Chapter 41 – Lloyd Ashley

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In nearly every single one of the previous 40 blog posts that’s been written, I’ve reiterated that mental health does not discriminate. It simply doesn’t matter what way of life you live, where you’re from or what you do, our well-being can be effected.

Anyone can have their dark periods as the key word involved is HEALTH. It’s just as important to look after ourselves mentally as it is physically. The more we talk about it, the less stigmatised this important topic will become.

The person I’ve spoken to for this blog post realises just how important it is to look after ourselves as well as to keep checking in on our family, friends, colleagues and anyone else who’s in close proximity. He also understands that mental health can have an impact on any one of us, regardless of our status.

Lloyd Ashley is a professional rugby player and has played for the Welsh Regional team, Ospreys for more than a decade. He has since surpassed over 100 League appearances since coming through their academy.

In April 2020, Lloyd launched his own company named ‘Living Well With Lloyd Ashley’ which specialises in motivational speaking surrounding wellbeing, of which mental health is a very important part. The company offers support and guidance for schools, colleges, companies and other organisations.

Lloyd is also an ambassador for the Mental Health charity Hafal. He’s also undertaken a course in counselling, as well as completing a course in lecturing. All of these skills have helped guide Lloyd on his personal and professional journey, showing that he’s a fantastic advocate for mental health and that his interest and passion for the cause goes beyond sport, but to anyone in their day to day lives.

I was very grateful that he took time out of his busy schedule to talk to me about what inspired him to set up his company and what mental health means to him on a personal level.

What inspired you to set up ‘Living Well…’ and what are the main things that you’ve learned from it so far?

I think there’s a few different things that have inspired to set up the business. The fact that suicide rates here in the UK are so high is one important factor. Also, from an awareness point of view, I feel that we don’t do a lot of education around mental health.

Checking in on each other as men was a massive part as the stigma which surrounds male mental health is a major issue and was something I wanted to address. These are huge points that I took on board when I started the initial steps in what led to becoming ‘Living Well’ and there were so many avenues which helped me along the way in starting it up.

I already had a schools program that was running and it was based around healthy living. I was doing that in primary schools but was more based around eating good food and enjoying sport together. It was during these sessions that I noticed that people doing stuff together often brings them happiness.

On the flip side, a lot of times we’re made to feel isolated in these situations when we’re never really meant to be. That education around helping children understand that playing together and having that welcoming and less isolated environment would only be a good thing. It’s good to teach that to 10 or 11 year olds as they’re in the basis of forging their development and skills around relationships.

I also liked to work with 16 to 18 year young men as they were another target audience with my courses. That age bracket is also a huge changing point in your life as well so it was something I took on board early on. With the education I had from being in a team environment with rugby, along with what I’ve learned doing an introduction to counselling course as well as doing my lecturing qualification, I wondered how I could put those together to be an ambassador for mental health?

I’ve also been an ambassador for Hafal, the Welsh Mental Health Charity for about 2 years. Whilst being in that role, I realised that ignorance is bliss and you don’t really know what’s going on around you until you take time to stop and take notice. Doing that introduction to counselling course, I found that we’re not asking enough open questions or giving people enough time.

To summarise, there wasn’t enough support to help people to be honest about mental health. All of these factors were very important to me when I started to set up ‘Living Well’ and I continue to implement them as the business grows. I became a lead for mental health and wellbeing in the Welsh Rugby Players’ Association shortly after setting the business up, so that helped me set up awareness and support programs in academy systems.

That was a very important aim for me to get that educational aspect set up. Also, I wanted to get the schools program set up as soon as possible in as many of them that would allow me to come and talk to the kids. Aside from that I wanted to get out there and speak to organisations, clubs and businesses to speak about mental health.

By speaking to all of these sectors, I want to highlight how we can start the conversation and not take a backwards step as soon as someone brings up mental health, which a lot of us do. It’s not something that happens if we’re in crisis, it’s with us every day and we have to look after ourselves. We need to learn not to avoid asking questions and to not live in fear of asking the wrong questions is the biggest education you can have.

People will realise that you’re there to support them and the more we open up these conversations, the less vulnerable a lot of us will feel. It’s ok to speak as men, don’t avoid the questions and being a professional rugby player has most definitely raised my awareness and taught me a lot over the last 10 years.

Being around people from cultures and backgrounds is a fantastic learning experience as it opens your eyes to so many different personalities. That experience of understanding these people has been massive for me. Showing that I’m not that stereotypical view of a man who’s 6 ft 5 and a rugby player who instead speaks out and is very open about things will help and getting that message across is essential.

We’re all going to have different struggles, but the raw emotions behind them are similar and that’s the meaning behind it. We all have our struggles and it doesn’t matter what we do for a living or where we’re from, mental health can impact anyone. We want to be loved, supported and have stability, sadly without that, the sliding scale of poor mental health starts and it ends up in bad and even sadly, some tragic cases.

That understanding of feeling low might not be clinical depression but a poor mental health period. If we do look after ourselves more and take control, we don’t have to reach crisis point and seek diagnosis. Spotting the signs early and implanting self care is important but if it does reach that level, it’s important that we realise that getting help is the best thing for us.

By what means of support and awareness does the organisation offer?

The main programs are based around me being a first aider for mental health. I can instruct courses up to level 3 which means by going to a business or organisation, I can lead a course based on mental wellbeing and awareness.

My main schools program is called a ‘Resilience Program’. It’s based around mental health awareness for 16-18 year olds to try and introduce them to a suitable and understanding environment for these young people. We talk about what causes a bad day and how you can bounce back from it in a healthy way whether we know if it’s support there.

Starting the conversation and just reassuring them that talking about mental health is another key aspect that we talk about in these workshops. If the bad feelings last more than a few days and it does go out of our control, we raise awareness that by reaching out for help will only be a good thing.

Theres plenty of reasons as to why we’re in this difficult position and we try to help these young people understand that it’s ok to talk about it. Supporting each other is key at the end of the day but also making sure we’re comfortable to start the conversation.

A lot of the stuff I post on Instagram is based on the support that’s available. The points that I mostly highlight are the understanding that mental health can impact anyone as well as offering guidance on how to start a conversation about it. I put a lot of business stuff up there like what events and activities we have coming up but it’s also a key area to highlight just what and how you can gain in terms of support for your mental wellbeing.

Whether it’s 24/7 support like Samaritans, Calm or even to the point of if you need to contract the emergency services. Suicide awareness is something we address and from a social media point of view, people access it multiple times a day. So if you’re in a bad mindset and see a post where you can access the means of support that’s on offer and realise that making a phone call or going to your GP will make a difference then that’s massive for that person.

For businesses, schools and other organisations, the main aim is to get the word out. As much as I love the instructor part of the role, we do like to mention that the conversation doesn’t have to started by someone with a qualification.

If it’s the fact you want accreditation or a culture change, from an organisation point of view we talk about just how there’s a line between ticking a few boxes to get a certificate and feeling passionate to create a more welcoming and understanding environment towards mental health.

I love going to schools where they say, “this class won’t talk to you”, but by the end of the session the teacher is amazed as we’ve managed to engage the pupils into a conversation. We’re not judgmental, I’m not a teacher that’s there everyday and we give them the space they need to take part in a confidential conversation.

Understanding different personalities and people you’re not familiar with is a massively important part. It’s difficult to establish trust, especially with someone you don’t know and are meeting for the first time. As long as you encourage the person in a polite, calm way, give them space and understand them, that rapport will be massive to help them.

What would you say is most misunderstood about being a professional rugby player?

The first thing I’d say is that a lot of people don’t really understand that it’s a full time job. People do say things like “what else do you do for a living?” That’s something that from a basic point of view that can be frustrating to a rugby player but there’s other factors that are also misunderstood about what we do.

One thing that people don’t see the mental toll on is how we cope with injuries. The attitudes we face are opinions like “you still get paid so don’t worry about it”. That’s all good and well but if it’s a long term injury, it may hinder my chances of getting another contract. Even to a worse extent, the injury could be career ending and I may never play again.

That’s a really tough experience to go through, and people from afar don’t really understand what we go through not just in a physical aspect but mentally as well. In my case, I’ve got a wife, children and a mortgage to pay. You also sacrifice a lot of qualifications that some of your friends will achieve because you start as a professional player from a young age.

Short term contracts is also a big worry at times as having that rolling one or two year option is daunting. It could mean that the next deal you’re offered would force you to relocate to another country or another surrounding that’s not familiar to you or your family. I’ve been lucky enough to have been at the Ospreys since the under 16’s and I’ve just turned 30 so it’s been familiar surroundings for me over a long period which I’m very grateful for.

I’d be lying if I said I haven’t felt worried during that time due to the injuries I’ve had or conversations about my performance when I haven’t played that well. There’s lots of things that go on behind the scenes which would contribute towards decisions that can result in your contract not being renewed so anything can happen in that aspect.

You realise that it’s a hard chat to have with your wife when you go home and say “I’m not sure if I’m going to be there next season.” Those things make you realise that it’s not just playing rugby, it’s your livelihood and how you support your family that’s on the line. A huge part of your life is being see for what you are on the pitch as a professional rugby player. They don’t see what goes on behind the scenes and that we have the same worries and insecurities as anyone else.

Trying to keep our family happy and paying bills is important to anyone in any working environment including a professional sportsperson. Obviously other factors that hinder us are selection and winning/losing. In very few other jobs do you go in and hope to be selected for the weekend’s game. If you don’t get picked you still have to train hard even though you’re not playing on the weekend.

You still have to give 100% to do what you’re signed to do as a professional player. Winning and losing is a massive thing. If you win, you come in the following Monday after the game with a smile on your face. On the flip side, if you lose, the mood is somber and quieter. It changes completely and have to bounce back as in any sport, the aim is to win.

You’ll your highs, lows and periods where you’ll win loads of games on the bounce or go through a stage where you’re not winning. Season before last we only won 2 games all season which of course was really tough on us as players as we set out to win every game we play. It’s hard for fans, players and everyone involved with the team.

I remember sitting there and saying that I don’t know what else we could do. It wasn’t a case that we were playing badly, we were just falling short at the end of games. It’s definitely not effort based and there were a few games that we lost via a last minute penalty or rallied at the end and finished a few points from a win. It’s tough and you still come in with the same pain levels as your body’s hurting. You haven’t got the smile on your face and it takes a toll.

Do you feel there’s a mentality shift in men’s rugby, resulting in the “rugby boy” persona being phased out?

I don’t think that just in rugby, but the stigma surrounding men’s mental health as a whole is changing. For me personally, we’re in a position where a lot of us are supporting this movement where we should be speaking about mental health.

On the flip side of that point, I still don’t feel that it’s talked about enough. We’re in that point where we’re being more encouraging with our friends and family to talk about mental health. There’s still examples where someone doesn’t talk about it and unfortunately it reaches crisis point but if one of our closest people are struggling, we’re no longer saying things like “man up”.

That just gives in to the stigma and we’re a fair way from where the stigma was a few years ago where it was less common for men to open up. However, from an educational and understanding point of view, I don’t think we’re quite there yet from a male standpoint. In terms of learning to express your emotions in a healthy way is still quite alien to a lot of men.

Unfortunately there’s still a lot of us out there who don’t choose to speak up and suffer in silence to the point where they reach crisis point. I do think the stigma’s changing in and out of rugby and players are understanding that they can be their own person with their thoughts and feelings.

Personal stories are more widespread as more people outside of the game know that we have lives off the pitch. Slowly they’re starting to understand that they’re not “superheroes” where they’re seen as these galactic, hard as nails figures and that we’re allowed express ourselves about how we’re feeling.

I do also think that as rugby players, we have to deal with the pain of physical injuries but also the mental effects can take its toll as well. Sometimes it goes too far to deal with the emotional aspects of that situation. We need to understand that more in order to progress even further.

The likes of Gareth Thomas, Dan Biggar and Joe Marler are just some examples of professional rugby players being very open about their struggles with mental health relating to both their professional and personal lives. Also from Rugby League, Danny Scunthorpe and Stevie Ward have been speaking up about the effects of depression and going tough times when you’re seen as being “fine”.

Going back to Rugby Union, from a local point of view here in South Wales, Tom James deserves a lot of credit for being so open about his battles with anxiety and depression throughout his career. The honesty is commendable and will be an encouragement to so many others in a similar situation.

Scott Baldwin has been open about the effects of a gambling addiction which of course would impact your mental health. The outcome of that is fantastic because they’re showing strength in confronting their demons but also showing solidarity in being open and getting the help to overcome it.

I remember when I was early on in my career, I went on to do a plumbing qualification. It gave me such an eye opening experience and it also helped me appreciate just how hard these tradesmen work. Some of them are literally a one man band who work in isolated and stressful environments.

To have a core environment in rugby where there’s a support network in regards to teammates, coaches and anyone else involved in the club or region is massive. If I didn’t go down that road of the plumbing qualification, I wouldn’t have learned some important lessons like resilience. My biggest lesson from that was accidentally putting my foot through a ceiling and realising that I had to go back the next week.

My boss said that if I turned up the next week, it would have showed that I did a good job. Not everyone would show up and there were opportunities where I felt like not answering his calls and not turning up due to what happened. I thought that I was going to get absolutely rinsed for the accident but to be fair to him, I got in the fan and he told me that the ceiling was fixed, everything was fine and I was to crack on as normal.

You play a story in your head in these situations like you turn up and expect to see a load of workmen there just waiting to laugh at you. You dread about what’s going to happen and more doubts and negative thinking occurs as a result. Once I knew that wasn’t the case, it was a massive boost and it was an realisation that I love working with people, building relationships in and out of work and also that everyone will fuck up at some point.

It’s human nature to make a mistake and I didn’t do it on purpose. It was a clumsy error and kind of helped me realise that plumbing wasn’t for me to be honest! I still see me boss from time to time as he’s done some work in my home and we always have a little laugh about it from time to time. If he has one of his current apprentices he’ll tell them “don’t be as clumsy as this guy”.

You just have a laugh as we both know mistakes can happen and that it’s character building to bounce back from it.

How difficult is it from a mental standpoint to come back from injury, and what coping mechanisms do you use to help you through it?

It is really tough and a lot of things come into your thought patterns. Of course you’re in pain so that’s in the forefront. Also, the realisation that you’re going to be out of action for a lengthy period of time and the uncertainty surrounding whether a long term injury might be career ending.

Those initial worries are huge and do cause a lot of stressful and uncertain thinking. Thankfully, I’ve been in a position where I’ve been at the Ospreys from day one and the medical team are supportive as well as incredible at what they do. I’ve had plenty of clarity from them when I’ve been injured so they’ve explained exactly what’s going on during the different periods of my recovery.

In a rugby team, there’s normally other boys injured at the same time as you. Therefore there’s a group understanding about what we’re going through and we do it together like teammates should. Early on in my career, I had a couple of difficult years where I just couldn’t put more than 5/6 games together without being struck down by an injury and/or needing an operation of some kind.

I must have had 4 or 5 operations over a 3 year period and that just throws so many thoughts around in your head. I went through a time where I doubted whether my body could cope with it any longer and whether I could make it through.

My wife was working as an A&E nurse at the time and I’d be at home in pain and complaining about my knee. She would be coming home from a night shift and would tell me about all the stuff she’d seen. That would make me think that a bit of pain in my knee was nothing in comparison to that so I’d better crack on with this! It was my grounding period so I was lucky in that aspect.

I’ve been lucky to have friends away from the world of rugby and after asking how’s my knee, they’re straight into ripping into me and we’re bantering as if we were 16 again. You’re having fun with them in a comfortable environment so a great coping mechanism for me is having stuff away from rugby via your family and friends.

What I mentioned earlier about plumbing falls into that category as well. Plus, my school’s program in place and going to do a Leadership In Management course was massive for me. It’s really important to me in order to have something to switch off from rugby and direct my attention on. Even if it’s just once a week, it’s massive and can help me in times where I’m out injured, going through a tough time on the pitch and even if things are going well rugby wise. It’s really good to have those outlets.

Having friends and family around is important and early on in my career I realised that you have to look after yourself. That and having a life away from the game. When I’ve been out injured and on crutches I’ve pushed myself to go out for some food because I don’t want to feel isolated by staying in all the time. It would make me feel better instantly because it’s a change of scenery and I’m not dwelling on the injury.

In the physio room, if someone asks if you’re alright and you reply with a yes, when in fact you’re not is noticeable. Whether it’s a bad day or your rehab is not going well due to the pain of the injury, that’s not moaning it’s being honest so that’s encouraged.

If you’ve had an op on your knee, you’re asked “how’s the knee?” a lot and sometimes you don’t feel like answering. It’s nothing against the person asking as they’re genuinely asking about you. You can be honest about it instead of just sugar coating it by saying “yeah it’s fine”. Also the understanding about whether they’re genuinely asking you and want to speak about it or if they’re just saying it without a phone in their hand is noticeable as well.

Having a support system out of rugby is massive for me. Also, having the knowhow to assess where you are a few weeks into the injury is important. Rugby wise, I look into what I can improve on as I’ve felt I have always struggled with the skills aspect of the game. If it’s a lower limb injury, as well as working on my strength, during my recover I will work on my passing and other skills which will be improved by the time I get back on the pitch for a game.

How can I come back a little better and the negatives are more in the background. Building on what you already had means you progress but it is a hard process as well. You’re already down on yourself wondering if it’s your fault that you’re injured and the negativity will take over for a period. Going to the coaches for advice is massive and having a sports psychologist at the Ospreys has been incredible during those tough times as well.

Our representative from The Welsh Rugby Players Association, Tim Jones is outstanding. Whether it was a lift to training for physio or just a chat, he was there for you and I’m so grateful for that. He’d ask what else can we do to be productive in and out of rugby. It’s just so important to have that support network along with your own resilience to get through it.

To dig in and make sure you get your rehab in to ensure you come back to the best your ability shows a lot of character. Fair play to any rugby player or anyone else in any similar situation as well.

Why do you think that there is such a stigma associated with mental health, and what changes towards it would you like to see?

I’ll start with the changes and the biggest one that needs to be implemented for me is that we just ask people “how are you?” without focusing the question on mental health. We say about your physical injuries and ailments but not so much the mental side of our wellbeing.

When you’re asked by people as to how you’re doing, we should be able to be honest. Generally we’re saying that we’re doing ok and that which of course in a lot of instances, we’re not. If you mention that you’re feeling great, family and work is going well and you’re overall in a good place is a different and more open answer which would engage a conversation further.

Even to the point where someone asks us, “I hear you’ve been struggling. Hope you’re ok?” or “if you ever need to talk, I’m here”. Checking in with people is massive and the overall aim as it’s more to us than just asking if we’re ok physically. Mental health is key because the second word, “health” is vital to how we cope and live every day. It’s just as important as physical health.

Generally wanting to know about a person’s well being because you care will go a long way with the person you’re asking. It doesn’t matter if it’s a friend, colleague or family member, engaging with that person will do them the world of good and also help to eliminate that stigma.

The reason why I think there is a stigma is that it’s been built up in our vocabulary and mannerisms over the years. One of the classic examples of this, especially in rugby is “oh come on. Big boys don’t cry”. I’ve heard that from a young age but what if the pain or distress isn’t physical but it’s emotional? Should we not cry despite the way we’re feeling?

We have things like that in our terminology but I also think that by going back even further in time, men were always seen as the provider. They were seen as being the one who had to put the food on the table, earn the money and show strength as well as solidarity whilst doing it. How can you say to that man that you can do it but be honest about how you’re feeling? He’s wouldn’t have said that he’s struggling, hates his job but has to support his family.

From a economical point of view, since then we’re encouraged to be a lot more open about these kinds of things and if you’re struggling in work, there are support and guidance for people in these situations. Health is important along with your happiness. Statistics show that if you’re not happy, you’re more likely to have experiences with a mental illness.

Years ago, we sent men to war. You couldn’t go and talk to someone about what you experienced even though friends and family members lost their lives during that time. We are bad for views that “big boys don’t cry” as I think that we should. We’re all human and should be able to process our emotions without being judged or even ridiculed for it.

If you do cry, there’s more balance and you get to let a load off. There’s a lack of education as to how men show their emotions. In the past there’s plenty of examples where men have unleashed their emotions through aggression and combat sports. If you haven’t got that outlet to vent, what else could you do? Whether it’s MMA,

boxing, wrestling or other outlets, they can help but what about talking about it?

From a young age that’s how we’ve done it but I would like to see more awareness about how there’s other ways of getting rid of frustration. We should be able to talk and say yes, I am frustrated and struggling with this. We don’t have to go out and do something physical, although it does help but it won’t always be the answer.

I’d love to see more education on that topic and highlighting that going for a walk or talking instead of doing something 100% aggressive. That’s why I think there’s a stigma and the more its addressed, the more open conversations we’ll have and the suicide rates will fall.

