This is a Mans World

You know when you pass a baby in a pram, you have no idea of gender, you might stop and talk to the parent pushing the pram. You find out if the baby is a boy or a girl. Then the stock phrases appear. “She is beautiful” or “ He looks huge”, both are usually met with a prideful smile from the parents.

What are we saying to our future generations? Girls need to be pretty and boys need to be strong? I could wax lyrical all day about the gender gaps but for the purpose of this blog, I would like to consider men’s mental health.

“Big boys don’t cry”

“You’ve got to be a brave soldier”

Boys that cried were bullied at school and were looked upon as something ‘less than’! A boy or man’s tears seems to make the world uncomfortable. A crying man is weak, less manly, pathetic etc. The boy turns into a man often becoming a partner, husband or father. The criticisms begin again:-

               “He doesn’t share his feelings with me”

               “He’s not good with emotions”

               “He never shares what he is feeling with anyone”

Well of course, that has been a lesson learned! The mask is welded shut! Isolation, exile, humiliation and danger are constantly present beyond the mask. Men’s feelings are mocked, dismissed and ignored and society wonders why they are hesitant to ‘share’.

Maybe, in order for men to share their emotional ‘parts’, they are waiting for an invitation into the emotional fold. Maybe a warm welcome isn’t enough.

What if you have never been given the tools to voice, share or even recognise your emotions? If distraction and avoidance have always been your go to in a situation that evokes difficult emotions then it becomes learned behaviour. A defence mechanism and coping strategy!

Talking about how you feel requires training. This training usually happens within the family, culture, society as a whole and with peer groups. All these groups have their own beliefs about males showing emotion. Judgements and criticisms can be rife. I am, of course, talking about males in the UK as I don’t have enough information worldwide. I am also referring to stereotypes and not individuals. These are my thoughts and beliefs.

Half the people I love in my life are male. I know them to be every bit as susceptible to pain, heartbreak, trauma, depression, anxiety, stress, bullying, grief and loss as the females in my life. I know they often don’t have the same support networks or outlets to safely explore something that they may not be able to name. Male mental health is getting more recognition, GOOD, maybe this is the time. We are ready! Our demands on the males in our lives to share their innermost thoughts and feelings and then to accuse them of “not doing it right” needs to change.

Be non-judgemental

Be patient


Accept the feelings they share, defensiveness at perceived slights can stop any honest conversation dead in its tracks.

We all need to think about our assumptions, prejudices and dismissals. Next time we see a baby in a pram, it might be nice to say “All that potential, I wonder who they will grow up to be?”

My personal hope is that one day I can hear a helicopter down by the River Tay and not have a sense of dread and sadness. Male suicide is the single biggest killer of males under the age of 50. Can we all work together and change that?

For anyone who is struggling with mental distress, please see the crisis numbers on my website and if you would like to explore this scary terrain with a private counsellor, please get in touch.

Which Wolf Will I Feed?

So, I came across this lovely parable during my counselling training, and it has really stuck with me.

‘An Elder of a Native American tribe is sitting round the fire with one of the youngest members of the tribe. The Elder tells the child a story about the great battle, that happens in each of us, between the Blue Wolf and the Red Wolf.

The Red Wolf holds all our anger, pain, hatred, doubt and possibly every other difficult emotion we have. The Blue Wolf holds our love, peace, joy, compassion and possibly every other pleasant emotion we have. The child is entranced by the story and after a while he asks “which wolf wins the battle?” to which the Elder replies “the wolf we feed”.

This felt so simple yet so profound all at the same time. Maybe it’s because I view Native American culture and history with some reverence. Had this been a conversation between two drunks at a bus stop, I like to think I still would have appreciated the wisdom but the Native American slant certainly lends it some gravitas! My other issue became feeling sorry for the Red Wolf. I’m a huge animal lover and the though of not feeding any animal makes me anxious. I suppose, in counselling terms, my empathy for the Red Wolf makes sense. Whilst I agree to not feeding him, he needs to stretch. Maybe he needs to be heard?

The story makes a good point, but… what happens to the Red Wolf? What are we meant to do? Do we ignore him? Hope that he wastes away and dies? That feels monstrous to me as well as unlikely to succeed! These uncomfortable and aggressive emotions won’t just go away. We may not want to feed them but we have to be aware of them.

Maybe the Red Wolf deserves an outlet, a voice or at the very least acknowledgement. He may be a defender of us, a bodyguard or mind/heart shield of sorts. Figuring out his purpose or job might be a good starting place to understanding or accepting the wild beast within us all! Maybe we can learn to accept him, placate him, manage him and even have a fondness for him. He may have had a much harder life than the Blue Wolf. By all means, try not to feed him but we can learn to calm him and let him rest.

