Periods of Change
My name is Adam. I’m a human being. Like you, I have many problems. My life is far from the perfect vision of money, cars and success we see in portrayed in the news and media. A far cry from the 24/7 high we proudly display on Instagram and Facebook. Everyday I feel like I could be doing better in a thousand different ways. My mind is constantly striving for improvement and change. Racing around at the suggestion of something being beneficial for my spiritual, physical, or emotional development. I’ve come to love my mind for what it is. Although that wasn’t always the case.
Way back in 2011 when I started university for the first time, it was, as it normally is, a period of massive change. I was living independently. Away from the refuge of lovingly, home cooked food and someone to keep a gentle eye on my bedtime. My mum always noticed – and informed me of – the bags under my eyes. Now, I would be co-inhabiting a living space with four other young men. Bright eyed and bushy tailed as my dad would say. Eager to experience all that life had to offer. I was fuelled by black out booze and a lust for casual interactions with the opposite sex. Eagerly attempting to lose my virginity with some semblance of grace and poise, although that grace and poise disappeared when out on the prowl. My actions during my first year at University were, at times, conflicting to the person I felt I wanted to be. Three or four nights a week I would be out drinking. Howling at women who would talk to me. Gawking at the rest. Finding friendship in a few, amongst the hormonal noise. My actions seemed normal. It was what my friends were doing. Why couldn’t I be content? I was normal wasn’t I? Or was I?
The internal conflict I was experiencing continued to grow within my mind. Fuelled by the Guinness, beer and vodka I claimed to enjoy so much. Yet the feeling was unavoidable. The hangovers became more than a physical discomfort. They were a mental onslaught that I came to crave, as if the only escape from the nagging hangover was another beer. I remember one night I paused my predrinking activities for a quick toilet break. Sticking both fingers down my throat I coerced the ill feeling out of my stomach with a splash. A crash. I returned to the kitchen and downed my drink as a hero amongst men. Nobler for the experience of overcoming the night before. Anchor Sundays, Havana Mondays, Anchor Tuesdays, Kellys Wednesdays and Thursday Club – my midweek diary. Some days there would have been classes. My grades sinking faster than you could say yes to another jaeger bomb?
Amongst the booze and conflict there were a trial of emails from my concerned studies advisor. Worried about why my attendance had slipped and why I wasn’t responding (an early introduction to ghosting). I say a trial; there were two. Then he left the ball in my court for me to take action, but I was playing a different game. The pain within me was growing by the day. I had sacked off all my classes because I didn’t see the point. Change was coming but I didn’t know how. Naively convincing myself that StudyUSA held the answer to all my problems. Pouring hours into researching the perfect university, the perfect second choice and exploring the endless options that would await me. No longer confined to computing and business modules. I dreamt of Japanese and culinary classes. And everything in between. Just to convince myself I was doing something. I was doing something. Procrastinating.
There came a point of no return. A point where something had to change. So I choose to change my degree. Just before my nineteenth birthday I walked in for a chat with my studies advisor. By this point I had it all figured out. I was going to apply for Marketing at Jordanstown. I had the necessary BBB at A-Level. I had great first year marks, a first class student, who managed to strike a balance for a while. I also had the support and love of my amazing family. Especially my mother, who to this day continues to support me in every decision that I make. Continues to tell me that she loves me. Not despite or in spite of my mistakes, but because of them. Because the mistakes we make are what make us, individuals. After my degree I would get a job in marketing in Northern Ireland for a couple of years. To get some experience. Because everyone knows you need experience and it’s better to get experience at the bottom when you’re in Northern Ireland because Northern Ireland is small and there’s less competition and it’s not as expensive and it’s home and it’s this and it’s that and this or that and so much else that I can’t even comprehend or begin to remember right now. What I’m trying to say is my mind was out of control. It was affecting every decision I was making because I gave it so much power. I fed it the superfood of self doubt. Each pint I drank quenched the thirst of resistance. Preying on my anxieties. Gorging on the conflict I was creating with each action that was untrue to myself.
