The Price of Progress?

The Price of Progress?

I was listening to a news story on the radio the other day about technology, specifically around the music industry.

Spotify logoIt was on the back of publication Spotify executive’s salaries and the way we access music in the 21st Century. The general gist of the story was that the Apple store will probably disappear in the next 5 years as people won’t own the music but stream only. It all smacks to me that the changes are for those high up in Apple and Spotify and less to do with the artists or giving the public what they “want”.

There were a lot of assumptions mentioned during the piece. Along the lines of no-one wanting to own music anymore, albums dying and as people are no longer interested, they only want to access the tracks they want to hear.

The more I listened the more pissed off I got.


Who decided that no-one wants to own music anymore? I didn’t. Generally, I hate downloads and I hate streaming even more. Yes, I use Spotify on my blog, but first and foremost I will buy a hard copy on vinyl and/or CD. I suppose at least with a download I own the music, but I still like a hard physical copy. Yes, I know, I’m a curmudgeon.

VinylI yearn for the days when you saw a poster, heard on the radio or read in a magazine that a band you like were going to release a single or album in the coming weeks or months.

Buying Vinyl

The anticipation waiting for that release was immense, and the hiatus in hearing about it and the record actually coming out built up the excitement. Making the trip to the local record shop was an event. Getting there and picking up the record sleeve, reading the sleeve notes and track listing and admiring the album cover was part of the enchantment. Before I bought it, I might only have heard one song on the radio so the anticipation to get home so I could listen to the rest of the album was intense.

The journey home was part of the overall experience, sitting on the bus or train and reading the inner sleeve notes and lyrics. Then, finally getting home, slipping the vinyl out, the feel and the smell of the vinyl then the sound of the needle hitting the groove and the music starting. Bliss. I just loved getting lost in the music and immersing myself in the whole experience.

The instantaneousness of streaming or downloading isn’t the same – click – done. No experience, no gratification.

The public gets what the industry wants…

The whole argument about giving the public what they want doesn’t wash with me. The industry strangles us and gives us what they want. My kids stream tracks because that is what they are told they want. It is all they really know (well, if they didn’t live with me surrounded by CDs and LPs). Surely the revival of vinyl is an indicator that people still want this whole experience?

I feel sorry for today’s youth that all they know is this instant accessibility for everything. Streaming or downloading “tracks” rather than listening to an album as the artist intended. Or should I say these days the way the programmer and Autotune intended… But it is not just music, its TV box sets, social media, photographs, even ordering from the likes of Amazon and Argos and getting it delivered the same day. EVERYTHING is NOW NOW NOW.

I also fear for the future of bands and live music. Ok, so I don’t think it will ever die out, as the majority of the bands I listen to these days do it for the love of music. The majority are unlikely ever to be able to make a career out of it. It is a hobby rather than a career. That makes me sad. The industry has changed so much. Gone are the days of massive signing fees and bottomless pits of cash from record companies. How are the bands supposed to make any money from streaming if the figures I read are true?

I know it isn’t always all about the money, but if you’re making nothing and everything ends up costing you, how long can that be viable? I’m no industry expert but I do read horror stories of how many streams are required for artists to make any sort of return.

Is all change progress?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a Luddite – I’m writing an online blog after all! I do wonder sometimes whether so called progress is always necessarily a good thing.

I’m not anti-change, but are there always valid reasons for change? Industry will always argue that there are reasons, but most of that is to do with cold hard cash. Fuck people. Who cares about them!

Things seem to change at such a pace these days. Take TVs – my parents had the same TV for many years. Did that have an adverse effect on us? Absolutely not. Now there are new models out every 6 months/year and you are told in no uncertain terms that your model is out of date and it is going to have a massive adverse impact on your life if you don’t upgrade. Phones, computers, tablets… The list goes on and same message goes for all of them.

Slow Down

Sometimes people just need to slow down and relax. Modern society doesn’t seem to want this though.

What are the drawbacks of technology and change?

Well, this started about music so from what I’ve already mentioned there is an impact on the bands and artists themselves.

But widening this out, technology and change are sold as opportunities for people to make the most of their leisure time. Is there not a catch 22 here? The more automation and change that happens, the more leisure time we’ll have as everyone will be out of work and as a result won’t have the income to do anything with their leisure time and all this fantastic technology…

Mental Health & the Modern World

I like to write about the music I love, but my blog is also about mental health concerns. From a personal perspective, I need to ensure my behaviours are right and I do the right thing for myself. The modern world doesn’t always help someone with anxiety and depression issues in dealing with them.