I hope by doing this the number of people who fall into crisis point will decrease and also going to therapy or having medical support will continue to be highlighted as showing strength instead of weakness. We don’t have to deal with everything on our own which is a bad way to look at it. If you have a bard leg, you’ll see the doctor but you wouldn’t if you’re feeling anxious, depressed or any other means of where your mental health is being affected.

It might not be therapy that will help you, there’s so many avenues of support these days and hopefully as men, we can realise that mental health doesn’t discriminate. It can have an impact on anyone regardless of gender, background etc.

For most people it will take one big and open conversation. Afterwards it’s huge as to how much better it will make you feel. It’s not easy to just jump in as trust is huge and this isn’t something you’d normally talk about either. That first conversation is massive, sadly it comes at times of crisis but venting in a controlled environment is countering the means of going down the path where you feel you can’t open up.

It’s so hard to see so many young men, who’ve felt the only answer is to take their own life during these tough times. Through conversations I’ve had with rugby clubs and other similar organisations, it’s just heartbreaking to see how many men have been lost. My conversations with the WRU, WRPA and clubs will hopefully spur more awareness and change to help shift the statistics around and less of us are choosing this route.

What would you say to someone who is struggling and doesn’t know if talking about it is the right thing to do?

I don’t think there’s any perfect scenario to answer this question as there’s so many different circumstances and situations. The one thing I would do is try and create a safe place around the person. By doing this, I’d be showing it would be non judgemental and confidential in regards to what they’d tell me.

Letting them know I’m there and they’re allowed to tell me how I feel is another key element. Also, making them aware that there’s been times where I’ve been in a similar situation myself and that talking about it was the best thing I could have done.

The biggest thing anybody can have is support around them with someone who’s genuinely showing that they care instead of sitting there looking at their phone. Also noticing in a group environment that someone isn’t themselves, and taking them aside for a one to one chat is huge instead of calling them out in front of everyone as it shows you care.

For me, it’s just asking an open question with genuine care and intent to look out for another person. By doing this, it means you’ve noticed changes in that person’s behaviour and that they’re avoiding social occasions or a conversation. Even buying a coffee for that person is massive and by ensuring it’s a safe environment goes a long way.

Don’t be that person that just says it for the sake of it, if you offer support do it because you care and want the other person to be better off for talking to you. The hardest thing to do is open up in times of struggle so by saying something like, “if you need anything, ring me but I’ll message you anyways”.

That goes such a long way because it simply shows you have that person in your thoughts. By telling them that they’re being supported and giving them time when they feel they have nothing will mean so much in the long run.

Going by the incredible work he’s done with ‘Living Well…’ as well as his own experiences, it’s more than fair to say that Lloyd is an incredible advocate for mental health. Not only has he put in the work taking courses in lecturing and counselling, he understands the key elements which is essential in helping us through these difficult times.

When I’ve gone through tough periods with my mental health, the best help was open conversations in safe environments. Whether it was a professional like a doctor, a counsellor or someone close to me like a friend or family member, it’s been massive. That “safe place” can give you that feeling you’ve been longing for by telling someone just how much you’re struggling. By doing this, it would go as far as saving your life.

Lloyd has also understood that toxic environments like enforced masculinity is a massive part of the stigma that still has a hold on men’s mental health. Being in an environment where he’s a professional rugby player, he’s seen first hand just how detrimental that can be. By being a representative for the Welsh Rugby Player’s Association, as well as his conversations with the WRU and rugby clubs, those stigmas continue to be minimised.

The more we talk, the less this stigma will have a hold over us. I commend Lloyd for the work he’s done and continues to do as it’s amazing how he manages to juggle it in between his home life, as well as his training schedule and life on the road as a professional rugby player. I’ll post some links and info for ‘Living Well’ at the bottom of this post.

A massive thanks goes to Lloyd for taking the time out of his busy schedule to talk to me. I wish him nothing but the very best as the business goes forward. So many people in of all ages and backgrounds will benefit from the incredible work that that he does and is another means of showing we’re not along in this battle.

Good luck to him and the rest of the Ospreys squad ahead of the new season, I hope to see them in action as COVID has put a hold on that since last year.

Also as always, thank you to everyone who has taken time out of their day to read this. It means the world and shows we’re all in this together. If you ever need to chat, my DM’s are open on all the social media platforms I have which supports this blog.

Take care, stay safe and until next time, don’t think of this as a goodbye but more of a see you later!

Lloyd Ashley/Living Well

Twitter – @lloydashley91

Instagram – @livingwellwithlloydashley

Linked Inwww.linkedin.com/in/lloyd-ashley-living-well

Hafal

Website – hafal.org

Twitter – @hafal_

Instagram – @hafalmentalhealth

Chapter 40 – Me and Dyspraxia

It’s very frustrating when you attempt to do something and find that you’re not very good at it. No matter how much you practice, it just won’t happen and you keep blaming yourself but the reality is, it’s not your fault at all.

As I mentioned briefly in my last blog post, I have Dyspraxia. It’s also known as Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) which is quite common as 10% of the current population are known to have been affected by this. Males are four times more likely to have Dyspraxia than females and it has been known to run in families.

It’s often confused with Dyslexia but the main symptoms are that it effects your coordination, movement as well as your mathematical development. Essentially, your working memory is used with maths as you need the ability to hold information such as numbers in our head and work with them to work out the sum.

Working memory means you have to do something with it aside from just in retaining the information. In 2011, 43 children with Dyspraxia took part in a study and 88% of them showed difficulty with maths. Reading this statistic immediately took me back to my school days where I struggled massively with anything number related.

To this day I struggle massively when it comes to maths. If ‘Countdown’ is on the telly, I love the letters round where I try to make a word with as many letters I can but as soon as Rachel Riley puts those numbers up, I dread it.

For example, if someone asked me to divide 45 by 4, the numbers would go into my head and nothing would happen. It’s just blank but then I get frustrated with myself and then panic as I feel I’m on a time limit.

Like I said, it was the same for me in school. When it came to English, I loved it as spelling and writing came to me quite naturally. Maths however was a huge struggle as whilst my friends were learning their 6,7,8 times table and beyond, I was still stuck on the 2,3,4,5 tables.

I remember it getting the point where when the teacher said we were doing maths, I’d lose any enthusiasm I had for school work and it would even upset me to the point of tears being shed.

I don’t remember my diagnosis but my parents have told me that it was noticed quite early on in my school days when I was either 3 or 4. My struggles with maths was a major sign along with my balance and coordination. Staying with maths, I eventually required additional support with it as a teaching assistant was there to assist me. I still see her around these days and only the last couple of years I’ve really appreciated the help she gave me.

Having homework was a tough task. I know the majority of us hated doing it but if it was Maths it was really frustrating. My Dad is quite good at maths and I can’t imagine how much patience he had whilst sitting with me. Tantrums were a plenty but I kept trying. Although my grades in maths wasn’t high and there were plenty times where I didn’t pass but my reports do say that my effort was there and to me that goes a long way.

As I went from Primary to Secondary School, I found myself kind of back to square one in many ways. I didn’t have learning support and to be honest, I didn’t really speak up too much about my struggles. It’s stupid of me to do that but I guess I had that “you’re in big school now” mentality.

Of course the teachers knew beforehand that maths wasn’t my strongest and when I did try my best, I’d still struggle. When we were put into sets from Year 8 onwards I was in the bottom set and stayed there for the duration of my time in secondary school.

I should have spoke up and mentioned that I was struggling more. I went to additional maths classes after school but it just felt like I was going around in circles. Some teachers were more helpful than others and some progress was made.

I tried other avenues like websites, CD-ROMs and workbooks to help me with it but it felt like if I took one step forward, I then found myself three steps back. It was so frustrating, especially as I was doing well in other subjects. When I did my GCSE’s, I had great results. I passed all the subjects that I was excelling in but maths was still the proverbial Achilles heel.

I failed with an F and did two resits, but the end result stayed the same. Eventually I threw in the towel and knew it just wasn’t to be.

The block I referred to is still there when I try and work something out to this very day. In the jobs I’ve worked since leaving school, numbers have been a key element. When I worked in my very first job in Tesco at age 17, I used to panic if I had to count change and my mind would go blank. I’d get worked up in my head.

In my current job, do have to add a lot of figures up and luckily I have a calculator. However, there is still a part of me that struggles with the numbers and it often puts me in a panic. However I know it’s easy to say but now I can take a breath and just take my time with it. Back in Tesco, like with school I felt like so much pressure mostly with what I put on myself.

There’s no shame in asking for help and I wish I realised that sooner. Getting myself worked up and doubting myself isn’t going to help me at all. If I struggle with something numbers wise at home, I’ll ask my fiancée. She’s a teacher so she has to be good at maths right?!

In all seriousness whether it’s in the house or work, support is massive and in my situation, it’s not that they’d be doing my work for me, it’s just sometimes I need a little help to get on the right path.

Going back to the start where I described what Dyspraxia is, the key words are most definitely, “balance and coordination”. This is effected by things such as walking in a straight line, hand movements, tying shoe laces or even something like running. Like with maths, I had my fair share of frustrations which still occur today.

With hand movements and coordination, it’s impacted via things like handwriting. I had some learning support with that as I was a bit behind the other kids in primary school when it came to writing. I was good at spelling and found it frustrating how writing the word was more difficult than actually spelling it as my hand seemed to venture off on its own journey.

With the right support and techniques, things got better though and since the age of 7/8, I haven’t really had any complaints about my handwriting. The support I had was through things like pencil/pen grips which helped me massively. It’s been known that wider stemmed writing equipment can be a massive benefit to a child learning to write, especially if they have dyslexia or dyspraxia.

I was given work sheets, where I would see a word or a sentence with a straight line underneath it and I’d have to try and copy what was written without going away from the line. The teachers were incredible as well as supportive. Like with many children with dyspraxia, it’s known to be especially fidgety, have trouble sitting up straight, get distracted or lose concentration easily.

A lot of it can be mistaken for bad behaviour. Of course like any child growing up, I was mischievous from time to time but there were times in school where I looked like I was “daydreaming” or switched off. The reality was that I had real difficulty concentrating compared to other children, hence more as to why I needed a bit of extra help.

My parents tell me that things started turning around when I was given work in a structured way with clear directions so I wasn’t confused. This helped massively with the handwriting aspect as well as with my maths although the latter I still struggled with on a larger scale.

Like I said earlier, from the age of 8 onwards my handwriting improved and I enjoyed writing especially creatively. If we had to do a project or story I enjoyed it and was commended for my style of handwriting. It just shows that with the right support and noticing it an early age, children with dyspraxia can go on to excel and whatever the hell they want to do.

Staying with balance and coordination, the hardest part to this very day is physical activity. During the early years of secondary school, I would dread the PE lessons where we did gymnastics. Anything balance related like walking the beam was pretty much impossible due to my balance issues. I did try it, but after one or two steps, I’d fall off.

Things like would hit my confidence, especially when most of the class was walking across it with no problem as well as being able to do a forward roll without losing balance on the way down or stand on one leg. Like I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I was bullied and one of the reasons was because “I was too slow in PE.”

An example of this was during Year 7 when we had to do an “assault course” for the charity Tenovus. Essentially it was all the gym equipment like climbing frames, walking the beam, jumping over horse etc. I didn’t want to do it as I know so much of it would be difficult but my friends encouraged me to go for it and try my best as did the teachers and my parents.

The bullies on the other hand wasn’t as encouraging. The course was a competition between the four forms in our group and the form with the overall quickest time would win. To get to the point, I completed it and let’s just say I didn’t break any records in doing so. Walking the beam went the usual way where I’d fall off after a step or two but I finished it.

My PE teacher commended me for completing it instead of giving up and my friends were pleased for me. As soon as we got back into the changing room, the bullies would throw insults like “you’re so fucking slow”, “we’re never going to win now thanks to you” and that broke me. I actually had an award from the charity for special effort and I hated having it because I was scared it would just encourage them to ridicule me more.

Looking back, I should have been proud of myself. I took on the course despite all doubts and finished it. I didn’t quit and it doesn’t matter what time I did it in as long as I gave it my all. It’s similar to when I ran the Nos Galan race in 2019. I trained for it well, finished it in good time but the fact remains that I did it and gave my best effort. So fuck what they thought of me, I’m a better person for doing it.

In the last blog entry, I touched on Dyspraxia via me playing football. That has been a real rollercoaster for my confidence as I’ve been ridiculed for my “lack of skill”. My balance and coordination would be a hindrance when it came to running with the ball and even things like “keepy uppies”.

During training sessions, one of the most known drills is dribbling with the ball around the cones. Of course I’d try concentrating but where I ended up going with the ball would be slightly off from where it was supposed to be. Plus using both feet to run with the ball impacts my balance so I would fall over. I’d get a few laughs but I’d pick myself up and go again.

The keep ups however, is one that will forever frustrate me. To this day, I’ll be lucky to do 3 or 4 keep ups as my balance and coordination just won’t let me. It’s not an excuse and I have tried to practice but I simply can’t do them. I’ve accepted that now but there was a time where it would get to me and others would ridicule me for it.

I enjoy football. It’s my favourite sport and I love playing it. I realised a long time ago that I was never going to be running onto the pitch of Old Trafford to play for Manchester United but I enjoyed playing. Whether it was going training, playing a game of 11 or 5 a side, it was exercise and competitive which did me a world of good.

Unfortunately, similar to the PE situation, there’s always a dickhead or two that will bring you down. So called friends would make fun of me for my lack of skill. If I missed an easy chance to score a goal, a bit of stick is normal but being made fun of for being too slow and not being able to do a skill that many others find easy isn’t and it’s pretty shitty to be honest.

If even got to a point where someone I considered to be a friend at the time would record me when I was playing football and would post the video on social media to make fun of me. Again, I know banter and a joke can happen but there is a line and he crossed it. I had people messaging me privately and even people I didn’t know commenting on the video saying how shit I was and that wasn’t called for.

That just shows that there are some shitty people out there who think they’re having a joke without realising the ramifications of what they’re doing. Also, just take a moment to understand that not everyone will be doing skills like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi and are just simply having a kickabout.

Simple message is, don’t be a cunt. Just think about what you’re doing. Those idiots would kill any confidence I had and I would go weeks and even months without kicking a ball. If you make a mistake during a game and get a “fuck sake” or “what was that?”, that’s normal as criticism comes with any sport. However, I go back to the point of there is a line and ridicule isn’t acceptable nor is it warranted.

Quite recently I’ve gone back to football training with my local team, AFC Aberaman. I’ve got no ambition to try and get in the team and there’s a cracking squad who’d be miles ahead of me if I did. I simply go training because I enjoy it. When I first went back I struggled to do one lap around the pitch. Some two months later and I’m jogging home because I’m coping better and making strides.

The best thing about it is I know most of the boys and they don’t take the piss either. There’s banter and a laugh but they’re very encouraging. If I’m last during a run, they’ll be cheering me on and there’s praise if I do something good. Of course there’s constructive criticism if I get a bit lazy or do something wrong but it’s all for my benefit.

They’re a top bunch of lads that I’ve known for a few years now and I don’t feel anxious anymore when I go, whilst in the past I’d second guess myself all the time. I get along with everyone, it’s a good outlet especially in the times we’re in with COVID and it’s getting me fitter. As the old cliche goes, it’s as good for the mind as it is for the legs.

The final couple of things I’ll touch on with my experiences is all related to two very simple things to many people – tying shoe laces and wriggling your fingers. Not many people know this aside from my fiancée, parents, sister and some close friends but I still can’t tie my shoe laces properly.

I’ve tried practicing for years and been more than patient with my efforts but the fact remains that my hand coordination just won’t let me. Whilst doing my research into Dyspraxia, I found it’s one of the most common difficulties that are reported in the case studies that I read.

There are ways to support and plenty of guidance on offer . There’s shoelace boards with laces attached to help you practice as well as groups, pages and even blogs that offers a lot of help on any of the main social media platforms as well as tutorials on YouTube.

It may help you and you may be like me that sometimes doesn’t untie their shoes because you’re worried that you won’t be able to tie them again. Even to the point that you have to ask someone to tie them for you. Either way, it’s easy to say this but I accepted a short while ago that, you can’t be good at everything and it’s not my fault.

Another reassuring and even inspiring factor came in the form of Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe. Many years ago when he was performing on the West End, Daniel revealed that he has Dyspraxia. He resonated with me right away as he grew up being mistaken for being clumsy and was originally perceived to be lazy with school work when in fact he was struggling.

He also like me still has problems tying his shoelaces and has issues with his confidence as a result. What I took away from this is that Daniel Radcliffe did not let it define him. He went on to be in one of the biggest film franchises of all time and has since carved out a career as a superb actor. In many different films/genres.

The frustrations he felt resonated with me as I’ve been there. Same goes for anyone else in the world who’s been diagnosed or are undiagnosed with Dyspraxia. I’d be lying if I said I’m fully at peace with it because there is one thing that really irritates me and that is that I can’t wriggle my fingers.

If I do, only one or two fingers will move whilst the others will stay still. Motor functions are a massive factor and it’s the same when I do buttons up or pick up something. I’m not clumsy although it appears that way. I’m not using this as an excuse but I literally can’t help it as I was born with this and I’m still coming to terms with it.

This is something I’ve held off for quite a while and was a post I considered writing quite early on but I did feel a bit scared opening up about something like this. Especially when it comes to me admitting I can’t tie my laces and other hindrances I felt.

What matters though is I have spoken up about it. I hope that it relays a better understanding for Dyspraxia as there are many misconceptions about it as well as it being confused with with other conditions.

I will not let it define me. It’s something that I should have realised a long time ago when those bastards at school or later on in life who made fun of me. I’m better than what they made me out to be and I’m enjoying the things that I enjoy.

At the bottom of those post, I’ve posted some links to some helpful websites that gave me some information and guidance whilst researching for this post. If you’re a parent reading this and feel this is a bit close to home, speak to your child’s teacher. If you spot it early like with me, your child’s education will flourish like it should.

There’s no shame in admitting we need a little help sometimes and we can’t be perfect at everything. Without the help I’ve had whether it was teachers, learning support, friends and family, I don’t know where I’d be now. There are low points but when I came away with the majority of my GCSE’s as passes and then 2 years later, finishing school with 3 A Levels, it was an amazing feeling.

It was proof that if you put the work in, you can do anything. Plus, it was a massive middle finger to those who doubted me. Once more, Dyspraxia isn’t the be all and end all, you can excel in life and slow and steady wins the race.

If you enjoy something, do it. Don’t let the horrible people put your down. Encouragement is key and with a positive mindset, anything is possible.

Thank you once again for taking time out of your day to read this. It really does mean a lot and if just one person can resonate with this and feel it benefits them in moving forward, then that’s why I do it. Awareness is key.

Take care, stay safe and until next time don’t think of this as a goodbye but more of a see you later!

Helpful Links

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/developmental-coordination-disorder-dyspraxia/

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/developmental-coordination-disorder-dyspraxia-in-adults/

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/151951

https://dyspraxiafoundation.org.uk

Chapter 39 – Toxic Environments

As the song from Staind says, “it’s been a while”. Nearly 3 months have passed since I posted my last blog entry and so much has happened. Mostly positive things have occurred and I’ve said many times during this journey, I’m not going to write for the sake of it. Every post I’ve written and plan to write has meaning and reason behind them.

I’ve also said on many occasions that reflection is very important. In order to grow and understand your mental health better, you do have to have a look back at what was the catalysts behind your negative thought patterns. By doing that you’ll remind yourself as to what pretty much made you feel like shit.

It’s a difficult process at times but during reflection, you’ll find just how much you’ve grown since those dark days. I can honestly say that I’m in a better place than where I was when I first got diagnosed with anxiety and depression but I’m a fair bit away from where I want to be. I still get bad days but trust me, there’s plenty of more good day and I put that down to a number of factors.

First of all, I simply put myself first. To realise that you’re holding yourself back isn’t an easy process. Instead of feeling dread and self sabotaging any chance I had of happiness, I knew that if I had a chance of finding a part of my life where I felt comfortable and even loved, it was where I could be myself and not let the darkness win.

Positive thinking along with the medication that I was prescribed, regular exercise such as walking and breathing exercises was massive in helping me towards a more healthier mindset. I was also going to counselling sessions, reading books again for the first time in ages and enjoying other things I’d put on the back burner for a while like listening to music and watching films.

During the counselling sessions, I was asked a very important question, “do you feel you have to make more effort with some people than they do with you?”. That was like an epiphany as so many thoughts came flooding into my head where I was in social situations with people I considered friends where I had to go out of my way to ensure they “liked me”.

I’ve briefly mentioned these people before as they were people who would take things a bit too far when it came to so called “banter”. They would be the type of people who when you’re one to one with them, they’d be the nicest person but as soon as there was a crowd, they’d be a totally different person.

Whether it was jibes about my weight, things I was interested in or anything else about me, on numerous occasions they’d make an example out of me to get a laugh. There would be times where I’d go home early from a night out because in front of everyone they’d say “that polo shirt looks a bit tight on you. Better head to the gym.” Honestly, they made me feel like shit.

