You oft hear that one of the reasons cited for marriage breakdown is the drifting apart explanation, so it is with a heavy heart that I have to tell you…nah only joking, I’ve no plans to split up with the amazing missus. Saying that, it’s my one-sided view, you’ll have to ask her her future long term plans.
No, my drifting apart is in only one aspect of our life and that is FOOD. This thought came to me last night when I was standing on the sidelines of yet another muddy pitch, watching one of the boys in his sporting endeavours. I was chatting to a friend and we were talking about the daily dreaded question which is uttered every early morning as we all run around stressed. As we try to get our shit together for the forthcoming day, the question is asked ‘What do you want for dinner?’ or the more inclusive ‘What shall we have for dinner?’
My immediate thoughts normally run like this: ‘I can’t think straight, you make the decision’, ‘something with bread and or spuds please’, ‘I can’t be arsed to eat tonight’. Whereas I know my wife is thinking ‘Veg, pulses, fish, more veg, heaps of herbs, small portions, no carbs’. Eventually, we come to a compromise, the deal is struck and I’ll pop to Coles post kid drop off to get the required ingredients.
Please don’t think I/we don’t like our food. We do. My wife has endless bookshelves full of cookery books and foodporn mags. She loves a good cook up. We enjoy a lot of global cuisines together (in and out) and when we travel (another shared passion) we love nothing more than immersing ourselves in the local fare. But someone has come between us and we find ourselves drifting apart. That someone is Yotam Ottolenghi. In fact, I have coined a phrase for it (just now), I call it the Ottolenghi effect (sounds like a prog-rock band). Mr Ottolenghi is a famous London chef with roots in Israel. His modern take on vegetarian food has had a huge impact on current tastes and trends (note here: I’m not a veg hater). What I don’t enjoy, and my wife clearly does, are some of the combinations and ingredients. Pulling his veggie tour de force Plenty off the shelf, I open the book randomly to be greeted by vine leaf, herb and yoghurt pie. No thanks. Try again. Quinoa salad with dried Iranian lime. Not for me. I could go on (the wife will confirm this).
It would be churlish just to blame good ol’Yotam. Foodporn mags and Sunday supplements are littered with kale that, pomegranate this, no food fun here, thank you. So often at the weekends, if we are home, the dinners will run like this: Friday – my choice (I’ve got something nice and simple planned tonight with baked beans), Saturday – the better-half’s choice, which will very likely involve a trip to the fish markets and a specialist grocer with 5 hours prep after, Sunday – family dinner night, so we usually play safe with a trad roast for the kids. Every now and then I will be surprised by the Saturday night choice and we will have something, rich, luscious and fattening (I love those Saturdays). The weekday meals are a simplified rendition of the weekend’s food battles.
I know I’m not alone on this and I also know that my wife is also not alone. We simple minded blokes (my elder brother besides) like bolder, hearty flavours which can be enjoyed with one utensil, whereas my wife, and her chums, enjoy freshness, texture and healthy bits (& the occasional hot chip binge). I guess with more thought, this is some complicated and ill thought out metaphor for the difference between he and she. And that, actually, in hindsight, I’m not sure what I’m whinging about. Ok, so some meals/ingredients I don’t like and this is a two way street but we all grin and chew and say ‘that was delish, thanks very much’ because food, like relationships, is all about compromise and balance. I am the salt to her pepper.
Food note: No tolerance can be shown for fucking kale. That stuff is just plain wrong.
Want the ultimate six-pack? Big defined guns to impress the ladies? The Adonis beach bod? Well, you’re wasting your time reading this then, I haven’t a clue and I’m not some pop-up in your news feed which will tell you the top-five ways to get ripped. I am here though to chat about how important exercise is to your health, both physical and mental health that is.
I’ve always loved sport, it was something I was reasonably good at. Not a stand-out but certainly competitive. After I left school, I use to fit in a few games of hockey (the grass kind, not the psychotic ice kind) post hangover with a few mates but it was never serious and my beer belly happily grew throughout my twenties. It was not until I moved to Brighton, on the south coast of England, that I started to be a gym regular. My main motivation for hitting the cardio and weights then was that I weighed almost 95 kilos and 20 smokes a day made me sound like a wheezing bagpipe.
10 years on, I find myself in Sydney. I’ve ditched the gym (boring) and I now attend a TRX class 4 to 5 times a week at crack of fart in the AM. I really enjoy it. It’s 45 minutes of pain and it is bloomin early in the morning but by the time I get home, I’m awake, pumped and raring to go – much to the annoyance of sleepy eyed children and my doona loving misses. Oh and I now only weigh 80 kilos and I’ve dropped the ciggies so my lungs almost function as normal.
