How Sure Are You? Introducing HIV Self-Testing Kits

Last month, Superdrug announced it’s the first high street retailer to offer a HIV self testing kit across all of its 200 Pharmacy stores.
The launch of the HIV self test kits in-store coincides with The Lancet’s recent findings of a ‘dangerous complacency’ to global HIV epidemic risks. In the UK while HIV rates are falling overall, they do remain persistent in marginalised groups, particularly heterosexual women, younger people, and those over the age of 50 – this age group accounted for 9% of new diagnoses in 2006 and 17% in 2015.
Early diagnosis is crucial for HIV treatment, and self testing provides a vital role in the prevention of late diagnosis. During 2015 61% of women and 51% of HIV positive men were diagnosed late. Resulting in mortality within this group being 24 times more than that of the UK population.
About BioSure
BioSURE HIV Self Test offers a new way to think about HIV, it’s simple, accurate and convenient for anyone who wants to test and know their status on their own terms.
The BioSURE HIV Self Test is the global first approved to use blood, similar to those used in a clinical environment. No HIV test is easier, it needs only a fraction of a drop of blood and gives an easy to read results in just 15 minutes – compared with an often agonising 72 hour+ wait.
Brigette Bard, CEO at BioSure, said; “It’s time to change the conversation, take control, and end this epidemic! We are passionate about allowing people to make informed choices and assume responsibility for their own healthcare.
“Knowing your status is the necessary first step. Around 37 million people worldwide live with HIV or AIDS and there are an estimated 1.8 million new cases every year however, it is an entirely manageable condition with normal life expectancy. Once HIV is virally suppressed (undetectable) you can’t even pass the virus on – meaning together with education and innovation we can end this epidemic!”
The facts:
  • Did you know that HIV is now completely treatable and a person can have a normal life expectancy, and, with the right treatment, the person can’t even pass the virus on…but early diagnosis is the key?
  • During 2015 over half of all new HIV diagnoses in the UK were diagnosed late, resulting in mortality rates being increased by 24 times more than that of the general population.***
  • Around 37 million people worldwide live with HIV or AIDS and there are an estimated 1.8 million new cases every year.
  • Despite being treatable HIV/AIDS remains the biggest killer of women aged 15-44 years.
During this year’s hugely impactful and successful International AIDS Conference 2018, Prince Harry and Elton John both spoke out about the importance of self testing for HIV.
Why? Because it is so discreet, easy and empowering, and therefore vital in ending the epidemic! So…BioSure is asking; do you know your status?
BioSURE is available now from Superdrug stores priced £33.95, which you can purchase here.

What Does It Mean To Be A Real Man?

My work in the mental health arena has allowed me the opportunity to analyse a number of different aspects of this increasingly important issue, and in particular men’s mental health. One question that crops up time and time again is ‘what do you think makes a real man?’ There are many misconceptions and stereotypes about what makes a real man and when I started to write about this, it seemed to come out as more of a poem or spoken word piece than a blog. I’m delighted to say my words have been made into a short video by men’s mental health charity Brothers In Arms, which I’ll post as soon as I can. In the meantime here are my words on this subject.

‘Real Men’

What does it mean to be a real man?

Real men know how to put their foot down, and throw a punch.

Real men lift weights, watch football, they love a day at the races and a night at the boxing.

Real men build houses, they build roads and the engines that occupy them.

Real men are the life and soul of the party, and have all the best jokes.

Real men have a short back and sides, they love fast cars, expensive suits and have sleeves of tattoos.

Real men had tough upbringings and have all the scars to prove it.

Real men are bread winners, they never complain and never see a doctor.

Real men can drink you under the table.

Real men have all the best chat-up lines.

Real men join the police force, the fire brigade, the military.

Real men are independent, dominant, assertive and never let anyone or anything bother them.

Real men, are killing themselves, every single day.

Real men show emotion, they open up, talk about their feelings and don’t judge others when they do the same.

Real men need an arm around them, more than you know.

Real men get their heart broken, they get nervous, shy, show vulnerability.

Real men suffer from anxiety, stress, panic attacks.

Real men are meat eaters, vegans, vegetarians and pescetarians.

Real men are dancers, hairdressers, flight attendants…nurses.

Real men are from all backgrounds, classes and religions and come in all shapes and sizes.

Real men cry…for as long as it takes.

Real men, are only human.

and real men,

Are missed by those they leave behind.

I’ll ask you again, what does it mean to be a real man?

Do You Ever Feel Depressed After Sex?