Slowing down is always a consideration. Everything, everywhere goes at 100mph. People want things yesterday. One of the things that has the potential to bring on my anxieties and panic attacks is the expectations (often self-imposed) that everything needs done NOW. That may be work related or outside work – DIY, stupid tasks around the house, anything and everything.

The feeling that you have so much to do and so little time and the feeling of failure when you don’t achieve what you THINK you needed to achieve.

Instant gratification

This culture of instant gratification for everything, people not seemingly able to wait for anything and trying to get everywhere as quickly as possible doesn’t help this. Neither does modern technology. Yes, I don’t disagree, it is great that you can find information straight away using Google (other search engines are available), learn a new skill via YouTube (ditto…).

It is however, almost impossible to escape your work or be off the grid with laptops, tablets and mobile phones being part of everyday life. Remember letters? Even faxes. You got a chance to receive and read these then compose your response before replying. Your inbox these days is constantly pinging and the pressure to respond immediately can be intense.

Slow Down

The world is obsessed with doing everything faster, cheaper and more efficiently. I can appreciate that margins are tight and why businesses want to save money but does there not come a time when we have to say stop? After all, is the economy not a man-made notion and influenced by the few at the top. It is not a naturally occurring phenomenon

Are we so obsessed with cutting a few minutes off journeys that we are prepared to risk people’s lives? Look at high speed trains. Look what happened this week in the US.

Amtrak high speed train crash
Amtrak high speed train crash

Roads. Yes, it can be frustrating waiting in traffic, but who has created that mind-set? Do we really need to be constantly building new roads, reducing the time it takes to get places, increasing the amount of traffic on the roads? Why is everything so focussed on time, time, time – faster, bigger, more…

Nothing ever closes

We have a 24/7 society and it is difficult to switch off. Supermarkets open 24 hours, shops opening earlier and closing later. Banks closing left, right and centre because they have forced us down the internet route and now no-one wants to use the branches. Until they close and then everyone realises the impact it has. The internet never closes.

And automation – these robots coming over here and stealing our jobs! Self-service check-outs, self-driving cars, internet shopping, social media even skype. Bloody hell, with “Alexa”, you don’t even need to get off your arse and switch a light on/off or type something into your keyboard. What have we become? Great, these innovations may all save time and money. They may make things easier for us. But are we losing the ability to communicate with others? When do we find the time to interact with fellow human beings?

What does that all mean to our mental health? Or indeed or physical health. Is it any wonder there is an increase in obesity? Are we surprised we have more lonely people about? Is it any wonder that there are increased levels of anxiety and depression? Unreal expectations, automation taking away human interactions, reducing people’s skillsets, feelings of worthlessness, inability to cope with the all pressures that go along with modern life.

Live Life

There is no escape but there are things you can do. What will I do?

I’ll continue to buy my music on vinyl or CD (no matter how much my wife complains about space!)

I’m going to continue to support new bands and artists if I can – promoting them, buying their product, going to their gigs when able.

I’ll use the tills with people on them, who cares if I have to wait in a queue for a few minutes, I’ll get to talk to someone and not encourage continued automation.

Take the slow train. Read a book, listen to music! RELAX

I know I need to be more active – not only for my physical heath, but for my mental health. Take a break from the pressures of 21st Century life. Realise what is all around me. Take a step back to think and observe what life is really about.

I need to switch my phone off when I’m in the house. Writing this I realise how often I check my e-mails, my messages, Facebook, Twitter in the course of a day. What will happen if I don’t respond immediately? The world won’t come to an end.

Breathe – and I mean that literally. Sit down, breathe and notice my breathing. Notice the sounds around me, notice what is happening to my body. Relax.

So, stop reading this blog on your phone, tablet or computer. Go and talk to someone. Switch off your tech, read a book, listen to some music (on vinyl!!), go to a gig. But most of all slow down, chill out and relax. The world isn’t going anywhere. Enjoy life. Don’t let it pass you by.

The Dark Side of Christmas

The Dark Side of Christmas

At this time of year, we tend to get caught up in our own bubble. While Christmas is a time of joy and happiness for many, it is also a struggle in countless ways for too many others.

In recent weeks, I have seen a lot of posts on social media promoting things like “Sleep in the Park” and “Social Bite” to support rough sleepers and those without a permanent address. It is great that so many are supporting others. Where is the government?