It wasn’t just me they’d make examples of and I’m sure it hurt those other people just as much as my experiences did. I’ll put my hands up and admit that there’s jokes and banter in any friendship group. However, when you’re the joke over and over again and you feel anxious when you’re around these people, then it’s such a fucking awful thing to go through.

I didn’t realise just how much it effected me until I was directed onto the topic of “toxic environments” by my counsellor. I learned that being in those types of environments is very detrimental towards a person’s wellbeing and the effects are quite damaging.

At first, I thought it only referred to those who’re in a romantic relationship but I quickly learned that it this topic can be used in other contexts. Friendships, work relationships and teammates are just some other examples where these things occur and the more I looked into it, the more I realised just how it resonated with my situation.

There are many signs that you can look out for when you’re assessing as to whether you’re in a toxic relationship:

1. You don’t feel good enough. You feel like nothing you do is quite right and are constantly trying to prove your worth. You constantly seek the other person’s validation and acceptance.

2. You can’t be yourself. You feel you have to walk on eggshells and second guess everything you do. You feel you need to think twice before you speak and you feel you have to act or behave a certain way. You’re afraid to bring things up because you’re not sure how the other persons will react.

3. You feel like you’re the problem. The other person doesn’t take responsibility for their actions and instead blames you. Your self worth is effected as you feel that your personality traits are what’s causing the problem.

4. You start to withdraw from participating in activities, hobbies, interests or seeing people in your life as your self esteem and confidence in yourself is at an all time low.

A lot of these signs hit home with me pretty much straight away. My self esteem was at rock bottom and I felt afraid to go out as I was in fear of any further ridicule. I still say that my fatal flaws are overthinking and pessimism and that didn’t help the situation but being involved with this particular group made me feel a lot worse at the end of a night out than I did at the start.

A study at Harvard University found that toxic environments can expose us to high levels of stress and it will contribute to mental as well as physical issues further down the line. Toxic stressors can typically be uncontrollable and will be experienced without the effect of having support.

It can introduce an immediate or chronic fear for own integrity. Neuroscientists have discovered that brain patterns are developed by our experiences and by doing that have helped establish that toxic environments is very harmful to our mental wellbeing. It can even stem from experiences of childhood bullying that will dent our confidence and that will have a lasting effect on us in later life.

Those who know me really well will know I second guess myself and see the negative side of things a lot. When it comes to new situations, I swear it’s me doing a bungee jump as I’m that anxious about it. It’s more noticeable now but a long time ago I used to be able to put on a front.

I’d feel like this in a lot of situations. I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m not athletically gifted in any way, shape or form. In fact I didn’t even go to a gym until I was 20. When I did, some of the friendship group I referred to laughed and said “what? You? In a gym?”. At that time, I didn’t quit going, just I wouldn’t tell them when I was going so I’d feel like I’d have to keep it a secret.

Same goes with football. I love the game and have been a fan for most of my life. At the same time, I knew early on that I was never going to be the next Cristiano Ronaldo or Zlatan Ibrahimovic. I’d play because I enjoyed it but my lack of skill would be hilarious to some of them to the point where they’d keep telling me “I’m shit” and other things.

Like I said, I know I’m awful but I kept on trying. I would laugh with them and pretend to agree as I’d hope by doing that they’d stop and everything would die down. Things would get to me eventually and I would stop going to five a side and other opportunities for a kickabout because my confidence was so low. I’d go back with the hope that it won’t happen now but eventually it would and I’d be back to square one.

I hate using this as an excuse but I do have Dyspraxia (also known as developmental co-ordination disorder (DCD) ) which means that I have problems with my balance and coordination. Those who’re close to me know this and I don’t want to feel any pity over it but it does have an effect when I used to do PE and other exercise and still does to this day.

I’m planning on writing a post more focused on how I’ve grown up with Dyspraxia and it’s symptoms somewhere down the line. The fact remains that yeah maybe I should have spoke up a bit about it but at the same time, why should I have to? If I hit a bad pass or a shot flies over the bar, that’s normal but there’s a line and it was most definitely crossed.

As I said earlier, the counselling sessions were massive in helping me reflect and assess just what was contributing to my downfall. Of course the toxic relationships I had with these so called “friends” weren’t the only factor but it helped me realise that if you surround yourself with good people who appreciate you for who you are, you’ll flourish.

By doing that, I quite simply cut off contact with those people and haven’t looked back since. The friends I have now will be my friends for the rest of life and I’m forever grateful for them because I know I can talk to them if I’m struggling and I’d be there for them as well.

Yes, there’s plenty of banter and friendly insults but if I and they know we’ve crossed a line, we’ll address it, make peace and move on. That’s what true friendship is and should be in any situation.

Even in a more public platform such as social media, I know I’ve probably tagged or commented on a friend’s post and said stuff that I regret. I apologise and would take full responsibility because as you get older you have to hold yourself accountable.

There’s plenty of examples now where so called “trolls” or just plain dickheads think they’re being funny by poking fun at a person’s weight, image, sexuality or other aspects of their life. Fact of the matter is that they’re too ignorant and stupid to realise what harm they’re doing to that person.

That’s something I’ve learned the hard way as I’ve experienced it first hand. I’ve been made an example of online more than once and it’s an awful feeling. So much that I’ve gone to bed and not slept because of the sense of dread and embarrassment.

A lot of this has come from people I considered friends. Maybe I use social media a bit too much and I know a joke’s a joke but you shouldn’t have to come away feeling anxious and shit about yourself all because of what some clown has said about you on a website. It’s a shame that people are cowardly and horrible in that way but unfortunately it’s the time we live in.

At the end of the day, these people need to realise that they’re an adult now. They need to grow up, hold themselves accountable for their actions and realise that not everyone is “thick skinned” and could be struggling.

“Be kind” isn’t a trendy hashtag or saying, it’s a matter of human decency. You’ve seen many examples of people like Caroline Flack and other high profile celebrities who’s personal life was dragged into the public eye and was subjected to horrific abuse online as well as being hounded by the press.

Just think about what you say, it’s not hard. I know I’m no saint and there’s been times where I’ve been horrible and have hurt people of which I hold myself accountable for. Some bridges have been rebuilt and some won’t be and that’s something I have to live with but if I ever made anyone feel like that again, I’d feel disgusted with myself.

I’m working every day to try and be a better person. Putting my own well-being first is essential to that and also realising that certain environments and relationships are detrimental to your mental health is very important.

If you find that you have to go out of your way in order for someone to like you or that being extra nice to someone will stop them making examples out of you, that’s a sign that you can do better. I realised it and it did me the world of good. Surround yourself with people who appreciate you, make you feel happy and that you can trust.

A strong friendship group, along with a supportive family is incredible and once again I thank them for being there as I don’t know what I’d do without them.

Thank you for reading this. Know I ranted and went on a bit but this was something that had been playing on my mind for a while and it feels bloody good to finally put it into words. For any guidance, I’ve posted links to some incredible organisations that have been helpful during my tough times.

Help is out there and people do care. The most important thing is that you matter so keep being yourself as you’re awesome and we’re in this together.

As always, take care, stay safe and until next time, don’t think of this as a goodbye but more of a see you later!

Chapter 38 – Has It Been A Year Already?!

By the time I put this blog post for all to see, it will be 364 days since I first posted my very first entry. To know I’m one day off the first anniversary since I started this journey is mind boggling as it is an incredible feeling.

The more I write, the more determined I am to spread a more positive message about mental health. Whether it’s a personal post or one where I chat to someone sharing their story, the aim is to show that opening up about your struggles is never a bad thing.

I’ve learned so much with this blog via the research I’ve put into the posts where I’ve shared my own experiences as well as some of the information shared by those I’ve chatted to. I’ve said this before, it’s a long journey but it’s worth going on it as it does help you in so many ways.

Going back to the 28th April 2020 when I posted the original blog entry, I was so nervous. It was during the first few weeks of the original lockdown and I had the post along with a few others saved in my phone for a few months and just kept putting it off.

I saw people doing creative things like crafts, Tik Tok videos, baking and other things in order to pass the time as there was nothing to do for quite a lot of the time. I was furloughed from work and just thought about what I felt I was good at and writing popped into my head.

When I was in school, creative writing was something I loved doing. I even went on to do a year of journalism in University and always found that writing about things I felt passionate about was enjoyable and fulfilling. It definitely gave me a creative spark and after things didn’t quite work out for me in Uni, I put off writing for many years until I really struggled with my mental health.

As part of my recovery from the real dark periods I had been in, I was recommended to take notes on my feelings and thought processes in order to reflect on and grow from. What I realised was that they were more coherent in terms of a story than being in note form. From that point I started looking into blogging by reading articles and reading other blogs based on mental health.

Like I said before, I kept holding back on taking the plunge on posting them. I’d even signed up to WordPress and set up my account but just couldn’t bring myself to post them. I spent a lot of time thinking whether it was a good or bad thing to do and what people would think.

The feelings were similar to the ones I had towards Facebook post I put up in 2019 where I opened up about my struggles. That was a short summary in comparison as the blog post revealed more details about my struggles and the low points I reached.

Like I’ve said before, I’ve always been an over thinker and a pessimist. One thing I hate is focusing on what people think if I do something. It’s something I’m still working on but it’s so frustrating as it is hindering when I want to do something.

Like any situation where I’m doing something which would require me to show confidence, whilst thinking things over I was constantly second guessing myself. I’ve said many times that I’m a notorious over thinker and the doubts were well and truly trying to take control. Even though this was something I put a lot of thought into, I still couldn’t help but think of the worst case scenarios.

I’d think that people would make fun of me or not take me seriously. In some ways I can tie this to the old stigma surrounding men’s mental health. Not so much that I was afraid of opening up but that fear of being judged. It’s something that I’m still working on but I hate when I put something off based on what others would think about it.

It’s easy to say this and it takes time and effort to do but with all the negativity going on in my mind, I decided to focus on the positives. I was in a better place in comparison to when I was at my lowest. I’d also cut out a lot of negative people in my life and those people would have been the ones I’d have been afraid of being judged by.

Eventually, I suppose a “fuck it” type of approach took over. If people didn’t like it, fair enough as you can’t please everyone. Those who know me will know I went through a lot of problems and I consulted with them when I was planning the blog. Some read a draft and they all agreed it was a good move. The general consensus was that it would be relatable as well as a sign of solidarity against the stigmas surrounding mental health.

Plenty of research and planning went into the blog beforehand so I knew by being open and upfront about my struggles, some people would relate to it. The whole aim of this blog is to show that there’s no shame in opening up and that doesn’t have to be by “going public” like this. Even if you open up to a family member, you’ll do yourself a massive favour.

In a sort of selfish way, it was also filled a creative void that I hadn’t had for a few years. When I was writing the initial drafts, time flew by as my thoughts and emotions were coming out in a healthy and constructive way. Once I gathered all of these thoughts together, I knew I had to post this blog.

When I eventually uploaded it from WordPress onto my Facebook page, I put my phone on silent, left it in the kitchen and went into the living room. I did try to distract myself by watching a quiz show but my parents could tell that my mind was elsewhere. They kept asking me if everything was ok and I kept saying “yeah, I’m fine” and changing the subject.

Eventually my Dad turned off the telly and put me on the spot to tell him. I hadn’t told my parents about the blog until now, again due to a fear out of what they’d think. Turned out that despite it not being their way of going about it, they told me to go for it but be careful with it being out there for all to see.

At that point, I went to get my phone to check the response and I couldn’t believe what I found. The response was incredible. I had texts, DM’s, shares, comments and likes all responding in such a positive way and it floored me to be honest. It was overwhelming in the best possible way as people I didn’t expect to read it was getting in touch giving me props for writing it.

Anyone who knows me will know I don’t deal with compliments well. I either shy away from it or act like I don’t appreciate it when in fact it means the world to me. The DM’s I had from people offering support or saying how much they could relate to it was incredible. There was a genuine sense of acceptance felt about this experience not just on a personal level but for men’s mental health.

I know there’s many other blokes who blog, do videos or podcasts about this topic but like the message says, the more we talk about it, the more we can eliminate this stigma. The lockdown period was so tough for many people and mental health was something which definitely suffered as a result of life changing so quickly.

By posting that blog post and the ones which followed showed that just by being open whether it was in a public platform such as that or in a more private setting was the best way for dealing with these issues. On a personal note, it was a huge weight off my shoulders as it showed I was 100% committed to fight not just the stigma but my own struggles which still has a hold on me from time to time.

The incredible response gave me the encouragement to continue the blog. I decided to post a new one every Tuesday but promised myself that if I ever felt the need to post for the sake of posting or write something that didn’t feel right, I would stop and take a break. By doing that I knew that I would only write something that meant a lot to me and also promoted something that was authentic and relatable.

The following weeks, I continued to post content which included details of my past including my experiences at the hands of childhood bullies, weight and image issues, the negative sides of social media, coping with difficult situations and further experiences I had with the stigma surrounding mental health and the fear of opening up.

One huge benefit of doing these blogs is that it’s a never ending learning experience. Whilst doing the research I would come across facts, stories and statistics which took me by surprise as well as further educating me about mental health.

For example, in the UK there’s an average of 18 cases of suicide per day and it’s the biggest killer of men under the age of 45. Also, 1 in 3 men experience suicidal thoughts as a result of feeling stressed and only 1 in 4 men felt confident enough to speak about their troubles to friends and family.

By doing this research I came across some fantastic initiatives and organisations which supported mental health in the UK. When I started doing this, I’d only ever really heard of Mind and Samaritans as the former was behind the counselling sessions I had during my own struggles when they came to a head in 2019 and last year.

There’s some fantastic organisations out there such as Anxiety UK, PAPYRUS, SHOUT, Heads Above The Waves and many more where there’s some incredible people who offer support and guidance in times of need. Each organisation have their own means of the way they support but all have a shared aim in highlighting just how important it is for us to seek help.

I’ve contacted Anxiety UK myself on some occasions and some of the coping techniques and conversations I’ve had with them has been so helpful. They understand what I’m going through because the people on the other end of the phone have been through similar situations. The fact that they’re taking time to speak to me and help so many others on a daily basis is truly incredible and that goes to anyone else who works and/or volunteers for an organisation like this.

In past blog posts, I’ve mentioned that the original aim was to do a podcast but along with the finances required to get the equipment as well as lacking the confidence to record myself, so it didn’t happen. Also, I always felt more passionate about writing so a blog felt more natural to me.

One thing I thought about a lot with the podcast idea was speaking to other people about their experiences should they feel comfortable in doing so. When the podcast idea was put to one side and the blog idea went forward, after a few posts I thought to myself “how can I interview people for the blog?”. We were still in a lockdown so I couldn’t meet up with people so I had to think of a way of getting around this roadblock and then it hit me.

I listen to many podcasts whilst out on my walks. I find it therapeutic to stick the earphones in whilst on a walk and to listen to a few tunes or a podcast and when I was listening to them, I found that instead of interviewing people in person, they were using video calling and recording the convos through there. I had already started using Zoom like so many others for video calls with groups of friends so then I the plan got rolling.

I then figured out that if I spoke to people on Zoom via my iPad, I could record the conversation on my phone and then type it up. Once I realised that was the way forward, there was one more thing to do, ask people if they would like to speak to me for the blog. I had people in mind from the beginning, going from people I know who’ve gone through difficult times and people who work with mental health organisations or have raised money for them.

So far I’ve spoken to 24 people and have many more to speak to and each story is just as inspirational and important as the other. It proves that no matter what way of life we lead, anyone can have their struggles.

Starting with my friend Alicia Ewington who works for PAPYRUS, she took me through her own journey and how her confidence was at an all time low but had the strength to find a way back. Alicia also gave me more info on PAPYRUS and the incredible work they do in helping to prevent suicide in young people.

As it went on, I spoke to other great people I know like Davzie Matthews who raised a great amount of money for MIND and is one of the most understanding and genuinely nice people I have the pleasure of knowing.

I also learned more about people’s experiences with things like body image issues and the push for body positivity when I spoke to Bethan Rees and Carys Wigley.
Carys also opened up on how she coped as a student in her university studies and changing from growing up in the valleys to then living in a huge city in Cardiff.

There was also my friend Ross who’s responded incredibly to his mental health issues after workplace bullying to doing a job he loves and is now a father. My old colleague Saima Tabassum who is an accomplished blogger in her own right via her own mental health journey is an inspiration to me as she is a huge credit to herself.

There’s people I’ve known for many years like Martyn Phillips who’s gone from hitting rock bottom due to addiction and is now studying psychology in university. My old mate Kevin Morgan, who’s fighting the stigma surrounding men’s mental health and is a bloody legend for doing so.

Like I said, none of these stories are the same but there’s one common theme, mental health. All the people I spoke struggled so much but via the help from the doctors, mental health organisations as well as support networks from family and friends, have responded fantastically to find themselves in a healthier mindset. They’re not afraid to open up, they accept there’s good and bad days but at the same time have developed techniques to come back fighting and not let the darkness win.

The more I spoke to these people, the more they inspired me. One of my closest mates James Williams proves the point I made before which is that no matter what job or background you have, we can all go through bad times. He is doing the job he loves which is an airline pilot and during lockdown he feared he’d lose that job. Thankfully he hasn’t but he knew he could speak to me and other friends as well as family. He’s a credit to himself as well as those who know and love him.

Christian Aldridge proved that you can go through some awful times on a personal level and have the strength to do a really difficult job in being a firefighter and seek help when you need it. All of these people I’ve had a pleasure of knowing at various points of my life and they’ve helped me immensely along this journey and I hope they know I’m here for them anytime as well.

Friendships have been formed with people, I didn’t know that well or even not at all whilst doing this. Carys Wigley, I only knew of through friends but I noticed her opening up via her social media and reached out and I can now say she’s a really good friend.

Robert Percy I met through social media groups we’re in as we’re both huge wrestling and music fans. He opened up about his challenges both professionally in his job as a journalist as well as a personal level.

The more I wrote, the more confident I felt. This is truly a passion project so I thought I was able to try and reach out to people I wouldn’t have dreamt of speaking to before. Sean Smith is a musician and podcaster I have respected and admired for well over 15 years. I messaged him after hearing his story about how he deal with things after the breakup of his former band, The Blackout.

He co hosts ‘Sappenin’ Podcast’ and on there he shared his story and has built up a fantastic following with amazing guests on the show. He’s also in a fantastic new band in Raiders, who’s drummer Chris “Stixx” Davies also shared his amazing story regarding his love for music and his battles with mental health.

I was shocked and overjoyed to find that Sean that said yes when I asked him to see if he was keen to speak to me for the blog. It was around that time I joined the podcast’s Patreon community which supports the pod and met an amazing group of people. I’ve met some awesome and selfless people through it and Sean paid tribute to them in his chat to me as well as opening up about his love for music, comedy and his own struggles.

His co host Morgan Richards is proof that you can follow your ambitions and do what you’ve grown up loving as a job. He’s a fantastic journalist who covers Pro Wrestling and has experience working with and interviewing musicians at Radio Cardiff and is now smashing it with ‘Sappenin’’. He’s also had his own issues with mental health and has gone through the bad times, to come out fighting and show that negativity will never win.

He also said the support from the Patreon community has helped him massively. Through that I met and got friendly with TJ Ambler-Shattock who’s made the jump to finish a job he hated to live his dream of training as a barber. Lockdown effected him massively as his job was on hold but his love for music as well his family and the support he knew he had helped him massively. By realising that he knew he wasn’t going to get through this alone but also had the ambition to do it for himself as well.

Jonny Owen is an actor, writer, radio host and a fellow Valleys Boy who I’ve been a fan of for many years. To speak to him was an incredible experience as Jonny is a top top storyteller and has never forgotten his roots as he speaks about his upbringing and love for his hometown of Merthyr Tydfil via his social media. The chat with him was insightful as he opened up on the challenges he’s faced in this career.

My friend and former colleague Dani Hewitt has overcome mental health setbacks, sexism and other hurdles to become a teacher, lecturer, promoter for concerts and so many other things. Her chat was another huge learning experience for me as she’s been through so much yet has the desire to do well for herself and for that she deserves all the best.

Most of the chats have a section where they talk about how the lockdown has effected their lives whether it’s on a personal level or work related. Musicians are definitely people who’s lives have changed massively as their whole means of promoting themselves through gigs was taken away. Sarah Brown’s blog chat was incredible as I learned just how important music is to someone but also how the industry being impacted by the pandemic was a blow to her job.

There’s awesome people who’ve bounced back like Keely Simmonds who went through unimaginable pain through her battle with anorexia and mental health from a young age to now be at a point where she’s campaigning for MIND. Elizabeth Jones is using her experiences of having ADHD and BPD to advocate for more understanding of these conditions which is incredible.

David Jones went through bullying and self confidence issues to now doing his own YouTube channel based on fitness challenges. If that’s not overcoming a bad period of mental wellbeing, I don’t know what is.