Self-compassion is something that many of us struggle with. By looking at the parts of yourself that you do not cherish and spend much time with, could be a journey of self-discovery. Your Blue Wolf may get stronger and your Red Wolf may become a more easily managed ‘pink cub’ that we have an affection for!

If you and your Red Wolf are having a difficult time, come and see me. I am wolf friendly regardless of colour!

It’s Only a Pet

This devastating phrase has been said in my hearing many times. Usually after the demise of said pet, when emotions feel raw and flayed. The phrase is not ‘harmless’, it dismisses the pain, meaning and memories that the bereaved human had for their animal friend, companion, and family member. It promotes a sense of shame. Should we feel as close or even closer to the animals in our lives than the humans?

Let’s explore what animals bring to us. They often promote our sense of well-being, they bring an unconditional love and trust that we often take for granted. They connect us to nature, promote mindfulness, empathy and compassion. They often make us laugh with their joy and curiosity. They feed our inner children and our souls. They bring connection as we get to know their individual personalities, their individuality and their quirks!

All family members have labels and these labels are generally meant to convey bonds and connections. For many, these labels are sources of anger, pain, neglect, isolation, criticism and many other difficult emotions. A title is not a universal statement of meaning. A title is an individual unique meaning to you.

Sharing your life with a pet can be so simplistic and very demanding. Your time and attention can be regularly hijacked. When an animal we love dies, we miss our actions of caring and providing love and warmth as well as their joy in a new toy or treat. It is also the things we never thought we would miss that make our hearts ache too. The song of their people at ridiculous o’clock in the morning, the hairballs, casual vomit, muddy paw-prints and drooling sleepy faces resting on a rapidly expanding wet patch on your leg or stomach!

It has been said and I’m not sure where I heard this, that “grief is just love with nowhere to go”. That feels so true to me. In this time of COVID, people feel guilty to admit their loss was not COVID related. People don’t have a bank of empathy, do they? Is the ‘empathy well’ depleted for all things non-COVID related?

I have personally lost three of my animal family in the last year. One of them I got to hold, stroke and tell them how much I loved them as they left this mortal coil. The other two I had to hand over to a vet in a car park. Only the bleak expression in my eyes was visible over the mask I had to wear. The vet’s eyes were kind and sympathetic as they accepted my loved ones. I know they would have been gentle and kind but I have anger and pain that I struggle with because I could not fulfill my last honour and duty to my babies.

I am left with only three of my ‘magnificent seven’. I hurt. I am so grateful to have my three that are left but I miss the ones who have gone. That pain means they were/are loved and reminds me of what they have brought to my life. I will be eternally grateful to them for that!

I am about to embark (in April) on a specific pet bereavement course. I’m excited! Animals are a passion of mine and being able to help those similarly affected by their loss feels important to me. In due course I hope to run pet bereavement workshops and I will keep you all posted. I am going to leave you with my truths about this subject.

  1. You don’t have to explain or validate your love for an animal
  2. Your pain is real and I ask you to be kind to yourself whilst going through the grief process
  3. It’s NEVER just a pet
  4. The pain is a testament to the love, bond and connection you have with your cat, dog, ferret, rabbit, horse, bird, snake or fish etc.

Remind yourself that you loved them every day you shared with them, I hope we are all so lucky.

New Year Resolutions

Ahhhh!! The yearly call to become fitter, thinner and better! I like to quote Cogsworth from Beauty and the Beast on this, “Promises you don’t intend to keep”. Maybe we know, when we made these demands on our aesthetic and physical bodies, that that is not where change needs to happen?

In your deepest, darkest ‘self’ what needs are not being met? In counselling there is a thing called the ‘miracle question’. It has many variations but the one I like the most poses the question “If you woke up tomorrow and everything that was wrong or painful had magically healed, how would your day enfold to allow you to notice these changes?” What would be different?

Would a weight on your chest or stomach be gone?

Would there be lightness in your ‘self’ or feeling of well-being?

How would these magical changes let themselves be known throughout the course of your daily life?

Do we need to be open and aware to the needs not being met? What are the priorities in our lives? Are we one of them? ‘All that glitters are gold’ Are they?

Have we lost sight of what is important?

Happiness is a subjective concept. What of peace, contentment and the ability to relax?

So! What can we do?

Think about and write about the priorities in your life.

What do you want or need? What needs are not being met?

Identify and name the problem(s).

Does change come from within? Does it need to before external change is met?

I believe we all have internal worlds – different from everyone else’s. They are shaped by experience, knowledge, pain and hope. Your world is different to my world.

Before we become fitter, thinner or better, do we need to sort out our internal issues? We are intelligent and emotional beings so why are we not already fit, thin or better?

We know the path so why are we not already on it?