So a friend of mine recently came to me and asked me about a sex related issue – which of course isn’t always easy for a guy to approach another guy about. It wasn’t quite what you might expect though, he asked me – “do you ever feel depressed after sex?” From personal experience I couldn’t really say for certain, but I realised very quickly just how serious he was about the question he had posed. He went on to explain further and described how immediately after sex he would often feel depressed and emotional and pretty much like he wanted the ground to swallow him up. Not the feelings you would typically associate with regular, consensual sex.

As it turns out, he is not alone. Yes, Post-coital dysphoria or Post-coital tristesse as it turns out is a very common condition. To be more specific these are the terms used to describe feelings of sadness, anxiety, agitation and aggression immediately after consensual sex. Upon further reading, I noticed consistent references to feeling ‘teary’ and when relaying this back to my friend this was the one word he really honed in on. “TEARY, that’s it! I feel like I just want to burst into tears and I have no idea why. It’s embarrassing, how on earth do you explain to your partner why your eyes are filling up immediately after having sex with them?” I really did sympathise at this point, this was clearly a more serious issue than I had ever realised – in fact I didn’t even know the condition existed.

Was this a mental health issue? Was it biological? I really couldn’t say, and I suppose these things become all the more frustrating because you have absolutely no logical explanation for the way you feel. Denise Knowles, sex therapist and counsellor at relationships charity Relate did however try to offer more insight into the condition, she told The Independent: “It’s not uncommon to feel sad after sex. It’s not necessarily due to a trauma or because they’re regretful and it doesn’t have to mean anything sinister is going on.”

“Having sex is a hugely intimate act and an orgasm releases lots of wonderful feel-good bonding hormones. Those hormones drop following the peak of an orgasm, and as you separate from the closeness that brought it about, a sense of sadness can follow.”

“You go from absolute joy and pleasure to being separated. That in its own way can cause women, and some men, to feel a bit sad.”

However, in doing a little bit of my own research I found another, simpler explanation. I spoke this time with a female friend who started to tell me a few stories about a relationship with an ex-boyfriend. She told me of how they had always enjoyed a very normal relationship but that a few years down the line she had realised he simply wasn’t ‘the one’ and sooner or later would have to end things. It would actually be another full year before she did end it! During that time she continued to have sex with her boyfriend in the very normal way that they always had, only she no longer initiated it. Because of her longing to get out of the relationship, every time they had sex she felt not only like she was leading him on, but like she was almost selling her soul a little bit. The sex was of course consensual, but she didn’t want to do it. As a result, every time they had sex she would fall into a deep sense of depression and regret and more often than not felt like she had let herself down. As complicated as that may sound, I think this situation may be even more common than Knowles’ hormonal explanation above. Perhaps sometimes there is a more ‘standard’ happiness related explanation to these kinds of feelings?

Of course that’s not to take away from the feelings of my male friend, who assures me he is blissfully happy in his relationship. I guess these things are never quite straight forward and relationships can of course be complicated enough without experiencing problems during what should be happy, intimate moments. I did a little online search for more advice on this subject but there seems to be a distinct lack of resources out there. I did however find this little article from Cosmopolitan where four people describe their experiences with the condition, if you or anyone you know is suffering with post-coital dysphoria you may find it helpful.

It seems this issue is prominent in both men and women, but the most important thing of all is that you do something to address and open up about these issues, to a therapist, a friend, your partner or even me! Apparently I’m a good listener.

Stay healthy.

PTB

The Effects Of Alcoholism On A Relationship

Over the past 18 months I’ve been working with a blogger by the name of Graham Wilson, once a student of mine and now a great friend. Graham is an alcoholic, but now 4 years sober he writes about his experiences in the hope of helping both those struggling with addiction and their loved ones. To say I’m full of admiration for Graham is an understatement, his commitment to brutal honesty, even when detrimental to his own name, is something that should be applauded. Having read his work with great curiosity I caught up with Graham to gain a full understanding of how and why alcoholism has impacted his relationship over the years.

When did you first notice your drinking was affecting your relationship? I didn’t realise until the very day I stopped drinking, that was the day Mrs W told me that she’d had enough and was thinking of leaving me. I remember looking at her and for the first time ever I noticed the pain in her face, like really noticed it. She’d been struggling for a long time and I just never saw it.

Do the effects of alcoholism make you forget what it means to be a good partner? Definitely, in my head the only relationship that was benefiting me was the relationship I had with alcohol. I’d forgotten what it means to love someone and equally forgot what it felt like to be loved. The truth is I was loved immensely but couldn’t see it due to being so wrapped up in myself and my drinking.

What was your worst behaviour towards your partner whilst under the influence? I had to ask Mrs W this question because I honestly believed I wasn’t doing anything wrong. Mrs W says it was the humiliation of me wanting to be the centre of attention all the time at any expense. I would just leave her on her own on nights out whether she knew anyone or not. There were also a fair few incidents involving Christmas and birthday presents.