Same goes for Luke Jones and his ‘Start The Conversation’ page on social media. He’s even been on the news campaigning for more acceptance towards mental health and the issues surrounding how easy it is for it just to be tended to with medication.

Si Martin stated an organisation in Heads Above The Waves based on his own experiences with mental health and self harming as well as his love for punk rock. Now he and Hannah his partner in the organisation speak to schools, have workshops and even a store where they sell fantastic merchandise all based on the great message they promote. The more people I speak to, the more I realise that the fight is being fought on a wide scale.

We all have our own means of fighting the stigmas and our own inner demons but we’re all together in this battle. Mental Health is as important as physical health and knowing it’s ok to seek help will only benefit you. The people I’ve spoken to over the past year as well my own research has helped me understand things more clearly and that this is a constant learning experience.

I know I will have my struggles ahead and not every day will be good one but I know going to bed will mean when I wake up the next morning, it’s a fresh start.

“Control Your Narrative” is a saying I push a lot and the people I’ve chatted to are key to that. If you want to do something you love or feel passionate about, do it! Cutting toxic people out of your life will aid you but also speaking about your problems to a caring person or group of people is massively beneficial.

Whether it’s a friend, family or a professional, you will realise you’re not alone. So many have been in this situation where they feel alone and there’s no way back, myself included and if it wasn’t for a dear friend reaching out I dare to imagine where I’d be right now. That’s why it’s also just as important we check on one another. Drop a friend a message, phone them even.

I’ve gone for walks with friends as the guidelines have allowed and it’s reassuring to have that contact. Human interaction is more addictive than a drug for so many and I count myself as one of those people.

I hate being on my own for too long and I’ve been told I can talk for Wales but I love a conversation. My friends and family I have now are there because I know they’re there for me and the sentiment is mutual.

This blog helps me massively, I hope it’s helped many others. It was never a self adulation ploy so even if just one person has read these posts and feels comfortable to seek help, that would mean the world because it’s a life saved. I keep saying we’re in this together and we are. We will win and one day this stigma surrounding mental health will hopefully be a relic, something of the past as we go on.

Thank you to everyone who’s been on this journey with me so far. Whether you’ve read it, shared a post, DM’d me or spoke to me for the blog, I couldn’t have done this without you.

You’re the reason I keep doing this and your support means so much to me. The blog has been read all over the world in places I couldn’t imagine like across Europe, America, Asia and beyond. It’s mind boggling that a bloke from South Wales has reached that far but thank you nonetheless.

My friends and family, I love you all. You’ve been there for me whether it’s over a beer, video/phone call, a walk or WhatsApp group and I’m there for you no matter what. I’m forever grateful for having you in my life.

It’s an age old cliche but my fiancée is my rock. She’s incredible and I don’t know where I’d be without her. The last 3 years has challenging for her to say the least but I love her more than anything and I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with her. She’a going to hate me for mentioning and hates the attention but she is the best thing to ever happen to me.

This would be the 38th entry or “chapter” of this blog I’ve written and believe me this is not the end. Whether it’s a personal piece or sharing a story of another incredible person, there’s a lot more to come. There’s so much more I want to do and the coming days, months and years excite me. I know I’ll have my dark clouds some days but the sunshine will break through and I’ll carry on.

Thank you once again. I’ve posted links and info for some of the organisations I’ve spoken about so if you wish to access them, they’re at the bottom of this post.

Remember, a problem shared is a problem halved. The feeling of letting off that weight on your shoulders is the beginning to better days. Stay safe, take care and until next time don’t think of this as a goodbye, but more of a see you later!

MIND – www.mind.org.uk
029 2039 5123 (Phone)

PAPYRUS – www.papyrus-uk.org/
0800 068 4141 (Phone) 07860 039 967 (Text)

Samaritans – www.samaritans.org
116 123 (Phone)

Anxiety UK – www.anxietyuk.org.uk
03444 775 774 (Phone)
07537 416 905 (Text)

Heads Above The Waves – http://www.hatw.co.uk

Chapter 37 – TJ Ambler-Shattock

It’s a massive understatement to say that the pandemic had an effect on many industries over the past year. Many of the things we would do on a day to day basis was taken away.

Whether it was going for a pint with some friends, a trip to the shops or even going to work, so much of our lives changed in such a quick period of time. For many of us this lasted longer than the original lockdown from March to June of 2020 as more uncertainty presented itself.

Whilst businesses reopened and we thought things were getting “back to normal, more hurdles presented themselves. Local, firebreak and another main lockdown further impacted our recovery from this pandemic on both personal and professional levels.

One of those industries that was hit by the lockdown was barbering. Going for a haircut was something a lot of us would go to not just because we needed a trim but it can also be a social occasion. A simple conversation goes a long way and the person I’ve spoken to for this blog post can definitely resonate with this.

TJ Ambler-Shattock has been a barber for the past 4 years and has taken the time to open up on how much the lockdown had an impact on the job he loves as well as a number of other factors.

I’ve gotten to know TJ over the last few months as we’re both members of the Patreon community that supports ‘Sappenin Podcast’. The podcast has been mentioned in past blog entries as I’ve chatted to both of the hosts, Morgan Richards and Sean Smith. The chats also highlighted the fantastic support the community offers to all involved.

By getting to know TJ, I learned more about him, his story and also his struggles over the past year. He’s a fantastic bloke and a credit to himself and his family as he’s confronted these dark periods head on and has come out on the other side fighting.

I couldn’t thank him enough for taking the time to talk to me and his story is definitely relatable and encouraging to anyone going through a difficult time.

The lockdown has had a massive impact on many industries including barbering. How has it effected you?

It’s had a massive effect on me. It was really tough to go from being constantly busy all the time as before the pandemic, barbering was such a massive industry to get into. Everyone needs haircuts and it’s forever busy.

It was a hard reality to face when I realised I’d gone from being incredibly busy to then nothing. The whole thing was really overwhelming and was quite hard to comprehend just how quickly this change had happened. For the first couple of weeks I just hated it as I’m always someone who wants to busy.

To be flat out to stop and not have a packed schedule just floored me. I would wake up with no real drive and sense that I didn’t have a purpose as the lockdown caused all barbers to close. It was most definitely a struggle to sit at home without a routine and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone as it really hit me hard.

It’s coming up to 5 years since I’ve been doing this. I started doing this when I moved to Wales and was one of the main reasons why I did to begin with. I was looking to go into the London School of Barbering but the course was incredibly expensive along with living costs and other things you have to fork out for.

My partner Jai is from Wales and I came across the Cardiff and Vale course which was £450. I was in a good job at the time but it wasn’t what I really wanted to do and didn’t really have that creative license that I craved. I have dyslexia and being in a 9-5 office environment doesn’t suit me at all. I’ve always been creative so I needed that outlet.

Having that need to express my creative side was most definitely something which drew me to barbering. It helped me express myself and nearly 5 years down the line, to look back I can honestly say I’m so glad I made the decision to do it. It was most definitely a now or never type of mentality as I could either sit there doing a job I didn’t want to do or push myself to something I want to do and makes me happy.

It didn’t come with it’s hardships as I fell out with family over moving to Wales and if it wasn’t for Jai, I’d have probably been on my own doing this. That drove me to do it even more as I wanted to prove people wrong and look at me today, I’m happier for doing it. I’ve had knock backs don’t get me wrong but dust yourself off and we go again eh?

Now that I’m back working is huge. I love cutting hair and in some ways it’s my therapy. If my head is clouded after a bad day, I feel so much better after cutting hair. Meeting clients and having new people to talk to is great. I’ve made friends as a result of this which brings me to the point that it’s not just a job but it’s great to build personal relationships with clients.

One of them has become such a good friend that I’m now a Godfather to his daughter. As much as it’s about the passion for cutting hair, the people I’ve met and taught me has helped shaped me to the barber I am today. Like in any job you go in with your own ambition to do well but you have to take some advice and teachings on board too.

There’s a big thing about mental health especially with men. A few of my clients come in and if they’ve had a shit time, they vent or confide in me and trust me with that. Barbers are advocates in a way as more and more men are opening up such as one guy who suffers with anxiety and depression.

He’s currently doing a PHD where he’s studying trigger points and algorithms where people would be revealing traits of any struggles with their mental health. We got talking about it and it was great as there’s such a stigma so it’s refreshing to have these types of conversations when it shouldn’t be an issue at all.

It’s easier to open up after confiding in someone and I put that down to the profession as it’s most definitely a real great chance to have chat and bond I suppose. It’s more than just a job as that shows and it’s just as beneficial to me as it is to the clients.

Do you find it easy or difficult to open up to someone?

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found it much easier. There was a time where I didn’t as I’d bottle things up which of course is not a good thing to do at all. Some instances of this causes frictions and even the end of some relationships as I’d put on a front and keep in what I was feeling to point where I’d implode.

I was one bad day away from doing something stupid. Thankfully I haven’t and as the years have gone by, I’ve noticed and accepted that it’s ok to open up and there’s so much benefits in doing so. It’s easy to talk to my partner, also the Sappenin group is massively supportive to each other.

There’s such a great support network for me these days and I don’t feel I need to keep this stuff in anymore. Opening up and sharing isn’t an issue anymore and I’ve recognised that if I’m feeling like I’m in a bad place, opening up to Jai about it is always a good thing. She’s here for me and not to hinder me and that shows it’s a partnership in name and value.

It’s all good and well to do it on your own but sometimes you do need that rock or that guidance to help you take the reigns. At the end of the day, we all need help at some point. Going back to the Sappenin group, we’ve also built some incredible friendships. Mostly with people we haven’t even met yet because of lockdown restrictions but these will go onto to be lifelong mates.

They won’t judge you for being you or feeling in a certain kind of way and they’ll encourage you to open up about it whether it’s a group chat or a one to one. They’ll do anything they can to help each other and it’s just incredible to be part of that.

One person in the group named El is just a different level of legend. She is literally at times the glue which holds the group together and she along with everyone else in the group are fucking awesome and I can’t wait to see them all when we can do so.

How important is music to you, especially in difficult situations?

Oh god. How can I even put it into words? My love for music kinda stemmed from my Dad as he played guitar and he opened me up to all of the stuff I listen to now.

It’s an indescribable feeling just what music can do for you. When you find a certain song that speaks to how you feel is an incredible thing. There’s a certain song that I refer to as my “depression song” back when we was trouble in the place which we were living in.

The song is by The Rocket Summer and I happened to come across it and it just spoke volumes to me on so many levels. It was such an overwhelming feeling that I cried after listening to it which was rare because I didn’t really cry at that point. To feel those kind of endorphins being released via a band, song or album is just an unreal feeling.

I met Jai through music via our mutual love for Deaf Havana. I’d never think that I would meet the love of my life through a band but they changed my life for the better as if I didn’t go to that particular gig and notice Jai on the other side of the room and got chatting to her, who knows what would have happened?

Music is just incredible though. I love playing bass guitar and I use Tik Tok for it where I can play with people. I’ve built up a bit of a following where I can collaborate with people and I’ve grown up playing with bands so it also brings a connective aspect as well. It’s a brilliant feeling sitting in a room making music with your best mates.

Whether people like it or not, producing something that’s yours from the ground up is a crazy yet awesome thing. It’s helped me in so many situations and music will continue to inspire the future generations.

Bands like The Blackout have inspired so many Welsh bands that we see and hear today and even though they’re no longer together, they still have a massive impact to this day.

Going back to the Sappenin group, our mutual love for The Blackout is what brought us together in some ways but also shows that without music, life would be pretty fucking boring man.

I have an “angry song” by Limp Bizkit which is ‘Break Stuff’. If I’m having a bad day, I’ll just chuck it on and just shout the lyrics. It makes me feel so much better and it might make me look like an idiot but fuck it, it helps me feel better for doing so.

Do you feel that a strong support network is key in helping you through a difficult time?

Absolutely. Nobody wants feel like they’re all alone in times of struggle and feeling that you’re doing it all by yourself is such a horrible feeling. To feel a strong support network around you is massively uplifting as we can’t do everything on our own.

At some point we do need to look for support. To have people with open ears to talk to will always be benefit in order to release that burden of holding everything back. As I touched on earlier, if you’re having a bad day just talk to someone.

If people haven’t heard from you and they reach out with a little message asking if you’re ok will mean more to anyone and make them feel better. It’ll help them on the road to a healthier mental wellbeing as well as a more positive attitude going forwards.

That boost whether it’s a friend or family member reaching out will go a long way but you have to accept you need that hand reaching out to help. By accepting the help you can start to move forward and it’s such a massive gain when you realise just how much people care.

I’m sure it’s tough for these people to take on these sort of situations so it’s important we care for each other. I know in my experiences, the people who’ve looked out for me, I would return the favour in a heartbeat. That’s what friends do the support network is proof that there’s a lot of caring people in the world and we need to highlight that a lot more.

I like to look at it from both sides of the coin as if someone helps me, I want to help them if they need it. That’s how much they mean to me.

What else do you find essential in getting through tough periods?

A lot of it is stuff like playing guitar and having a bit of me time. Putting Spotify on shuffle and learning a new song is very therapeutic. There’s an educational aspect but at the same time, I can switch off from the difficult things to do that and come away with a clearer mindset.

I like to weigh up my options. The stuff that’s going on can be resolved by talking to people but by having a creative outlet and learning something productive is such a positive distraction. What’s the next thing to learn? Where do I go from here? Instead of feeling negative, I come back refreshed and more clear in my mindset to assess my options on where I go from here.

What I try to teach myself now is to find as many positives as I can. It’s so easy to focus on the negative side as you’ll dwell on it and it’ll just bring you down. By focusing on the positive side of things, you can explore a more healthier path to move forward which will always be a good thing.

It helps my mental health as I’m not in a downward spiral by not being in a pit of depression wondering what to do next. It’s a coping mechanism which takes time but is much healthier than dwelling on the negatives for sure.

You can reflect on the negatives for sure as it does also help you grow in some aspects but don’t focus entirely on the bad points as it’ll only hinder your progress going forward.

Obviously, I’ve had setbacks and hurdles that I’ve faced with barbering but it drives me to excel in order to prove a point to the negativity and the doubters. If anything it’s a “fuck you” mentality as if you’re doubting me, I’m going to get my head down, work hard and prove you wrong.

Who’s going to be laughing at the end when I’m smashing it instead of dwelling on someone putting me down and doubting what I do? Me, that’s who and it’s down to being honest with yourself and putting in the work. It’s not easy but it’s so worth it in the end.

Why do you think there is such a stigma associated with men’s mental health?

I think a lot of it is passed down from the older generations. Men had to be men and you and to be masculine instead of showing weakness. In today’s society, masculinity isn’t as prominent as men take more care of themselves.

Whether it’s something like hair and beauty. Men take way more care of themselves these days whether it’s the hairstyles, skin care and other treatments and all it’s doing is helping you look after yourself.

In regards to the stigma, it’s easy for people to shun instead of helping others when it comes to mental health. To say “grow up” or “man up” is never a good thing and nowadays, toxic masculinity does not belong in society at all. There is no shame in opening up whatsoever.

To reach out will help you, not force you back. Look at the statistics for male suicide, it’s a lot higher than the female stats as a lot of men don’t feel they have anyone to talk to or they feel like they’re a burden. That’s not the case at all and I think it’s still tough for many men to open as a result.

Going back onto a conversation I had with a client, a lot of his family will tell him “you’re being silly” when he’s struggling with depression. That’s not helping and it’ll only add to the negativity going on. It’s horrible and I genuinely felt for the guy when he said he hasn’t got anyone to talk to.

He feels like he’s burdening people around him as they say “what’s wrong this time?”. That must be an awful thing and if you feel you can’t be yourself, you must suffer really badly and as men it’s important to look out for ourselves and each other.

We need to be more open going forward and it’ll be a massive boost. I’ll do it for myself but also for my mates too. Just be yourself as people like and love you for who you are. Be open and honest especially if you’re in a bad way.

If you don’t like me, I don’t give a fuck. People love me for who I am and that’s what matters.

What would you say to someone who is struggling and doesn’t know if talking about it is the right thing to do?

Absolutely it is the right thing to do. Talking about will be your saving grace whether it’s the person you talk to or the conversation itself. It’s a lifeline and there is no shame whatsoever in opening up as it’ll be such a relief to let that burden of holding everything in off your chest.

Whether it’s anxiety, depression or any other mental health condition, absolutely talk to the nearest person who’ll give you the time of day. There’s some fantastic organisations in place like MIND, Samaritans and other fantastic organisations which are there to help.

Like I said, I’ve bottled stuff up in the past and I felt fucking awful for doing it. In the end I chose to open up and talk about my problems and it feels like a weight off your shoulders. Whether it’s a friend, family, doctor, counsellor, please do it as you won’t regret it.

That’s what these organisations like Samaritans are there for, to help those who need it. You’re never truly alone and yes we need support around us but sometimes a stranger is the best course for a conversation. I could repeat it a million times as there’s no shame at all in doing it.

My inbox is open, I’d even give my number as if I know I’ve helped someone in a dark period, it resonates to the point I made in how important I felt it was for me to open up to someone. I’ve been in that situation and know the plus sides of accepting that helping hand.

Talking saves lives it really does so please do not see it as the wrong thing. It is the right thing to do. We’d very much rather see you around for many years to come than not have you here any more.

To see the positivity from TJ after times of struggle is so good to see. He’s learned to come out fighting, albeit with help which of course is massive but he has that drive and desire to bounce back.

The fact he’s had his dream job taken away due to this cruel pandemic is awful as it is for many others in this day and age but he knows that having a good support network whether it’s family or friends will only help and together we can get through the dark times.

He is also right in saying it’s important we return the favour to those who’s helped us. If that friend is struggling, just by texting them asking if they’re doing ok can do wonders for their wellbeing as they realise we care about them just as much as they do about us.

Support networks are key and I can vouch for TJ in saying that the Sappenin Patreon community is a godsend. I’ve met so many lovely and caring people, which I’m still yet to meet in person but when we do, I owe them a few drinks and hugs for sure.

That includes TJ as he is a really awesome person. He’s a credit to himself, his partner Jai, his son Arlo as well as everyone else around him. I’m so glad to know he’s back doing what he loves in barbering and is getting rave reviews as he’s recently started a new position at Keep The Faith Barbers in Cardiff.

He’s truly smashing it and is again proving that following your ambitions and putting in the work will only benefit you. I’ve posted some info as well as TJ’s Instagram page in regards to the barbering as he is so dedicated to the craft.

I wish him nothing but the very best going forward and deserves nothing but good things. Same goes to his family they’re a really close knit and supportive one for sure.

As always thank so much to anyone who’s taken the time to read this blog post. Remember there’s no shame in opening up to someone when you’re in a bad place. My DM’s are open and there’s many great organisations to help as well your friends and family.

Take care, stay safe and until next time don’t think of this as a goodbye but more of a see you later!

TJ’s Barbering Contact Details – 02921406954
ktfsc.resurva.com/book

Instagram – @thomas_james_barbering


Sappenin’ Patreon Link – http://www.patreon.com/sappenin

Chapter 36 – Chris “Stixx” Davies

I’ve made it no secret in previous blog posts that I love music. It really is a sense of therapy for us in many ways whether it’s listening to some of your favourite songs, writing/performing your own songs or playing an instrument.

For many of us it’s more than that. It’s actually our livelihoods. To do what you love for a living must be incredible and to be a musician is definitely something that falls into that category.

You can achieve and find so much with music. Whether it’s realising you have a talent for playing an instrument, singing or even coming across people who like the same music as you, so much can be gained from this truly wonderful thing.

The person I’ve spoken to for this blog post can definitely say he’s achieved a lot as well as forming strong bonds via music. Chris Davies, aka “Stixx” is a very accomplished drummer. He’s performed in many bands over the years since first playing the drums as a teenager including Flailing Wail and Navigator! Get Out!

He’s also runs a production company named South Wales Kings so to say he’s got the creative bug is most definitely an understatement.

He’s currently in Raiders which is fronted by former blog interviewee Sean Smith. Stixx is definitely a passionate musician who puts so much into his music. He’s also learned to be creative during the lockdown as he’s branched into video editing for the band as well as doing his own videos playing along to songs on his electronic drum kit.

Like many of us, Stixx has had his battles with mental health and he’s opened up about them as well as his new found passion for running. It was a detailed conversation that could have gone for much longer than the hour or so we had via zoom.

I’m very grateful for the time he gave me and I’m sure many people will find his story inspiring as well as relatable.

The pandemic has had a massive effect on the music industry. How has it effected you and how have you dealt with the setbacks?

It’s impacted me in a negative way for sure but at the same time it’s in a weird way, been positive. We were very fortunate with Raiders that at the tail end of January and beginning of February we were touring the UK. We came back from that, headed into a studio and recorded 4 new tracks.