Opportunities Arising From Depression
Before writing any of this, I read a young man share his story of his battle with anxiety and depression. House bound and down. Didn’t want to see the world. Afraid of what his mind would condemn in the people and things around him. As I read through his incredible article, my mind thought, hold on. What if depression is your mind and body saying, these things that you’re doing. All this drinking and these video games. All this socialising, where you get drunk until you pass out or vomit. Encouraged by the collective male psyche that surrounds you. That surrounds all your friends. That surrounds our society and culture. All these things, that you feel you have to do, to be normal. What if they’re not meant for you? What if depression or anxiety, a mental challenge, is something that you can use as the catalyst for change within yourself. Because that’s the only way we have any semblance of control over change. And even then, we don’t have control over the outcomes.
For me, my mind has been up and down and left to right for a while. It’s no longer something I try and change but something I am learning to accept, fully. Learning to accept the way that I see the world and to act in a way that reduces the internal conflict I feel. It’s still there. It burns inside me. The fire has been lit and there’s no stopping it. While it spreads like wildfire, I’ve found an outlet for it, it’s got some direction now. I fan the flame every time I put pen to paper. And I humble the fire each time I meditate. I want to feel the fire within me. Under my direction. Each day is a new beginning. If you wake up, you’re granted the opportunity to have one more day on earth, don’t spend it fighting with yourself. If you’re sad, be sad. Go into that feeling of loneliness or resentment or hatred or whatever emotion it is you are feeling. Allow it to sweep over you. And love yourself anyway. Because you’re perfect. It doesn’t matter if you’re happy, sad, angry or not really anything in particular. You are you. Be you completely. I love you.
My course change brought with it a number of other changes. Swapping Coleraine for Belfast. Swapping beer for wine. Introducing weed on a regular basis. Living with five other boys. Some of us much further along emotionally than others. Although, that seemed to vary on a daily basis. Inhabiting this cave of male testosterone was difficult for me at times. There were weekends were I would lock myself in my room. Not coming out for anything other than a poo, although I wasn’t eating anywhere near enough for that to be regular. Peeing in my sink felt more normal – safer – than going to the toilet. So I would lie in bed. Mind racing through all my problems. Wishing I had none. Wishing life was easy. Wishing I was normal. Whatever normal is. This conflict within me was becoming stronger and stronger as I continued to search for meaning outside of myself. Looking elsewhere for happiness, for contentment. I would lie in silence, taking refuge in the sanctuary of my bed. Concerned housemates knocking on my door when I should have been at university. Distrusting their intentions was my reality. Worrying about the ways they were out to get me. The pranks and the jokes we played on each other, seemed fairly relentless but on reflection fairly harmless. However, the ruthless efficiency in which these activities would be carried out meant resistance seemed futile. All I could do was accept the situation. I thought better of trying to change it. So I just hid from it. I wasn’t being my best self, I was being my scared self.
Then it did change. First year ended and I moved back home. Back to my mum, dad and sister. Back to the countryside and back to a life that was closer to the normality of my childhood. I worked forty eight hours a week in a cheese factory. It was wonderful. I was different from everyone that worked there. I felt different and I embraced it. It felt good to pick up a book in the canteen. Leaving the rag sunny side up on the bench. I remember questions of why? As I sat there reading. Questions filled with curiosity. I felt like I could trust the men and women that asked them. They were full of encouragement. Don’t stay here forever, Adam. You can do anything you want. Wisdom. That’s the thing about advice though. It’s easy to give it. It’s not so easy to follow it.