Was she understanding that this wasn’t the real you, this was the alcoholic you? Yes, she knew there was a good person behind the mask of alcoholism, it was just about how long was it going to take for him to resurface and would she be able to wait that long. There was also a genuine fear that I would die before the real Graham came back.

Were you ever scared you’d pushed her too far? Again this was at the very end of my drinking and this is a difficult thing for me to admit but I honestly believed I wasn’t doing anything wrong. When I look back now, however, I’m struggling to remember anything I actually did right during those boozing days.

You’re now 4 years sober which is an unbelievable achievement, do you feel like you’ve now earned her forgiveness for your past behaviour? No, I put Mrs W through a good 10 years of hell and I know it’s had a lasting effect on her and I don’t think I’ll ever truly forgive myself for my past behaviour. If you ask Mrs W she would probably say yes I have earned her forgiveness but forgiving myself is a different altogether. I feel like I can’t forgive myself yet as I still see her struggling with situations today that I believe have been brought on by my alcoholism.

How are things now and what does the future hold? Amazing! We’ve just moved into a new house. Our relationship is what I would describe as normal now, we have great times and we have not so great times. What has really changed is the honesty and trust that exists in the relationship that was missing for so many years. Mrs W believes what I tell her now and doesn’t need to question or second guess me all of the time. In the future we hope to have a family, my alcoholism prevented this in the past but we’re hopeful that it’s not too late. Probably most of all though we’re just focused on making up for lost time and creating some truly happy memories that will last forever.

Graham is a proud supporter of Dry January and an Ambassador for men’s mental health organisation Brothers In Arms. As featured in the Metro, you can read more of Graham’s stories here.

5 Simple Steps That Improved My Health

One of the endless reasons why your health is important is because how you look and more importantly how you feel, will significantly impact your relationships. If you don’t feel good then you won’t feel confident and as a result, your prospective dates will never get to see the very best of you. Now let me be clear, I ain’t no Joe Wicks, but I have made some simple changes to my lifestyle and diet that have left me feeling healthier than ever – mentally and physically.

1. Kick the coke habit – COLA that is. Growing up I’ve always been partial to a fizzy drink or two. I’m not the type to just pick up a can of juice for the sake of it but a cold can of coke or two with my dinner used to go down all too nicely. Upon taking up recycling (great hobby) I realised just how much coke I’d been drinking, bags and bags of empty cans filled that little blue bin in no time at all. Eventually I cut back from around three a day to one or two cans at the weekend whilst adopted sparkling water as my new tipple during the week. The result? I lost half a stone in weight in record time, I was sleeping better than ever, the bags under my eyes slowly disappeared and my concentration drastically improved. To be honest knowing what I know now about how much sugar is in a can of coke, the thought of one makes me feel a bit sick.

2. Cut back on alcohol – An incredible thing happened recently, I had the most amazing night out without getting drunk. Who knew it was possible! I was just over a bout of flu and so decided I should probably take it easy, all I had to drink was two cans of Magners (I’m still human) and I ended up laughing and dancing the night away. I don’t begrudge anyone having a drink but if you want to get in the zone with your health and fitness, at least try and cut back. Did you know, one bottle of beer is the equivalent of six slices of white bread? I’d be lying if I said that doesn’t put me off a bit.

3. Get organised – I’m the most unorganised person you’ll ever meet but since becoming a full-time freelancer it’s something I’ve had to really work on and not just on a professional level. I’m still no Monica Geller but simple commitments like going to the gym twice a week and trying to have three meals a day have kept me feeling that little bit saner. Making lists and something as simple as having a calendar on the wall has also been like a weight off my shoulders. It really is the smallest things that can make the biggest difference.

4. I bought a blender – It’s okay to laugh but buying a good blender has been the key to a significantly healthier diet. I’ve not been making any fancy sauces or anything like that, it’s all about that morning smoothie. I love my veg but I hate eating fruit, so when you can fit your 5 a day into one quick smoothie then why bother? My secret ingredient is coconut milk, it will make just about any ingredient taste nice. My ‘go to’ smoothie is usually coconut milk, a banana, a handful of spinach, some mint leaves and a little squeeze of lemon juice. As a little extra healthy tip, chop up a celery into cubes and stick them in the freezer for the healthiest ice cubes you’ll ever find.

5. Pilates – Again, it’s okay to laugh. So I’ve never been the most flexible of people, I tried yoga a couple of times but I always found it tough to commit to attending classes. Then one day I was doing the whole one YouTube video leads to another and another and another until I eventually stumbled upon a ten minute Pilates workout. Glorified stretching I’d call it, but wow, what a difference it’s made. Ten minutes at home every day or two, I don’t think anyone can say they don’t have time for that!

