We use vices to dull our emotions
Robert, 55. Divorced dad of one from a village outside Sheffield. Works in analytics
How are you?
I considered myself very fortunate at this time in my life. A few years ago I wasn’t in a good place. I had a few mental issues that I was ignoring. As a family we went through some very bad times. In 6 years we lost 4 members of our extended family; my mum lost her brother in law, son, granddaughter and her great granddaughter and I watched the whole thing unfold, trying to keep the family together. Watching my mother go through this was tough. I pushed everything to the back of my mind in order to cope. I didn’t think about my own health, I was too busy organising funerals.
Men cocoon themselves. We use vices to dull our emotions, for me it was beer - I drank a lot of beer. I ignored it and shouldn’t have. ‘I’ll be fine, I’ll deal with it, I’m a coper. Whatever you throw at me I’ll manage’. But there’s always a price to pay. Not only your physical health but your mental health. If you don’t deal with it - it will get you. The earlier you can take it on the sooner you get better. We don’t seek help soon enough. I can not recommend getting support as soon as you know something is wrong .
I had a tendency to shut off. I was quite happy to sit in a corner on my own, that is the worst thing to do. My Mum helped me immensely. Me and Mum would go out for drives in the car and just talk. She helped me through everything. My Mum has an amazing ability to communicate. She’s like a magnet. People flock to her. She is a defining part of my life. Not just because she’s my Mum. She was brought up by a posse of aunties, a commune of women (her mum died when she was 10). She doesn’t have a negative bone in her body.
It’s finding someone who you’re comfortable to talk with. If you sit in your aloneness for long enough you don’t know the decisions you’re making. You have no one to bounce off and that’s when things start to go awry! When you become ill with a psychiatric problem you know who your friends are. The problem with society is everyone has to be fit and healthy, no one can be over weight - ‘you’re lazy’ - there’s an internal pressure. We don’t have the same work or social conditions as we used to. People are more isolated. There’s little transport especially round places like this, (small town) poor communication, Wifi isn’t great. You have to keep in touch. And cry - get it out. If you’re still crying after a year - fine, it’s gotta come out.
Eventually I got diagnosed with Bipolar. Mentally and physically I was a mess. My blood pressure was so bad. I got pancreatitis and had to have my gall bladder removed. I’m ok now but I wasn't. It’s taken 4 - 5 years. Now I feel the best and most positive I’ve felt in 30 years. I am a lot happier. I have a really good job. I fell into it 3 years ago. I work with retailers - I’m an auditor. I read bar codes for a living (laughing) - I’m the person who sits between the supplier and the retailer making sure they comply.
How do you think other people see you?
Moody, aggressive and in my defence, I was ill. The worst thing you can say to someone is - ‘cheer up’. If you say you’ve been diagnosed with Bipolar you might as well say you have Smallpox. If I come across anyone who might need help I’ll say - ‘is there anything I can do to help? or if you need to taIk - let me know’. The best thing you can do with anyone is look them straight in the eye and be non judgemental.
What do you think about marriage?
Marriage is an institution and I’m not sure you’d want to spend your life in one of those. In all honesty I shouldn’t have got married. Part of having a creative mind means I’m not very good at following rules, I’m too free spirited. It has its pros and cons. I don’t seem to be able to form any relationships with women. I haven’t had a relationship for a very long time. Will I get married again - NO! Although you should never say never.
Where does all your energy go?
Work and football - I took up walking football a few years ago. I just used to work and drink, there was no stop button and no hobbies.
What are your dreams?
I had this dream once. I was still ill and a strange thing happened to me. I was in bed. The curtains morphed into a headless moving snake. Then my Dad started talking to me, he’d been dead 6 - 7 years at the time. There was no shaft of light or anything but his voice was crystal clear, like I am talking to you now. It felt like a couple of hours. He said to me - ‘I don’t like you being unhappy, be happy, learn to like yourself - come on, you’re better than that. I am alright - you have to let me go’. I was talking back to him. I was having a conversation with him. I’ve never told anyone that before.
If I was cynical - I could say the snake was to get my attention and that conversation was a conversation that I needed to have with myself but it was weird.
What’s your most memorable experience?
My Dad’s ‘visit’ will never leave me and my son being born.
Who or what inspires you?
Positivity. Anything positive. Being kind. We aren’t taught to be kind. When did it become soft and wrong to be kind? We don’t seem to care anymore. We rely too much on the wrong people making the decisions. There is so much stuff we should care about but we don’t. My friend is a teacher and he tells me tales of kids coming to school having had no breakfast, these kids turn up to school hungry because the families can’t afford to feed them. And girls not having sanitary products - what’s that about?
What do you think about Life?
We could just be so much better at it.
How do you feel about Death?
It doesn’t frighten me. I’m even comfortable that I will probably die on my own. Death is final. I don’t believe you walk up a golden staircase with angels greeting you. I have no concerns about it. We should use the word die more and get used to saying that word - DIE! We should teach children at school how to bury their parents.
What would you like to leave for the next generation ?
This is going to sound so wet but I’d just like people to be nice to each other.