Social Bite
Social Bite
Rough Sleepers

However, I have also seen some appalling & callous comments on Facebook from people who have no sympathy for rough sleepers: “I have no sympathy”, “give them a shovel” and “it is their choice”.

Rough Sleeping

What a crock of shit. I urge these reprobates to walk a mile in these people’s shoes before making comments like that. How do they know what their circumstances are? They have no idea how they ended up where they are presently. Do they really think these people would be where they are now through “choice”? Have they seen the weather?

There may very well be an extremely small number of people that live their lives in a certain way through choice. The majority would surely prefer to have a warm bed, a hot meal and a job giving them a steady income so they can support themselves and their family.

It Could be you…

There are a myriad of reasons why someone may find themselves in these circumstances. Indeed many of us are only a couple of month’s income away from being unable to meet our own commitments and the hardships that may result.

Some of us are lucky and have family and friends who could/would help. But what if you have no-one? What if the problem is your family and friends? What “choices” do you have? Addiction and mental health problems can send some down a road that they find it hard to come back from. What if your mental health problems stop you from asking for or getting the help you need?

It is hard to put yourself in someone’s shoes if you haven’t been there yourself. Don’t judge.

Christmas can be an impossible time of year if people don’t have the means, support or coping mechanisms that will help them through. That could be money worries or a lack of roof over their heads. It might be that this time of year exacerbates addiction problems. Or Christmas (or should I say everything that surrounds Christmas that makes it difficult) brings on poor mental health through stress, anxiety or depression.

Fortunately, I have never been in the position of having no permanent address or had to sleep rough and I haven’t had to rely on food banks or the charity of others to feed my family. I am all too conscious though that it could happen to anyone. I would urge anyone to do whatever is in their capacity to support by doing what you can, but not just at Christmas, to support your fellow human beings.

Christmas and Mental Health

I can, however, relate to people who may be suffering from poor mental health. I can also see how that may be magnified at this time of year. Some of my past issues with anxiety and depression could easily be exacerbated by Christmas. I have a fantastic family and friends round me & I have been in the fortunate position of getting support through employee’s schemes at work. These have enabled me to gain the knowledge and skills to be able to recognise when my self-belief, thoughts, actions and behaviours are taking me down the wrong route and this helps me to take the right action to turn around. Unfortunately, the same levels of support aren’t accessible to everyone

I love Christmas and don’t find it to be a problem, but I could see how someone who does struggle with anxiety and depression could hate this time of year.

What do I mean?

Take social anxiety for starters. If you are someone who suffers from social anxiety, I can totally understand how Christmas party season could be hell. Be it a works Christmas nights out and parties having to constantly be around people, talking, joining in, laughing, joking, generally having a good time. Sounds like hell doesn’t it?

For someone who has never suffered from this, it will be difficult to understand, but yes this could be like hell. Being in the middle of a crowd of 100 strangers is sometimes easier, and preferable, to being with 20 people you know. You can hide, and you don’t need to talk to anyone!

I you are suffering from anxiety, and faced with a social situation you will start questioning everything. What will I say to them? I’ll look like an idiot if I say the wrong thing? What if they have more to say than me? What if they disagree with my opinion? I am inferior to them all, and if I say the wrong thing that will confirm it. You then open your mouth and speak. Oh no what did I say that? They must think I’m a dick? What can I say to make it better? How can I excuse myself and leave?

Add that over-thinking and over-analysing to the mix and you have dug not a hole, but a pit for yourself that you can’t climb out of.

These thoughts may not be logical but can either make these events unbearable or result in bizarre or inappropriate behaviour. Perhaps drinking heavily to cope or to build up the courage to join in, which of course can end up in acting the fool and the next day, week, month become an excruciating exercise in over-analysing and thinking the worst.

In more extreme circumstances, it can also mean isolating yourself and avoiding these social circumstances altogether, coming up with various excuses why you can’t attend events. This only makes things worse, especially if your anxiety means that you need the acceptance of others, you have created a lose-lose situation for yourself.

ingrained self-beliefs

Many anxieties are brought on by ingrained self-beliefs – such as a feeling of worthlessness or failure and trying to over-compensate by being a perfectionist and setting unreal goals. This could be in any situation work or otherwise. I used to do it constantly in work, set myself unrealistic goals that would ensure EVERYTHING would be perfect. Of course, nothing is ever perfect, but that didn’t stop me dwelling on it, beating myself up and either working harder to make it happen, which often a waste of time and energy and only had the result in driving my mood lower, or almost giving up – that feeling of “what is the point, I’ve failed – I can’t do this”.