Do Men Who Masturbate More Make Better Lovers?

That’s exactly what Japanese company Tenga are reporting based on their latest research. You might assume that a man who spends so much time with…himself, might not have the drive to make a good lover but according to Tenga that just isn’t the case.

The study revealed that of men who masturbate weekly, 10% are more confident in their own sexual performance than those who don’t The study of 2,000 UK adults further revealed that 6% are more likely to feel they have a beautiful body and 12% have a better quality orgasm. It may surprise some that masturbation carries many health benefits such as stress relief which ultimately helps us sleep better and contributes to improving self-esteem and body confidence. In fact statistics suggest that only 4% of British men don’t masturbate (insert rude joke here).

Alix Fox, sex and relationships educator and ambassador for TENGA, commented: “It doesn’t surprise me at all that male masturbation goes – ahem – hand in hand with being a better lover!

Guys who regularly take time to pleasure themselves and appreciate their bodies are more likely to feel comfortable and confident in their own skins. This in turn means they’re more likely to be relaxed when playing with a partner. It’s a lot easier to pay attention to the sensual signals someone’s giving off; to be fully immersed and present in a shared moment; to be switched on to your lover’s needs and turned on yourself if you’re not distracted by getting hung up on your own hang ups.

A regular masturbator is more likely to have been experimental in their solo sessions, too. They may well have discovered a broader range of erogenous zones and stimulation techniques that make them tick. They may even have tried some toys. This greater self-awareness and open-minded attitude – honed via testing new things out alone – makes for more exciting, creative partnered sex. The more men discover how their own bodies can feel wonderful in myriad ways, the more they are likely to try to bring that same liberated sense of adventure and those same fresh thrills to their lovers.”

Eddie Marklew, Global Marketing Manager at TENGA says, “The health benefits of masturbation are well known. What is less known are the emotional benefits that masturbation and discussing sexual topics can bring to a relationship. By encouraging people to be more open with their emotions, and sexual preferences, TENGA hopes to elevate the conversation around masturbation to create more fun and beneficial sexual experience.”

The study by TENGA also revealed a new genre of man ‘The Feeling More Man’ which is defined as a man who is more open with their feelings and desires and more empathetic and inclusive of others. The ‘Feeling More Man’ was more open to trying new sexual experiences with 8% more likely to masturbate weekly or monthly and 17% more open to buying a sex toy for themselves.

Now before you all rush off to masturbate, you can find more information at www.tenga-global.com

A Better Way To Deal With Break-Ups

If there’s one area of dating and relationships that has always fascinated me, it’s the dreaded break-up. The way it affects our behaviour, the way we lose all common sense and at times even a little bit of self-respect, it’s difficult to predict just how we’ll react to being dumped. However, for every funny story about how we’ve dealt with the end of our own relationships, there’s a much more serious side to it, a side that presents the dangerous combination of social media and mental health.

Concerns have been raised by a number of leading relationship experts who believe the influence of social media is increasing the impact of break-ups on young people and their mental health. In fact new research shows that a staggering 48% of 16-24 year olds have suffered a negative impact on their mental health as the result of a break-up.

The research commissioned by statusonline.org amongst 1,000 16-24 year olds, reveals that although 90% of the above age group think the best way to end a relationship is face to face, in reality, the temptation to hide behind a screen is too much: 41% have been dumped by text, 33% on social media and 28% have been the victim of ghosting.

The increasing influence of social media on society has meant that young people not only have to deal with the initial impact of the break-up, but also some technological ‘side effects’ as well. The research goes on to show that:
· 38% were sent hurtful private messages
· 27% were harassed with frequent contact online
· 23% had hurtful comments posted or shared about them online
· 14% had nude photos/videos shared publicly by ex-partner

Sarah Abell, relationship expert for statusonline.org said, “The way we use our devices is damaging our ability to break up in a healthy way. If you are in the jungle miles away from your partner or if you are wanting to escape an abusive relationship – texting might be a good idea. But in most other instances, it isn’t.”

“The golden rule is treat people like you would want to be treated. Would you like to be dumped on Snapchat? The majority of young people in the survey said they would want to be told face-to-face but sadly their responses show that isn’t happening as much as they would like. We need to encourage more young people to be kinder and more courageous and not hide behind their screens.”

There was one other statistic revealed in the research that particularly resonated with me:

62% of young people who have been in a relationship have wanted to end a relationship but not felt able to end it.”