Perhaps you’ll indulge me as I offer a little advice of my own. Advice I try and follow everyday. Life is short. And a bit like milk, you can’t tell exactly when it will expire. Sure there’s a date on the bottle but that’s more of a guideline isn’t it? You can always do the smell test, I guess. If you’ve been lucky enough to wake up, you’ve got an opportunity to do something. You define that something. It doesn’t have to be big. It doesn’t have to be small. It doesn’t have to be anything other than what you feel in the essence of you. But don’t do nothing. Because when you do nothing you say no to the offer of a life lived on your terms. When I was depressed, I turned to my diary. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. Everything that came into my head spilled onto the pages. And afterwards I felt different. Sometimes better, sometimes worse. Sometimes I would question everything about myself. My values, my interests, my sexuality, my boojum choices, or the side of my head I palmed my hair towards. It felt good to talk. Even if I was only talking to myself.
Life continued to change and the opportunities were coming thick and fast. I started working in a company that inspired me everyday. Challenged me to push my own limits. Showed me what was possible under the scope of entrepreneurship. The story that I was told perfectly aligning what I wanted. Or what I thought I wanted. But I wasn’t defining that. I was still allowing somebody else to do that for me. Because it’s difficult to know what you want. It’s difficult to predict how your life will unfold. By this point in my life, I had developed a curiosity for the underbelly of a drinking culture. I was interested in taking drugs and now found myself embraced, on an almost daily basis, by the hug of a high. It was incredible. I learnt so much about myself and about what I like and dislike. Met people I would never have met, did things I am so proud of and yet, I wasn’t content. I was sad. I didn’t know why. I went to the doctor to talk to him. To talk to someone, other than my mum, about this feeling. This feeling that I didn’t understand. This feeling that I didn’t know how to accept. That I didn’t want to accept. This was my dream! How could I be sad? More than sadness, how could I be feeling empty? Begging for tears but nothing coming. No emotion. No spark. Nothing.
The doctor gave me the number for Men2Men. An amazing counselling service in Belfast. He also gave me four viagra, at my request. I was down in the dumps, but I still needed to be sleeping with women. What else was I supposed to do? Talk to them? Pfft. Be vulnerable? Are you joking? My emotions and my mentality were all out of balance. Internal conflict as I roamed the streets of Belfast. Gurning. I debated for weeks about whether or not I should call and make an appointment. One day, as I sat in tears on a chair in my living room. Something within me was roused. Enough was enough, it was time to do something. I punched in the numbers, each digit feeling like it would spell the end of my life. It didn’t. I spoke to a lovely woman on the other end of the phone. She was kind and caring and listened to me as I nervously rambled on. She booked me in and text me a confirmation.
My appointment came and went. I chose not to go. I chose to ignore it. To ghost it, as we unfortunately say. This was pretty standard behaviour for me. Radio silence. Using the excuse of nostalgia for a time without technology. A time were your friends weren’t within reach 24/7 and you had to face your mind alone. Perhaps it was this nostalgia that prevented me from going to counselling. More likely it’s the social stigma that still surrounds such a fulfilling and healthy act. I found my counsellors. I found my counsellors in the men and women I looked up to. Confessing my every thought and confusion to them. Without fear of judgement. That is friendship. There is a time for jokes and competition. There’s also a time to just shut up and listen to what your mate is thinking about. Before it even becomes an issue that needs professional help. If you’re having a thought, that you think is weird. That you think you shouldn’t be having. Say it out loud. Say it to yourself. Say it to your friends. Say it with acceptance. Say it with the belief that you are not your thoughts. You are so much more. And you’re perfect. Today. Right now.
Speaking with my friend yesterday I took him by surprise. Discussing my latest problem and the challenge it provides he asked if I was sexually involved or sexually interested in the woman that I identified as a problem. To be honest, recently, I’ve been more interested in transgender women. I didn’t think anything of saying it. It’s not the first time I have said it so the fear that existed initially has subceeded. It still scares me. Mostly because it’s a feeling that isn’t going away. And that’s OK. My sexuality is a journey that will continue to take lefts and rights on the road of life and I don’t know the destination.
