Health, Lifestyle, Mens Health, Opinion

Movember. The Importance of asking ‘how are you’?

This will be the fifth occasion I have participated in Movember and it gets more important every year. Some might say the growing of a moustache is some gimmicky, hipster tradition to show the world ‘Hey, I’ll grow some ridiculous facial hair and get away with it for charity’. If you do think that, you are grossly missing the point.

I truly grasped the importance of Movember in the country where the movement originates, Australia. Over there hipsters seemingly lurk on every corner and moustaches are far more readily spotted. There does not seem to be a taboo over comical upper facial hair, but there does seem to be a taboo over men’s health.

Whenever I think of an Australian, I think of the men I met while doing my farmwork. Tough men who would work in the field all day and come in to a steak dinner. One of the phrases I often heard (though barely aimed at me) was ‘Take a spoonful of concrete and harden the fuck up’. Down under, readily talking about men’s health was frowned upon. Men would not discuss how they were feeling, they’d get their head down and carry on. This is largely the case in the UK where suffering alone is a tangible concern.

Few people ask that simple question, ‘how are you?’ My boss asks me that every so often as she knows there are times when I am struggling, whether that be with my workload or battling Seasonal Affective Disorder. She will take me a quiet area and we will have a ten minute chat where I can offload. It makes a huge difference to know that there is someone checking in on you. When was the last time you asked someone ‘how are you?’ and got a truthful response? ‘I’m alright ta’, when really you have just seen them walk in looking as if they have the world on their shoulders.

Getting men to talk emotionally is a huge challenge and admittedly there are few men I speak to whom I know I can truly offload to. Ask yourself, if you were having a hard time mentally, who would you admit that to? The statistics make for distressing reading –

. One in eight men have experienced a mental health problem

. The biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK is suicide

Men cannot afford to keep it all in and to borrow one of the foundations slogans, ‘Suicide notes talk too late’. Aside from mental health, there are two physical illnesses which Stand Up To Cancer thankfully highlighted last week; prostate and testicular cancer.

. One in eight men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point

. Testicular cancer is the most common form of cancer in men aged 25-49

And yet, do men talk about this? Not really, which is why the Movember Foundation is so vital. Simply talking about men’s health is one huge step and if that means me growing a moustache to raise awareness then great. Happy to.

 

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Fitness, Food, Health, Opinion

“You really should watch your weight”

“You should really watch your weight”. Six words that really should not be uttered in any social setting.

That statement is such a malicious thing to say. Directed at someone who has suffered from weight issues it is a heavy statement to endure. 48 hours later and it is still weighing heavy on my conscience.

I have always been conscious of my weight, likely over-conscious. Back in school I was a fat child and was teased largely until sixth form. It was tough and the emotional trauma stuck for a good few years after. Gradually I would learn not to give the taunts much shrift though occasionally I would bite and get involved in a slanging match. Once you get through that you develop a thick skin and learn not to get emotionally attached. Kids say things without thinking then they grow up and grow out of it, they learn that to get through life you need to show respect.

When I arrived at university I decided to do something, went on a diet and lost a considerable amount of weight. The feeling I got was one of accomplishment, that I had finally joined some sort of an exclusive health club. My weight has fluctuated since then, I have always carried some bulk but have built up a core fitness over time and watch what I eat. Right now I feel comfortable with my weight, well, I did until someone told me I really should watch my weight.

You do not expect to hear any grown adult come out with those six words. People past the age of 16 should know better than to mention someone’s weight. It is such a heartless, brainless, malignant, venomous statement that the words hit me like a sucker punch to the stomach. Did the person who dealt such a blow know the damage they could cause? Did they care?

I knew I should have put down the cake and walked away. I knew I should have walked outside in silence, partly out of shame that someone could say such a thing. I returned fire, insinuated that the commenter was all mouth and really did not handle it well. I simmered when I should have let it blow over me. I reacted when I should have shamed him. I should have made sure everyone knew what the troll had just said and see how it went down. Let the audience decide how odious a statement it is.

Bullies and trolls need to be ignored, starved of the oxygen and hate that fuels them. I have options. I can ignore the troll or I can make the statement come back to bite. Better still, I can use the statement whenever I grab some food in their vicinity. If the troll really meant what they said they won’t mind when I utter it amongst others, because you cannot take those words back. You should really watch what you say.

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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

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