You don’t have to be special to change the world

I watch as people begin to introduce themselves and tell us how they are going to help to change our lives for us after the upcoming election. These are ‘special’ people. They tell us how educated, how clever they are. Some have faced great tragedy in their lives and they tell us how this has helped them to become much better, wiser people today.

It is perhaps no surprise that the ‘average’ kiwi disengages from politics. They just aren’t clever enough, wise enough or special enough to be able to make a difference.

I have had a good life, in many ways a privileged life. I have had my ups and downs, many that I would not wish on any person and I continue to face my own struggles, but none of that makes me special.

If I was highly educated, if I was young and attractive, if I had traveled more, if I was a millionaire or a top athlete. If I was part of an oppressed minority. If I had overcome some create trauma, or tragedy in my life, then perhaps I would be more confident in my own ability to make a difference.  But I am none of those things.

I am more streetwise than I am worldly, and even then not so wise. If statistics are to be believed, I was once among the top 5% of wage and salary earners in New Zealand but now earn barely above the average.

I am a short, fat balding, middle aged man with healthy issues. Like most people (perhaps all people if we were to be truthful) I have mental health issues.

And all of this makes me wonder how worthy, how capable, how relevant I still am in this world.

But none of this should stop me trying to change the world, my world.  Being average or less than average does not make me, or you, matter any the less.

If the average or below average people in this world didn’t matter, then why are so many clever people so determined to help them? Everyone matters.

Think about it and if you care, even if you care only about yourself, you simply need to say out loud “I Want”.

Saying out loud “I want” is the beginning of a conversation. A conversation with your self, a conversation with family, with friends, workmates, your community and suddenly you are changing the world.

Anyone, not just the clever ones, the wealthy or the brave can say “I want” and can start changing the world.

Try it now. What do you want? Say it out loud.

 

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You don’t have to be special to change the world

I watch as people begin to introduce themselves and tell us how they are going to help to change our lives for us after the upcoming election. These are ‘special’ people. They tell us how educated, how clever they are. Some have faced great tragedy in their lives and they tell us how this has helped them to become much better, wiser people today.

It is perhaps no surprise that the ‘average’ kiwi disengages from politics. They just aren’t clever enough, wise enough or special enough to be able to make a difference.I have had a good life, in many ways a privileged life. I have had my ups and downs, many that I would not wish on any person and I continue to face my own struggles, but none of that makes me special.

If I was highly educated, if I was young and attractive, if I had traveled more, if I was a millionaire or a top athlete. If I was part of an oppressed minority. If I had overcome some create trauma, or tragedy in my life, then perhaps I would be more confident in my own ability to make a difference.  But I am none of those things.

I am more streetwise than I am worldly, and even then not so wise. If statistics are to be believed, I was once among the top 5% of wage and salary earners in New Zealand but now earn barely above the average.

I am a short, fat balding, middle aged man with health issues. Like most people (perhaps all people if we were to be truthful) I have mental health issues.And all of this makes me wonder how worthy, how capable, how relevant I still am in this world.

But none of this should stop me trying to change the world, my world.  Being average or less than average does not make me, or you, matter any the less.

If the average or below average people in this world didn’t matter, then why are so many clever people so determined to help them? Everyone matters.

Think about it and if you care, even if you care only about yourself, you simply need to say out loud “I Want”.Saying out loud “I want” is the beginning of a conversation. A conversation with your self, a conversation with family, with friends, workmates, your community and suddenly you are changing the world.Anyone, not just the clever ones, the wealthy or the brave can say “I want” and can start changing the world.

Try it now. What do you want?

Say it out loud.

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For Johnny and Jack

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The following is a speech that I proudly presented on Anzac Day.  It is a message that should be shared.

Soldier, soldier

At the outbreak of World War 2, Great Britain was still treating 120,000 World War 1 veterans for mental illness.

