Movember. From Down Under to Over Here.

On Saturday morning I had a shave and, as usual, I ended by trimming my sideburns. Nothing new there yet for the rest of November I will forgo my upper lip and grow a moustache. I will not be alone, over four million across 21 countries have participated in Movember and this will be my third time, the first since returning to the UK.

So it begins

So it begins

The rules are pretty simple –

1. Start clean shaven on November 1st
2. Grow and groom a moustache for the entire month
3. Don’t fake it. No beards and no fake moustaches
4. Use the moustache to spark a conversation of men’s health
5. Conduct yourself like a true gentleman

Movember has steadily grown in popularity since 2003 and has raised over £345 million towards improving men’s health. It should not come as much of a surprise to know that the movement has its origin in hipster heavy Melbourne. In fact, the co-founders; Justin Coghlan, Travis Garone, Luke Slattery and CEO Adam Garone are all Melbournites.

Having lived in the city for a year I know full well how commonplace moustaches are in Victoria’s capital. You can walk through Brunswick or down uber-trendy Chapel Street during any other time of the year and you will see lads my age sporting facial fuzz. To that extent, growing a moustache while in Melbourne, and Australia in general, is not that daunting so now I am back in Blighty there is a worry as to what I may endure going through November.

You see, the main point of Movember is not to just raise money for men’s health but to raise awareness. As women check their breasts for lumps, men should check their balls. It is that simple yet to try and get men (especially Poms) to chat about prostate or testicular cancer and you can expect a few dropped heads and shuffled feet. Perhaps this is due to masculinity yet part of overcoming that is, as an Australian would say, “sucking it up”.

The ability to talk up is probably one of the reasons why Movember has been so successful down under. If an Australian has a problem, more often than not they will open up and confront it. Simply getting an issue into the open can go a long way to helping solve it which is a trait I have a lot of respect for. I won’t lie, having returned to Blighty I really miss that aspect of Australia where you could say something and not worry about it being taken the wrong way. There was little, if any, shirking.

Pride plays a part in all this and there is no shying away from it, for a significant proportion of men in this country growing a moustache is seen as a challenge. Beards are still en vogue yet there is a sense that a man can hide behind the beehive-esque growth on his face. Moustaches are now considered a bit camp, a little silly and thus far more daring. Think of the moustache and you think of Tom Selleck in Magnum PI, the Village People and Borat. They simply cannot be taken seriously and part of me is actively hoping for someone to look up, stare then giggle at the pathetic wisps of hair on my upper lip. Do it, I dare you.

From what I have seen so far there simply is not the clamour for Movember here as there was in Australia. Let me give you some background. Just a few weeks after arriving I had begun working for Rabobank in Sydney in October 2011. I had considered doing Movember yet needed convincing so was pleased to find a makeshift Movember board had been set up to track the progress of the entire Key Acquisitions team of which I was a part of. Around five more from around the office took part and there was a sense of safety in numbers. Photos would be pinned up every week and you could vote for your favourite MoBro then donate. I could walk around the city knowing full well that I could bump into a MoBro and feel proud that I was part of such a good cause.

Here it is markedly different. This is the first week of Movember and few in my office have heard of Movember, let alone decided to participate. Among my friends I am the only one bothering which kinda frightens me. I wonder if this is a generational thing, that for Poms my age the thought of growing a moustache is seen as far too uncouth.

One of the things that I have noticed since returning is how style-conscious lads have become here. As if blinded by fashion, I can walk down the street and see the same skinny jeans, anorak and douchebag swept haircut countless times. At least in Australia the men dared to look different, which largely meant scouring the racks in thrift shops and vintage stores. They were confident enough to pass on labels and cultivate an individual style which made Movember seem so easy to them and why I am worried about standing out next month.

Movember might not be as well known here yet that is improving. The Football League has introduced a Movember ball for the month and several celebrities have created awareness themselves. The likes of Stephen Fry, Ricky Gervais, Clive Owen and Damian Lewis have all participated. Like me, perhaps they will all look ridiculous too but at least it is for a good cause.

Mama and More
Fitness, Food, Football, Health

Shedding some light on Seasonal Affective Disorder

It’s that time of the year again. No, not Christmas but when winter begins to set in and around two million people in the UK start to suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder.

I first realised I suffered from SAD back in my freshers year of university. Thinking it was homesickness or just a case of stress I dismissed it, then I spoke to my mother. My second assumption was that she was just missing her firstborn until her nursing expertise kicked in and she confirmed that I had SAD. Personally, I still think there is a lack of awareness of the condition which can be argued for mental illness in general. I want to tell people why I don’t want to come out or why I look so morose at work yet saying that I suffer from SAD seems like a way out. There is a worry that colleagues think I am being dramatic or friends perceive that I am suffering from the ‘winter blues’. Anyone who has admitted that they suffer from a type of depression will relate to how difficult it is, helping people understand the effects will hopefully help.