Fuck it, Dermy, thank you for being surprised. Thank you for being someone that I can speak to without fear of judgement. Someone that will listen first. Listen attentively and ask questions that provide answers. I’m blessed to have people like you in my life. People who make me feel so good about the person that I am today. Do you have people like this in your life? If you don’t at the minute and you’re feeling like you want that, speak to Men2Men, speak to CALM. Speak. Don’t suffer in silence. Don’t do nothing. One day, you will be the person that someone else needs. Your experiences will give you the strength and the knowledge to be a comfort to someone who is struggling. You will come through whatever it is you’re going through. Accept what is and be.
There is a pressure on young men in Ireland (in the West?). A pressure so severe that it causes many to seek an answer in suicide. A pressure that is increasing the number of cases of depression and anxiety. How can we reframe this? How can we challenge the typical conventions of what depression and anxiety are? How can we, together, build a culture that encourages growth and creativity? That rewards being different because we all are. We’re all unique, but we’re all the same. We’ve all got a mind and a body. Different shapes and different sizes. Each and everyone of them, perfect. Whole, complete and exactly where you are supposed to be right now. What if depression and anxiety are opportunities. Opportunities to say no to the actions you have been taking which are giving birth to the conflict within you. Something you are doing, is making you depressed. That is OK. This is not the end. It is the beginning. You can start afresh. You can change whatever it is that you decide is making you unhappy.
Making a Change
I made a change. I stopped drinking. I don’t remember the date but I remember the questions. “Not drinking tonight? That’s not like you. Everything OK?” A society where alcohol is so normal that it is strange to say no. But I held firm. This was for me. I had a motivation deep within me that assured me everything would be OK. Even if it was difficult. Nothing easy in life is really worth having. Giving up booze got easier. I met people who had done the same. People who continue to make that choice everyday. My friends accepted that I genuinely didn’t want to drink and then supported me. Would your friends really do anything else? The questions began to change too. “Sodawater and lime, Adam?” “Ohh, yes please!” I began to feel content. Alcohol had become something that I used to escape my reality. To be overcome by spirits. Possessed by the devil in the drink. Except it’s not the devil in the drink. It’s the conflict within us. That’s all we can answer to.
Big nights came and went. I saw Stormzy without drinking. Bouncing around like a maniac for Shut Up and Where do you know me from and then swooning to Cigarettes and Cush and Blinded By Your Grace. I went to London for five days and didn’t have a drop. Met new friends and caught up with old ones. Mostly in bars. It’s a bit like quitting cigarettes; you have to break the habits: One with a coffee in the morning; one for when you walk out the door; any door. Booze was the same for me. I had to prove to myself that I could go to a nightclub and have an amazing time without further stimulants for my already racing mind. I could. I can. I still do. Not as often as I used to but that’s just change. I proved to myself that I could go down to the pub with my friends and sit with a glass of water. Enjoying the conversation. Saving money. Planning.
“I need a drink.” is a dangerous statement. It takes away your responsibility for your own enjoyment. If you’re at an event and you need a drink to have a good time. You’re at the wrong event. Hot take. I went to an EDM concert in Belfast in August. It’s not music that I would choose to listen to but I was leaving for Spain shortly and my beautiful friend offered me a free ticket. So I went. I didn’t need a drink. One drink wouldn’t have done much for me. I looked around and saw hundreds of people having an amazing time. Enjoying themselves. Letting loose. A few had overindulged but for the most part that wouldn’t be visible until the end of the night. I love dancing and here were all these people dancing to music that I told myself I didn’t like. So I tried to just feel it. Feel the music with my body. Not my mind.
It was infectious. It was loud and it was chaotic. The rhythm my body moved to was unfamiliar yet comfortable. I allowed myself to be vulnerable in the present moment. Took down some of the walls I had built up in my own head about what I like and don’t like. If you didn’t like something the last time you tried it, why does that mean you won’t like it this time? For me this question should be answered on a sliding scale. If you didn’t like going on that date, you don’t have to force yourself on another one just to try and live in the present moment. But if you last tried mushrooms when you were ten and you’re still saying you don’t like them at twenty six, you’re lying to yourself. You’ve changed. You’re not the person you were fifteen years ago. You’re not the person you were five years, five months, five weeks, five days or five hours ago. You’re constantly changing and it is beautiful!