The casualty rate in wars since 1945 has fallen to just 30% of the levels experienced in World War 2. In the same time the rate of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder has tripled.

When they returned to America the Vietnam veterans returned to a home divided by its own internal conflicts.

The Vietnam veterans were the most hate veterans of all time.

They were also the most traumatised.

In Afghanistan and Iraq only 10% of American soldiers actually see active combat, yet on returning home 50% of them suffer some form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

On average 22 American veterans die by suicide each and every day.

We don’t have the figures for New Zealand.

For many soldiers going off to war is the straight forward part, it’s in coming home that their real battles begin.

For my Grandfather these were the 8 further invasive operations that he had to endure to treat his wounds.

It was the near 10 year long battle with bureaucracy before he was finally awarded his full pension and was finally able to give up having to go to work every day.

It was his ongoing battles with alcoholism and depression.

 

This speech was originally written for my grandfather but on Thursday I received this letter from a woman who I do not know. Who I have never met. In it she tells her father’s story detailing his experiences in World War 2 and the battles he faced when he came home. Jacqueline has asked that I also tell his story.

As it turns out Jack Freeman was, like my Grandfather, a gunner. Like my Grandfather he fought in Egypt and Italy. They may have even stood a long side each other at some time.

And like my Grandfather, on returning home, Jack also fought his battles against alcoholism and mental illness.

My Grandfather managed to eventually win through in most of his battles, but in a wardrobe, in his room in a veteran’s hospital in Dunedin, at the age of 72, Jack Freeman took his own life.

So this speech is dedicated to my Grandfather and to Gunner Jack Freeman.

 

Huia Percy known as Johnny stood just 5 foot 2. Married at the age of 24, by the time he was 28 he had lost his father, baby daughter and his pregnant wife.

Perhaps then understandable that when World War 2 came around Johnny was the first in the queue, leaving behind his infant son and aging , widowed mother.

If it wasn’t for illness Johnny would have been on the first boat out but by God he wasn’t going to miss the second one.

They took him to Egypt and trained him as a gunner.

He fought at Tobruk and El Alamein and was injured in both battles.

Driving his truck through the desert Johnny saw a plane coming directly at them. He stopped the truck and yelled to his mates to ‘Get out. Take Cover!’

Direct hit.

His body riddled with shrapnel, Johnny was the only one to survive.

They picked him up, brushed him off and sent him off to Italy to do it all again.

 

My Grandfather went to war, was critically wounded but he survived.

In those days they just stitched them up and sent them straight back out there again.

He had the scars to prove it.

When he came home he brought his scars with him.

People thought it amusing to make loud noises around him and watch him dive for cover.

If you saw a soldier cowering neath your kitchen table, would you feel pride
or shame?

Scared and broken man
here in a place where no one can understand

This was once home but now it’s changed
he has changed
normal has changed
and it no longer feels like his

Back home, he sees familiar faces
but they no longer see him
They tell him that he’s okay, that he must get back to work
but he can’t because these scars that he bears
hurt him so much, every single day

He drinks to numb the pain in his body and his head
and people look at him and
all he sees is disgust in their eyes
because no one trusts an old drunk
and he can’t trust them

Over there he knew who he could trust
he trusted his mates and they trusted him

Over there his mates had his back
because he had theirs

Over there he was a part of something, he mattered
and it mattered that he was over there

Over there he had purpose and self worth

Over there he needed to stay alive
to ensure that they did too

But his mates died over there and
he should have died with them
died for them.

 

But back here, back at home, he wishes only
that he was dead!

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Take Control of Yourself

people-will-talk-about-you-when-they-envy-you-and-the-life-you-lead-let-them-you-affected-their-life

One of the most powerful things that I have learned in this journey that I have been on, is that I am in control of only one thing, my self.

This sounds kind of obvious and almost defeatist, but its not. In fact it is incredibly liberating.