This was something I endlessly struggled with in my teens and early 20s. I just couldn’t do it. So how do we best deal with a break-up? First of all it’s important to remember that there IS a better way of doing things and there IS help out there.

The experts at statusonline.org are offering continued support and advice to young people who are struggling to deal with a break-up, a service which is long overdue in my opinion. Never be embarrassed to seek help in this area, as a mental health ambassador I’ve seen organisations like Status Online have a massively positive impact on young people. Seeking help is brave, and frankly it’s just common sense. Break-ups are a tough part of life and a tough part of growing up, there’s no shame in struggling with it.

In my younger years I have never good at dealing with break-ups, but in all honesty there wasn’t the help on offer that there is now. In fact, have a look at the guide below provided by Status Online, this is some seriously sound advice.

1. Look for the tell-tale signs that it’s over

Some conflict in a relationship is normal but if you’re arguing more often than not, something may need to change.

Consider the causes of the conflict – it may be that they’re actually external pressures such as stress from work, studying or pressures from friends and family.

If can’t be yourself with them or don’t trust them to be there for you when you need them it may be time to call it a day. If you don’t feel safe or if they are abusive, call the police or contact an organisation such as Relate who can connect you with the right support.

Cheating doesn’t always signify the end. Relate counsellor Dee Holmes said, “If your partner has cheated this is often a sign that there are issues in your relationship which need addressing. You may decide you want to end the relationship entirely or if you’re both willing to work at your relationship and have the right support, it’s possible to rebuild trust.”

2. Choose your moment to bring up the subject
Let them know in advance that you want to talk to avoid it being a shock. Be honest, direct but considerate and kind. Choose a time to talk when you’re both sober, calm and away from distractions and try to avoid blame or loaded language.
You might start the conversation by saying “I’ve noticed we don’t seem to be getting on as well and think we need to work out what to do about it.” or “I am not happy”, or “I am not feeling good about the way we are.”
Relationship expert for statusonline.org Sarah Abell suggests “Think about how you would want to be told if someone broke up with you.”

3. Let them down gently
Saying “It’s not you, it’s me” risks sounding cliched or insincere but what is behind this commonly used phrase is how you feel. Talking about yourself can avoid sounding critical – so rather than saying “I don’t like you now I’ve got to know you properly” you could say “I’m not feeling enough of a connection between us”.
Couples therapist Kate Thomson from Tavistock Relationships said “Your partner is unlikely to be in the same place emotionally as you. It may take them some time to catch up. Try to confront difficulties as they occur rather than store them up and finally cause them to explode with frustration or anger. If you can understand and talk about your more vulnerable emotions, it may well make the break-up less stormy.”

4. Talk face to face
There may be situations where you have to end a relationship by text, email, or instant message for example if you haven’t known them for long, they don’t live nearby or you’re escaping an abusive relationship.
However texts and messages can often be misunderstood and interpreted wrongly. Face to face and in private is usually best.
Sarah Abell said: The golden rule is treat people like you would want to be treated. Be kind and courageous and don’t hide behind a screen.

5. Protect yourself from bitterness and online recriminations
Think very carefully before sharing intimate photos or details with another person and don’t do it if you feel under pressure. Your ex could publish any sexual content online which will be entirely outside of your control. Actions like this are a criminal offence so if you find this has happened, contact the police.
If somebody posts something bitter on social media or humiliates you publicly, avoid retaliating publicly. If you do choose to talk to them about it, take the conversation offline.
Be aware that posts showing you ‘having fun’ may create more unhappiness for your ex. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have fun but it’s worth being aware of the impact social media posts could have.
Couple therapist, Kate Thomson from Tavistock Relationships said : Break up in a way that both of you acknowledge the part you had to play in the relationship and how it ended, sharing the loss. That will hopefully eliminate the need for ‘revenge’ acts, the idea that one party was more wronged. If you have been left, the old saying, ‘the best revenge is living well’ may have quite some truth to it – so have fun, rather than sinking to cruel behaviour that you may later feel ashamed of once your life has moved on”.

6. Tread carefully if you want to stay friends

Giving each other some space and time to heal at first may make it possible to remain friends in the long-run. Be honest about new relationships and remember to be kind to and about each other.
Ask yourself, do you need to stay friends? Think about the pros and cons to maintaining contact. It might make you feel less guilty but actually isn’t helpful to them.
Look after yourself – take positive steps like talking to any mutual friends and ask them not to take sides. Accept this is a process that you have to go through and that it will help you to learn about yourself.

