Let’s talk about it…

“Man”, Limehouse, London, April 2017 (Ian Sanders)

I’m not a Royal Watcher so usually I don’t pay much attention to what our Royal Family are up to.

But this week I have a new admiration for Princes William and Harry in being so candid about “mental health” in the interviews they’ve both done recently. I enjoyed listening to Harry in conversation with Bryony Gordon on her debut ‘Mad World’ podcast.

Gaby Hinsliff nailed this in her column for The Pool yesterday:

“For (Harry) to spell it out like this is a watershed moment. For a man belonging to one of the most famously ‘stiff upper lip’ families on the planet, a man who as a soldier worked in the most macho environment imaginable, to be so honest about his own vulnerability is game-changing in terms of shattering the stigma surrounding mental illness.”

I agree. We’ve come a long way. Of course this isn’t just an issue for men, but traditionally men aren't very good at talking about this stuff. And we all know what a problem depression and suicide is for young men.

So I’m delighted that everyone is talking about mental health in this way.

It’s music to my ears, because I can relate to some of the issues Harry’s been talking about. Of unresolved grief and repressed emotions. Perhaps like Harry, I learned the hard way too. Because I ignored it for years and I went off the rails too.

Sweeping “it” (grief, depression, whatever your crisis) under the carpet and hoping it goes away is misguided. Even if you manage to suppress it for a while, hide it and hope you cope, it will rear up again at a later point. Trust me. It will come and bite you on the backside. So I learnt that the way to deal with it is to talk about it.

I’m lucky. My mother didn’t die in a horrific car crash. But I did have difficult experiences as a teenager that affected me deeply. Yet no-one around me could talk about it. Then and now. Those difficult years are never mentioned. So those painful memories stayed in the shadows.

So for many years, I didn’t talk about what happened. Instead I got busy. I threw myself into my work (and play) and spent my 20s on a career path, becoming successful at a young age and also partying hard. That was until I ‘broke’ myself. And when I broke I had to confront those things that I had run away from all those years ago. I needed to talk about them. The trouble was, there was no-one around who could talk about them. So I had to seek help in the therapy room. And there a friendly Australian bloke called Brian Roet (a former Aussie Rules football player) finally gave me a safe place to offload and yes, also a safe place to cry (“A Safer Place to Cry” is the title of his book he gave me at the end of our final session). There I bawled my eyes out like a child — that inner child who hadn’t healed from all those years previously. And finally I could start to get better.

Getting better needs conversation. It needs us to shine a light on these taboos and speak up about them*. So if you’ve got troubles or bad experiences please find someone who’ll listen, and talk about them.

*The first time I was honest about my real story and the struggles I’d been through was on stage at The Do Lectures in 2015 (watch my Do Lecture Finding Your Story, Your Purpose & Your Compass).

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