People do what they do and some people can really get under our skins. Those who are closest to us can naturally have the biggest impact on us and this causes us to question whether or not they love us. If they don’t love us, why don’t they? What is wrong with us?

We can make ourselves absolutely miserable trying to please them, trying to win their love, because they matter to us. Or we can try to change them, to stop them from hurting us, because we love them so much and they make it hard for us to do so.

We can only control ourselves, and we shouldn’t expect them to change just to suit us, any more than we would be willing to change for them. All we can do is take control of and responsibility for how we react to them.

If someone criticises the way that we live our lives and needs to tell us that we ought to live our lives more like them we need to stop and think: if that’s how they live their life, how do they know what it is like to life like I do?

How would someone who has lived their life in a completely tidy and orderly fashion know what it is like to live in a slightly chaotic less regimented manner?

How would they know about the creative stimulation that can come from a little bit of mess? How would they know what it is to not be stressed all the time about how clean everything needs to be around them?

If they haven’t lived life the way that you live it, how could they possibly know that their way is the best way to live?

Quite simply, that can’t possibly know and therefore they cannot be in a position whereby they can judge you for the way that you live your life and unless you have lived your live like them, neither can you judge them.

In fact in most cases when someone feels compelled to make comment about us or our lives, it is them comparing themselves with us. They are actually questioning and evaluating their own life and values, not ours. They are wondering whether your way of life may be better, less stressful or more fun than theirs. But it is difficult for anyone to accept any criticism of the values by which they live, so they will instead look to criticise yours, to make them feel better about themselves.

All you can do is control the way you react to them and their expectations. In this case its best to understand that they are welcome to their opinions and they can express them as much as they like, but ultimately it means nothing.

What really matters, is what matters to you.

Thank them for caring enough to share their opinions with you and carry living your life the way that you want to live it.

 

 

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Mini Tornado Hits Local Mall

I was down at the mall today. It was busy. People of all different kinds and ages milling around. When suddenly my attention was caught by this little toddler. He cant have been much older than 1 year old but old enough to be walking on his own, the way little fellas do with stiff legs and all.

I heard him before I saw him, he was calling out (in baby babble), but boy he was having fun. Continue reading

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Gratitude is the Beginning of Worthiness

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One of the leading contributors to male depression and suicide is a sense of worthlessness which, in turn, can be generated by misconceptions around what it is to me a ‘man’. This misconception is another leading contributor to male suicide.

Believing that someone would want to do something for you is difficult for so many who are struggling with a sense of their own worthiness. Perhaps you feel that you are not worthy of anyone’s help , should never expect it or that your help is worthless.

If they are not worthy, then you are most likely destined to live in service of others.

You may believe that you are expected and need to be independent. This sense of self-sufficiency can manifest itself as a refusal to accept that you can be wrong or that you need to always be right.

These feelings are all about shame. Perhaps you have been raised to believe that being wrong, making mistakes, relying on others, letting others down and not being able to fend for yourself are all shameful.

You may have just developed your own sense of shame in growing up, or you may have suffered some kind of persecution or oppression.

You may be avoiding shame if you struggle to accept or show gratitude, or if you habitually:

  • blame others,
  • have a need to be right,
  • have to be in control,
  • need to offer advice,
  • talk more than you listen.

The first steps towards gaining or regaining a sense are worthiness can be very simple:

  • Accept that you may be in the wrong and you will be grateful for what others are willing to do for you.
    I am now quite comfortable with doing this.