Relate counsellor Dee Holmes said “Try to be calm, reasonable and don’t ‘sweat the small stuff’. If breaking up means splitting belongings, ask yourself if it’s really worth an argument over who keeps a pair of sunglasses.
*For more information head to statusonline.org or follow them on Twitter @heystatusonline and Instagram @onlinestatus

All You Need To Know About Aphrodisiacs This Valentine’s Day

Corporate nonsense or genuinely a special time of year? Whatever your opinions on Valentine’s Day, it remains  one of the perennials of seasonal marketing. According to Mintel, year-on-year Valentine’s spending hit a staggering £620 million in 2017! So, like it or lump it, this enamoured season is a welcome lapse in the grey days and long nights that haunt January and February.

But, how can you celebrate Valentine’s Day without succumbing to its many marketing ploys? The answer to that? It’s not with cards, flowers and balloons (I hate them), it’s with food. A survey recently conducted by HelloFresh found that the majority of people consider cooking a meal for their partner on Valentine’s Day and snub the overpopulated restaurants riddled with PDA and garish decorations! Nights in with the person you care about are the perfect way to enjoy Valentine’s Day, without falling victim to its overpriced whims. So,you’ve settled on a night in, but what to eat? That’s where the aphrodisiacs come in.

Aphrodisiacs are a bit of a minefield; populated by hearsay, uncomfortable anecdotes and way too many oysters. Fruits such as pomegranate a.k.a ‘the love apple’ and bananas pack a punch that ought to get you feeling the love. But what interests me most about aphrodisiacs is that, realistically, these aren’t foods we associate with love, romance or intimacy.

In fact, the ‘real’ dishes that couples are plating up are a lot more appetising than asparagus and oysters. According to a recent study, cooking your partner steak and chips is a quick ticket to a lustful evening. This is closely followed by chocolate, a roast dinner and a spicy curry. So if you want to get your partner in the mood, cancel the restaurant reservations, throw away the snails and order a Chicken Bhuna. Anyone else hungry all of a sudden?

Bizarrely heralded as one of the most effective aphrodisiacs, snails are a categorical no-no. As are beans and garlic bread, which I’m sure is a devastating reality for a lot us. However, what prevails in this study is that Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be littered with cheap cards and clichés, instead, making a meal supersedes all else. As 45% of respondents believe cooking a meal shows their partners have gone to more effort, and 23% prefer their partner to cook as it makes it easier for them to get intimate.

So, ‘the real aphrodisiac?’ I hear you cry! It’s effort. Relationships are no easy feat, they come with plenty of conflict, compromise and complacency. Remember, relationships are all about showing you care and even when you mess up (as I often do with dinner), no partner in the world won’t appreciate the effort you’ve gone to. A little trouble, big rewards.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Fighting With Anger

Those who know me well would be surprised to hear that I once had issues with anger management, those who know me best would simply say “oh yes, I remember those days.” I’m very laid back by nature, easy to get on with, never aggressive, never violent, wouldn’t hurt a fly kinda guy – but there was a period in my life where no wall, glass, plate, mobile phone or remote control was safe from my temper.

Going back a few years I remember realising there was a problem when I saw my Mum’s face at the site of a hole I’d put in my bedroom wall. We were decorating and I’d forgotten that one of my posters had been concealing the aftermath of a tantrum I’d had when I’d gotten into trouble for something my Sister had done. What my Mum didn’t know however was that this was anything but an isolated incident, nor was it the last.

Looking back now the majority of my outbursts stemmed from being in very toxic relationships. With that in mind I guess it’s important to highlight that I’ve never physically hurt anyone and as much as you lose control in that split second I always knew I didn’t have it in me to do that. The real concern was the hurt I was causing myself. When it comes to anger there are a couple of moments from the past that really stand out for me. The first being when I broke my hand. I’d had a history with partition walls but punching a supporting beam was a different kind of fight. I’d been in a relationship which to this day still represents a huge learning curve for me when it comes to relationships. I’d put up with a hell of a lot in this relationship and without going into too much detail a lot of revelations came out which still baffle me to this day. Punching a wall wasn’t even an initial reaction, it was the following day when my ex tried to defend what had to be described as the indefensible. The unusual thing about anger is that nothing is planned or pre-meditated, it’s like something else completely takes over and in the space of mere seconds it goes from just a feeling inside you, to quite serious physical pain. That’s what happened to me, I didn’t want to punch the wall and I certainly didn’t plan to, it just happened.

My hand was pretty much stuck in one position and a few hours later I came to the conclusion that it was broken. I went to A&E only to find that the fracture clinic wasn’t open on a Sunday and I was promptly sent home where I slept on the floor all night with my hand balanced on a cushion. The next day I went back to hospital where I made up some spiel about dropping furniture on my hand, the Doctor just laughed and left the room. A few minutes later he returned with my x-ray and showed me what he explained is commonly known as ‘a boxers fracture’ – that’s when I told him the truth. He was actually quite amused and simply said “man versus wall, man never win” – little did he know I was 21-0 until that point, but 21-1 wasn’t a bad record to finish up with.