We had the mixes back and then the pandemic struck and everything was shut down as we all know. So we were lucky to have those tracks to sit on that we recorded. Another opportunity we had was being able for the first couple of months of the first lockdown period to try and put some plans in place as to what we were going to do.

What those plans ended up being was releasing a single in 3 consecutive months from September to November. We worked out what we were going to do and how we would release them via a website called Bandcamp.

On particular Fridays of each month do ‘Bandcamp Fridays’ where the bands get 100% of the proceeds of any downloads that are purchased through the site which is a huge boost to us and other artists.

I guess that was the positive for us to still be productive with the music as well as some merch releases which will always benefit the band in terms of revenue as it’s a business as well as a passion at the end of the day.

The obvious downside to the lockdown was that no matter how much we wanted to, we couldn’t play music together and couldn’t practice as we literally weren’t allowed to. We also live in different towns and counties as Sean’s in Merthyr, Ryan is in Aberdare, Bob’s in Ystrad Mynach and I’m currently in Porth so it’s not like we were close by in terms of where we live anyways.

Even if we were allowed to be in the same place together, we couldn’t cross certain lines due to social distancing anyways like when people could sit far apart in gardens etc. So the biggest negative was that we couldn’t rehearse and play shows. We were able to do some productive things like release music and merch and we put a lot into the presentation and promotion of the songs.

As good as it was to get our music out there, we couldn’t follow up like “normal times” by playing more shows to audiences that would be enjoying the music live. It got frustrating in that aspect for sure. We did lyric videos as additional content and something supplemental to the songs. The first video for ‘Destructobot’ was outsourced in which the final cut looked fantastic.

We also wanted to get our political beliefs and disillusions with the government out there via the song and that was implemented within the lyric video. We tried to further portray the notion that Boris, Rees-Mogg and the majority of the Tories are the buffoons that they truly and I think that came across very well.

We got that out there and had a decent reaction but weren’t massively concerned as to how many views we had in comparison to things like streaming platforms such as Spotify.

It was good timing with everything that was going on in the world at the time. The song isn’t exactly about politics as Sean wrote the lyrical content but it fitted so perfectly to the angst that was being felt right now. I’ve heard people say that once your art leaves your hands and put into the public, it’s no longer yours.

That means that it can be perceived in different ways much like this song. People can use music for different means whether it’s therapy or comparison and will read into it in their own way.

We obviously couldn’t do a live action music video as the lyric video was pretty much the only thing we could do. Later on, as a way of curing some of my “lockdown boredom”, I started to mess about with some basic software like iMovie where I could focus on making a video. I did one which I’ve released and played around with some of the footage we had.

I reached out to the boys and suggested the idea that we reach out to the fan base to see what footage they had from the shows. At first I reached out in the Sappenin Podcast Facebook group, then we posted in the band’s social pages asking for any stuff that was out there. I spent a couple of days wading through the photos and videos to find landscape footage as that was the best quality we could use.

Our bass player Ryan’s cousin came to the show in London were we supported Funeral For A Friend and got us a fair bit as he’s a photographer. In the end I got about 40 mins worth of footage which you think would be enough for a 3 or 4 minute video but that ended up being a tough slog but it’s completed and it’s out there for all to see.

Going forward, the main push is playing gigs when we can do so. As I’ve mentioned we’ve recorded 4 songs and released 3 of them so far. We originally intended to release it in December of last year but we held it back as we feel it’s the best song of the bunch.

We have ideas in place which hopefully we’ll get to sooner rather than later which is quite exciting but we like so many other industries want to come out of this on the other side and back doing what we love. We don’t talk about plans until they happen as I’m such a big wrestling fan and things can change so quickly like with WWE storylines.

We’re buzzing to get going again and when it happens it’s going to be awesome.

How important is music to you, especially when coping with difficult situations?

It’s massive to me. I’m 35 years old and I’ve been involved in the music scene since I was 13 or 14. It’s my entire adult life and a large part of my adolescence as well so you can say I’ve spent most of my life being involved with music than I have not being around it.

I’ve always been in bands since those young ages and whilst it’s been massively positive thing for me, it’s also in some cases been the number one source of negativity for me. This would relate to failed enterprises like bands, projects etc.

When you’re in a band and you feel some light is at the end of the tunnel if you’re struggling creatively but then circumstances change and it’s goes awry. I’ve fallen out with people and lost friendships as a result of it so it’s not all negative as I can honestly say it’s still to this day a massive part of my life.

During this whole situation that we’re in, music has been a massive positive for me. I purchased an electronic drum kit which helped to cure boredom at first and to keep actively playing the drums. The way I got into doing the YouTube videos wasn’t intended at first as I’m not really a public person.

It was never something in the forefront of my thinking as I wouldn’t ever think of doing a massive YouTube channel with millions of followers like some other musicians have. I thought “fuck it” in a way as I did have the free time and also it was being creative. I’ve got pretty much a home recording set up at home so I went for it and the response has been positive and I enjoy it which of course is the main thing.

Music is something that’s always been there to keep me going. Whether it’s being in a band or just as a fan listening to some of my favourite artists. Drumming wise my biggest inspirations are Riley Breckenridge from Thrice, Steve Clifford from Circa Survive, Derek Grant from Alkaline Trio and in my younger days Dave Grohl and Lars Ulrich.

Another massive influence in terms of my set up in the earlier days of playing drums is Abe Cunningham from Deftones. My kit and cymbals were set up pretty much exactly like his and I did research into what manufacturers he used. That was how much of an influence he had on me. I go through cymbals like paper so an expensive hobby turned into a very expensive job.

That’s how much music means to me, it led me to doing something I love for a living. I’ve followed my passion and yeah there’s been a few bumps in the road but I’m doing what I love and it’s just amazing.

You’re also a keen runner. How beneficial is it to achieve both a healthy physical and mental way of living?

The running has been phenomenal in regards to my mental health and I’d recommend the exercising side of things to anyone. It’s great as you’ll feel better both physically and mentally but going back to before I got into it, running was never my thing. In my early teen years when I played football was the only time I really run about.

Prior to starting my journey into running, I went into hiking. As you know yourself, here in the Valleys we’ve got beautiful scenery with mountains so I started walking 10k’s and felt massive benefits as a result of it. From where I live in Porth, I’d go over to Llanwanno where there’s a pub so I’d have a pint and something to eat and walk back over.

It was perfect for me but I also did some yoga, exercise bike and other things. I’m not a daily exercise fanatic but I would throw it into my routine to be active. My first run was around October of 2020 and I did for two reasons.

A pair of boys I know, Rhodri Morgan and Jimmy Watkins started the Running Punks community. I’ve known both lads for years as Rhodri was the drummer for Talk Show and he’s also the cousin of Dave who was the guitarist/vocalist in Flailing Wail with me. So I’ve known Rhodri since I was about 16 or 17. I met Jimmy a couple of years later through friends and got to know him as well.

They started this community which has an ethos like Punk Rock which is pretty much “run how you want”. You don’t need to have the gear, if you’ve just got a hoodie and a pair of shorts go for it. They’re all punk rockers and love music so they run to tunes they love. I saw that Jimmy and Rhod were involved so I thought “why not?” and decided to give it a go.

After getting out and trying it, it gave me a buzz straight away. I hadn’t been running for years so I knew I had to set goals like run a 1k, then 2k and so on. The goals built up over a month and to the point where eventually I got to a 5k target. As I’ve mentioned I’m 35 years of age so my ankles and knees aren’t what they used to be! They’ve had better days after years of drumming and martial arts in my younger years.

I would describe myself as a “bitty” runner if anything as I do come across these niggling little injuries. So, a full circle answer is that it’s brilliant when I’m 100% but when I have an injury and have to sit out, it’s a kick in the teeth. It’s really frustrating where I’m saying “this fucking knee!” and wonder what I’m going to do next.

I don’t feel anything when I’m drumming or on the exercise bike so I think the injuries are caused more by impact as running is more wearing on the legs. Once they go once and you don’t have them properly seen to, they will always be niggling aches and pains. I’ve been reading about ways of coping with these injuries with foam rollers and even looking into physiotherapy.

The buzz however is incredible after doing a 5k but the pains from my previous injuries is a setback. The benefits of your mental health is massive and with something like Strava helps as you have the badges and medals to achieve when you better your times and distances so it does become addictive in a way as well.

I’ve got a 5 a year old stepson and between keeping up with him and the running, never mind being 35 I turn into a 90 year old man within minutes! In all seriousness, it is totally worth trying as the old saying goes, “it’s as good for the head as it is for the legs”. Once you’re in your stride the benefits are massive.

What else do you find helpful in overcoming difficult situations?

Gaming is the biggest one for me aside from friends, family and music. For when I need a bit of personal time it’s my sanctuary to be honest. During the first few months of lockdown I played a lot of ‘Call of Duty’ and I went from being someone who didn’t play a lot of first person shooting games to a point where I was pretty good.

That was massive for me. Since I was really young, I had an Acorn computer as my parents both worked in education. Those two bit graphic type of games were a joy to play back then and really was my introduction to gaming at that point.

When I was about 5 I had my first Nintendo system, the NES. I remember having ‘Super Mario’ and ‘Duck Hunt’ on the same cartridge with a little blaster gun and I was hooked. I played for hours upon hours to the point where you wouldn’t see me for a few days. That I guess is a bit of a negative side as you do go down a rabbit hole playing these games way longer than you should.

I remember back in the 90’s, David James the England international goalkeeper was absolutely hooked on gaming. His game of choice was Final Fantasy 7 and he played it so much it effected his concentration in games and was making blunder after blunder. In the end he had to come out and admit it was due to the amount of gaming and that he was hooked on that game.

I’ve been down that road a few times but when it’s controlled it’s massive for mental health. You can escape into a different world whether it’s a PlayStation, Xbox or Switch and it’s to be able to go into a different realm, or show your competitive side in Sports or shooting games is just massive.

I love tactical games where I have to be alert. Whatever the mood is I have games for it. ‘Texas Hold Em’ poker on Xbox or ‘Monopoly’ is great for me as well. I don’t play for money but it’s a sense of escape just in a solo aspect but in a time like now it’s great for connecting with your mates.

As it’s been a challenging time for all of us without seeing our friends, having the gaming sessions with the boys has been therapeutic. Jumping on ‘Forza’ and doing a few maps or a few rounds of shooting games is great for connection. During this lockdown I don’t know what I’d have done without it at times.

Before the pandemic, there’s two close mates of mine who do ‘Thursday Club’ with me. It’s exactly what it says on the tin as we would get together and play video games together as well as have a chat and hang out. We’ve carried out that during the pandemic and more due to being out of work and having the internet to connect us for gaming sessions.

I’ve bought FIFA every year since 1997 and still got every year from Xbox 360 onwards. I still buy physical copies as that old school mentality of getting them on launch day was class. I was adamant for 2021 I wouldn’t get it as I was fed up of FIFA of not doing much in terms of adapting the mechanics of the game.

It was always just talk to me but they put the EA play demo version out. I chucked it on and played Ultimate Team for 9 hours and then ended up buying it as I built up a good team. I got a download version for £40 and played it for the best part of 10 weeks solid aside from family occasions and stuff.

That’s how much I love gaming, I escape into it. It’s therapeutic, nostalgic and just fun to be honest. So many people love it and I understand why as it’s just so beneficial when done in the right way.

I love Pro Wrestling as well. That’s one thing I’ve bonded with Sean over along with a few other mates. We used to hang out with two other boys, Scott and Jack on a Friday Night and we’re all massive wrestling fans. We’re such big fans that our WhatsApp group is called The Four Horsemen after the legendary group. We rekindled that love for wrestling together but we’d watch shows together.

Back when ‘WrestleMania 30’ happened in 2014, Sean told me he was going over Scott’s house to watch it and at that point I hadn’t watched it in a while but thought I’d check it out if I could get a good stream. I did and after watching it I was hooked again. From that point on, me, Sean and Scott started going to shows together.

We decided to go to some Indie shows and find out what was happening in the British Wrestling Scene. Back then it, it wasn’t as big as it is now and we were wondering where to go and watch shows. It turned out that I knew a guy, Matt from Midasuno who was friendly with Eddie Dennis who is now signed to WWE.

I played a gig in Clwb Ifor Bach in 2009 and Matt’s girlfriend went to school Swansea way and told us she knew a wrestler. I spent the entire night in the smoking area at Clwb, drinking and talking wrestling with Eddie as he came along.

Fast forward to 2014 and I reached out to Eddie to recommend some good indie shows. He highly recommended Progress Wrestling which is really a punk rock approach to wrestling. That and Attack Pro Wrestling were recommended and we went to shows and loved it.

I watched stuff like Ring Of Honor online along with WWE stuff and I’d spend most of my time watching wrestling as I was just addicted. We went to an Attack Pro Wrestling show where the likes of Flash Morgan Webster and Pete Dunne were on the card and it was so good man.

Flash was a highlight for me as he’s a high flying wrestler. He did a Shooting Star Press to the outside and I still have a boomerang on Instagram of it. We would love going to Attack shows after Eddie’s recommendation but Sean was also mates with Mark Andrews who also competed for Attack along with running it.

Mark started sorting us out and we travelled further afield to Fight Club Pro, Rev Pro and Progress in England. Me and Scott went to Swindon to a smaller promotion because Kenny Omega was there as he hardly did UK shows.

Going to a Wrestling show normally feels like a gig as it’s a bar there but this was more like an indoor market or fete. It was a throwback to the 80’s where the fans was massively passionate. It’s just brilliant to be part of a crowd and I’ve been there when it was the infamous angle between Will Ospreay and Vader. The crowd was electric and it was so cool to be part of it.

Being on stage in a band is one thing and that is an unreal feeling. I also love being on the other side being a passionate fan and pro wrestling does that for me too. It’s beneficial in terms of mental health to have that escapism and enjoy these things with your mates.

It’s just massive to me and helps me through difficult times. Of course a bit of family time helps too but having those interests and hobbies are things that you like and can escape to in difficult times. Honestly I can’t recommend it enough.

Do you find it easy or difficult to open up to someone?

These days it’s a lot easier for me. In my mid 20’s I went through a real rough patch with my mental health and went through a proper breakdown. I couldn’t do anything or function at all. I had weeks upon weeks off work where I just sat there pretty much as I had no drive to do something.

After a lot of pushing from family, I got out of slump and managed to get some help. I signed myself up for some CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and it was amazing for me. My preconceptions of therapy was that I was going to be told what to do and I was going to get judged. It’s not like that at all and it helped me massively.

Probably at that time there was a bit of a pride issue on my part. A lot of people feel the same where they have that perception that they feel ashamed for seeking help when in fact it’s the best thing for you. There’s no shame whatsoever and it’s the best thing I ever did. It gave me the tools to overcome dark days when I felt really down.

When I went to CBT, the guy was fantastic. It gave me the tools to help myself. He wasn’t judging me or telling me what to do. It was a guide onto the right path and it helped me change my trail of thought and I’ve never been that low since. I still have those days where I feel low and want to hide away but because of CBT it’s days instead of weeks and months. I know better days will come and it’s all about focusing on what’s good and looking after myself.

Going forward, I have that toolkit to pull myself out of slumps as well as talking about. I’ve always been a fairly open book but mental health wise I’d hide away. I do now have a tight inner circle that I can confide in and I needed them as much as I was there for them at times especially during the pandemic.

Like I’ve mentioned before, I’m a keen walker so I walked to the top of Tylorstown mountain on a dark day for me as I’d never done it and the view was breathtaking. It helped me realise that people have their struggles and to talk about it will only be beneficial.

I also advocate for regular social media breaks as well. We’re in an age where everybody knows everything about everyone and sometimes it gets a bit too much. The pandemic has shown a lot of people’s true colours and it does get you down a lot at times so a period away from it all is really helpful. Taking yourself out of a toxic/negative situation will always be a good thing.

We all have dark days and everyone goes through it. I put that on my social media a while back and I didn’t do it for a pity party, I just wanted people to know that there’s a way back from the darkness and you’ll do yourself a massive favour by doing it.

Why do you think there is such a stigma associated with men’s mental health?

I think depending on your age, my generation came through a “man up” culture in the valleys. It was a certain way of conducting yourself with a “chin up, chest out” or stiff upper lip sort of mentality. It comes through that and a lot of men felt the “shame factor” that showing weakness and your emotions was a bad thing.

It’s changing now but we were in a time where the men were the providers and had to show strength no matter what. My Dad’s generation had that it’s a sort of trickle down effect from them to us and I think we can see it now with younger generations, you can see it’s changing.

That helps massively as more and more men are opening up and that stigma will just continue to diminish as a result. The mentality changing will help us all but it will take longer for others but there’s nothing to ashamed of. You don’t have to go public on social media about it, reach out to someone in your inner circle and confide in them.

Talk to them, and if you feel comfortable in most things around them why can’t mental health be one of them? I genuinely thing the generational aspect that has contributed to the stigma especially in this part of the world where we’re from. It’s never going to fully go away but the percentage has shifted for sure.

We’re more open and kinder to each other. Being considerate to other men and knowing it’s ok to open up is a massive thing. We’ve all been a bit of a twat in the past at some point and constant thinking back into how we used to behave is down to a negative mental health experience.

Reflection is good and some bridges can’t be mended. Some people can change and I believe that but some relationships are best left in the past. It doesn’t mean you have to reconnect with everyone. I’m at peace with certain people but I just focus on the road ahead and being that better person I know I can be.

What would you say to someone who is struggling and doesn’t know if talking about is the right thing to do?

It is the right thing to do. Reach out and speak to someone whether it’s a friend, family member or a professional. There’s no reason to suffer in silence as you’re only doing worse to yourself. You don’t have to let the world know but just by confiding in anyone will benefit you.

We’ve lost people due to something going on where they feel so alone and the only option is to take their own lives and I don’t want anyone to do that. I want them to feel that talking about it is the way forward.

Reaching out will only be a good thing and will be the first step towards a better time for you. Honestly you won’t regret it.

I couldn’t thank Stixx enough for the chat we had. We talked for nearly the best part of an hour for the blog and nearly another hour after I finished recording the conversation. He is proof that putting faith in what you love and going for it will only be a good thing.

There will be bad days challenges ahead but being honest with yourself and confiding in the right people will help you along that path. There’s no shame in opening up about your struggles either and Stixx is further proof to that. It’s so beneficial and you don’t have to go public about it. Just trusting a few individuals whether as it’s someone you know or if it’s a professional will do wonders.

I wish him nothing but the very best going forward with Raiders. He’s a fanatically talented drummer who’s doing what he loves and when we can go to gigs again, I can’t wait to see him and the other boys in Raiders do what they do best on stage.

He’s also showing that making lifestyle changes by trying something like walking or running is beneficial. It gives you that boost and if you’re involved with a community like he has been, it just adds to the positivity in your life.

He honestly is a top bloke and I wish him nothing but the very best with everything. He’s recently moved into a new home with his partner and stepson and I’m chuffed to bits for him. Hopefully down the line whether it’s at a gig or wrestling show, I can have a beer and a chat with him in person.

Thank you as always to everyone who’s taken the time to read this. As more and more restrictions are lifted, I hope you’re doing well and getting a chance to see your friends and family in person as it’s such a massive positive change to see them in the flesh than via a zoom call or face time.

I’ve posted some links to Stixx’s social media for himself and Raiders as well as his YouTube channel if anyone fancies a look.
Remember my DM’s are always open if you need a chat and there’s plenty of people who care about you and offer support if you need it.

We’re quickly approaching the 1 year anniversary of my first blog post on the 28th April so stay tuned for some big things coming up in the next few weeks. Massive thanks to you all once again. The feedback I get still doesn’t feel real at times but it means the world that you’re taking the time to read the posts.

Stay safe, take care and until next time don’t think of this as a goodbye but more of a see you later!

Stixx’s Social Media – @StixxRaiders (Instagram and Twitter)

Raiders Social Media – @RaidersBandUK (Facebook, Instagram and Twitter)

Raiders Music – Search for “Raiders UK” on Spotify, Apple Music and all other streaming platforms.

Bandcamp – raidersbanduk.bandcamp.com

Stixx’s YouTube Channel – youtube.com/user/MrStixGuns

Chapter 35 – My Gransh, My Hero

It’s been a while since I’ve written blog post from a personal point of view. For the past few months, I’ve focused on sharing other people’s stories and the many ways we cope with difficult situations.

One thing I’ve found very recently is that I didn’t really know how to cope with grief. I realised this when my grandfather sadly passed away on the 10th of February. I felt lost and didn’t really know what to say or feel. If anything I felt rather annoyed with myself for not being upset.

Everyone else in the immediate family cried but I just couldn’t and after a period of reflection I came to a conclusion which made a lot of sense. Through this period I did a lot of reminiscing and found the answers I was looking for as well as remembering the great man as I’ve always known as “Gransh”.

A few years ago, I came across a saying which really stood out to me. It said, “a grandparent is a little bit parent, a little bit teacher and a little bit best friend.” It stood out to me as it reminded me just how much I appreciated the man I’m writing this blog post about.