Introduction to Spirituality and Meditation
I’m not an expert on mental health. I know next to nothing about the scientific arguments for what’s right and wrong. My guidance has been in the philosophy of buddhism. Meditation. Contemplating death. Practising compassion. I began to meditate when I was in a happy place. Living with an incredible woman who inspired me everyday. Who told me she loved me every morning and who always welcomed me home with a smile and a hug, even when we were struggling together. A woman that I could lie in silence with, be held in her arms as I wept and wept over the loss of a friend – weeping for the loss my friend was suffering. A beautiful woman who embraced all my vulnerabilities. After a couple of months living together, we became hosts for a German fella, Felix. The same age as me. The same in so many ways. Facing similar problems. Having similar thoughts. I promised Felix I would meditate after one of our many, stoney, philosophical chats. That first twenty minute guided session was dedicated to him. It’s easier to take action for others. Your friends praise your effort, while you critique your results. More change was brewing however and when I moved back to Magheralin after a break up that hasn’t been the end but a new beginning, another friend reached out.
When I arrived at the Kadampa Buddhist Centre on the Ormeau Road I really didn’t know what to expect. I was excited. Robin had only had positive things to say, but that didn’t mean much. Two hopeless optimists, our conversations are more regularly about solutions than problems. The class was good. I can’t remember what it was about. I didn’t feel massively different but I liked it. I wanted to go back. The people were kind. There were lots of smiles and lots of hugs. Yeah, it was nice. So I went back. Every week. I used to walk past the centre everyday thinking “Yeah, someday I’ll go.” It wasn’t until I was going for someone else that I forced myself into action.
Summer rolled around and I applied for a working visit to the Manjushri Centre in Cumbria. The UK home of Kadampa Buddhism. A grand old priory set in a magical forest on the banks of the Lake District. Where the people are shining and the stars are shooting. As I lay in the dormitory, listening to the sound of techno music coming from the bunk below, I felt pretty content. Here I was at a Buddhist centre in England. No alcohol, no drugs, no flashing lights. Being serenaded by the familiar sounds of techno. Bliss. I got up and started to dance. Moving my body. Freeing my mind. “Like at do ye?” Elliot asked me in his thick East London prang. Yeah man, I love techno. “It’s tractor engines, Adam.” We shared a good laugh at me. Quickly, the conversation got spiritual, as it is want to do at a Buddhist centre. Elliot handed me a gift. The meditation handbook. I thanked him, staring into his eyes, before embracing in a big, slow, hug.
I began reading and resolved to meditate on each contemplation for the next twenty one days. As day three came to a close, I was sharing a cup of tea with Chitta. My teacher from Belfast. It was only at Manjushri that Chitta’s mystical veil was removed from my mind. Here was a human being. Just like me. With the same sorts of problems. Different, but the same. She told me about precepts. I’m still not 100% sure what it is but – when in Rome – I committed to it. Once again, my motivation was not to do it for myself. But to take on board the recommendation of a human I respect and admire. The rest of the evening was filled with conversation about what we could and couldn’t do on precepts day. Up at six am. Meditation ceremony at six thirty am. No food outside of the appropriate hours, aka lunchtime. Fuck sake. Attempt to be mindful all day. Don’t flirt. Don’t look at others in a desirous manner. Don’t draw others into your flame. Don’t speak until after lunch (this one was explicitly optional but I love the sound of silence so I signed up). To make all of this even easier… day four’s contemplation was on death.