Sometimes, we need help or support to explore these issues. Sometimes we can sort these issues out ourselves.

Decide what is right for you and know that if you need help – someone is here and listening.


“Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind?” Good question.

Hogmanay seems to always be the saddest celebration of the year. A time to reflect on those who have gone. With the ringing of the bells we ring in a new year. Change can come with fresh hope, maybe things will get better, changes can also be cruel, especially those we did not choose.

We can reflect on who and what we have lost this year. Nostalgia is prevalent. Some quietly reflect while others loudly celebrate. We all look back on the year, I don’t think 2020 will be missed but events that have happened within it may still be raw and perpetuate that vague sense of loss.

Holidays, weddings, graduations and a multitude of weekly celebrations with friends or family have been denied to us or restricted in some way. We have also been robbed of necessary rituals that keep us connected. Funerals, being with loved ones who were desperately ill or who died. A disconnection that no one signed up for has left us feeling socially and emotionally distanced. A numbness and lethargy have us all fighting our own war without the usual support systems in place. Unlike the World Wars, we are not hunkered down together, seeking comfort and solace in community air raid shelters. We are, instead, stuck in our own socially distanced bubbles as the days and weeks merge into one another. Reliant on technology for our social fixes then back to monotony for who knows how long! It’s a bleak vision but one many are living. So what can we do?

We may not have rationing (thank goodness) but we are all feeling a little under siege. Be kind to yourself. Make tasks manageable. Have that bubble bath when you need it. It’s not selfish to see to your own needs. Journaling how you feel can be helpful. Write a letter to a loved one who has died. Repeat that it’s okay not to be okay! Put the new Netflix series on. Bring out the adult colouring book. Accept that sometimes your mood is going to be low. Choose a few playlists of music that lift your spirits and accompanies your melancholic mood. Stop beating yourself up for things not accomplished. Think of something you want to achieve and imagine it as a ladder with however many rungs you need. Get lost in a new book or visit old friends in one. Replenish your hope however you can. Have a good cry when you need one and put on your favourite comedian when you need a good laugh. It’s up to us to regulate our own emotions. Not by avoiding or suppressing them but by choosing activities and allowing ourselves time to express them. Care for others, look up places to visit in future times, start a scrapbook that means something to you. Honour a loved one with a plan to help others or embark on a charitable endeavour.  

Whatever you do, know this, YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

We all feel changes in our well-being. Be kind to yourself and others, You have so much more to do.

Lonely This Christmas

Christmas! A time of peace, joy and good will to all men.

Or… pressure, stress, exhaustion and resentment to all. The true miracle of Christmas would be the kids not changing their lists to Santa every time the whim takes them. The delegation of duties being evenly split across families. The perspective to know your limits and work within them.

The Christmas Lens becomes a magnifying glass about whats not ‘perfect’ in our lives. Standards regarding our homes, decorations, gift ideas, wrapping and food become unrealistic and negatively intrusive to our sense of well-being. Surely if we can just get this one perfect day then everything else will fall into place?

This kind of magical thinking sets us up for failure before we start. The reality is – your home is invaded by impossible goals! From disappointing reactions to gifts, Black Forest Gateaux trod into the carpets that you spent hours cleaning and the inebriated finding the Dutch Courage to suddenly voice a narrative of ‘home truths’ or ‘tough love’. Old resentments make an appearance and lead to hushed conversations in the kitchen.

 Suddenly military precision is required for entertaining, gift opening and serving 18 side dishes at the correct temperature and time. It’s a pressure cooker ultimately of hopes dashed. Surrounded by ‘loved ones’ yet feeling put upon, disappointed, isolated and emotionally distressed.

 This is not everyone’s Christmas experience. Some will have a relaxed and wonderful time and that’s good. There will also be a rise in domestic abuse and suicidal thinking or action. 2020 may be the poster child of grief and loss. People who are already experiencing depression, stress or anxiety won’t get a free pass just because it’s Christmas. Charles Dickens’ ghosts of  Christmas symbolise these prevalent mental health issues well:-

The Ghost of Christmas Past – Depression

The Ghost of Christmas Present – Stress

The Ghost of Christmas Future – Anxiety

The pressures of Christmas know no bounds. Whether self-imposed or culturally driven the effects can be harmful.

So, how can we be kinder to ourselves and how can we manage realistic expectations?

Perhaps we need to adopt a ‘that’ll do’ mindset, one that is inline with our abilities and available time. Relaxation techniques are widely available on the internet or within self help books – treat yourself!

The realisation that life is messy, why would Christmas be different?

Humour, it has always been a prized resource for me that has built up my resilience.

If you feel you are in crisis or need specific help please see my list of useful numbers and websites here

I hope you have a Merry Christmas but just like everyone else it is unlikely to be perfect.