My name is Gary and I’m mental. No really, I am. I live with depression, acute anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder on an everyday basis. I’m tri-mental. I really don’t care who knows, so let’s talk about it.
The majority of people who seek help and support for their mental health are women, yet around 78% of people who kill themselves are men. These figures are echoed all around the world. Mental illness is an equal opportunity affliction so there’s a huge disparity somewhere. Mental health has long been a taboo subject. It’s something we’d rather not discuss in polite conversation. Why is that? Every one of us has mental health so why not talk about something we all share. We might not all have mental ill health, but the way we deal and talk about it has to change.
One in four of you reading this are as mental as I am. That is to say, you’ll experience mental illness at some point in your life. Maybe that time is now, perhaps it’s in the past or it could be still to come. Who really knows, but the fact is it really doesn’t matter. Mental illness, in all its guises, form part of who we are, but it’s not there to define who we are. I learned that lesson the hard way, I hope you don’t have to.
My mental health deteriorated when I became ill. During most of 2008 I was suffering with severe stomach pains. They would appear for a couple of days and they would go again. Like an unwelcome house guest, gradually the pain would come and stay for longer and longer periods and it hurt more and more. Despite not being a massive fan of going to the doctors, the pain was so bad that I couldn’t stop myself. I went every few weeks for about six months.
'My life turned upside down'
Every time I visited, I was given ‘something’. Medication for a stomach bug….or spasms…or kidney infections….or Irritable Bowel Syndrome. None of them fixed it, because the root cause of my problem wasn’t identified. One night in late October the pain was too much to bear. My wife rang NHS Direct who, in turn, called an ambulance. My local A&E said it was gastroenteritis and sent me home. Two days later I was back and they finally admitted me. Within 48 hours, my life turned upside down.
From a Saturday night admission to a Sunday night bout of emergency surgery, I woke up in the High Dependency unit of my local hospital with tubes and wires coming out of almost every orifice and some-sort of bag stuck to my side. The morphine pump kept me sedated, but the chaos around me was about to get very real. I had developed diverticulitis and the internal damage had cause my colon to burst. You know that face you’re pulling right now, imagine how I was feeling!
Afterwards, as my physical health was starting to improve, my mental health was deteriorating. The sheer shock of what had transpired had a massive impact on me and my family. I’d also recently lost my only uncle and my beloved dog. On top of that my wife and I had become parents just two months earlier, so life as I knew it was unrecognisable. My head was struggling to keep up.
'I didn't seek help, but I needed it'
I don’t mind admitting that I didn’t cope with having a colostomy bag very well. I didn’t cope with it physically or mentally. I felt weak against those who live with one all the time and seem to manage just fine. All I know was that I couldn’t…and I didn’t. I became withdrawn from my family and friends and I became easily irritable. I was embarrassed and ashamed, but I wouldn’t talk about it. It’s not what men do is it. I wouldn’t seek help because I didn’t realise, or maybe accept, I needed it. But I did. Oh boy did I!
Even after the operation was reversed a year later, I could still feel the bag on my skin, I could still smell it in the air, I could still see it under my clothes, even when it clearly wasn’t there. It began to haunt my dreams, night after night. I began a blog to help me cope. I’ve always loved to write and so, to help myself make sense of things, I began to document my thoughts to try and understand why I felt like that. Could the internet help me understand what I couldn’t? Gradually that blog grew, it attracted more followers and then….it died. Well it didn’t die, but it certainly went into a coma for a while. Until this year when it was reborn, not solely as a blog, but a website devoted to men and mental health called . See what I did there?
Men Tell Health is designed to be different. There are many great sites out there when it comes to mental health, but they all seem to look the same way and they all talk about an admittedly difficult subject in the same way, but the thing is, we’re all different, so we are trying to do something different.
I want to help those men who, like me, go through life fighting the good fight, keeping that ‘stiff upper lip’ and stubbornly refusing to accept they have a problem. Men? Stubborn? I know, right!
The fact is life is a pain in the arse at times. As people, never mind as men, we’re simply not designed to cope with everything life can through at us. We simply are not. Sooner or later, something is going to break and asking for help is not a matter of pride or weakness, it’s a matter of fact.
I said at the beginning that something has to change and the site is here to try and stimulate that change. It’s not arrogant enough to believe it has all the answers, but if you’re looking for information and signposts to people who can help you, or to explain mental illness in a way that delivers knowledge and humour, with just a touch of honesty, it’s a good place to start.
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