Like depression, death is a taboo subject. It is skipped around and glossed over like it’s the most unusual thing in the world. But it isn’t. It’s real. It’s really real. It’s the only thing you can say with certainty will happen to you. And you don’t know when or where or how. And centuries of asking why has brought us no closer to a decent answer that we can agree on. But it’s real. And I was thinking about it. All day. It was my mindful focus. It was a hard day. I felt like shit. I felt like something was dying within me. I slept after lunch and I slept before dinner. Not because I was tired, more because I couldn’t face the difficulties of staying awake, contemplating death and remaining mindful. Spending my waking moments staring at the ground to try avoid my mind running wild. Looking at nuns and monks, people committed to a life of celibacy and feeling unable to avoid thoughts of erotica – to put it politely. I went to bed exhausted. Drained by a day of striving to be mindful. Challenging myself to behave in a manner that was unusual for me. When I woke up the next morning, the contrast was tremendous. I felt grateful just to be alive. Thankful for each breath that flowed in and out of my body, mindful or not. The muesli I ate that morning might be the best breakfast I’ve ever had. In the moment, I certainly believed it was.
Life has continued to be full of ups and downs since that day. Peaks and troughs. Life is suffering, after all, nobody gets out alive. Yet, we can take responsibility. Responsibility for embracing the struggle. Choosing, not once, but every moment of everyday to do our best. To try. For the sake of ourselves. For the sake of our families. For the sake of those who surround us. You can’t change the world as an individual, but, we can change the world as individuals. What this responsibility looks like for you, will be different to what it looks like for me. The situations we have grown up in and the experiences we have had, undoubtedly shape us. Yet we all have a compass within us. An arrow that points in the direction of moral integrity. It’s easy to ignore it, because you’re the only one that knows the direction yours is pointing. It’s easy to say no to the things that scare us (and responsibility is a scary thing). It’s fulfilling to say yes though. Yes, to the things that scare us. Yes, to the difficult challenges in life. Yes to living. As you are, right now. Today you’re perfect. Tomorrow you will be better.
Life has brought me to this point. I don’t know why, but it has. All the events that have come before have shaped me. Some in significant ways, some in seemingly insignificant ways, but each moment matters. Each moment that comes before you adds up to the sum of what you are now. This can be a scary thought. We’ve all made mistakes. We’ve all got some regrets. Things we hold onto as a reminder of that time we did that thing that we aren’t happy about. We can use these moments as gentle reminders to be the person we desire to be now. Your mistakes are influencing you to do better. To avoid the intensity of that feeling in the present moment.
Uncovering my sexuality
When I was ten years old I went through an unsavoury experience. An experience that has had a lasting impact on the way I view the world. It’s not a story I talk about ever often but I have spoken with my friend about it and found my peace. There were three of us, myself, my friend Michael and our friend Yolanda (both under aliases). We were at the age where our sexual curiosity was beginning to flower. I wanted to know what girls looked like below their skirts and we found ourselves playing spin the bottle. As we had done many times before. It’s how I had my first french kiss. So we began to play, and the dares began to get into unknown territory. Clothes coming off faster than our apprehension could take hold. The memory of lifting my hands, not recognising the might of my young, male figure, is difficult for me to recall. Years of burrowing the memory. The guilt. The shame. The escalation seized after Michael and I took turns to rub our penises on Yolanda’s vulva. An act of childlike wonder that had become as dark and as extreme as anything I have ever experienced since. It felt wrong but I wanted to do it. Fifteen years later, it still feels wrong. It isn’t a situation I would want to deal with as an adult. I’m not sure how I could console any young person who recognises they made a flurry of mistakes in the heat of a moment. What advice would I be able to offer? What convictions would I cast? How would I label my own actions, on another?
I remember feeling like a criminal. Feeling like I had committed an atrocity against a young woman who had been a good friend. A neighbour. A classmate. Catching shooting glances from former friends in primary school who cast their judgements upon me without space for empathy or compassion. Worrying about the probability of Yolanda becoming pregnant, because if you touch a girl with your willy that’s what happens. My sexual understanding could barely have been lower. A gentle explanation of the birds and the bees was what I needed. It’s what I got. From my loving parents. Walking home from school together. A short journey but that day we took every detour possible. None of us eager for the conversation that awaited us. When we arrived home we sat down in the front room together. My mum, my dad and I. We spoke about what happened and I understood my mistakes. I felt their love and their forgiveness and that has had such a profoundly beautiful effect on my life.