I could see how Christmas could easily have a similar impact on someone who has low self-esteem. Christmas movies all ultimately have a happy ending where everything turns out perfectly. Unreal expectations. If those outcomes aren’t replicated for someone with anxiety – they can feel they have failed. TV adverts show perfect Christmas dinners with smiling family and friends. Another potential unreal expectation – nothing ever goes that smoothly. You can plan your perfect Christmas as much as you like, but would you not be better just taking things as they come and enjoying it as much as possible? Think about why you are doing something, why are you having that thought, what has brought it on? What would be the result if you didn’t do something?

Add to that equation the money worries. TV ads again encourage people to spend what they don’t have to keep up with the Joneses. That may not have an immediate effect on mental health. I’ve experienced something similar, just not at Christmas. Spending money you don’t necessarily have on “stuff” in a vain attempt to lift your “mood”. It works momentarily, but come the month of January when the bills hit…

That’s just scratching the surface. Once you add fatigue into the mix too – managing your normal daily life and making lists of other things you “must” do to make it the perfect Christmas – get the decorations up, write cards to all and sundry, shop excessively, tidying the house for visitors. Physical exhaustion can have a bearing on how someone manages their mental, spiritual (in a non-religious sense) and bodily health. Lack of sleep, over-tiredness and lack of the right exercise can impact your ability to think the right way, make the right decisions and ultimately take you down “that” path, which for many people is one way journey.


Loneliness has also been in the news. I’m sure people aren’t just lonely at Christmas though. Why are we only supposed to care about them for a couple of days a year? Another thought though, lonely people aren’t just people who live on their own. You may know someone you work with or live with who is constantly surrounded by people but still feels dreadfully lonely. They feel they can’t relate, they feel worthless and although they may be in company they cut themselves off. They stop communicating, their mood changes, maybe their behaviour is not normal? It can come on over time and is sometimes not easy to spot in yourself, but perhaps sometimes others can see a change.

I can see how, without the support network of family, friends, employers, colleagues around them, someone could easily spiral. The impact of that could be serious – relationship breakdowns, inability to work, loss of income. It is easy to see how someone could end up on the streets or worse. Is that a “choice”? I don’t think so.

Does the government even care?

I do believe that those in authority do very little to support a lot of these groups of people. How low does the temperature have to go before they do anything? How many people will have to freeze to death?

How many empty homes and office buildings do you see around your area that could be opened up even as temporary refuge to people who are rough sleeping? How much is being spent on social housing? I see plenty of luxury homes being built. What about housing for those for whom that type of property is and will only ever be a dream?

That isn’t enough in itself. There needs to be a whole programme of support to put a roof over people’s heads, temporarily to get them out of the cold, but ultimately permanently but this needs to go hand in hand with money & work advice and support for other issues such as mental health and addiction problems. Without this, many will end up back where they are.

However, what are the authorities interested in? To me it seems they are more interested in spending billions on pointless tram systems, superfast trains (part of the issues of the modern world – everything needs to be instantaneous – maybe if we slowed down and chilled out it might help?), fancy bridges, fixing big clocks and archaic buildings, automating everything to save time and money and buying new nuclear weapons. Oh and there is the self-promotion interests form pro- and anti- MPs, focussing their all on Brexit and forgetting the basics about looking after their citizens NOW.

No amount of lobbying seems to make a difference. Just watch an MP in full flow – every excuse under the sun will be thrown out as to why it is not a simple solution. If they had the desire to do anything, they would. They all have an excuse, no matter their political persuasion and so it comes down to people power.

Care for each other

We can only what we can, but make sure it is not just at Christmas. Be a caring human who cares for their fellow human all year round. Don’t be like the unfeeling morons on Facebook who make blasé and frankly disgraceful comments about people they don’t know and have no idea about how they have got to where they are. Ditch these fools.

It could be as simple as speaking to someone. Find out how they are and if there is anything you can do. Buy a coffee and hot meal for someone rough sleeping. Even stopping for 5 minutes to say hello. Make a donation to a local food bank.

No matter how simple it seems it makes a difference to someone.

Find out what is happening locally that you can support – food banks, restaurants serving Christmas dinner to people who aren’t able to provide their own, charities or individuals providing sleeping bags & warm clothes to rough sleepers.

But don’t forget those close to you.  Has their behaviour changed, do they need support from you but they just don’t know how to ask?