    • If people think you are wrong they will help you.
    • They are also more likely to trust you.
    • Telling yourself that you may be wrong is a great way of teaching yourself that being wrong doesn’t always mean shame.
  • Enjoy the gift of giving. Let some one else be right for once. If you instinctively believe that you are right, try flipping it and just once telling yourself that you are wrong.
    • You will also be grateful for how much more you learn when you are willing to accept that you may not already know everything.
  • Force yourself to listen when you feel the urge to talk.
  • Ask someone for their advice when you feel the urge to give yours.
    • It’s always cool to know what others think, whether or not we feel that they are right.
  • Let someone else make the decisions, even if they get it wrong. People will learn more from making their own mistakes than they will ever learn from you.
  • Learn to take risks, little ones will do. Break a funny little habit.
    • I can now sit in a restaurant without having to know what is going on behind me. This means that I can now be more present for the person that I am with.
    • Let someone else order your meal for you and eat it regardless. I now enjoy mushrooms and shrimps which I have been avoiding for most of my life in the belief that I didn’t like them.

I know many people who instinctively blame others. They also very seldom admit to being wrong and will almost never ever apologise.

I recognise them in my family, among my friends, in the workplace and in many social situations. They come from all walks of life and I used to be just like them. I’m not perfect but I am working on being better at letting go.

The more that I let go of these habits:

  • the less shame I hold onto,
  • the more I find in my life to be grateful for, and
  • the greater the sense of worthiness that I feel.
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I wish it didnt have to be this way

hands-in-pocketIts surprising how many men are struggling to deal with depression, low mood, self doubt. anxiety and all that emotional stuff that we are so bad at dealing with.

I talk of men because it are mostly men that I discuss these issues with. I have come across a couple of women, one in particular, and she is wonderful to talk to, but I sense that it is easier for women to talk about emotions. For men just talking about how we are feeling, how we struggle, is hard and these conversations create a special bond that men are not used to. Continue reading

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Being there

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One of the leading contributors to depression is a sense of social isolation.

Humans are hard-wired for connection. We need to connect, face-to-face with others, yet more and more we isolate ourselves, and each other, by sitting behind computer screens.

I’m introverted, I enjoy my alone time but one of the loneliest times in my life was after my heart-attack, when I felt stranded and forgotten. It was a loneliness far more intense than any loneliness that I had felt before.

I’m certain that this loneliness was a major contributor to my own depression. It is one of the reasons that I went back to work too early.

It worries and saddens me when I see messages of ‘support’ posted on social media like, “if you need to talk, I’m here for you.”

The fact that you are ‘here’ is a part of the problem.

Please don’t be here for someone that you care about. Be there for them. Be there with them.

 

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How important is your happiness?

Afternoon in a Gallery 1

Social and cultural expectations are killers. We have our accepted notions of what it is to be a certain type of person (male or female for instance) and we are happiest when people live up to our expectations, not necessarily their’s.

We think, and often say, things like:

  • I wish he would get a real job,
  • I wish he would get a haircut,
  • I wish he would dress better, or
  • I wish he would tidy his room

and have thoughts like:

  • why doesn’t he have any friends?
  • why didn’t he get the promotion?
  • why didn’t he get picked for the team?
  • he needs to get off his lazy fat arse and go get a job.
  • he has no motivation, no drive.

We think we know what he wants, what he needs and what will make him happy:

  • he wants a better job so he can earn more money,
  • he needs a better girlfriend that will make him more successful,
  • he should be a lawyer, an accountant or an investment banker
  • he needs to become more independent.

All of these thoughts and questions are about how we feel, how he makes us feel and our own sense of shame.. Its about our expectations and our fears.

  • I wish that he had a better job because that would make me look like I have been a better parent.
  • I wish he would get a hair cut because I feel better about myself when I have had my hair done.
  • I wish he had more friends because I feel unworthy when I don’t have friends. I fear that I am not liked.
  • When he wears those old clothes it looks like I cant afford to buy him new stuff and says that I am a failure.
  • I am hurting and full of my own insecurities. I cannot deal with his problems as well.

Rather than focus on these symptoms we need to be thinking more about the shame that we are feeling and why we are feeling it.

What does it really matter if he is in a dead-end job that we wouldn’t like, doesn’t have a girlfriend that we approve of or he doesn’t contribute around the house as we wish he would in order to keep us looking all flash and respectable?

