seven of the last ten years I’ve had a principle role. My semi-eidetic memory serves me well for line learning, but what of stage fright and coping with a large watching audience for several performances? Simple. I just pretend the audience isn’t there! I go about my business, interacting with fellow cast members and saying my lines. I just get on with it. You can of course see the audience but not so clearly, given the hall lights are down and the spotlight is shining on the stage. So, my approach serves me well. I certainly couldn’t have used it during my speech at my wedding, when I was a nervous wreck in front of a room full of my nearest and dearest…all of whom I could see as clear as day as I stood up to say my piece!

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So, I’ve been “just getting on with it” as far as life goes; unintentionally pretending those stresses life throws up occasionally aren’t there, as if I was on stage in panto. Cracks are starting to show however…

A job I hate for many reasons, financial stresses, peer envy and self-esteem issues, being overweight and associated health problems, covid-19 restrictions, mounting anxiety…it’s all a slowly building maelstrom. I’m sure that all contributed towards me experiencing palpitations and chest pain, and getting taken to hospital to be checked out last week. I’m certain as well, that the fact my already short temper is now a paper-thin hair trigger and the ease at which I find fault with others, has its roots in my suppressed anxiety and related things.

It really IS good to talk

Just when I was beginning to sit up and take notice of all of this, a friend of mine invited me to a Facebook group called “Talk Club North Somerset”. Talk Club (more information HERE) has been set up by a gent who lost a childhood friend to suicide. My friend who invited me to this one had had a positive experience at a talk club in Bristol, and he wanted to set up one more local to us.  The premise is very simple – talk in small groups of guys, respectfully sharing and listening to others sharing. Keeping mentally fit.

I’m writing this having just come back from that first meeting and I have to say it was a very positive experience. As the publicity material says (link in the previous paragraph) “…a positive space for all men to talk openly and lighten the load of life.”  For the guys amongst you, I have to say…if you’re feeling the need to talk, do it. Keep yourself mentally fit, find what relaxes you, and don’t be afraid to share…like the cathartic experience of writing this blog, it truly is good to talk.