So, I’m probably the fittest I’ve been since 1982 and that’s a good thing. No one can argue that exercise isn’t good for you, especially as you get older. It keeps the joints functioning and the heart pumping. I do, of course, have a myriad of niggles and complaints but that does not stop me from putting on ye olde active wear of a morning.
But the real benefit is in my head. I certainly find that if I don’t exercise regularly, I can be stressed and irritable. I can also be lethargic and rather gloomy in my outlook. That short hard burst in the morning really gets my juices flowing and my energy levels up. The trusty endorphins kick in and I find clarity of thought and purpose for my day. If you think I’m talking horsedoodoo, then have a quick squiz on Google and you will see that there are pages and pages devoted to the benefits of sweaty fun for your aching brain.
I doubt very much that I’ll ever have that six-pack or the huge guns all those dudes on the beach have, but I can keep up with my sporty kids, I can walk long distances and I’m sure I could dance the night away (if my moves weren’t so much like an embarrassing dad). It can certainly be hard to drag yourself out of your warm duvet pit of a cold wintry morning but I can assure you that if you make the effort and stick with it, not only will your body thank you but your mind will bless you. Now, give me ten and no slacking.
Well, it’s been quite the week. One of the fears of writing personal pieces is that sensation of everyone knowing your business. However, this was vastly outweighed by the need to unburden myself and to help others (particularly men) in finding ways to deal with mental health issues. I am slightly annoyed with myself though. I had been umming and ahhing about whether to put this stuff out there. The catalyst was my amazing wife, who cheekily shared my Mr Perfect post on Facebook. My initial emotions of fear and annoyance were quickly switched to the thought – ‘I wish I’d done that earlier’.
Pleasingly, throughout the last week, I have received an avalanche of support from all over the joint. Perhaps, more importantly, I have had several men reach out to me to share their own personal battles. Result!! If a few words from myself can help and support a friend or even a friend of a friend then we are making progress. When I look at my children, one big hope is that by the time they reach adulthood, society will see mental health as just any other medical issue. I know it’s possible. Within my own generation divorce, abortion and equality rights for the LGBT community are now accepted parts of society (we just need the Australian Government to finish the job and give the LGBT community the right to marry).
I don’t plan to become a specialist writer on men’s mental health. Of course, it is a subject close to my heart, but there are lots of other things I am interested in and cross about. I will try and be a bit more prolific, a bit more light-hearted (where possible) and even more cantankerous.
Thanks again for all your support and kind words.
PS: Any men out there looking to make that first step, Mr Perfect has a great list of resources, whatever your poison.
In preparation for going legit and writing on my next passport application ‘freelance writer’ (yes, it’s happening), I visited my much forgotten blog – SPOUT. It had expired, a few days ago to be precise and with that expiration was the realisation of what 2015 had been for me and my long suffering family.
Once I paid my hosting fee to WordPress and took a look at my last entry, “Merry bloody Christmas’ December 2014, I read, not the end of a difficult time but the beginning of troubles which were to plague me for the last 14 months or so.
I thought in my naivety, that being diagnosed with a chronic blood cancer and then being lucky enough to have a pill which would help me stay alive would be enough. It wasn’t. All the anxiety and depression which had resulted from watching my mother die from ravaging bowel cancer was now compounded by the fact that I had a life threatening disease with a range of juicy complications. There is that horrible feeling of being cheated, of thinking ‘why me?’ Your anger simmers, your mood deflates and becomes withdrawn. You lash out at those you love, you become a hypochondriac (think a stockier, ginger version of Woody Allen and you’ll get somewhere near), you drink vats of red wine because you think you are a connoisseur but actually it’s to help you sleep and to stop you brain tick, tick, ticking. Life becomes an endless round of Doctors waiting rooms and health scares. Blood test, eye tests, heart tests and x-rays become the usual and throughout you try to keep it together, put your happy face on and go about your daily business.
Eventually you realise that something is not right and your reach out to get some mental me time. So that’s what I’ve been doing. It’s another Doctors waiting room, another payment to Medicare but in this more enlightened age of mental health, I wasn’t not going to do what I needed to do for my sake and my families. So every few weeks I go and see Dr.G and his penetrating eyes. I can’t say it was a particularly pleasant experience at first – I had a lot to get off my chest, but over the months as you take on board the counsel, talk things out and start to find some perspective, you get to a point of acceptance.
Acceptance how? :
1) Defusion: distancing from, and letting go of, unhelpful thoughts, beliefs and memories 2) Acceptance: making room for painful feelings, urges and sensations, and allowing them to come and go without a struggle 3) Contact with the present moment: engaging fully with your here-and-now experience, with an attitude of openness and curiosity
OK, honestly?, I’m still working on this, but I do find when those little fucking voices in your head start jabbering that just saying the mantra ‘acceptance’ is enough to keep the sods at bay for a time.