Remember, Christmas isn’t a competition. It should be spending quality time with family/friends, not about who spends the most on presents, has the biggest turkey or the flashiest tree.

And no matter how much I enjoy Christmas, it is only a day. There are 364 more in the year. Don’t put yourself under financial or emotional strain for a day. Enjoy your time with family and friends.

Merry Christmas.

Mental Health Hotline 0800116123 (Samaritans).

Writing as Therapy

CBT (Cognitive behavioural Therapy)

I recently completed 12 weeks of CBT. Some of the sessions were exceedingly difficult. I would even go as far as to say the initial sessions made me feel worse. It was a number of sessions in before I started beginning to feel positive.

I know now this was to be expected as my counsellor spent time unearthing my core beliefs to enable me to work on the correct solutions. These solutions are what are ultimately allowing me to manage my anxiety and depression. It was not however an easy trip to get there and accepting my core beliefs wasn’t something I readily did.

Its good to talk

It is difficult to put yourself out there, open up to someone and talk about what is causing you to feel, think and behave the way you do. However, I found that once I could do it, there was a realisation about how cathartic it was and then it was like taking the lid off of a pressure cooker.

During my sessions, we explored different strategies and opportunities for me to use to manage my anxiety. Some things I tried didn’t work, others did. I had to experiment with different ways of dealing with my thoughts, feelings and behaviours. I’ve blogged previously about meditation which is just one of the methods I use.

We talked a lot about having a focus on something that was totally unrelated to all the things that we had explored that had brought on my anxiety. Of course, I still had to face all of these things as they are part of daily life, and I have strategies in place now that help me manage these.


However, one thing I feared and discussed with my therapist was that I’d had a similar experience in the past and similarly, I had strategies in place. Over the years as I felt better, I let some of these good behaviours slip and ultimately stopped doing them.

I didn’t realise this at the time, but now as I reflect back, it was an unconscious decision not to do some of these things, but directly associated with improved mood and lack of anxiety.

I now liken it to the times you go to the doctor and they give you a prescription to take for a specified period of time, but you stop taking them as soon as you feel better. The result being that your symptoms return as you haven’t taken the advice of your GP.

I had fallen back into old habits that I believed were helping me but were essentially exacerbating my issues.

I’ve now realised that for me to stay on an even keel, I need to ensure that I keep up the strategies that work for me and not let them drop. I needed something to ensure that I maintained my focus.

This is where the writing comes in.

Returning to what I said earlier about having something to focus on, we explored the things I usually enjoyed doing. We talked about my love of reading, of listening to music, of going to gigs and so on.

At my lowest points though, I couldn’t read books. The words didn’t make sense, I couldn’t concentrate as I was thinking about too many other things. Even listening to music or going to gigs didn’t give me the same enjoyment as they had. I felt guilty all the time if I was doing anything that I deemed as non-productive, but that is for another blog.

Writing a diary

During the weeks I was having sessions with my therapist, I had kept a diary. The main reason for this was to record how I was thinking, feeling and acting, trying to identify what was causing this and as the weeks went on, recording what I was doing that made a difference. Again, this wasn’t easy to start with and I found it hard to write anything on some days as I felt nothing.

As the weeks passed, however, I found that it was actually the writing itself that was one of the things making me feel better. It was a channel to get the negativity out of my head. It was something to focus on that was different from the norm and allowed me to empty my head of thoughts. Something that I hadn’t been able to do for some time.

I reflected about this over the following weeks and about what we had talked about in my sessions. Core beliefs, thoughts I’d had, decisions I’d made, ways I’d behaved and things that should be giving me joy. An idea formulated in my head.

I started working in a bank when I was 16. I have always loved music and being creative, but my parents, with the best of intentions, had instilled the belief in me that I needed to get a “secure job, a job for life”. 20 years later I was still there, I’d got to the stage that I was scared to do anything else as I knew nothing else. Redundancy gave me the opportunity to go and do something else, but I stayed in my comfort zone, different industry but same type of job.

It would be wrong for me to regret anything I have done, that would be like me giving in to my anxieties and living in the past. However, I wish I had been courageous, followed my dreams and done something music related when I was younger, even if it hadn’t been my job, just something that would have given me a sense of achievement.

I used to listen to John Peel and think that he had the ideal job, listening to music for a living and sharing his love for it with others, discovering new bands and being excited by them.

starting a blog

So, I decided, that if I couldn’t be a DJ, I would start a blog. My theme would be music and mental health.

