10 Things You Like About Me…And One You Don’t

I am a big fan of self improvement. Whether that means spending time in the gym getting fitter and stronger, practicing mindfulness, planning my work schedule to be more efficient. I set high standards for myself and seek to always match and exceed them. I have always believed this to be, though extremely difficult, very important and worthwhile. In fact I almost see it as vital work in my life. Not only do I benefit, everyone around me does too. I am more at peace, my girl gets a sexier man, my employers get a better employee, it’s a win/win. Surely…

The reality is that my drive to always be better has often had negative implications for me. Firstly, I never live in the present. This is due to the fact that very few of the goals I set in life have a real “end game”. There is no final form for me to reach, so I never appreciate any progress made. Even when a goal or project has a clear end date, I rarely if ever celebrate my “success”. It’s happened now, so what? Move on. As you can imagine this leads to very unhealthy levels of self obsession, constantly existing in a space where nothing I do is good enough for me because there is always something else to achieve. Something else to improve. Yet as draining as this is, it is not the most detrimental fallout stemming from my “driven” mentality.

Simply put, my inherit sense of value is somewhere between worryingly low to nonexistent. I strive to improve not so much because I want to better, but because in doing, I gain a sense of value. That is not in and of itself a bad thing. It is the flip side, in which from not doing I gain a strong sense of worthlessness. If you told me ten things you like about me and one you did not, I would only see the one. It is something I am not doing. Something that I see as failure. I could simply take it on as something to work on without the added pressure and self loathing. I could even go a step further and accept that I am in fact not and never will be perfect and be at peace with my perceived flaws. But I don’t. I don’t give myself room to be imperfect, room to be appreciative of myself, room to simply be.

In the last three years many aspects of my mental health have improved. But my ability to pick apart every single piece of myself has stubbornly stuck around. It manifests in discussions with my girlfriend, it popped up at my work three month assessment (no joke, two questions in I had to tell my manager that we will disagree because I judged myself more harshly than anyone). It impacts my relationship with family. And most of all my relationship with myself. I recently returned to therapy with the main aim of addressing this very issue. Progress is slowly being made. Slowly. Being, for lack of a better word, successful at this goes against the very nature of how I have lived my life for about ten years now. It’s a total change in mentality and one that often feels overwhelming. But this, the ability to like myself without have to go out and prove something, without being perfect, this is something vital to me now. And credit to me for at least trying to break the habit of a decade. And any day you try has to be seen as

A good day

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Re: Recovery

When I started this blog in either 2012 or 2013 it was meant as anything more than a personal outlet, a way to try and get encouraging messages out to myself. Other people, mainly my friends and acquaintances around uni took notice and praised me for what I was doing. Generally there was one line that I kept hearing repeated to me in these positive affirmations of my writing; “Black men don’t talk about this stuff”. Soon I realised that I had some ability to speak to and reach out to people dealing many different forms of mental illness. I wrote more. People started asking me to write for their blogs and websites. Then people started asking me to speak on podcasts and such like. Run workshops and the lot. I became some kind of activist and it was a mantle I very much took to. In fact it became more like a calling to me. This undying desire and drive to do my utmost to raise awareness of, openly discuss and in whatever small way I can help provide solutions about mental health issues, particularly those facing Black communities. That desire has never changed but, something has.

Starting this blog coincided with me accepting help for my mental illness after about five years of suffering in silence and outright denying I needed help or that much was really wrong in the first place. The initial years were honestly the most difficult of my life so far (big statement as I am only 26 but hey ho). There was a misdiagnosis leading to ineffective treatment for me, difficulty accessing the care I needed as I learned just how complicated healthcare can be if you are a student who has moved out. My education was a disaster with the star student moniker that followed me until sixth form a distant memory by the time I failed my second year. Little if anything went right for me until 2014. I was back at my parents’ house. I decided that this was going to be it. Every bit of energy I had would go towards the sole mission of me sorting out my mental health. Once and for good. And it worked. Well I thought it did anyway.

After some part time work and an exciting foray into the London spoken word scene I finally secured the arts marketing job I had been chasing, two years after I graduated. I was creatively, professionally and personally fulfilled. I was in the gym often, made sweet gainz and chucked a lot of clothes out coz man was getting too hench and dat. I was reaching more people with my activism. Someone gave me money to talk about mental health at Cambridge University. Fam, I barely finished uni myself so that was all very mad for me. I was the positive, shining face of recovery. Been through the storm and made it out the other end with a testimony ready for all willing to hear it. Life decided to not be that simple.

In the last two months two episodes have led me to the decision to re-enter therapy. I am nowhere near as unwell as I was in 2012 or even 2014 but I had to look at myself and accept that perhaps I was not as well as I thought. And that shook me more than I came to realise. At the time of writing it is #WorldMentalHealthDay and that’s a fact that has been heavy on my mind. I have seen Black men talking about mental health more and more. On bigger platforms, reaching more people, hopefully changing minds and lives for the better. I see Brothers who have, at least from what is presented, made it through the storm. I hope that gives hope to many. But I wanted to speak from the other side.

The last few months, this turn in my health has made me question things I did not think I would. I ask myself if I am the right person to be speaking about this subject. I wonder if a guy who has increasing numbers of breakdowns and 2am tweet and delete sessions is putting out the right message, sending the right signals #fortheculture. I self-censored. I deliberately stopped talking about mental health when mine took a tricky turn. I still spoke…mainly to my therapist. But I was no longer going to take on that mantle. I became a recluse to myself, started to ignore and turn down opportunities to continue my work. Because I no longer felt good enough. This is me know, Not feeling worthy to speak about my won experience because my mind finds ways to convince me that this is fact. This is me in the tricky, oh so sticky parts of the process. So I want to open up for those going through the rough road of recovery too.

