Disclaimer: This post discusses post traumatic stress disorder and the events leading to diagnosis. I am not a trained medical professional, if you are affected by anything in this post then please seek professional support.
Last week I introduced you to Men Tell Health, a mental health project that supports men through their mental health problems and encourages men to talk about their feelings. It’s an important project and a cause that I’m passionate about. Last week’s post was a little introduction to Men Tell Health – if you haven’t read it you can do so here. This week’s post is about how the project came about and why it’s important for men to talk about their mental health.
How and why did Men Tell Health come about?
There’s no real short way to tell the story, but I’ll do my best!
I guess Men Tell Health really started in 2008. I had been ill for about six months, starting in the May of that year and gradually getting more poorly, despite multiple diagnoses from multiple doctors.
In those six months as my health deteriorated, my wife and I also had our first child and my beloved dog had died and, with me getting worse, I wasn’t in the best place physically or mentally. It felt like life was hitting me from all sides.
In the November, I was really quite ill and after being admitted to hospital twice in a week, I was finally admitted for tests. Through the Saturday night and into Sunday morning, I had a whole list of tests done, culminating in a CT scan at around 4pm on the Sunday afternoon. That ultimately revealed my colon had burst. Yeah, you know that face you’re pulling? Imagine how I felt!
By 9 o-clock that evening I was in the operating theatre for a 5-hour operation. I woke up in the high dependancy ward of my local hospital with tubes and wires coming out of every orifice, 81 staples down my chest and a colostomy bag on my side.
I don’t mind telling you that I didn’t cope with having a stoma very well.
Certainly not over the next 11 months before it was reversed. I didn’t cope with it very well physically, and I really didn’t cope with it mentally. I felt embarrassed, I felt ashamed, I felt ashamed that I felt ashamed. So many people have one their whole life and manage just fine. Why couldn’t I? On top of all this, we had a new baby to cope with and my uncle, who I was very close to, died in the same hospital, just a couple of wards away. Sufficed to say, I was a bit of a mess.
Over the next couple of years, even after the stoma was reversed, I gradually changed.
From the happy-go-lucky, extrovert guy I was, I withdrew from family and friends, I became short-tempered, I got angry, I withdrew into myself and isolated myself away from everyone. I would pretend to be tired just to get away from people. I stopped going out, I stopped doing the things I loved.
Although I didn’t know it at the time and even though the colostomy bag was gone, I was convinced that it was still there. I could see the outline under my clothes, I could smell it, I could feel it on my skin. I couldn’t of course, it wasn’t there but try telling my brain that. During the night I would have flashbacks of the bag, that it had burst all over the bed. I would wake up and could smell it, even see it all over the bed, but again, it wasn’t there.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I had developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.
Once I was diagnosed in early 2011 and started on medication and eventually undertook EMDR therapy.
I finally felt like things made sense and my recovery could begin. Of course I started to look online for any help I could find and to try and understand this condition that, until then, I thought only military personnel had.
I searched high and low for websites that would speak to me like a person, not a machine.
I didn’t want to be talked ‘at’, I wanted to be talked to, like a mate would talk to me, not like my boss would. I couldn’t find a site like that, so I thought I’d create one myself.
Men Tell Health initially was just a blog. A place for me to write, something I’ve always loved doing. I used writing as a cathartic experience to try and make sense of my befuddled brain. As I gained some of my ‘old’ personality back, I tried to inject humour into my writing; at least I thought it was funny.
It seemed to work; my blog came runner-up in the “This Week in Mentalists” blogging network for best humour blog. I always knew I wanted the site to be more than ‘just a blog’ and, after the birth and death of that blog, it was finally resurrected in November 2015 into what it is now. All done by my fair hand – whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, only you can judge!
Why is it important for men to talk about their mental health problems?
It’s important for everyone to talk about mental health problems, but more so with men.
Far too many men try to soldier on, keep the British ‘stiff upper lip’ pretending everything is fine, even when it absolutely is not.
Culturally, I think it’s hard for men to talk about their feelings. It might sound like a cliche, but how do you think a cliche becomes a cliche?
This doesn’t just apply to mental health, but sadly mental ill-health can affect so much more of your life.
Men have to talk to someone about how they feel. That can be anyone; it doesn’t have to be a therapist or a counsellor. Just talk to your mate, your partner, your sibling, your parents, anyone. Taking that first step to talk is so important. I can’t stress that enough.
To illustrate the point, I often reverse the question when speaking to men about it.
I ask them “What would you do if your mate was suffering?”
Literally, everyone I’ve spoke to said they would support them. So why would it be any different if they were the ones doing the talking? Simply put, it wouldn’t. I’m not saying it’s always an easy conversation to have at first, but it’s one you absolutely should be having. Everyone should. Mental illness should be treated the same as a physical illness and so should the support offered.