Since I can remember, he’s always been my favourite person. The prospect of having him for company was so exciting and even it was just sitting in his living room, you knew you’d either laugh or just feel grateful for being there.

Every weekend I’d get excited to go and see him. As a child I’d be extra happy because he’d always have a pack of Werther’s Originals by the side of his chair and cans of Tango in his fridge. As I got older, it would be the little things which would stand out in order to make me love and respect him even more.

He was never short of a story or two. He grew up in a village called Penrhiwceiber in a very tight knit family with his brother and his parents. He played football from a young age, inspired by my great grandfather George who was a professional footballer pre, during and post war for many clubs including Bristol Rovers and Nottingham Forest.

Gransh spent part of his upbringing on the move with a stint in Nottingham whilst his father played for Forest. His love for football grew as the years went on, even to the point where he was taken on as an apprentice for now Premier League team West Bromwich Albion. The part of this story that stands out is that due to homesickness he ended up doing a runner and never went back!

He went on to play Welsh League football where he told me so many stories about the games he played, the goals he scored and the friends he made along the way. He went on holidays to Devon, a trend which followed through the generations to even myself as it’s become a second home to my family over the years.

He also made so many memories whilst being a pub landlord including his time running a pub in my home village. So many people have come to me over the years saying how much they enjoyed his time there and also how much they respected him. From what he told me, you could tell he really loved that period of his life.

He was a true people person and would help anyone out if they needed it. However you dare not cross him or anyone he cared about. If you got on the wrong side of him, it would be the equivalent of making an enemy of a mafia boss. He would tell it like it is and if you were asking for it he wouldn’t be afraid to physically stand up for himself or those he cared about either.

That was the way it was back then. Gransh was what I suppose you could describe as a “man’s man”. He was a provider and a true family man. Something which he picked up from his father and has since been passed down to mine. He loved his family more than anything, including my grandmother or Nan as we called her. She sadly passed away when I was two and I really resent not having any memories of her apart from the stories passed on to me by family members.

One of my favourite things to do was to go to his bungalow and watch football with him on a Sunday. He could literally sit in his chair all day watching sport whether it was football, rugby, snooker or cricket. He even travelled abroad to places like Sri Lanka to watch cricket as that’s how much he loved sport.

He had his competitive side to other sports aside from football. He was a keen darts and skittles player but it’s fair to say his signature sport post retirement was most definitely bowls. He’d spend hours upon hours on the greens with the dear friends he had in his local bowls club. He was well liked and respected up there so much that he even became President at one point.

Gransh even tried to get me involved at a young age. I gave it a try but in the end it wasn’t for me. Like many things, I didn’t inherit his sporting prowess but after my Nan passed away, the bowls club was his sanctuary when he wasn’t in the house on his own. He had some really incredible friends up there as well as some great memories on the now legendary trips they used to take to Dublin.

He used to come along with me and my dad to watch Wales playing international football games in Cardiff and it was like having my own personal pundit and encyclopaedia of football with me.

He’d tell me stories of the great Welsh players of the past like John Charles, John Toshack, Ivor Allchurch and Cliff Jones. I’d be enthralled by his tales and memories of years gone by and he loved the fact I was excited and entertained by the modern players. He knew it wasn’t just a hobby to me as he felt exactly the same.

His storytelling was top tier. It didn’t matter how many times I heard his stories, I just hung on his every word. Like I said previously, you could see the joy and love in his eyes talking about the good times he spent with his family.

He was proud of his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. We all loved him back and I can honestly say he is, was and forever will be my favourite person and my hero.

Sadly like many people in the UK, my Gransh starting developing symptoms of what was later diagnosed as dementia. Over 850,000 people in the UK are currently known to have this illness and after the age of 65, the likelihood of developing dementia roughly doubles every five years.

When he was diagnosed, it broke me and more so my dad really struggled. He works 12 hour shifts most days as a carer in assisted living and he’d spend his days off making sure Gransh was ok. Gransh’s condition worsened pretty quickly. He was always well dressed and apart from his trademark sideburns he’d always be clean shaven.

Due to his illness getting the better of him, he grew a long beard and his physical wellbeing was also a risk. He had a couple of falls at home which resulted in a few stays at hospital. It eventually got to the point where the best thing for him was to have round the clock care and he was moved into a home.

That really hit us hard. Every time I saw him it broke me. I cried so many times because it shocked me how different he looked. Dementia as an illness is a growing challenge as it’s one of the most important health and care issues facing the world. It is estimated that one in three people will care for a person with dementia in their lifetime. Over half of these are employed and the staff at the care home Gransh was in were incredible.

He still had moments where he was charming the staff or wowing us with his usual wit, but then he’d get confused and wonder why he was there instead of being at home. To see someone so full of life and character like my Gransh go through something like this was heartbreaking to see.

Like many people, I went through a lot of emotions. At first I was angry as I tried finding someone or something to blame for all of this. It was all happening around the time I was really struggling with my mental health and like I did a lot back then, I bottled up how I was feeling. It manifested itself in a negative way as I’d break down crying when I was on my own.

I just couldn’t understand how something so cruel could effect someone I love and as I came to terms with my own illness, I read up on dementia and understood more about it. By doing that, I realised just how incredible the carers at the home was and how grateful I was for everything they were doing for him.

The care system is the UK is seriously underfunded but what those men and women did goes well beyond their pay grade, especially in the times we’re in due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Night and day they made sure he was cared for and he really was in the best place for him. It still broke me to see him in the way he was despite the glimpses of the Gransh I knew still being there.

He only met my fiancée a couple of times but when he did, he told me that she was too pretty for me but then winked and said “just kidding, you’ve got a handsome boy there”. That made the world to me as those glimpses of who Gransh was in front of my fiancée gave her chance to see why he was my hero.

As upset as I was to see him go through this horrible and cruel illness, it also broke me seeing my dad struggle. It’s fair to say my dad definitely has an old school approach when it comes to his emotions. There’s only been a few times where I’ve seen him cry and I’m glad in this instance that he didn’t bottle it up. It’s better to let it out instead of suppressing those feelings.

Everything he did for Gransh these last few years was proof to how much he loved his father. I’m so proud to call him my dad and if I go on to be half the man he and Gransh are then I know I’ve done alright in life. He always says Gransh brought him up the right way and he’s done likewise with me.

There’s a picture of the three of us on a family holiday to Devon which was taken back when I was about 14 and I always think back to that as a visual definition of how close we were.

As time went on, Gransh’s condition deteriorated even further. He passed away in the early hours on the 10th of February and until his last day he was cared for by fantastic staff at the care home. They really made the last period of his life as comfortable as they could have and in the past year they’ve gone through the most unreal of challenges with COVID.

A few days after his passing, I wrote a post on their Facebook group thanking them for everything that they’ve done. I can’t really put into words just how much I respect anyone in that line of work. The challenges they face must be challenging on so may levels but they really are incredible and underrated for everything they do.

I really hate saying this, but it’s true to say that it was a blessing for Gransh. That’s no way for anyone to live and I wouldn’t wish that illness on my worst enemy. When I was told, it was in the middle of the night and for a few hours I just lay there trying to process it. It wasn’t until later on that day I realised I hadn’t cried.

When I eventually confided in my fiancée and my parents about this, they helped me realise that it hadn’t really hit me yet, despite the fact that we knew it was coming.

I felt a bit frustrated with myself as everyone else showed emotion and although I didn’t bottle it up, I couldn’t cry. Why was this happening? He was in my thoughts constantly so why wasn’t I upset?

For a period I was isolating myself by staying in my room and was overthinking everything. I was getting more frustrated as I knew I wasn’t suppressing any feelings. In the end something clicked in my head as to why I was feeling this way.

Turns out I was upset and although I was grieving, I was dealing with it in my own way. Whilst my Dad was having a cry along with my Mam, sister and other family members, I cried so much in the latter part of his life that when he did pass away, it really was a blessing for him.

He wasn’t suffering anymore and that’s what was most important for him. He didn’t deserve that and I knew going forward I had to remember the Gransh I knew and loved.

For the time leading to his funeral, we reminisced so much. So many stories and memories were shared. We laughed and I know that’s Gransh would have wanted. Going forward I’ll tell those stories to anyone who wants to hear them.

Anything from him mishearing me asking if he fancied going on the Pirate Ship in Brixham, but instead he thought I was asking if he wanted pie and chips minutes after we’d had a three course meal. Also, where he noticed I’d just bought a CD and told me to put it on in his car. It’s fair to say it was the first and last time Gransh ever listened to My Chemical Romance!

I have family which I’m close to who live in Derby and I spoke to my Auntie on the phone a couple of days before his funeral. We both agreed that he would have made a brilliant after dinner speaker as he could entertain anyone with his wit or storytelling. He did everything for his family and if it was up to him, his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren could do or be anything they wanted to be.

The day of his funeral wasn’t the sendoff that Gransh deserved. Due to the pandemic it was only family allowed and we couldn’t even have a proper service due to social distancing and other regulations.

We were briefly allowed in the chapel of rest and it was there that it really hit me. The size of his coffin really shocked me due to the weight he’d lost due to his illness. I didn’t really say anything as I just stood there and stared at the coffin.

Whilst I was doing that, I focused on the memories and the mental image I had of Gransh as I knew him at his best. People deal with grief in different ways. Similar to me, my sister didn’t say much either, we just stayed quiet whilst other family members talked about Gransh.

I was also overthinking another important aspect of the day as my Dad asked me to be a bearer to carry the coffin. At first I didn’t know what to think or say as I’d never thought I’d be asked to do something like that.

When I thought about it, typical of me I thought “what if I mess up?” and I don’t have a clue what to do. My Mam and Dad quickly reassured me as the gentlemen from the Funeral Directors were there to talk me through it and if I struggled they could take incase it got too much for me.

It never got to that point as the main thought which stayed with me was that this is how I could really show Gransh how much I love him. This was how much I respected him and what he meant to me. It was an honour to do this and although it was a very hard thing to do, I’d have done anything for him and I got through it for Gransh.

On the way to the cemetery so many people came out to pay respects. People stood near the pub he had for many years in my home village. Some of his friends from the bowls club stood near the club in their ties and blazers and as well as the family members who attended, it really was touching to see just how many people loved and respected him.

Hopefully down the line when restrictions are eased, we can arrange a proper tribute to him where we can have a drink or two in his honour. It was mentioned a few times that we’d have had had a good drinking session that day if it was possible.

Gransh loved a pint and could drink like the best of them. Sadly I don’t think his drinking prowess has passed down to me either but I’ll try my best when the occasion presents itself!

He will live on in mine and my family’s memory forever. If I’m ever lucky to become a father, I’ll tell my kids all about Gransh and all the amazing things he did. Even that he was the first person I ever swore at when I was 3 years old. Because he wouldn’t let me sit in his car, I called him a bastard and his reaction was a mixture of shock and laughter. He didn’t know whether to give me a row or laugh his head off but that’s the type of man he was.

I miss him every day. Little things remind me of him whether it’s his love of Al Jolson, the ‘Match of the Day’ theme song, Nottingham Forest, bowls or seeing a Dai cap as that was his signature hat. He owned hundreds of those and when I was a kid I used to make him laugh by wearing them backwards.

The picture I’m sharing as the cover for this blog post is pretty much my favourite one of him and is Gransh personified. For Christmas a few years ago, me and my sister had a cushion made for him personalised with the message “Reserved For Gransha”. He absolutely loved it and used it to make his comfy chair even more comfortable.

He even took it with him to hospital visits, the home and it was with him when he was laid to rest next to my Nan. I like to think that after all these years they’re back together and although I don’t have any memories of Nan that are my own, from what my Mam, Dad and other family members tell me, they were inseparable and loved each other very much.

Going forward he’s inspiring me to be a better person. He was proud of the family he raised as is my Dad. I want to raise a family based on the morals he has passed down and like I said before, if I go on to be half the man he was, I know I’ve done well in life.

I want to pay tribute to him in a special way whilst also raising money for a very dear charity to me and the family which is Dementia UK. The organisation supports funding for carers which help those who’re effected by Dementia as well as offering support and guidance to the families. I did raise money in honour of Gransh back on New Years Eve in 2019. I took part in the Nos Galan race and completed it.

He couldn’t believe it when I showed him my medal. At first he thought I won it but when he realised what I did, he was so proud and like many times before, it made cry. I don’t know what I’m going to do, but whatever it is, I hope I can make him proud.

Ok I’ve shared some information on Dementia and Dementia UK at the bottom of the post. Hopefully with the research and fundraising that’s going into helping those with those cruel illness, hopefully one day it can be defeated. The carers, homes and organisations need more help to carry on their incredible work. Without them my Gransh wouldn’t have had the care and comfort he had in his last couple of years.

Me and my family are forever grateful to everyone as Ysguborwen Care Home. Their dedication to the residents definitely doesn’t go unnoticed and full respect goes to every single staff member who works there.

Thank you to everyone who’s read this post. It’s probably the most personal and in depth piece I’ve written since the early days of the blog and this is my tribute to my hero, my Gransh, the one and only Desmond Henry Crisp.

Love you Gransh,
Josh 🖤

www.nhs.uk/conditions/dementia/about/

www.dementiauk.org/

Chapter 34 – Luke Jones

I’ve met so many incredible people in the near 12 months that I’ve been writing this blog. Every one of them have had incredible stories to tell whether it’s sharing their own battles with mental health or working hard to raise money in aid of the many great organisations which support the cause.

Everyone’s story is different on an individual basis, but if there’s one thing they all have in common it’s that being honest with yourself and reaching out for help will only benefit you.

By reaching out, you’re making a huge step by allowing yourself to come out of the dark periods fighting. You’re showing that you won’t let the negativity win, you’re strong and pretty damn awesome.

The person I’ve spoken to for this week’s blog pretty much does exactly that. Luke Jones has used his experiences to help and inspire others with his Facebook page ‘Start The Conversation’. On the page he offers guidance for anyone who’s struggling whilst showing there’s no shame in admitting you need a bit of help.

He’s recently appeared on both BBC and ITV Wales News to speak about his views regarding the over eagerness to prescribe medication for mental health conditions without any real conversation or understanding to the person who’s struggling.

He’s a fantastic mental health advocate and yet another incredible person I’ve spoken to on this journey I’ve been on for this blog.
I’m so grateful that he agreed to sit down with me over a Zoom chat to talk about a number of factors including mental health, music, coping mechanisms and so many other important topics.

You’ve been doing a lot of campaigning for mental health via your ‘Start The Conversation’ page on Facebook. What inspired you to do this?

It all started when I had a really bad experience speaking to a doctor. I called them in order to seek some help with my mental health and it was a really shit time to be perfectly honest with you.

I didn’t expect them to be that lackadaisical and blasé with their approach but they were and that really surprised me. Obviously when you’re in a state of shock like that you do get on with it in some ways but I did speak to my family and my partner about it.

The common response I had from telling them about my experience was that it wasn’t the right as to how they approached my problem. I started looking at other support systems on the internet as a way of responding to this and by doing my own research I found that the way I was treated was occurring quite often.

It’s a shame that a common theme such as this is apparent but it was and there was a lot of people like me who felt sort of brushed off if anything by their GPs. I wanted something that would bridge that gap between starting a conversation around mental health and getting help as a result of it.

There’s so many mental services out there who do incredible work but there’s a lot of GPs who aren’t aware and directing people towards them. Like if you live in Cwm Taf, this is what’s available and the same for RCT or any other area.

That’s why I set it up in order to promote these fantastic services but also to talk about mental health a bit more, share my story and if anyone has gone through anything similar and/or feels they can speak about their own problems to me privately and I do a bit of signposting as well.

Those are some reasons I set up the page but also I knew that ‘Start The Conversation’ would be a good handle to have but also I wanted to delve into what starting these conversations meant for other people. It could have been anything like spotting certain traits and behaviour changes with a friend, family member or colleague and how to start a conversation with them.

On the flip side I also try to highlight that there’s a lot of difficulty in doing that at the moment due to those social interactions aren’t available at the moment due to the lockdown. It’s a lot harder to notice these things and help others due to the challenging times we’re in.

The main reason I started it was for people to feel empowered and to start talking about mental health more openly without any stigmas. If they feel unwell and low but confident enough to speak up and get help goes a long way and I really wanted to help with that. My own experiences gave me so much motivation but the research that I did really did give me a push in the right direction as well and here I am today.

I’ve only been doing it a month but the response has been incredible. I was always in two minds about it as I always had the “why” factor but not the “how”. How can I get this across without it turning it into something where people are talking over each other like a forum.

I wanted a more community feel I guess and I’ve always had a good feel from a Facebook page when I’ve used them for the bands I’ve been in over the years. It’s good to get your message across but also have people speak to you, it works wonders both ways so a page was a fantastic way to get this message across.

I’ll also use Instagram as I do get a few messages on there and the same with Twitter but I feel there’s more traffic on Facebook so that’s the main point of focus for the time being. I’m always learning as well which is an essential part of what I’m doing and I love it.

You’ve been very open about your concerns about the state of mental health care during the lockdown, especially with medication. What issues have you come across and faced yourself?

The main issue I found was the over eagerness and nonchalant approach to upping people’s medication without any real thought of what the medication does and how it helps a person with what they are going through.

Like I said on the page, you can’t complete mental health, it’s not like a computer game where you go through different levels and complete it.

There has to be short and long term goals with mental health which will help us along our journey to a healthier wellbeing. The majority of people that I’ve spoken to has said pretty much the same thing which is that they’ve felt low or depressed and have been prescribed medication over the phone without any real guidance or explanation.

Some of these people have never ever been given meds before yet they’re given them so easy and that’s a concern for sure. What needs to be explained is that the tablets will enhance your mood and you will feel like shit for a short while.

Things will start to get better and these are just the little conversations that aren’t happening right now and it just isn’t really good is it?

It’s not like you have a bad throat and they give you antibiotics. With a GP I totally understand that they are a “general practitioner” and not all of them have a fantastic approach to mental health.

However if you call up and are seeking help like that it should trigger something. If they can’t help, why not refer you to mental health team?

The Cwm Taf Health Board have a mental health crisis team who do some fantastic work and the more research I do, the more amazing services I find but that’s through my own search. How come I’ve had to dig for all that? Even if the doctor said “I can’t go too much into it but the meds will do x, y and z. Here’s a number for this organisation who will give you further support and are happy to help.”

It’s just utilising the services that are already there and to know they’re not being promoted or advertised as much as they should is just mind boggling to be perfectly honest. Yes, there’s a lockdown on and our health services do fantastic work even in these stretched and challenging times.

I’m very aware and respectful of the work they do and I’ve never mentioned the practice or the GP that I had my bad experience with. I never ever want any heat towards them as it’s not the individual that needs to change, it’s the system. I just want the higher levels to take note and make more of an effort strategically to try and put this message out there.

For example, the Welsh Government said that they’ve given £20million to mental health services and I’d challenge that by asking where has it been spent? What’s the evidence that it’s being used as something like a radio ad or social media campaign doesn’t cost the world but it gets peoples attention.

You can target areas with a ready made marketing tool which would help so many people and create a better environment.
I know people who’ve had excellent care from GPs.

Some to the point where the doctor has called them once a week to check in on them and continued to monitor how the medication is effecting a person. Like it can effect you diet and other ways but I’ve never had a medication review. How is that slipping through the net? It shouldn’t be like that for something that so many people experience.

I was so pleased with the way that both news pieces came across as it was just as I wanted to it be. Just like I’ve explained to you and with the BBC report, the reporter spoke to me beforehand and explained that they were speaking to MIND and the health board. They weren’t just going to treat it as Luke having a bad experience with a GP so they’d go and hammer them.

Instead they used the bad experience to highlight exactly what I wanted and that’s the bigger picture and what needs to be done. You always worry if what I say gets taken out of context as they speak to you for an hour and they only use a few minutes on the telly.

Thankfully both were incredible and the ITV one even went to put the case to the Health Minister, Vaughan Gething. This is the reality of lockdown and what services are doing. I wanted to know what the Minister would do about it but I knew he’d give a pretty shit answer. He’s going to dodge it with a politicians answer and sadly he did but loads of people saw it and that’s the first thing people said was that he was very lazy with his answer.

That is starting a conversation and sorry to do a shameless plug but that’s exactly what I want to do. If you don’t talk about it and get people involved you can’t get these changes done. The more we do, the more of a difference we can make.

How important is music to you, especially in difficult situations?

Music has been everything to me since I can remember really. I also think it’s masked a lot of my mental health issues for a long time to be perfectly honest. Growing up and being in bands, feeling a part of a tight knit group, touring and being creative is just incredible.

For me, there’s no better feeling than being up on stage with your friends and playing a gig to a crowd. Having the reaction from the audience is my favourite thing to do and it just fantastic. I’ve loved doing it for many years and will do so for many more to come.

