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Archive: Nov 2014

Movember Memories

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This Movember, I’m doing things differently. Instead of a simple selfie, I’m sharing a photo of a moment in my day that reminds me of my Dad. So far they’ve included salads, spectacles and stripy tie. Every picture tells a story. Not stories that say ‘Dad bought me this so I like it’ or ‘we went on this expensive holiday, it was awesome’. They’re stories that talk about the concerts he came to support me in, the family trips we took, the party he let me have. They’re memories of moments we shared together.

Yesterday I shared dinner with a friend who’s Dad unexpectedly died last month. I don’t like saying he ‘committed suicide’: it’s such an ugly term and it hints at it being a rational choice. He was severely ill, just as my Dad was severely ill with prostate cancer. As she told me how she was, I was taken straight back to my Dad’s death in a way I only ever am when I know someone’s grieving. I was again sitting in a church full of people at the funeral. I was again thinking of the friends who supported me in that immediate aftermath.

In the UK, twelve men die from suicide everyday. That headline figure barely touches on the scale of mental health and isolation problems that men are prone to and suffer. Isolation is especially something I struggle with, having just moved to my 4th home in 4 years. What helps me cope isn’t knowing how many people tap their phone to like my selfie, but the ordinary moments I spend with my friends and family: the cuppa tea Mum makes me, the meal out I have with uni pals, the time a friend helps me out of despair over the phone.

I don’t want to sound sugar coated when I ask you to tell a colleague their outfit looks great, text a friend a plethora of emojis or wish the checkout lady a nice day before she wishes you one. I know living in a Disney film and flashing one smile won’t cure mental illness. But I know connecting in person with strangers and our loved ones will build strong communities, where the risk of stress and isolation is minimised and joyful memories are easy to find.

You can see my Movember Memories photos, donate and read more about mental health issues for men on my Mo Space.

Movember 2014: There's got to be mo' to it

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I’ve already pestered people for a lifetime’s worth of sponsorship. I’m not totally comfortable with gendered imagery. It gets ‘too much money’ compared to other causes. And, most importantly, I hate how I look with a moustache. ‘Four years and Β£500 in sponsorship is good going,’ I thought, ‘I’ll give Movember a miss this year’.

Yet it doesn’t take much to recognise life itself isn’t always good going. When I hear that another two people have died in Dad’s Rotary Club, ebola is creating orphans in West Africa and the friend I saw last week is suddenly mourning the loss of their Dad, I know there’s more death in the world than we can cope with.

It brings my own grief back to the forefront, and the demons I still struggle with. Movember has always been a poignant month for me. In 2008, at a Remembrance Day service, I was taken aside. My Dad, who’d been diagnosed with prostate cancer 18 months earlier, died the following day.

Isn’t there a better way to remember Dad than just growing a mo and sharing the selfies? Of course there is. I’ll still be growing a moustache this Movember but I’m also challenging myself to share a photo from my day that reminds me of him. It won’t be easy. We didn’t drink a cuppa or bake cakes together. The photos won’t fit my social media caricature of a baking-mad, tea-guzzling Disney freak. I’ll have to go far beyond selfies to find moments genuinely worth sharing and remembering.

Within that spirit of remembrance, I’m asking you to donate a gift in memory and in honour of someone you love. If you want to sponsor me this Movember I’ll be very grateful, although it’s not my place to tell you how to use your money. You might want to volunteer your time, or give a present to someone. Grief doesn’t end by growing a moustache or giving gifts, but I know actively remembering someone is a good way to control my demons and worries.