While an increase in ‘melancholia’ during the winter months has been recorded throughout history, this specific type of depression was first noted in 1845. An example would be a ship’s doctor who would observe that the crew were becoming lethargic during the shorter days and treated this with bright artificial light. It was not until the 1980’s that the condition was formally recognised as a disorder. Little of the condition has changed since then.

The symptoms remain the same; that of a low mood and a general lack of interest in life. From personal experience I can note that the condition does not just hit you, it can take weeks before you realise you have not been acting quite like yourself recently. On this occasion I thought I was simply pissed off with friends letting me down yet this heightened irritability was my warning sign. Alas, I have already begun my few months of hibernation and started to withdraw socially.

I find myself hiding from public view, not out of a want to save money but from a perpetual sense of worry. Specifically, I worry about my mood swings and how I might react to an off remark made in jest. Whereas before I could quip back, now I react; whether spitefully or just by wanting to make a quick exit. I simply do not want to put myself in a position where I will behave ruefully. Put simply, I cannot trust myself.

My judgement remains clouded throughout the day, from headaches to feelings of hopelessness and pessimism. From the moment I wake up I overthink; shall I shave today? What tie shall I wear? Is that jacket the most suitable for the short walk to work? My job necessitates that I make around 50 judgement calls daily. While I used to find that quite easy when I started anxiety, a sense of doubt and difficulty concentrating makes me over-analyse every single one. Are you sure about that? I ask myself the same question so many times during the day that I wonder whether simply staying in bed is a safer way to spend the day so I don’t make any mistakes or create any more problems for myself.

Apart from the nausea and the perpetual dull ache in my head there are more generalised symptoms. One of them is an emotional displacement, I simply do not feel much these days. Jokes that would normally make me laugh fail to register and I genuinely find it harder to see the bright side of life. I try to aid this by doing things that usually cheer me up. For example, I bought two pairs of trainers this week which would tend to brighten my mood yet I have simply worried whether they actually fit me. It becomes very difficult to find enjoyment when doing the same things that you thought you enjoyed.

I have tried to plan activities to give me something to look forward to yet I then worry whether friends will be able to attend or if the weather will behave or if I can afford it. In the next few weeks I have Royal Blood to look forward to, Halloween, Bonfire Night and The Good Food Show yet at the moment I simply look at them as scribblings on a calendar. However, I need distractions, I need things to take my mind off this overall sense of meh.

There are physical symptoms as well. Despite my reasoning that longer nights pre-empted my going to bed sooner a tendency to oversleep is another symptom. There is also the threat of insomnia to consider which makes waking up a whole lot harder though a light box does help mimic rising with the sun.

My 10k run was a couple of weeks ago yet a general lack of energy means I have bought myself winter running shoes in an effort to get more exercise. A weekly parkrun is not enough, I need to spend more time outside which will mean getting up for a run before work as soon as the clocks change, perhaps before then.

My diet is also affected. Yes, I am aware that Christmas is coming so there will be more treats in the office and a general inclination to eat more which makes SAD more potent. Another symptom is overeating, specifically carbs, that coupled with a lack of energy means putting on weight becomes a whole lot easier. A decreased sex drive is another symptom but I currently don’t have to worry about that…

There is some science behind all this, mainly due to the reduced exposure to sunlight. At last check, the condition affected 12 million across Northern Europe with long winters being a contributory factor, and maybe why I barely noticed SAD while in Australia. You see, light stimulates the hypothalamus; the part of the brain which controls mood, appetite and sleep. This effects the body’s circadian rhythm (internal clock) as well as the production of the hormones melatonin and serotonin.

However, there are means of combating the condition. The light box I mentioned earlier is one yet concentrated light therapy (sitting in a room full of bright light) and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy have also been found to help. Antidepressants, such as St John’s Wort, and Vitamin D supplements due to the lack of sunlight are recommended.

Like mental illness in general, SAD is not something that can be switched off or swept under the carpet. It is a condition that pervades nearly every thought and has a markedly detrimental effect on the physical health of a sufferer. Though there are pills that can help sometimes the best therapy is simply making people aware. Writing this has proved cathartic, not just from setting out what it is I am suffering from but to try and shed some light on it, when sunlight is what I am missing. Roll on Spring.

Mama and More