I’d use the blog to write about the music and the bands I loved and that brought me joy. I’d use it to share what I love with others but also, and importantly, it would give me a focus on things that weren’t work and normal day-to-day life. A release of sorts.

I would also use it to write about mental health and things that had affected me. About things I’d done to control my anxieties. Writing about it would also help me to keep focussed on what I need to do to control my anxieties and no allow myself to go back down that road again.

When I started, it was essentially a vehicle to focus my mind. To give me something to think about to avoid “just thinking”.

But, I enjoyed the challenge of setting up the blog, of writing and editing my first posts. I enjoyed the satisfaction of sharing these and having people actually read them.

I hadn’t really fully considered that side of things. It was intended, as I’ve said, as more of a release. Once I started though, I realised just how much I enjoyed the writing, and the more I did the more I wanted to do.

The other thing writing has done for me is opened up more opportunities. I’ve had posts reproduced on other sites, I’ve had opportunities to write reviews for music sites and magazines. I’ve also had bands approaching me to ask me to review singles. It has improved my self-confidence.

What differences do I see?

Well, when I leave work now of an evening, I leave work.

I used to take it home with me. And what I mean by that is not necessarily physically taking work home, opening my laptop and sending e-mails. But taking it home mentally. Spending all night analysing what happened during that day, berating myself for anything that went wrong, focussing on the negatives, planning the next day in my head, down to working out word for word conversations I would have.

As a result I didn’t communicate at all well with my family. I could watch TV programmes with my wife and have no idea what I’d watched. I’d not sleep properly as my mind was overactive and would snap and shout at my kids for no reason.

I now spend my journey home from work thinking about things I am looking forward to. I do actually look forward to things. My communication is better with my family. My mind is not overactive, I’m not over-analysing or over thinking everything. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not perfect and have to work hard sometimes to not go backwards.

The thing with my blog though is, it is MY blog. There are no deadlines or actions plans or to do lists. I control what goes on and when.

It is not like work where I have targets, deadlines and constantly changing requirements. However, I know I am also more productive at work now than I was. I’m focusing on what needs to be done rather than dwelling on what has happened or what might happen.

In the past, the more time I spent over thinking, over-analysing, worrying, planning, re-planning, changing and checking, the less productive I became. I’m not saying that I think I won’t ever do any of these things again. I know I will and I have done since. But I know that when it happens, I can deal with it. As long as I focus on the right things.

For now, things are going well and as long as I am writing and have this release. I believe that will continue.

What’s next?

Around 20 years ago, I started writing a book. I never got further than the first chapter though. Maybe that will change……

“What have you got to be worried about?” and other unhelpful comments….

Depression isn’t real!

Just recently this Twitter account has been brought to my attention.

I say Twitter account rather than using the associated name, you can see it for yourself, as I don’t want to humanise this entity in any way. The idiot appears to be devoid of any humanity whatsoever. This is just one of many tweets they have made on the subject.

Thankfully, I have never come across this nonentity before. I have no idea who they are or indeed any desire to find out any more about them. It appears though that they are a kick boxer – I think they have had one kick too many to their head.

The tweets I did read have no bearing on reality whatsoever and are among the most hateful & unhelpful comments I have ever seen relating to depression and anxiety. I hope they get help for their delusions at some point.

ignorance isn’t an excuse

Unfortunately though, and judging by some of the responses on Twitter, this attitude is still too common. I am not going to let this idiot or others like them get to me, you need to rise above. There is something lacking in their life that they have to spend so much time talking about other people and their issues. Enough about that – I’ve already spent too much time talking about them….I don’t want this to be a platform for promoting bullying and intolerance.

This type of thing really puts the cause of mental health awareness back. If people who are thinking about speaking to someone about how they are feeling read something like this, it could be the thing that stops them from speaking up.

It also made me reflect on the prevalence of people like this and comments like “What do you have to worry about?” and the simplistic “Don’t Worry, Be Happy!” often spoken by people that have a lack of understanding about how mental health impacts different people.

“What Do You Have to Worry About?”

Let’s take “What do you have to worry about?” for starters.

I’m willing to bet that loads of people who have suffered from anxiety or depression or similar have had this (or something similar) said to them or asked of them at some point. What the people asking don’t realise is that it’s a question that the individual has probably asked themselves time and time again, over-analysing and trying to work out what the hell is wrong with them!