To say I found my peace is a mistruth. There are moments where I feel terrible about the experience. Moments where I wish with all my heart I could take it back. Speak to Yolanda and apologise for everything I did wrong. For everything I have convinced myself nobody could get over. Take on sole responsibility for the mistakes we all made in that moment. There are other days where the thought never arises. Never comes into my head. Never enters my reality. But every time I hear about a sexual assault, my mind jumps to the guilt within me. For I feel guilty of sexual assault. Yet I also feel like a victim too. For I had no understanding of my actions. No one explaining what was right and wrong in the context of sexual desire. It wasn’t something you talked about with anyone other than your closest friend. No adult to confide in, for fear of something I no longer remember. Who do we ever talk to about what is right and wrong in a sexual context? No means no but what does that mean? It’s as vague as Brexit means Brexit. It requires understanding. Sex is a complicated issue. It’s rarely black and white.
To blame an entire gender seems to me like a complete withdrawal of responsibility. My actions do not define my gender. Nor am I defined by being a man. But I am. I am a man. And that needs recognised. The fear and intimidation I can impose just walking down the street is unbeknown to me. There have been moments where I have experienced something close to it. Moments where I am intimidated, where images of my slow, agonising death at the hands of a another human being walking down the same straight, at the same time, flood into my mind. Consuming me with a visual array of pain. I’m grateful that they are only images from the darker elements of my imagination. Not a reality I have lived. When I shaved my hair off, I no longer recognised the person staring back at me in the mirror. The kindness I saw in my smile had been replaced by something I interpreted as sinister and dark. How many times does that happen when I walk through the streets? People who have never seen, met or spoken to me before, terrified of the body I’ve been designated. I didn’t choose it. I haven’t grown into it, as I was assured I would be for years. Yet it is a vehicle for fear. And unlike cars, I am behind the wheel. I am responsible for the speed and direction it goes. Responsible for the words that I say. There is a time to be friendly, that time is not three am on an empty street as a woman walks past me. There is no need to break the silence here. No need to cause a moment of fear. No need to make eye contact or allow my gaze to linger. Yet it does. It has and it will. For we all make mistakes. As a human, it’s up to me to be respectful first and foremost. How far does that level of respect go? That’s where we need a conversation.
I have met countless, amazing women. Women who inspire me to be the best human being I can possibly be. Women who help me understand how my unconscious movements and actions can be intimidating. Women who have helped me understand, from a place of understanding, that it’s OK to make mistakes. That recognising those mistakes is a huge, first step. For me, feminism is about equality. That means men, women and animals, young and old, the world over are all viewed and treated equally. It’s an ideal. It’s something to strive towards. It’s something we are nowhere near reaching. For some, it’s become a stick to beat men with. To punish every mistake with vengeance. I didn’t choose the patriarchy. I didn’t choose to live in a world where suicide is the biggest killer of young men under 45 in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Let that sink in. Young lives lost because they feel devoid of choice, of opportunity, of someone who is going to understand. Feminism is not to blame. Absolutely not. Feminism, is closer than anything else we have to working it out. It comes from a place of empathy and understanding for all women and non binary. Yet, often the conversation feels like it’s at the expense of men. Men who aren’t monsters. Who disagree with the atrocities our gender has committed and continues to commit. Yet, we’re all tarred. I think it’s important to feel that label. To understand the anger and disgust it gives rise to within us. If it’s unknown, then you don’t know that you hate it.
