An Interview with My Son
I’m honoured to have been invited to contribute to Men Tell Health for Mental Health Awareness Week 2016, and proud to present a short interview with my son Michael.
Thanks for taking part, Mike. To start things off, I’d like to ask how important are relationships to you personally, for your physical and mental wellbeing?
Personally, it’s almost vital I find. I’d describe myself as an introvert, and I really dislike being in social groups of most kinds, I don’t like being in crowds, and overall I don’t like people. Now, that sounds strange. I don’t like people in general, but I think relationships are incredibly important! It’s who you know.
I prefer a small circle of people I’m very close to, rather than a large “bubble” of minor relationships. To me, it’s the bonds with those you’re closest to which keeps you going, and that’s certainly the case with me. I don’t know what would happen if I didn’t have them.
I’ve learned it’s important to have one’s own self-care strategy and support network in place if one is to care for others. Do you agree, and if so what strategies and supports do you have in place?
I do agree. As the saying goes, "it’s hard to care for other people if you can’t care for yourself", though of course there are exceptions. As to strategies and supports, I have a network of my family, close friends (both in real life friends, and “virtual”), and my girlfriend Vicky. Strategy wise, I keep it into a simple phrase. “Do things which make you happy.” I even have a list of things which make me happy.
It is very difficult for all of those who suffer from chronic illnesses such as myself, to keep our spirits high. One of the things I do is create a big list of all the things which make me happy, and do everything I can to make those things, as often as I can, every day. Being happy really improves your outlook, so I suggest we all give it a shot! This is mine.
- Gaming, video games and elsewhere. I play games a hell of a lot, it keeps me sane and keeps my mind nimble and entertained.
- Spending time with friends.
- Eating good food.
- Watching/playing tennis.
- Spending time with my wonderful girlfriend Vicky.
- Writing and World-building for my writing world.
- We all have different lists. For everyone, I suggest giving it a try. So often, people it seems to me just don’t know how to be happy.
As parents, I am wondering how your Mum and I can support you best?
In honesty, just continue what you’ve been doing. I have had no complaints in how I’ve been supported by you guys. You’ve been patient and understanding, which is important to me. It means a lot. This answer is pretty short I know, but I don’t have much to say on this in particular, because I have only positive things to say about the support.
That’s good to hear! I remember you once told me you were glad I’d learned how to show my emotions. How was it before then, and how has the change in me impacted you?
This is an interesting question, because I genuinely don’t think it was a weakness. I’ve actually kind of reversed it, in the sense that I don’t show my emotions well. All I can really say is that before, during your “anti-social” days, it was hard to read your emotions, so it was difficult to judge if what I said or did went too far or not, or if you were joking!. Now it’s a lot easier to read them. It’s a really hard question, to be honest, and I’m sorry I can’t really help much on this one.
No worries, I appreciate it was a toughie! How about you answer one question I’ve not asked you, that you wish I had.
I have a simple one which I’ll answer; how does your health affect your life? Mainly because I think it’s a good question. I’ll answer by explaining what my health has done to my activity.
I used to be quite an active person a couple of years ago. I spent a lot of time on my computer, either gaming or writing. But I was able to attend the gym 3–4 times a week, do my wing chun (martial arts, for those who don’t know) twice a week, as well as several walks a week, usually a few every day to keep up my activity. That was before my illnesses began; mainly chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS/ME).
Now, I’m a lot less active. I haven’t been able to summon the energy to go back to the gym in two years; something I really miss. I did try once or twice, but I only got ten minutes or so done each time, and afterwards I wound up in bed, exhausted for the next few days after; the payoff just isn’t worth it. Walking has also been greatly decreased, although I’m taking steps more recently to do more walks. My martial arts I haven’t attended in almost two years as well, but hopefully, when I start recovering, I can attend it more; I really miss it and the guys who I train with, though I’ll be easy pickings for them when I return! Illness really makes you evaluate your life. For me this led to severe social anxiety and a relapse in my depression.
It hasn’t been an easy ride. At times it’s been extremely difficult. But we’re still fighting and still living, which is what matters.
Well said. Okay now it’s your turn! You get to ask me a question!
You have done a great deal on the mental health front in the past few years, a commendable thing to pursue and something many are proud of. How do you think it’s affected you as a person?
Great question! It has been completely transformative. It has opened me up to myself and other people, and brought me a far greater awareness of what many people live with on a daily basis. We all know the numbers: one in four (or five, depending where you go for the statistics) living with mental health issues. The point is that it is a lot of people! Many more when you factor in other so-called “invisible” illnesses. And when you also consider the friends, family and loved ones of those who are directly impacted, well there are few people not affected in some way. And yet these conditions are still subject to ignorance, stigma, and discrimination, which is plain dumb (to put it mildly) when you think it through.
I’ve taken mental health courses and workshops (including the excellent Mental Health First Aid training which I would recommend to anyone—including you!) which have informed me and challenged me to look inside myself. But the changes are not all internal. These things and the amazing people I’ve met have challenged me to be present in my life and in the world; to step up to the mark in ways I had never done in the past.
I hope and believe these changes—which are not complete, of course—make me a better person. Well, not “better” maybe, but more genuine, truer to myself. Because that is one thing I’ve learned from the journey I have been on these past few years and the folk I have met along the way. The best people to be around are those who are genuinely themselves. I rely on the people around me—and yes that includes you!—to “call me on my shit” when I get it wrong! Because (prepare yourself: as my son, this will be hard for you to accept) I am not perfect!
Haha! Well no one is! If people were perfect, life would be boring!