I will tell you something for free; none of this is going to matter to you either, when one day you get a knock on your door and the cops are there to tell you that your depressed, emotionally repressed son has just killed himself.

All of a sudden the messy room, the long hair and untidy clothes won’t matter. All of a sudden you will hope that that girl friend that he chose to be with, but you didn’t like, was able to make him happy.

Instead of telling him that he should tidy his room, cut his hair and get a job. Instead of telling him to stop crying or trying to cheer him up so that he will. Maybe you need to be asking yourself:

  • why is he not meeting my expectations,
  • why am I feeling this shame,
  • why does he cry like a girl,
  • why is this all so important to me and will it all still seem so important tomorrow, next week or next year,
  • why does none of this seem important to him,
  • what is it that is important to him,
  • why don’t I really know what he is feeling or thinking?

If we are happiest when others meet our expectations and then we are saddest when they don’t.

What is most important, your happiness or his?

 

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It is time …..

o-male-suicide-facebookIn 2 days time I will be doing a speech (more of a mini speech) that I have been wanting to do for a few years now. I have held back because it deals with suicide and male suppressed emotions, a hard topic. There is still a bit of a taboo around the subject of suicide, no one talks about male suppressed emotions and it is a topic that has great personal relevance for me.

I have decided to do it because I now realise that people listen and learn the best when they are feeling pain. That by pussy-footing around these subjects, by not talking about them we are not being forced to confront them and therefore deal with them. When I refer to ‘we’ I mean each of us individually, but also our families, communities and nations.

I am not certain that this culture of always having to feel good, to concentrate only on happiness is doing any of us any good. We will celebrate a person’s live instead of acknowledging the pain and the grief. Losing someone hurts. It hurts so that we can learn to love ourselves as well as others more intensely. If we celebrate when someones dies, how do we learn the difference between love and grief? We should celebrate someone’s life while they are with us and grieve when they die.

I have also retreated from this speech in the past because nerves have gotten the better of me. In answer to this I now take the approach that being nervous presents exactly the same physical symptoms as being excited. So those butterflies that I feel, the increased heart rate, the sweats, all of those things that tell me that I’m nervous, I am now taking as a sign that I am excited about giving this speech.

I am excited to have this opportunity. I am excited that finally I have the right words, the courage, the format and the forum to be able to deliver this speech. From it being frightening, the opportunity to do this speech is now for me, a privilege.

The level of male suicide in this country is an appalling travesty. We can talk all we like about how bad it is and we can talk all we can about depression, but we need to understand what is really behind all of this.

Researchers, scientists and mental health professionals can give us all of the theory and evidence they like. We can tell men how they ought and ought not behave but until we address the real issues and actually do something about it, as people, families, communities, cultures and nations, nothing is going to change and each year hundreds of New Zealand males will die by suicide.

The plan for me in the foreseeable future, is to continue to read, think and talk more about the dangers of Male Suppressed Emotions. To generate discussion and to change the world one conversation at a time.

I really do hope that I have the courage to see this through. If I happen to offend you along the way, I don’t apologise. This is not about your happiness or sensitivities because none of that is going to help anyway. This is also not about LGBT issues, its not about depression, or sexism, racism or PTSD. Its not about religion, human rights or political correctness. Its not about the latest research and understanding. None of that has offered any solutions (my brother committed suicide nearly 25 years ago and the rates of male suicide in New Zealand have hardly changed since then).

It doesn’t just affect those who have been ‘affected by suicide’. This is about all of us. Its about social and cultural expectations. Its about misconceptions around masculinity. Its about isolation and confusions. Its about those men who never have the courage to commit suicide but are forced to endure a ‘tortured’ life.

Its about, while it is socially acceptable (and often encouraged) to numb our emotions and torments, society still frowns upon those for whom even the numbing doesn’t provide a solution.

I don’t have the answers, I just know that something real needs to be done.

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