The other occasion which has well and truly lived long in the memory was punching through a large framed picture. It smashed everywhere and I had tiny shards of glass stuck in my knuckles for days, I could hear a kind of crunching every time I flexed my hand. Need I say more?

There’s nothing big or tough about these kinds of outbursts, trust me when I say I look back with nothing but embarrassment. As much as I knew I wouldn’t physically hurt anyone else, I can’t guarantee that they knew that themselves and the thought of anyone being even remotely scared of me quickly fills me with shame. If anyone reading this is suffering with anger issues, then you will know exactly what I mean by that split second of losing control. Well what happens when that split second progresses into something more? That’s when things could get really scary.  There’s no shame in admitting you have a problem, the real shame is when you let that problem hurt or scare innocent bystanders. What people need to realise is that when you reach a certain stage, getting help becomes only a win-win situation.

Seeking help was a massive weight off my shoulders. I’d decided to go and speak to someone and do what I try and encourage all men to do more frequently – open up. I told this woman more than I’d ever told anyone in my life, I got every single little thing off my chest and guess what – I loved it and I mean I absolutely loved it. I used to look forward to my weekly session like it was a cup final. It was so good to just put everything out there and listen to an impartial person give their feedback. As it turned out I was just a normal guy who’d let too many problems build up for far too long and with every angry outburst a little more was spilling out. It made perfect sense, I always knew it wasn’t in my nature to behave the way I was.

What really bugs me is when people dismiss the idea of seeking help for whatever reason. Maybe it’s a pride thing or maybe it just feels too much like weakness, but in my opinion admitting you have a problem and seeking help to fix it is a truly incredible sign of strength. We’re only human after all and humans have problems, why would you not fix those problems whilst you still have the chance? What I’ve learnt from my own experiences is that problems with anger can happen to just about anyone, even me. It’s been three years since I sought help and I’m pleased to say I’ve never punched or broken anything since. Take it from me, a full crockery cupboard, an uncracked iphone, a working remote control and no more plastering bills is a much simpler and happier world to live in.

How do you deal with anger?

PTB

Thank You Chester

There have been many celebrity deaths in recent years but with the greatest respect to those departed, no loss has hit me as hard as the recent suicide of Chester Bennington.

Sometimes you write articles and you try and use big words, try to sound smarter than you really are and do whatever it takes to impress your peers, but this is one of those times where words are built solely on emotion and everything else just goes out the window.

My own awareness of issues surrounding young men has been heightened dramatically over the past year, and now more than ever the time has come for that awareness to roar throughout society. We can’t just rely on charities and national awareness days to save those in need, we need to be looking at the person sat next to us, our families, our friends, our colleagues, our neighbours and sometimes even our heroes.

I’ve always believed that conversations can change lives. For someone in need to know that there is even one person who cares, well that might just make all the difference. At times I feel like I’m on a daily canvass to make men talk, but I’ve realised in the past few days that it’s just as important to listen and to react to what those talking are saying – it can’t just fall on deaf ears.

Why?

Because Chester talked. Chester talked about depression and anxiety and the ‘bad neighbourhood’ that existed between his ears until there was quite literally no more words to be said. In the last few days I must’ve watched a dozen interviews where Chester talks rather eloquently about all of the above and more. He doesn’t sound crazy, he doesn’t sound over the edge, he sounds sad and tired of his plight, but ultimately calm and accepting of what his life had become.

When listening to Chester speak, you begin to understand that his issues aren’t a phase but very much a daily struggle that have existed for many years. He tells of how his only coping mechanisms were to be a good Father, a good Husband, a good friend, a good band-mate and that when he wasn’t being any of those things he was terrified to be left alone in a mind that haunted his very existence. His revelations are deeply concerning, but his openness and his willingness to show a vulnerability to the world is nothing short of inspirational.

It’s so incredibly sad that opening up wasn’t enough to save Chester’s life, but that doesn’t mean it won’t save the life of another. On reflection, I think the nature in which Chester spoke about his issues was potentially quite deceptive to those around him. He spoke with such ease that in a way it gave this illusion that he was in control, that no matter how difficult life was he was getting on with it and that ultimately, he would be okay.

Outside of the world that existed in his head, Chester had a good life. A Father of six, a beautiful wife, founding member of one of the most iconic bands in history, adoring fans stretching to the ends of the earth and a voice that stole many a show. How scary depression must be to leave all of that behind.