Due to the lockdown it’s hits home big time that not only do I miss it but I realise just how big it is to me in my life. It’s unbelievable just how much of a gap it leaves when you can’t play or go to gigs. It really hits home just how much it means to you.

Aside from gigs, music is a massive part of my life in other aspects. If I’m feeling a bit low or bored, I’ll plug my guitar in or and play loudly. Same if I chuck an album or a playlist on but I’ll warn my partner and my kids that things will get loud for a bit so Dad can rock out!

The main theme is that music most definitely helps me so much through difficult times. The buzz you get from it is nearly indescribable from a playing standpoint. Of course there’s so many people like yourself who miss going to gigs and it shows that so music can get you through anything.

Whether that’s a live setting or listening to a steaming site or a record, it’s massive.
I love putting my headphones on when I’m out for a walk. The good thing with sites like Spotify is that you can shuffle playlists so you can get through so much music. You can find so much on there like I’ve discovered Swedish pop artists through there which I never really listened to before, but I’ve grown to love them. It’s so uplifting along with other Scandinavian artists.

I do lots of talks in my job via the college I work at with health and social care students. What I tell them that music is essential from such a young age. Like children can learn the cues and moods from a happy song. In play school they have songs for breakfast and lunch. It’s engrained into us from such a young age and as we get older it really is the soundtrack to our lives.

When we’re teenagers, something like the emo scene was such a relatable and poignant period for teenagers. You saw bands have songs with lyrics about their struggles and you couldn’t help but relate to that and it was so important to this very day.

If you do like creative writing, that whole scene was something else. Bands like My Chemical Romance, Funeral For A Friend, The Blackout and so many others were essential listening. The content was so good and what a time it was to be part of that scene.

I loved emo music to listen to but couldn’t write it. I grew up in a funky, soul kind of household. Like the band I was in called Cornerstone had a saxophone player and we were so off the cuff compared to the bands we knew and loved but it’s what we knew.

There was one gig in Merthyr where we were on the bill with Kids In Glass Houses and The Blackout and that difference was felt that night for sure.

The feedback we got was that it was funky but in comparison it wasn’t very good. Being in Cornerstone was different but it’s what we loved doing. Some people ask why didn’t we make it? We didn’t because we weren’t making the right songs and we were swimming in the wrong direction.

We did have a really following and it felt good and looking back I’m very proud of it. After that I played in a pop/indie band called OK and we played gigs like the Big Weekend in Cardiff. We were on the same billing as Funeral For A Friend and Attack Attack which was massive to me. We were proper indie pop, and playing to a ‘Smash Hits’ type of audience of emo kids.

You can only play what you’re comfortable with and playing in front of thousands of people is mind blowing. Sharing a tent with bands you look up to is crazy but further proof just how much I love doing it so I have so many great memories to look back on.

It gives me such a buzz. I still do a little bit of original stuff on my own but mainly I’m in a covers band named Noughts and Crosses with my brother. At first it was a bit soul destroying playing Snow Patrol for the 500th time but eventually I realised we were good and getting a really positive reaction from the crowds.

Going back to what I said before, it really puts in perspective just how much I miss playing and there’s such a good feeling that comes from a live setting. That’s a gripe and it feels like a job as we play parties and weddings but it’s so good and really fun to do. I wish it gets back to normal soon because I and so many others miss it.

It’s so beneficial especially with something like mental health because you’re expressing yourself or relating to something creative and meaningful. Like I said there’s very few things than can replicate that and I don’t know where I’d be without music.

What are the main goals that you wish to achieve with the campaigning?

I just think that while I feel well and confident, I just want to talk about mental health as much as possible. That and I want to help people understand that it’s a transient thing.

As I’ve spoken about many times, I was clinically depressed and it’s the lowest I’ve ever been in my life, but as you get to those lows you can get to some amazing high points too. You might dip again but there’s sustained periods of mental health where you feel good and that’s something I really want to push as I feel it isn’t covered as much as it should be.

I know we talk about it more openly but not the actual illnesses. I’m all for the “it’s ok to not be ok” message but at the same time you want to get deeper into it. You want to say to people, here’s the places and support you can go to get help and put more substance behind it.

Little memes and things are good don’t get me wrong but having a person behind it and someone to talk to is just something completely different in terms of being beneficial. To speak to someone trustworthy and willing to let you be open is massive so to focus on that more is something I really want to do.

I also want to push the social aspect more. Of course we’re in a lockdown right now but things get better I want to do more social activities like a ‘Wellness Wednesday Walk’. I’m a strong believer in community spirit and doing something that for a positive thing will help. Especially those who don’t really have anyone to talk to.

I’m lucky to have an amazing partner, family and friends as a really strong support network but not everybody does. Having that extra thing in a community setting is huge as you can come along on your own and there will be someone in the same boat as you.

You can have a chat but also give your legs a workout on a walk so you’re benefitting yourself both physically and mentally. That feeling of being in a community is special too as you bond with people and that feeling of loneliness goes away.

It’s an exciting prospect and people are engaging with me on the page and hopefully it’ll take off once the climate allows us to.

What do you wish was more well known about mental health?

I suppose that the way some employers look at it needs to be addressed. I mean who’s going to ring up saying that they’re depressed in order to fake a sick day? If someone’s reaching out, it’s taken a lot for them to do and that could be them suffering from anxiety, depression, PTSD or any other form of mental illness.

I don’t like people thinking that others would use it for their own gain. A lot of information is easily accessible via a click of a button but employers need to be more aware of these delicate situations. By being more aware and having that education you can support people a lot more.

I’m lucky that I work for a college and they are amazing with me. They’re so helpful and my boss is a legend where I can feel like I can speak to someone and it hasn’t been an issue. Over the past few years sadly I’ve lost grandparents both passed away in a short space of time and work were so supportive.

If I needed a bit more time off, it was never an issue. Even though I had bereavement leave, they told me to take all the time I needed. Of course I needed a doctors note which is easy enough to do but unlike my former employers my current ones are incredibly supportive.

My former employers weren’t helpful at all. They were awful, they hounded me and put me in a disciplinary after coming back from being on the sick. It was all because someone has seen me smiling in a picture on Facebook which had been taken whilst I was off.

Their argument was that I couldn’t have been depressed because I was smiling which is fucking ridiculous. How can you punish someone for smiling? Also now that I look back on it, the photo in question shows that I’m smiling but I felt so low at the time, it’s a forced smile if anything. It was an awful day and someone asked for a pic of me and my brother so I just went with it.

I never did that job the same after that period. From there on I looked for another job and felt the bridges were burned. If you feel you can trust the place you work at to help you in these difficult times then they’re not worth your time as an employee. We’ve come so far and to feel like a number is just shit.

You have to show concern and empathise with someone. If you get a sick note it shows you’re unwell but some industries will pull your pants down to make you feel like you’re worth nothing unless you’re in work. Much more education is needed across the board as so many other people have said the same and employers definitely need to be more understanding.

What else do you find helpful in overcoming difficult situations?

Exercise is a great one for me and it needs to be promoted more as a broad way of coping with difficult situations. Like you don’t have to be a Cross Fit addict with chiselled abs or one of those Peloton trainers you see on telly either. You can alienate so many people with that approach.

The first time I walked into a gym I was in such a bad place both physically and mentally. I was the heaviest I’d ever been where I couldn’t do just one press up. Luckily for me the gym I went to had just opened up so they were very nurturing in the way they were with me.

It saved my life as it gave me a spark that I didn’t know that I needed. They’ve cottoned on to exercise and it does benefit you by releasing those endorphins gives you a massive boost. Whether it’s a gym session or going for a walk, it will do you the world of good and I highly recommend it.

Another is the social aspect. Even with things like this blog chat, connecting with people is massive. My tip is to understand what makes you happy. Do what you love and some days you’ll feel low but on the days you don’t, the feeling is fantastic when you’re doing something you love.

I advocate talking, but have fun with it as well. There’s lots of things you can try and a lot of them might not be for you. You won’t know what’s for you until you give it a go.

What would you say to someone who is struggling and doesn’t know if talking about it is the right thing to do?

I would say talking has always been a positive experience. Whether it’s given me a positive outlet or a new connection with a friend that I haven’t spoken about that type of thing before, it will be good for you.

Even if I’ve shared a Facebook status or tweeted something, I’ve never had any bad feedback from it. Some of the stuff I’ve shared has been really close and personal and I’ve thought against sharing it but the outpouring of love and support is a huge boost.

If people don’t have the confidence to do that, there’s amazing services like SHOUT where you can text that word to 86258 for help and you’ll speak to someone who’ll support you.

Whatever you do, try to talk to someone whether it’s a friend, family member or professional. By doing so it’s benefiting you and by many examples we’ve seen, it can and will save your life.

I think it’s fair to say that Luke has most definitely gone into this with tremendous ambition and desire. Not only to share his story but to help others as well as challenge the stigmas and challenges we face on a daily basis with mental health.

He’s put himself out there which is a great and brave thing to do especially when it comes to appearing on TV. Many people wouldn’t feel comfortable doing it but he knows that by doing so he’s spreading that message on a National scale. Full credit goes to him for doing so.

If you don’t speak up and highlight these issues, you won’t see any changes happen. Regarding the medication and treatment offered by GPs, like Luke said there are loads of fantastic doctors out there but there are cases which show that more can be done.

If they aren’t sure about what to do in terms of support, offer the amazing services and organisations that are out there. Yes medication can help, but there’s so much to it than that. Hopefully this will change in the near future and with people like Luke speaking up, I’m sure it will happen sooner rather than later.

I’ve only really got to know him these past few weeks but we’ve got mutual friends and like the same type of music. He’s a cracking bloke and judging by the conversation I had with him for this blog post, you’d swear I’d known him for 20 years.

His campaigning is detailed as it is passionate. I highly recommend you check out his page on Facebook as he doesn’t do this half hearted. He’s 100% the real deal with this type of thing and I’m sure many people will find his content relatable and educational.

It’s great to see someone with so much passion with mental health campaigning. He definitely goes onto a list with the other fantastic advocates I’ve spoken to and the many others out there who do incredible work.

His passion for music is also great to see. I remember seeing him play as part of OK at Cardiff’s Big Weekend and I remember listening to Cornerstone back in the day as well. Next opportunity I’ll get to see him play live, I will as I’d love to go to a gig as I’m sure so many others want to as well!

I’ve shared information below to Luke’s page for ‘Start The Conversation’ as well as the links to the new reports as well as his socials for himself and the music side of things. I wish him nothing but the best as he goes forward in everything that he does and it’s great to see another one of the good guys out there doing amazing work.

A massive thank you goes to Luke and everyone who’s taken time to read this. Hope everyone is doing ok and if you ever feel the need to have a chat, my DM’s are open.

Hope you’re well, stay safe, take care and until next time don’t think of this as a goodbye but more of a see you later!

Start The Conversation
Facebook page – www.facebook.com/StartTheConversationWales/

News reports – https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-56087135

www.itv.com/news/wales/2021-02-24/gp-referrals-for-mental-health-support-drop-during-coronavirus-pandemic-as-people-are-reluctant-or-unable-at-get-help?fbclid=IwAR1pZwZKAa5c2pQXNDD-mQaYC1ZAJwfcDL2SA7vmm1C_vCdrT60jFJkdcRM

Luke’s Music Pages
www.facebook.com/LegoManMusic/
www.facebook.com/NoughtsCrossesBand/

Luke’s Social Pages
Twitter – @LukeRhysJones

Instagram – @legoman88

Chapter 33 – David Jones

One thing I’ve learned from doing this blog post is that backing yourself is a massive benefit, especially if you really want to do something you feel passionate about.

If you don’t, you’re only holding yourself back. I held off posting my initial blog post out of the fear of what other people would think. After coming to a point where I knew that I was stopping myself from being creative and from holding back something I was passionate about, I posted it and haven’t regretted it since.

Confidence isn’t an easy thing to get but step by step it builds up to the point where you feel like you could take on the world in some senses and it’s an incredible feeling.

I’d like to think that the person I’ve spoken to for this week’s blog post fits that narrative perfectly. I first met David Jones through a friend a good few years ago and instantly thought what a nice guy.

The more I got to know him, the more I realised how much he loves fitness and going to the gym. So much to the fact he’s now started his own YouTube channel called ‘David’s Challenges’ where he puts himself out of his comfort zone but in situations he knows he would cope in.

It took a long time for David to reach this level of confidence. He explained to me over a chat on Zoom, what experiences and feelings led to him to follow his passions.

How important is a detailed exercise and fitness regime in order to maintain a healthy mindset?

I wouldn’t say that you have to be 100% strict with it to keep that healthy mindset. What is important is to just stay consistent with it really. Like if you fall off the horse and have a bit of time away from it, it’s not the end of the world.

As long as you get back on it at some point and maintain a level of consistency, it’s always going to benefit you. It’s the same with eating as if you have a cheat meal or a weekend where you treat yourself, that’s ok. If you get back onto the diet plan or just a case of healthy eating on the Monday, that’s perfectly normal.

If anything it gives you a routine as well as a goal or purpose. By doing well with exercise or eating well in the week, that cheat meal is the target to aim for. You’ll feel like you’ve earned it and that’s what we go for when we train or diet, you’re self rewarding by getting fitter and healthier, so a cheat meal is definitely a well earned treat.

You feel much better as the endorphins get going. Of course you’re getting in better shape, not just physically but mentally. Even just with a 10 minute workout, you feel like you’ve achieved something as you’ve put in the work. The more you keep at it, the more positive you’ll feel about yourself.

It does build your confidence. You’re body is changing and the physical transformation is uplifting. Especially if people are complimenting you as that nice thing that someone says could make your day that extra bit special.

If you eat junk food and that all the time it can lead to things like depression. But a change of diet and just getting out there for something like a walk is really beneficial. Especially to get that change of mindset going from a negative one to a much more positive one for sure.

You’ve mentioned how your past inspires you as you’ve gone forward in life. How exactly does that give you the drive and ambition you need?

In the past, I quite often stopped myself from doing certain things as I’d worry what would people think about me if I did them.

For example, I went to a badminton class in the local sports centre. I would often worry that someone I know would see me as unlike Football, Rugby etc not many people play badminton. Little things like that would worry me, as although there’s nothing wrong with playing that sport, i was kind of different from “the norm” I suppose.

The same would go for meetings or job interviews as I’d be scared to speak up incase people thought of me in a different way. I kind of relish that sort of environment now as I appreciate and like the challenge a lot more. It’s a great way of approaching these things as even though I’m nervous, I know with the right confidence and preparation, you can achieve anything.

I don’t have any regrets now. The only way I would feel that way is if I didn’t do something or didn’t give it my best shot. Self doubt and confidence is a massive thing which stems from childhood, especially my school days.

Self admittedly I am quite short and I was picked on a bit in school for it. I also wasn’t the sharpest tool in the box either and got bulkier quite a bit as a result. It got to a point where I thought these people aren’t going to like you, so just be yourself and move on from them as they’re not people I wanted to associate myself with.

In school, I stayed out of people’s ways and did my own thing. Now it’s a bit different as I feel more confident to stand up for myself or speak my mind if the situations presents an opportunity to, whereas before I wouldn’t have out of the fear of judgement and ridicule to be honest.

I used to hate confrontation and I’d back down in any of those type of situations. About 10 years ago, I just decided I had enough of feeling like I wasn’t confident enough to go for things and speak up. I had ideas and beliefs which help certain situations and now it’s good not to dwell and move forward.

It was of course a great decision on my part as I feel so much better for doing it. It’s all about backing yourself and by going forward with a positive mindset you can achieve anything really.

What led you to start your own YouTube channel and what sort of response have you had?

I always watch YouTube channels which focus on fitness. I’m fans of people like Steve Cook and Christian Guzman who have millions of subscribers on their channels as well as a massive following on social media.

They inspired me to start it as like me they’ve done it from scratch. I spoke to a colleague who said that I should go for it but mainly it was my fiancée Jenna who gave me a massive boost of encouragement to start this project up.

She believed in me and supported me all the way through. There’s been days where I feel like I’m not getting to where I want, but she give me the reassurance that these things take time. It proves that perseverance is key to these sort of things and having a strong support network is massive in doing so.

In my case it’s Jenna who is my support network and she pushes me to do better things with the channel. She saw that I had the ambition to start this up, and to have her encouragement is massive the more I go forward with the channel.

Just putting content out where people feel comfortable watching it and enjoy or have a laugh is what I want from this channel. I’m doing it for entertainment and also an educational aspect. If I find something that’s benefitting me in a training or dieting aspect,

I’d share that as some people would find that helpful, but also encourage people who’re using a similar technique to carry on with it as well.

The response I’ve had is surprising as it is incredible. Going back to the very first video, in the first hour I had 30 views and 10 or 20 days later I had 20 subscribers which was so surprising. It shocked that people would be interested in what I had to say or do by subscribing to me. They’d get notifications when I’d post a video and that support is massive.

As a result of the videos, I’m an ambassador for Fab Activewear. I wear some of their stuff in the videos and them reaching out to me was a huge thing indeed. The more you put yourself out there, the more rewards you’ll get.

I don’t have a particular goal with this so I’m not putting a cap on this. The sky’s the limit and even though the lockdown has had a bit of a hit on this, I do have ambitions to take the videos on the road or in classes. Things like MMA training is something I want to do as it shows different ways of training that the people watching may want to try as a result.

Again this is something even like a ballet class. I’m not afraid of taking myself out of my comfort zone and looking to see what the benefits are in these type of environments. If someone finds it helpful that shows the videos are working as well as getting my own creative juice flowing.

Why do you think there is such a stigma associated with mental health, specifically with men?

I think it’s that men have been perceived as tough. They’re not supposed to cry and show any emotions or weakness. That’s where the stigma comes from but especially in my case with Jenna, women and other loved ones want us to open up.

It’s ok to have these feelings as they’re perfectly normal. Nobody can go through life without a certain point where we go through a difficult period. It’s hard with the stigma around mental health and that men feel this shame that if we do open up, we’re seen as weak.

From another personal perspective, my brother has struggled with his mental health for a few years now. He’s refused to speak to anyone or go to the doctors. Even counselling is something he doesn’t feel comfortable using as he sits in the house without using social networks.

It’s a very isolated environment as my brother’s case shows. That mindset is crippling in a way as it does hold you back so much moving forward in your life. You end up in a state where you don’t enjoy things as all but also you don’t have that confidence to step forward to be more open due to that stigma.

I wouldn’t say it’s a generational thing but social media has contributed massively towards things like anxiety and depression. Not just men but women and children too. Back in the 90’s and early 2000’s, it wasn’t around as life was more active especially as a child. You were out more but now it’s totally different.

You hardly heard about people struggling because conversations were more prominent. Social media has paid a major part in the downturn in these things as negative body opinions have occurred due to the fitness models and other mainstream media outlets pushing out photoshopped or airbrushed photos.

It isn’t beneficial in a lot of ways as people especially youngsters are very impressionable. My advice would be that even though I’m not in the best shape, I don’t see myself as anything but myself. When I get to where I want to be, I know that it’s due to my hard work and because I wanted to do it.

A huge message I want to send from my videos is that you make the changes that you want to make. Don’t feel pressured, it’s your body and do want you want to do with it. There’s no toxic influence with me or what I do, so why should you feel you need to take it on board?

Back yourself, know your worth and by going forward you’ll thank yourself for doing so.

What’s the biggest thing that you’ve learned since starting your journey?

If you’re going to do something, go for it. Don’t be scared as on reflection, if I didn’t go through with the You Tube channel and other choices that I’m glad that I’ve made, I know I’d massively regret it.

I’m glad I started when I did. You won’t know if you try and if you fail, it’s fine. You learn from these things, take them on board and we go again. I’d rather do something, fail and learn from it as it builds character. We learn from our mistakes as we take them board for self improvement.

It all goes back to when I started to learn to drive. I failed my theory so many times that I almost gave up in trying. I never did though, I kept going after the 4 or 5 times I failed but in the end I passed it. You get that chance to win at certain things with perseverance and ambition. If you put the work in, you’ll smash it.

Reflection is also massive. I always use that in terms of the choices I’ve made in life whether it’s what friends I have in life, the jobs I’ve done and other things. Taking time out to assess yourself is key. Quite often you realise a change needs to be made or you know what’s benefitting you so you focus on those things. Reflection is a key path in order to do that for sure.

Aside from exercise, what do find helpful in overcoming difficult or stressful situations?

To be honest, I don’t do this as often as I should but meditation is really helpful. Usually before bed or first thing when I get up, just giving myself 5 or 10 minutes to sit there, close my eyes and focus on my breathing is such a positive and beneficial thing to do.

It starts or ends the day perfectly for me as I’m sure it does for so many other people. It helps create a positive mindset and definitely clears out the cobwebs or any overthinking that you find is going on in your mind.

The last thing you want is to start the day or end it in a state where your mind is going 100mph and just giving yourself that time to relax is key.