Who do we turn to when we feel these labels? We are told that we need to be strong and stable. Provide. As much as we may disagree, it’s the basic model of life for the vast majority of us. Where are our role models? Who can we look to, to provide inspiration as a man? As a human being? If feminism is characterised by empathy and conversation, the collective male psyche is defined by mockery and oneupmanship. Constantly striving to be better than your mate. Must win. Can’t lose. A destructive mentality. But we can start to change the definitions, just through our words and dialogue. They give rise to our actions. Talk to your friends about how you feel when you’re in love. How you feel when your lying with an incredible woman long before or after you’ve had sex. Keep that special moment of supreme bonding to yourselves – share it with one person. Share the post coital understanding with everyone. For that’s the magic of sex. It creates an understanding. The ultimate binding of the masculine and feminine energy within you, because it is within us all. Male, female, transgender, non binary, we are all human. At one point, we were all exactly the same. A non gendered foetus in a womb. What would the world be like if that’s how we came out? No gender roles to define us. Free to live our lives as we see fit.
What if it’s possible to do that? What if you can live your life as you see fit? What if it’s difficult? Will it still be worth it? Where has our respect for responsibility gone?
Once upon a time responsibility was the measure of everyone man, woman and child. My nannie proudly tells of going out to work at thirteen. Her father paying the shopkeeper for the privilege. I’m not suggesting we should return to something in the past, merely that we can take inspiration from our history. Especially the positive elements – with the benefit of hindsight we can see the difference. Stand firm in your convictions, unfazed by the prospect of offending someone who disagrees. Who cares if you’re offended? Get over yourself. Tell me what’s so offensive, or don’t. Know that silence is a choice. Silence speaks louder than words and if you sit idly by whilst confliction burns inside you then that is your responsibility. Your burden to carry. Countless times I have sought to blame someone, rather than seeking an admittance of responsibility. It’s easier. Our society supports that notion. So, forget about society, focus on yourself. Admit responsibility for your actions; for your feelings; for your discontentments. Free yourself from the mentality of a victim. For victims have no power. You do, for you can take action! Life is full of challenges. We all face different ones. I know people who have experienced tragedies I can barely begin to imagine, I look at them and see strength and character. Resilience in the face of horrific adversity. They are here in front of me – stood tall and full of life. Yet, in their minds their lives are tragic. The universe conspires against them. Things can only get worse. That constant reinforcement becomes a conviction and life begins to feel like an enemy. It’s a losing battle. We’re all going to die. There’s no way to win this game of life if a pain free existence is your goal. Life is suffering and you cannot change that. You can change your response though. You can take responsibility for your actions. You can do the things that make you feel content, on a daily basis. Even if it’s only for a couple of minutes. Don’t you deserve a couple of minutes of self indulgence each day? Use the days you are gifted to find a balance in the known and unknown. Balance in the familiar, that brings you comfort. And the new, that scares the absolute bejesus out of you – but you do it anyway. Coming through that much stronger and wiser for the experience, even if you’re in fits of laughter at your mistakes. And that’s the best way to react to your mistakes. With laughter and a resolve to do it differently next time. If your moods jumping up and down then leave your impulses alone for a while. Suffer through a low for the sake of balance. Say no to them. Don’t indulge them. Give yourself time to let your feelings sort themselves out. You can do anything for thirty days. Challenge, review and change. You’ll have days where you think life can’t possibly get any better. You’ll have days where you think life can’t possibly get any worse. And you’ll have lots of days where you’re just enjoying the ride. Enjoy those days. For they’re what make the highs so high and the lows so low. Variety is the spice of life after all.
These words were written for me. They were written to help me understand the way I am feeling now. I woke at four am and something within in me told me to get my laptop out and start typing and this is where it has ended up. I don’t know what to do with these words. I am so apprehensive about sharing them. About sharing my vulnerabilities with people who I fear will cast judgements. Will throw stones. Will be unable or unwilling to understand my perspective on the world. But I need to do something. I can’t sit idly by and give advice to myself that I am unwilling to follow. So you’re reading these words because I’m following the advice I’ve given myself. Will you do the same?