You may think that last year was a lost one, but that is not a true reflection. My boys continued to blossom and my wife continued to annoy, no sorry I meant, amaze me. We moved in to a beautiful new home and my undergrad study continued with success. We travelled to some wondrous places and enjoyed great times with friends and family. There was and is a tremendous amount to be grateful for and that for someone looking into our life, all they can see is a man with first world problems, but mental health isn’t that selective. Dark moments are very dark, your inward thoughts are hidden by your outward façade. It can be crippling and it certainly crippled my drive to bang on in this blog.
But now I’m back, feeling mentally better than I have in a long, long time. I’m not waiting to finish my degree (we’ll get there when we get there kids), I want to get back out into the adult world, earn a crust from writing and to start to enjoying life again, try to remember what happiness tastes like and forget what anger feels like. It’s not going to be easy, life just doesn’t work that way but I feel life will become an adventure again and not a chore.
PS: If you know of anyone who wants some freelance writing work done, just send them my way. Ta. B
On December 10th, I went for my regulation 2 year eye check-up. All was going swimmingly, until the optician took some pictures of my eye. Red spots. Clots to be exact. “I think you may have diabetes” she seriously informed me and gave me a couple of referrals for an Ophthalmologist and my GP.
The next day, off I went to the Ophthalmologist. More rigorous tests. Yup, looks like diabetes. Get to your GP asap. So on December 16th I went to see my super GP – Dr Tim. By now I was pretty anxious and just totally unloaded on him. “Had you had any symptoms of feeling unwell?” he asked “You’ve lost an awful lot of weight since I last saw you”. I gave it some thought. Sure, I hadn’t been feeling great. I had been very stressed during my Mum’s death here in Australia earlier in the year and the subsequent aftermath. I was anxious, depressed and rather moody. I had lost a lot of weight but thought that was a mix of stress and a more rigorous diet and fitness regime. He told me to go and get a blood test, but it certainly looked like our old friend diabetes.
The following day I gave the blood samples and waited anxiously for Friday and the results.
8am, December 18th. Dr Tim calls me at home. The tests had come back. “I need you to come to the surgery asap” he told me. It was the first day of school holidays and the boys and I had plans. Luckily my wife had not yet left work for the day. She rapidly arranged some child care and we flew off to see the Doctor.
We sat in Dr Tim’s rooms and we had a good news/bad news moment. “Your white blood cell count is through the roof…you’ll need to go to hospital asap”. “The tests indicate that you have leukaemia”. World caves in. But, he positively tells me “Its the best type you can get”. Ooh well that’s at least something – A good cancer apparently. Who knew.
Off to the Royal Prince Alfred we went and into the health care system. I spent the next three days either strapped to an amazing machine that filtered my blood of the white blood cells, being off my head while they did a bone biopsy of my hip or having constant blood letting. The rest of the time I watched the cricket on the crappy TV above my bed. Oh and my spleen, which I’d never given any thought to and normally hides like a small plum under my left rib-cage was going into hyper-drive. It was now the size of a grapefruit. That lump I’d felt on my stomach and which I thought could of been the beginnings of a six-pack was actually fit to burst.
Eventually, they confirmed that I had Chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) and it is the best one you can get. Who knew. If I’d contracted this disease 10 years ago, there was a very good chance it would turn into the acute, nasty version and I could hope to live for another 2-5 years but thanks to the wonders of genetics they had developed a drug, well 3 actually, which while it could not cure the disease, it could keep it in check and allow me to lead a normal and healthy life. There are caveats to that: sometimes it doesn’t work and occasionally there are a few nasty side affects but my options are few and I’ve now joined the chronically ill pill-popping generation.
I’m home now and looking forward to Christmas and trying to come to terms with the events of the last few days. There will be lots of lessons to learn from this but my gift to all Men reading this and the lesson I have learnt is that if something doesn’t feel right or you are slightly worried about your health go and see your GP. That’s what they are there for. I’ve had plenty of time to ponder over the last few days and all the signals were there, but I took the usual bloke attitude that if I just left/ignored it then it would just go away. Plus, I was really happy with my new slim-line figure. It turns out, you can’t ignore it. I will now be going to the hospital on a regular basis for the rest of my life and my GP will soon be sick of the sight of me. But that’s OK, I have two boys who are my world and an amazing wife I want to grow old and happy with. If that means a bit of prodding and poking by amazing medical people now and again then I’ll do it. I’m not quite ready to die yet. Merry ‘bloody’ Christmas.