I came across it by accident as you see celebrities trying it. I’ve read that they say it improves people going forward in terms of starting the day and avoiding that spiral of doubt and your mind racing away. Before bed it’s the same after a stressful day.

Your mind goes awake when you want to go asleep. Concentrating on your breathing for 5 minutes and the positive things in your life is essential in helping you grow as a person. I know it’s not for everyone but for it’s helped and I wouldn’t knock it until you try it for sure.

Taking some to myself and having a game on the PlayStation takes my mind off stressful things like work. It breaks the day up as well but also it’s something I enjoy. Hobbies and interests are key and if that puts you in your comfort zone, do it.

Same goes for walking. If I’m in a bad mood or stressed, a bit of fresh air does wonders for the mind as it does for the legs. There’s so many things to help you get through these tough times. As long as it’s constructive, you won’t regret it.

What would you say to someone who is struggling and doesn’t know if talking about is the right thing to do?

The best thing to do is to always talk about it. Whether that’s your partner, family members or friends, people are there who care about you. Same goes if it’s a professional as many people find it easier to speak to someone they don’t know.

Your closest friends and family will be there for you no doubt. Talking about the issues, will get the weight off your shoulders. If you don’t, it can build up and come out in toxic ways. You’d only be benefitting yourself for talking to someone.

Like I said earlier, there’s no shame in admitting that you’re struggling with something. We’re only human and a lot of us do care about each other even in the difficult times.

A support network is key. Jenna is mine and she’s believed in me from when we first got together. It’s overwhelming but it’s massive. She’s the best thing that ever happened to me and proof that opening yourself to be happy will end the right way.

I’m very pleased that things have gone so well for David. He’s always come across as a nice guy and all the positive things going on in his life are thoroughly deserved. I’m glad he and his fiancée Jenna are happy together and the support they give each other is a joy to see.

He like so many of us has had a tough journey to get to where he is now and he is certainly proving the doubters wrong. Self belief is key and I know that myself as I had massive doubts about starting my blog but I did it. Same goes for David as he backed himself and it’s paying off massively in the year that he’s been doing the YouTube channel.

By realising his own self worth and that he could achieve these things builds a good character and he most definitely has that.

The ambition he has with the channel again goes back to the “control your narrative” mindset I often talk about. If you believe in yourself and put in the work, anything is possible.

I wish David nothing but the very best going forward and I hope lots of success with the channel occurs as he puts so much work in, and deserves to reap the rewards.

I’ve posted the link to his channel as well as his Instagram page for anyone wants to take a look. I’m not a fitness fanatic by any means but they’re entertaining as they are educational and the amount of work he’s put in is clear to see.

Massive thanks goes to David for speaking to me and also to anyone who has a read of this post. If you want to do something creative, embrace that side of you and go for it.

Take care, stay safe and until next time don’t think of this as a goodbye but more of a see you later!

YouTube Channelyoutube.com/channel/UCzFx3VLukQKp6VEBZtbWehw

Instagram – @davidschallenges

Chapter 32 – Si Martin

Ever since I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression, there’s many advocates and organisations that I’ve either been directed towards or come across myself which have offered a great amount of guidance.

These have been incredibly helpful during my journey to understanding why I feel the way that I do and how I can achieve a much healthier mindset. The help I’ve found across all platforms also has helped me understand that no matter what way of life we lead, we all have our struggles and it’s ok to admit that we do.

One of those organisations was Heads Above The Waves. I originally came across them last year whilst chatting to past blog interviewee Alicia Ewington. I looked them up and found them incredibly passionate and detailed in their approach.

They’ve recently celebrated their 8th birthday and are growing from strength to strength on a daily basis. It was set up in 2013 by Si Martin and Hannah Morgan who simply wanted to make a difference.

By setting up HATW they, wanted to share their journeys and to let others know that we’re never alone. The growth of the organisation since then is impressive as it is inspiring and I myself can honestly say it’s helped me.

Their website is a fantastic hub of helpful tips, articles and other incredible content to help us with our journeys. Their online store is also filled with so many t shirts, hoodies, notebooks and other incredible merchandise which helps promote that positive message.

I recently sat down with Si for a chat via Zoom to speak about what inspired him and Hannah to set up HATW and what else drives him in the organisation. He also speaks about his love for music as he’s the drummer for one of my favourite pop punk bands in Junior.

I couldn’t thank him enough for taking the time out of his busy schedule in order to speak to me and I thoroughly enjoyed our chat.

What inspired you to start HATW and what challenges did you face in doing so?

The original plan stemmed from my first job out of university which was with a communications company. One of our clients was a charity named UnLTD which funds social enterprises.

I was speaking to someone at work and mentioned that I’d struggled as a teenager with my mental health and had a really bad time with it. I also had a particular bad experience with self harming as a harmful coping mechanism. By getting into pop punk music and playing drums was something which helped me massively along with everything which came with it.

That was the thing which led me to making more friends when I was a bit of a loner and the more I played drums, the better I got at it. I then became the kid in that band which led towards the opportunities and the point of where I’m at now.

During my teenage years, my sister gave me the number for Samaritans but I didn’t really think that I was important enough for them. I just thought that in comparison to what you read about, this was just me having a rubbish time and I’d be wasting their time. In retrospect, I’ve since realised that my thinking back then was a load of rubbish and of course they would have wanted to help me.

The original idea I had was inspired by my love of pop punk. I set out a plan where we’d sell merch for my band with the tagline “pop punk saved my life”. The proceeds from the merch would then go to Samaritans and encourage their work.

Someone at the comms company which I was working at said that I should put in for a grant with Unlimited as it would help me make that idea into something real. I thought to myself “why not?” and went for it. They told me that it was a lovely idea to use merch as a way of starting conversations but we’d only find you if you set up your own charity instead of supporting an already established one like Samaritans.

At first I was a bit taken aback by it but then drove forward with the idea. I ended up chatting to a few people around me such as Hannah who also runs Team Up! and our friend Gruff who in the first instance runs a terrific production company named Storm and Shelter. Gruff left shortly after to focus on the growth of Storm and Shelter. We all grouped together to set up what is now Heads Above The Waves

The three of us started off with the website and had about three merch designs which we took around in a suitcase wherever we could. We wanted to start conversations and be what we all wanted to have when we were struggling in our younger years and still do to this very day.

What inspired HATW I suppose is a long way of saying that a particular crummy aspect of my personal life and the idea of someone going through a similar thing that I did, then it’s ok and we can get through it. More-so it’s being that help that we wanted to be there and show that we’re in this together and in this for the long run.

In regards to challenges, I suppose the biggest one was that we didn’t set out to start an organisation so everything seemed to be a challenge at the beginning. I think there were a couple of things like boring red tape stuff and self doubt which still exists to this day.

It’s almost like a form of imposter syndrome where I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing or why I’m here. This is something which is on of the biggest problems there is on a personal level. However having these conversations about mental health is what we want to do and build a sort of database from these experiences and conversations to help us going forward.

Over time you’d build a plethora of information which will help people over all walks of mental health so we just don’t focus on one particular aspect. Quite similar to what you’re doing with the blog, it’s all about growth and that’s a challenge but a really enticing one at the same time.

We all have our own stories and the conversations will be different and similar in their own particular ways. Both aspects would be most helpful to someone seeking that help and between that and our own journeys, it’s just about helping to spread that all important message that you’re not alone and it’s ok to talk about these kind of things.

Since HATW began back in 2013, what do you feel is the biggest thing you’ve learned?

I’m going to go for a sneaky answer on this by saying that we have learned a lot but in the form of little things that have all come together to help us in our journey. Maybe the big answer is that it’s ok to make mistakes. You can learn a lot from them and grow as a result.

The very first batch of T-shirts that we did, there was a design which we had that when it was mocked up, it looked amazing. It went right to the edge of the shirt but of course when you’re screen printing a T shirt, the screen is big on a set size.

Like the design would look amazing on a small when taken right to the edge of the shirt but when you have a XXL t shirt it doesn’t look as good as the design wouldn’t go to edge. We didn’t take that into account and didn’t realise until the shirts had been printed. However, like I said it’s all part of the learning experience.

There’s a whiteboard in our office which is massive. It must be 7 or 8 feet tall. It’s my fault as I didn’t measure it properly when I ordered it and thought it would be a perfect size. It ended up being unable to send back so we’re stuck with it. I’m 6ft and even I have to stand on a box sometimes to write stuff on it. Honestly it haunts me at times!

There’s lots of situations where there’s lots of consideration and thoughts that go into the stuff that we put out. We have to make sure it’s not harmful, not rushed and thought through. I guess it’s risk assessment but it’s ok to put something which we can adapt, learn and grow from it.

I was saying the other day that the vlog content that we put out on the Heads website and socials has grown so much in the 15 months or so since we did the first video post. The most recent one is such a stark contrast as the more videos I did, the more I learned from both external and internal inputs.

Things like including subtitles for the videos were little things that we’ve picked up along the way and learning from your mistakes is key in making sure you adapt and overcome any setbacks. Being thoughtful in what advice you take is also something massive we’ve learned over the years as well.

To an extent, even in the mental health world there’s no point in assuming what people want. You have to stay with the times as you could end up being a bit contradictory. Like you could people if they’d like to see us release a green T-shirt or a red one. 50% might say it has to be green and the other half may say red and then you’re stuck on what to do.

The answer of course is to make a red and a green shirt. That might be a bit of a lame example but you learn from little things like that. Instead of putting yourself on the spot, think of the bigger picture as sometimes two ideas can be merged together and self doubt may creep in but it’s all about responding to it.

Music is heavily associated with the organisation. How important is it to you, especially in overcoming difficult situations?

It’s hugely important dude. We may be a little bit biased in terms of us coming from an alternative scene, which we’re still a part of. I think particularly in that scene, there’s a huge sense of identity and a strong community feel as well.

I think in our own world it’s extra important and very special but at the same time a similar thing can be said for someone listening to house music. It’s might not be my cup of tea but for someone else who does enjoy it, by listening to it they could feel more relaxed or motivated and overall in a much better place.

For me personally, there’s a real connection when I play drums. My brain goes a million miles a minute at times so to just concentrate on what my four limbs are doing at one time is amazing for my mental state. I’m very bad at expressing anger and frustration at all and to let anything out for 20 mins or half hour playing drums is a massive release for me.

Like I said, playing and making music and getting into those scenes has caused me to make friends, which led to opportunities and experiences I’ve had which is just incredible and gives me an incredible feeling which I’ve had since I was a teenager.

There’s a Gnarwolves song named ‘Community, Stability, Identity’ and it sums the feeling up quite nicely. Music can give you a sense of community which can give a sense of identity and help you feel like you have a place where you belong as a Punk Rock dude. This would lead hopefully to some stability where you’re comfortable with who you are.

This could be by going to concert and losing yourself in the music, putting on your headphones and chilling to your favourite record. I also think music is incredibly powerful in terms of dictating and reacting to your mood. For me, I have playlists where it starts really heavy so if I’m angry I’ll listen to that as it has a bit of aggression in it.

As the playlist goes on, it’ll go more towards bands like Underoath who’re heavy but with a positive spin. The Slipknot song named ‘Pulse of the Maggots’ is a prime example as its vintage Slipknot as its got heavy riffs and aggression but it’s really positive as I won’t be wasting potential. That speaks to me and in a way inspires me to pick up my mood to a more positive one.

I suppose its like a journey for me with really heavy and angry songs, then lean towards heavy but less angry and finish with less heavy more positive songs. Going through that also helps me remember that I’m a huge believer in that if you don’t have the words for something, there’s always a song for it.

By putting on an album, it’s a fine way of defining your mental state or expressing how you’re feeling. That can be done lyrically as well as that connection with someone on the other end of the speaker. Like when I was 14 and Taking Back Sunday releasing songs in which the lyrics summed up how I was feeling and that was massive to me.

The song ‘Elevated’ by State Champs is a huge one for me too. I remember a few years ago, I stuck that on instead of listening to sad music and the lyrics stood out in a massive way. Basically telling us that we can achieve a state of mind that everything’s going to be ok and doing so through music is the best way to do it.

When it seems that a song is about one thing but it turns to be about something else is where you really bond with a song, album or artist. That’s the other cool thing as well as music and lyrics are open to interpretation. We can both listen to that State Champs song and take similar or different things from it. That’s what music does it’s so wide open and helpful in different ways.

The discover and journey it can take you on is massive. You can discover some cool stuff and what Machine Gun Kelly is doing with his pop punk album may help fans of that genre to listen to his rap albums. It can open a window to a genre you’d never have listened to before, so it’s kinda like an all you can eat buffet of music. There’s so much out there.

In general, music and gigs has the power to bring thousands of people together in this shared experience. Music is like one of the most important things to humanity in general. I know it’s a big statement but you look at all of the examples and there’s very few things that can replicate the feelings that music brings and it’s just incredible man.

You’ve done a lot of work in schools and other public platforms. What response have you found from the workshops, especially from children and young adults?

The summarised answer to that question is that around 90% of children that we survey feel better equipped to deal with their issues after going through our school workshops. The other kind of interesting thing is that that as a whole, our approach to speak to them is better than other things they’ve had in the past.

Now this isn’t a case of us slagging off anyone else, and I don’t want to do that at all. There’s so many fantastic organisations out there doing great work and it’s just down to finding the right one for you.

I think our approach of going and saying that we’re not medical professionals, we’ve gone through some really rubbish times in our lives. We’ve gathered these stories and coping mechanisms together and we’re here to share them with you. We just want to be that means of support that we didn’t have and speak like we wanted to be spoken to. That’s how we’d speak to them.

That’s the thing that most people connect with as we’re not talking down to them. We’re not using medical jargon, basically we’re saying “it sucks” whilst offering support and advice at the same time. The other thing is that we quite often end up with effects we didn’t imagine having beforehand.

There’s a few occasions where we did 4 or 5 weeks of workshops and there was one particular student who didn’t really connect with anything we said, or respond to any of the stuff we’ve said. They’re not going to take anything from this and thought we’d let this kid down.

However, the school contacted us a few months later and told us that the student had actually turned a corner and was performing better in their studies. Much better than they had before. They did not engage at all in the sessions but just by having a space to be themselves and open, heard and validated has a profound effect that we don’t necessarily see.

It’s one of the things that I really want to work on going forward with Heads is capturing that and the longer term effect. We put stuff out there and a year down the line, all we’ve done is sewn the seeds and said that there are things you can try and people you can talk to.

It might be that a kid comes away and says that it doesn’t effect them. A year down the line they may be in a different situation where they do need that help and they’ll remember the website so they’d head over to Heads and watch a video, read an article or blog post without it being a super intense thing which would make you feel really uncomfortable.

A positive response which you can grow from is the key and we just want to plant the seeds to help them should they need it at any point.

How important is social media in spreading your message?

It’s very important as one of the things we set out to do with young people is speak to them on their level. Their language that they speak with and converse with is social media, whether that’s getting a positive experience or reach out for support.

The fact that the world is transitioning even in the 8 years that HATW has been going, we’re even starting to slip behind slightly as we’ve only recently signed up to Tik Tok. It’s very much a case of “Gen Z” and beyond as we’re very much in a digital world and we need to meet these people to have the conversations.

It’s all well and good to say that we’re going to run a support group in the shop but the response is that the people would rather have it on Tik Tok or another form of social media then in the long run, at least it’s going to be more effective when and where they need it.

To take it back to when my sister gave me the Samaritans number, I didn’t feel that was something I’d be comfortable with. As I was using MySpace back then and these days it would be Instagram, if someone shares a Heads post with a tagline that says “hey, you’re going to be ok”, I wouldn’t feel comfortable using a helpline but the social media means can be a positive stepping stone.

Perhaps by interacting with this site, I’d feel a bit more open to using a helpline in the future as it would be something I’d feel more comfortable using. By seeing other people’s stories where they had spoken to helplines, maybe it won’t be so bad for me either. The good side of social media can be very crucial, especially in promoting our message of support whether it’s promoting our videos, blog posts or merch.

The merch can be a good conversation starter as one of our sayings is “too rad to stay sad”. By saying that it’s ok but you’re a badass by not staying this way forever. You’re going to get up tomorrow and crush it. If it’s not tomorrow then the day after that because you are sick and you will smash it. YES! GET IN!

What do you wish was more well known about mental health and the stigmas associated with it?

I think we’ve come a really long way in the 8 years that Heads has been up and running. There’s so much more available that’s out there and happening around mental health which is fantastic.

Everything I was thinking of like the usual slogans associated with mental health like “it’s ok to not be ok” springs to mind.

Everyone struggles in varying degrees is another key thing talked about, they don’t need to be more well known but there are meanings and substance behind the cliches and that is very important to realise that it’s not just a saying.

You probably already have things that can help your mental health that you don’t necessarily realise that’s there. These are things like video games. I love playing them and I know the difference between playing them out of boredom to zone out or consciously saying I’m getting worked up or in a negative trail of thought, so I need to switch off.

By switching off I’d be using my love of video games to escape to a “happy place” where I’m doing something I enjoy instead of being in a negative mindset. By wondering around the wilderness of ‘Red Dead Redemption’ or playing ‘Call Of Duty’ for a while will help me unwind.

Doing the things you already enjoy and doing some consciously will aid your mental health. You can watch Disney+ if you’re bored or if you need unleash some emotion, you’ll watch ‘Up’ and have a good old cry. That also works massively and it’s something I harp on about.

You’ve got things in your life that can help you manage your mental health. Maybe you need to find new and specific things as well but in general you probably already do something that has a positive impact on your wellbeing.

What would you say to someone who is struggling and doesn’t know if talking about it is the right thing to do?

In the vast majority of cases it’s much better to talk about it and not keep it in. So, you do you is the way to go but if talking about isn’t the right thing you can try drawing it, putting a playlist together of your favourite songs and many other ways to express yourself.

To find what works for you is essential. Just because talking works for me, it won’t necessarily mean it’ll help you, so try many things and eventually you will find something that will help you.

Like I said in the vast amount of cases, just speaking to someone you know and trust will make it more real. When something is out of your head in a conversation or when it’s written down, it becomes more manageable and tangible.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be talking that can be expressing yourself. All of the other means I’ve spoken about are alternative ways of doing that, and as long as you channel it and take it on via a healthy route, you can help yourself achieve a much more positive mindset for sure.

This is only the second time I’ve spoken to someone from a non profit organisation supporting mental health and on both occasions, I’ve learned so much from the conversations.

The work Si and everyone associated with HATW is incredible. Not just with the merch that helps us start these conversations but also the work they do in schools and other public platforms.

I’d have loved to be a teenager with these types of resources. During my teen years, there were plenty of instances where I struggled and felt like I was in a bit of a rut. Si also struggled and has found the means to set up an organisation which he would have reached out to in his teen years.

I know I’d have probably reached out to HATW if they came to my school. Being a massive fan of punk rock and other alternative sub genres of music, I’d have resonated with their stories and experiences.

Also, you don’t want to be contradicted at any point in life and Heads’ approach is exactly the opposite. I see that in their videos, blog posts and other content. It’s thoughtful, considerate and detailed which is what we all want in an approach to mental health.

Me and Si spoke for just over an hour and it flew by. His love for music and specific cult playing the drums has helped him massively. Once again this proves that music is a saving grace for so many of us. Whether it’s putting your headphones on, singing in the shower or playing an instrument, it does really give us a great feeling that very little other things can do.

A massive congrats goes to Heads Above The Waves on their 8th anniversary. I’m sure they’ll keep growing and offering their incredible support network and techniques whilst adapting to the changing times. They really do capture the positive side of social media and without it, their message wouldn’t really be seen or heard.

Thanks once again to Si for talking to me for the blog. I wish him and everyone at Heads all the best for the future and when it’s safe to do so, I’ll most definitely be popping into the store online and in Cardiff to pick up a few things.

The work the organisation does is nothing short of incredible. What started off as an idea, has blown up into something which has benefitted so many people including myself. Everyone at Heads are incredible advocates for mental health and are essential in tackling the stigmas that surround it.

I’ve left some details about HATW regarding how to access their awesome website, socials and their store when lockdown ends. For fans of music, I’ve also shared details on Junior so if you want to check out their socials or music, the info’s there.

Full kudos and respect to Si, HATW, all us quiet kids who liked a bit of punk rock, metal or any other alternative music genre and anyone else who has their struggles and feels alone at times. Remember we’re never alone in this battle and plenty of people love us for who we are.

Thank you as always for reading. Take care, stay safe and until next time don’t think of this as a goodbye but more of a see you later!

Heads Above The Waves

Website – hatw.co.ukSocial media – @HATW_uk (Twitter)@headsabovethewaves (Instagram)Heads Above The Waves (Facebook)

Si’s Social Media

@Himynameissi (Twitter) @asilverdollar (Instagram)

Junior

Search for “Junior” on Spotify, Apple Music and all other streaming platformsWebsite – musicofjunior.comSocial media – @musicofjunior (Twitter and Instagram), Junior (Facebook)