Please always talk, please always listen, please look out for one another, please don’t take someone’s “I’m okay” for granted. It’s not that those around Chester didn’t do these things, it’s just a small reminder that this is the bare minimum we can do to help those in need and you just never know who might be in need of saving. I’ve thought a lot about Chester’s performance at Chris Cornell’s funeral, the norm at funerals is to feel sad and realise how lucky we all are that it isn’t us. Think how tormented someone must feel to decide they must be next, it’s time we stop taking this lightly.

He was the voice of an era and I feel heartbroken that another young person has found death to be the only way out. Thank you Chester for blessing us with a voice that could make us not only jump around like maniacs, but swarm us with goosebumps and move us to tears.

Finally at peace, you will be so missed.

PTB

 

Turning 30

First off, I can already hear my friends screaming you’re nearly 31 Paul who you kidding!?!?! But I felt the need to write a little something given how I felt about turning 30 and the contrast of how I actually feel being 30. Any of the unfortunate souls closest to me will tell you of how I spent my entire 29th year complaining and dreading the mere thought of turning 30. At 29 I’d never felt older (although I do realise that I never had been older) but at 30, I feel quite the opposite.

Turning 30 was a great time to reflect on my entire twenties. It really was every bit the roller-coaster ride I’d imagined it would be. I did great things, I loved, I lost, I made too many mistakes, I became an Uncle, saw incredible places and I hit rock bottom only to go higher than I’d ever been before. So after the months of dread at turning 30, how come I feel calmer and more content than ever before?

One thing that really suffered in my 20’s was my health and fitness. Not that I had any drastic problems thankfully, but for someone who was a cross-country runner in his teens I fairly let myself go a bit. Last year was one of my worst years health-wise and all self inflicted, my diet was outrageously bad and the cause of 99% of my problems. I’ve always had a bit of a sweet tooth, more specifically a slight coke addiction (cola that is) but it wasn’t until earlier this year when I gave up cola completely that I realised just how much of a negative impact it was having on me. At my worst I was drinking 4-5 cans a day, I was permanently sluggish, chubby in all the wrong places, couldn’t sleep at night for either heartburn or stomach acid and generally just didn’t feel good on a pretty much daily basis. I know there are worse problems you can suffer with but fizzy drinks were my own personal downfall

So what’s changed? Well the coke has gone completely to be replaced by sparkling water which has been something of a saving grace for me, my diet isn’t quite perfect, but it’s significantly better than before and my body fat as disclosed by a fancy machine at the gym is down to 18% (which I’m told is not bad going). So the combination of gym work, improved diet and a weekly game of squash with my big pal Graham from grahamwilsonundrunk.com has left me feeling fitter and healthier at 30 than ever before. I know 30 isn’t exactly old but I’m doing everything now that I wish I’d done five maybe even ten years ago. So if you’re reading this and your’e 25 and you feel exactly the way I did then don’t be scared to make a change and don’t be lazy like I was, the intention was always there for me but the will-power was always missing.

Mentally I feel good as well. 30 is a great time to re-evaluate things, it makes you realise who and what is important to you and has also helped me re-affirm my future ambitions. I read a great quote this very day ‘trust the timing of your life’ and for me personally there’s never been a truer word spoken. There were a lot of things I wanted in life from around 18-21 onwards but they didn’t happen until I was around 28 or 29. Looking back, however, I know that I was anything but ready for those things. I’m more ambitious now than ever before and I’m hellbent on being the very best that I can be (not to go all military on you) and that’s why I work the crazy hours that I do. One thing that I’m learning to do amongst all the madness however, is finally make a little time for myself. I’ve revisited old passions like WWE wrestling, I know it’s silly but for one hour every week I get to step off the roller coaster of the business and media worlds and just get lost in the fictional world of sports entertainment and it’s bliss. I’m also remembering to travel, travel is my great love in life and one of the few times you’ll see me permanently giddy with excitement and happiness. My travels are usually big adventures which cost a lot of money and more annoyingly a lot of time off work which is usually the big stumbling block. A friend of mine was quick to point out however, that I won’t always be able to make every trip the big adventure that I crave but that I should still go on small trips to at least satisfy that need to travel and so that’s what I’ve done. In recent times I’ve been to Copenhagen, Berlin, Milan and even my old childhood haunt Torquay in the South of England which was every bit as fun as the rest. My point is, making that time for yourself whether it’s an hour in front of the TV or a fancy trip abroad it just makes you feel that little bit more steady and saner and in the past I haven’t always had the maturity to look out for myself in that way.

As much as I’d dreaded leaving my twenties behind I know now that it’s exactly what I needed, it’s been a new lease of life for me in a way and I can only hope that I’m lucky enough for it to continue.