For Men's Health Week 2017 we asked community members to share their thoughts on the term 'Healthy' and how they look after their health.
Peter is LGBT Foundation's Sexual Health Lead, and shares his experience of managing his mental health through volunteering and pursuing a career in the third-sector.
I first had thoughts of taking my own life when I was in college – I’d started hearing voices that questioned my friendships and what I contributed to others’ lives. I was physically debilitated, cocooned in my duvet for almost a week, only dressing to have my bloods taken, in a dazed state. By the time the results had come back my thyroid (as it was diagnosed) had leveled to allow me to scrape through my A-Levels. I first attempted at University to take my own life due to relapsed thoughts of low self-worth, body dysmorphia, an over-whelming group workload and difficulty coping with a relative’s recent death.
It wasn’t until I’d a sustained mental health breakdown in my fourth year of retail (I’d told myself I’d vacate the post at 3 months) that I sought support. I was no longer the open-minded, conscientious and giving person I sought to be. I’d always spoken about moral compasses guiding me – do good by others and treat them with the respect you would like from them. But now, I was short-tempered, emotionally detached from those I was growing to love (I’d recently started my first relationship at the sweet age of 25), and finding minimal fulfillment from what should have given me joy.
Lisa, my counselor was a comforting outlet. Taking the weekly trips on Friday afternoons also started my love affair with Didsbury – greener pastures and a hotbed of independent shops. On our first session she asked if I’d ever had suicidal thoughts, and she was the first person to do so. I’d considered holding back in fear that I’d be sectioned, have restricted access to the few things I felt I had control of. I was taken aback with her further questioning as to why I hadn’t be successful in my plans and the term ‘legacy’ was brought in to the conversation – I hadn’t achieved what I set out to do, yet I still wasn’t sure what that was. I drew up a 6-month plan on the Notes app on my phone and read it aloud to her on my final session. Charity work – I needed to offer some form of solace to someone else in order to start the gains of self-compassion. This led me to volunteering with George House Trust’s Advice Support service, LGBT Foundation’s mentoring programme Befriending service and Alert Kennedy Trust’s Mentoring Scheme. I split my working days across the length of the week (the joy of retail never shutting up shop), working the open shifts so I could offer support in the evening, or during the daytime on my days off from the metal box. Volunteering taught me so much about self-care and resilience, from the defiance and strength that people without a strong support network confront on a daily basis. Laura, George House Trust’s Volunteer and Development Manager, gave me the encourage and motivation to expand my skillset, the trust to co-ordinate events, liase with stakeholders, and line management of a new cohort of eager volunteers. Without that investment, trust and rapport, I don’t believe I’d have seen another year through.
This begun my exploration in to Sexual Health, with George House Trust being Manchester’s HIV positive charity. Over the past 9 months, I’ve pushed myself to fight my internal demons of self-doubt, a repression of my introversion and a confidence to push through the dreaded interview sweats to find myself as LGBT Foundation’s Sexual Health Implementation Co-ordinator. I’ve questioned where I sit amongst more experienced men who have sex with men – whether I have the personal repertoire or black book to talk openly and confidently with other people about their sex lives. But sexual health is far greater than sex –it’s about passion, about finding ourselves as we connect with one another. It’s about navigating relationships, and seeing our bodies as sources of pleasure. More so, it is the continued conversations of shame and stigma that we as men who have sex with other men face on a daily basis because we’re a ‘high risk-taking community’. The fears of diagnosis and disclosure. The roles that we feel me must play in our meets as pneumatic tops or posed that received. These are a few of the reasons that I continue to push through my own barriers.
I continue to have days filled with waves of anxiety and self-depreciation, but I override these thoughts with a commitment to give others hope and the support that they need. I have met so many interesting, vibrant and engaging people in my roles at LGBT Foundation, and it is through their stories that I acquire hope.
I surround myself with ‘good eggs’, fill the air with woody/smoky scents, schedule an evening with trashy scripted reality TV, scroll through Pop Justice for demo leaks and debut award show performances, walk a pair of dogs who possess so much character and warmth, and enjoy carb-heavy meals. Moreso than ever, I’m honest. Honest with myself that I will continue to battle my doubts, that growth takes time and that respect is not something that I can expect from everyone.
If you'd like support with your health and wellbeing, give us a call on 0345 3 30 30 30 or drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org