It is rough. This is probably the first of many bumps I will face. It has been and still is tough. But I have dealt with it. I am dealing with it. I have done better than I did before in some places. Not so much in others. I found that the bottle is still too good a friend of mine in the dark. But also that I can bounce back quicker than I ever could. I can produce the most brutal self-doubt and still knock myself down at a whim but I can also push through when I need to. I know that I need to learn that nothing I have done is invalidated by my recent struggles and current view on myself. Nothing I know is erased. Be it my knowledge of my own health or the general issues that impact wider mental health on a societal level. I am still valid, I am still valuable. Perhaps I can embrace that it is I am not valuable because I suffered and succeed, but because I suffer and persist. Maybe you can embrace that too. As I said at the start, my journey to becoming a somewhat mental health activist did not start with me being some shining example of recovery. I was a mess in the days of my early posts and yet those posts brought so much good to me and I hope others who have come across me since. So in short I guess I am trying to say that maybe the day of your ‘greatest achievement’ was not your best day. Maybe just maybe, the day you just about survived really was…

a good day

4th December 2014: Chama

My latest poem for Grey Matters

Grey Matters

Last month we shared Chama’s powerful piece on mental illnesses and relationships, in which he reminded us of this important message: “…a mental health problem does not mean your ability to love and be loved is doomed”.

Today, Chama is back with a poem and he wants us to remember that “[t]hough these illness are in us, part of us, they do not define us.”

For more poetry, click here.

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Indecision is Final

This summer, at the conclusion of the World Cup, BBC pundit Alan Hansen called time on his twenty year media career. Many will remember him for a comment he made about not being able to win things with kids and all that. But my abiding memory of his was his constant harshness on defenders. He would often point out the errors made when players, rather than making a choice to deal with a situation, took the comfort of sitting back, choosing safety, and being punished by conceding a goal. His view on defending has become one of my mantras for life. But sometimes we fall short of our expectations.

I believe that making decisions, making real decisions is the single most difficult thing in life. Most people drift through their existence not having to make anything close to what I would describe as a decision. We go to school because we have to, we follow the path expected of us from there, whether it is university or work, our paths are often laid out in front of us. This is not always a bad thing. But it does create a state of mind where comfort is the expected state of living and tough decisions are a deep internal conflict. Times when we have to chose what is hard over what is easy. What is right over what is comfortable. These are times when we make real decisions. For a broken mind, this state of flux can be very overwhelming.

I will say with certainty that the last year/eighteen months of my life has been filled with indecision. In my last piece I mentioned how suffering with a mental illness is not a choice. Dealing with one very much is a choice. Well, I did not make that choice. It is a miracle I graduated because my attendance was often below 50% and I am sure my university had grounds to kick me out. I did not hand in many mandatory pieces of work. I often went through 24hours spells of not leaving my bed. No exaggeration. But worst of all, I ignored the choice to get treatment. Speaking about what is wrong with me, making hospital appointments, owning up to the fact that I needed help, finding people who understand. All those things are decisions. Tough, scary but necessary decisions. Ones I didn’t make and ones I paid for. Indecision is final. But it is not fatal.

I am sure for some of you, this blog is merely an insight to the workings of a broken mind. For others it may hit closer to home. But there is one universal point I want anyone viewing these words to take from this. It takes one decision to change a life. Whether that is deciding to chase your dreams and abandon the comfort of a 9-5. Whether that is to leave an unhappy relationship. Or make your unhappy relationship a happy one by treating your partner better. Whether that is giving him or her another chance. Whether that is deciding to be sick of feeling like life lacks direction. Or whether that is deciding that the way you view life, the way you view yourself is not right. Comfort is too comfortable. Comfort makes us become too accustomed to unhealthy situations and states of living. We are almost geared to accept things as they are, for that is just the way it is. To that I say this.

Here you read the words of a man who has looked into the abyss and thought it was normal. It was just my life. Many of you told me you thought I was brave for being so open in my last post. I simply thought, hey, I’m just a guy talking about his life. Things that were normal to me. When we don’t decide to make positive change our lives become something we should not expect them to be. So over  the last week, I have decided to decide against indecision. No, I am not better. But the things I have been able to confront and address have actually surprised me! And you can do the same! Decide against the unacceptable comfort. Decide that doing it alone won’t work anymore. Decide that you deserve to be more than comfortable. Decide you deserve to be happy. Decide that you know it will be hard. Decide you know it is the right thing to do nonetheless. Decide that it takes one day, one decision to turn around a life. Decide to make today that day, to make today truly

                     a GREAT day

The Untitled

Summer 2013. A time of ups and downs. In July my sister and I (correct grammar out here!) visited New York City for a week. The weather was amazing, I even picked up a rather serious tan. Upon my return I went to Wireless festival and in the sweltering heat, which helped keep my holiday glow going, I joined my idol Nasir Jones in an epic east London rap-a-long session. Great times. Surely my abidding memory of the events of the fairest season of all from the year just gone by? Well…no. You see, I am no stranger to the devil’s necter. I will happily take a cold beer as a reward for a long days work. But we all got limits! And last summer I went past mine and then some. At one point I was going to bed drunk, waking up and before I got rid of my over night stank, I was downing bottle number 1..2..3. When I look back it is hard to say what summer 2013, a three month period in a life of twenty-three years, really was. Was it a happy time? A desperate period and a cry out for help? What was that chapter in my book of life?