Take myself for example, I’ve got a good job, a lovely wife, 2 great kids, friends, extended family, a home, money, I go on holidays, I have “stuff”……..but it didn’t stop me being affected with anxiety and depression.

The thing is it isn’t necessarily worrying about any one thing in particular. Where the anxiety/depression often comes from is much more complex, and is entirely dependent on the individual concerned. Some of the things that got me to that place were:

  • Perfectionism/unreal expectations – setting yourself unrealistic goals, that ultimately may be unachievable, and then beating yourself up as you haven’t achieved. Ultimately the results may be way in excess of what others have expected, but you haven’t met your OWN expectations. Continue in this manner for some time and you convince yourself you’ve failed.
  • Over-planning – a bit like the above in setting expectations. Thinking that you need to constantly be achieving something. Writing loads of lists of what you need to do and then re-writing and feeling like you’ve failed if you haven’t done EVERYTHING on the list when you set yourself the time to do it.
  • Over-analysing – every decision I made, every conversation I had, every meeting I was at, every conference call I was on. Where did I go wrong? What could I/should I have said differently? I wish I’d said/done this/that. Never what went well – always what went wrong….

These are just a few and I’m sure others can relate to these and many more.

The anxiety/depression comes from trying too hard to do too much for too long and something has to give.

Being asked the question or having the comment directed to you is one of the least helpful things that anyone can say. It just exacerbates everything you already think yourself.

To help, what you really need to understand are the deep-rooted reasons for the way you behave and react. Personally I found that, until I went that deep, I couldn’t start to put in place the strategies to overcome and cope with the unhelpful behaviours that led to the anxiety and /or depression in the first place. That isn’t an easy journey as you can end up feeling worse before you feel better, but for me the destination meant the journey was worth it as I know I am now mentally strong enough to deal with my brain and the way it works.

Don’t Worry – Be Happy!

That brings me to seemingly throwaway comments like “Don’t Worry, Be Happy!” If only it were that simple!

A lot of people I have spoken to who have been in a similar position, have experienced these sort of comments, maybe worded differently but with the same intent. They have heard this to such an extent they feel they need to have a mask to hide how they really feel.

Maybe they try to be the life and soul of the party and smile even though inside that is the last thing they feel like doing. They try to help others and take on extra tasks so they feel “useful”. However, no matter how much they do to keep active and busy, the one most tiring thing is trying not to let the mask slip.

It doesn’t matter who you are, what your background is or where you’ve come from it can hit any of us at any time. Given the right (or should that be wrong) circumstances coming together at the same time, just like with physical heath, your mental health can suffer.

I’ve said this numerous times before and I’m not going to apologise for it so here I go again……

Depression and anxiety doesn’t discriminate.

I also blog about music as it is something I love so let’s take some of these as examples.

Chester Bennington from Linkin Park recently took his own life. He was the singer in a successful band, had money and apparently everything to live for including a lovely family. Look at the picture his wife recently posted on Twitter taken shortly before he died.


He looks happy doesn’t he? But what was really going on? We’ll never know. He looked as if he was “Being Happy” but look what happened to him.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of examples of this in the music industry – Billy McKenzie from The Associates, Chris Cornell from Soundgarden, Stuart Adamson from Big Country/Skids – all seemingly successful in their careers but all took their own lives. “What have they got to be worried about?”!

I love the music of all of these bands and saw Big Country live several times. One of the bands “party pieces” was playing Smokey Robinson’s “Tracks of My Tears” live. Given what I said earlier about wearing a smile when it is sometimes the last thing you want to do and with what ultimately happened with Stuart Adamson, it adds even more poignancy to the song and is hard to listen to now.

“People say I’m the life of the party,

‘Cause I tell a joke or two.

Although I might be laughing, loud and hearty

Deep inside I’m blue.

So take a good look at my face.

You’ll see my smile looks out of place.

If you look closer, it’s easy to trace

The tracks of my tears.”

Recently Ginger Wildheart and Sinead O’Connor have both gone through very public episodes where their mental health was suffering. When you are in the public eye and this happens, there seems to be an equal amount of support and criticism. A lot of the criticism comes about due to assumptions that because these are successful people they should “have nothing to worry about”.

That’s the danger of the modern world and instant reporting and commenting via social media. I am just glad they are both receiving the help they need and will continue to do so. I don’t want to wake up to the news one day that one of them has succumbed to the same fate as the others.

Can You Be Happy?

Of course you can! It may take a lot of work and effort but you can be happy – it is just not as easy as flicking a switch.

