For Men’s Health Week (12th – 17th June 2017) we asked men at Leeds Mind to share their thoughts on Mental Health. This is Paul’s story.
Q: What did you used to think about Mental Health?
Back in 1994 I was 27 years old, after a career working mainly in factories (engineering) as well as the army, in shops, as a taxi driver and in pubs etc. I decided to embark on a change in career (or start a career!!) – I had always enjoyed caring and helping people, so I went back to college and began studying sociology, psychology, health & social care as a mature student whilst juggling various part time jobs (Mature at 27? I’m now in my 50th year and I still would not class myself as mature?!).
“It was something that was never discussed, we didn’t know how to, we had no information…I believed mental health was the other people in the world…”
I then started to apply for jobs in the Health and Social Care sector. I was fortunate to get an interview with an organisation that cared for and supported adults with learning disabilities with challenging behaviour. One of the questions in my interview was “What is stress and how do you cope with stress?” Being a typical northern male my answer consisted of “There’s no such thing, it’s made up, you just have to do the best you can; worrying is a waste of time and it’s a sign of weakness if you are stressed about it. Being strong and taking life’s knocks on the chin is the only way to deal with things.” When I was asked the question I had never really even considered the word ‘stress’ (the word stress to me fitted more into an engineering concept), certainly never discussed it at school or with friends or with family – it’s something that was never discussed, we didn’t know how to, we had no information, we only had our perception of how the tabloid media reported stress and mental health. I believed mental health was the other people in the world, it was the strange guy who lived down the road, it was the smelly woman who was always on the number 26 bus smoking and talking to herself, it wasn’t one of my tribe!
“I understand that talking (to anyone you feel is appropriate to you) about your thoughts and feelings is okay and helpful.”
Q: What do you think about Mental Health now?
Fast forward 23 years to today and my answer to that question would be massively different. Now I understand it, I understand the signs and symptoms (physical, psychological and behavioural) not only of myself but I can also understand and can be empathetic of others mental health. I understand its fluid, it’s very subjective and at times complex but also quite simple. I understand we all have mental health, that we can all have difficulties with our mental health, and there is not always a logical reason to why you feel how you feel. I understand if we are given the tools to help us deal with our distress then we are empowered. I understand that talking (to anyone you feel is appropriate to you) about your thoughts and feelings is okay and helpful. I understand that talking about how you are feeling takes practice and time – especially if it is something you are not used to doing. I understand that I have the answers and choices and therefore the control. I understand that every day is different and I understand that mental health can manifest itself in many ways and in many guises.
Q: Do you have any lived experience you could share?
Recently work was pressured, I entered into a new role – I was excited by this role and had a vision of success and positivity (I am by default a glass more than half full sort of guy – there’s always a positive), over a period of time I was finding myself in situations where I felt I was way out of my comfort zone way too many times, I became very self-critical, waking up early – constantly worrying and thinking and catastrophising situations, feeling responsible and accountable and answerable on everything – both inside and outside of work! Yeah – stress and anxiety don’t just clock themselves in and out of work – they follow you. I felt I didn’t have the skills or experience to do justice to the role (management role – although I had been in management roles for over 12 years, so I certainly wasn’t naive to management and its natural demands), I was struggling, I was sinking. Then my grandma died (aged 98 – but boy does it hit you). It made me think, it made me go back to perspective, it made me reflect on what is really important and what is not.
“Work was understanding, work was helpful, work allowed me to take control… I was given time, I was given choice, I was empowered.”
I needed to be off work for a small period of time otherwise I would have become really ill. Work (colleagues, peers, manager, senior managers) were supportive, work was understanding, work was helpful, work allowed me to take control (where appropriate). I was given time, I was given choice, I was empowered. My wife was supportive and understanding – I wasn’t a failure, I wasn’t weak, I wasn’t flakey – I was human. My role has now changed – I am now doing what I enjoy (most of the time) and yes it has its stresses, it has its challenges, but these are managed, contained and I feel supported. I have sought help from professionals, I have sought support from work, I have talked to colleagues, I have been honest with myself, I have been understood!
Oh and by the way – yeah, back in 1994 I got the job!
Mindwell – Mental Health information for everyone in Leeds.
#oktosay #itsokaytotalk #MensHealthWeek