Maybe it is something you need to keep on top of constantly so that you don’t feel yourself sliding backwards.

Maybe for some people, prescribed drugs will help, for others therapy or CBT. Maybe it is a combination of both.

Maybe you need to accept that you won’t always be happy, but you raise your own awareness of this and have strategies to cope.

Maybe you need to talk about it.

The important thing to remember is, you don’t need to wear that mask, it is OK to not feel great sometimes.

Do talk about it though, don’t hide it, don’t just smile and say everything is great if it is not. It is hard to open up and talk, but it is worth it in the end.

Sometimes a bit of irreverence is good too. I’d recommend the book “F**k It”, also with this in mind, I’m going to leave you with the thoughts of Ginger Wildheart and Ryan Hamilton who wrote and recorded a song together based on their personal experiences of mental health issues……….. Sometimes you just have to say “Fuck You Brain!”

Meditation isn’t just for Hippies!

Meditation? – It’ll never work for me!

If you’re anything like me, when someone first suggested meditating to help me deal with my anxiety & depression I laughed.

At the time my mental image of meditation was of someone sitting cross-legged on the floor, arms outstretched, middle fingers touching their thumbs and chanting “ohhhmm”. Nothing like stereotyping eh?

Of course, I was wrong. I know it won’t work for everyone and not all meditations work for me either. Everyone has different strategies to deal with their own mental health. Meditation is only one of the tools in my box too.

What works for me?

When I first tried meditation it didn’t work at all. I could have given up, but I persevered. Even now, longer meditations are something I struggle with, but some of the shorter ones work for me. The hardest thing for me to start off with was the inability to empty my mind of thoughts (see previous blog – Do you think too much?). I didn’t know how to switch off my mind.

Even now sometimes when I try to do it, thoughts will pop in and out of my head. That’s OK though. The meditation helps me control them now and as the quote above says, they don’t control me.

The 2 mindfulness type meditations that work best for me are short. Only a few minutes. One is mindful breathing and the other is about relaxing my body. It depends on the situation what one I may or may not fall back on. What I don’t do is specifically schedule “meditation times”. I just know they are there if I need them.

I have been known to get panic attacks which, if unchecked, are totally debilitating. Mindful breathing meditation is one strategy for this. The first important thing is to understand your triggers and symptoms. If you know your triggers, then you can aim to avoid these situations. It took me a while to identify my triggers, that takes a bit of work. If you haven’t identified a trigger, then you may be able to identify your symptoms.

From a personal perspective, these symptoms could be numerous, and some on their own are perfectly natural. For example, having butterflies & sweaty palms before making a presentation. If I didn’t get these, I’d be worried as, to me, it would suggest I didn’t care about how the presentation went. A certain level of stress anxiety is normal.

When it becomes a problem is when these symptoms become greater than normal and have a physical impact on your ability to do anything. So, the butterflies turn into major churning and sometimes even physical sickness. The sweaty palms to total bodily perspiration. Add to that, inability to check or slow your breathing, headaches, blurry vision, the feeling that you have almost left your own body….by that time it is often too late to do anything to stop it.

So, when I become aware of these symptoms at an early stage, I can use mindful breathing meditations to regain control. Again, this depends on you be able to recognise your “normal” level of stress/anxiety as this can sometimes actually be helpful and when it goes to the next level.

I won’t always use meditation either. It depends on the situation/environment I’m in. Sometimes it may be enough to stand up and walk away from the situation. Other times listening to a certain song, band or album can make a difference (see Music is my Escape)

The other one that works for me is for when I feel really tense. I feel it in my whole body, tightening of muscles, headaches and the like. There is a mindfulness meditation that involves focussing on your whole body, tensing and releasing all your muscles and relaxing your body.

Meditating isn’t easy and takes practice. If you can master it, it becomes your friend. I have not in any way fully mastered it and sometimes despite trying, it doesn’t work. But I persist.

I want to try to master mindful eating. I always eat too quickly and don’t think about it and whether or not I’m actually hungry! In times when I feel on edge or stressed, I can almost inhale food without noticing.

There are loads of websites and free apps out there that you can download with different meditations to try. This is a useful free resource that I started with. As I said, not all of these are for me, but I tried and tested different ones before I found something that worked.

As I said, it doesn’t work for everyone but my advice would be, and remember I’m not a professional, don’t discount anything when looking for ways of dealing with mental health issues. Every one of us is unique, so we will all discover our own coping strategies through time and experience.