On average 84 men kill themselves every week in the UK. This is unacceptable.

For me – it’s not just that they’re dying. It’s that they’re choosing to die. Reasons can range from financial problems, to abuse within the home.

My beautiful older brother Matthew (featured above) took his own life 6 months ago. The news was shocking enough. But so was the quick realisation that suicide among men under the age of 45 is extremely common, and the way families and friends are left broken and isolated within a very particular, and ‘complicated grief’, is more widespread than anyone might think.

#project84, created by the charity CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) is the first project of any kind that’s really taken a stand on this epidemic, one that’s been largely ignored by society and almost anyone with political influence.  Mental health issues of any kind are rarely taken notice of unless people start shouting about them – because how can we know, or see? But even then, and even still, there’s a certain taboo around the whole thing. I’ve done a lot of reading up and research since Matt died, and this is the first thing I’ve seen that’s actually taken hold, and that people are responding to. But our work doesn’t end here.

I’m writing this post to say, thank you to CALMS and to the courageous people who shared their intimate personal stories with the world for #project84.

I’m also writing this to say, enough is enough. #project84 drew in thousands of responses. This doesn’t mean the work is done. We need to keep talking, keep generating awareness about the FACT that men suffer too.  There’s a crisis among them – of identity, purpose, and value. But also, among us. We expect too much of the same thing, don’t we? It’s like we almost want to be lied to; about what and who we really are; about what truly hurts us, and what potentially pushes us over the edge.

The video I’ve posted below is fascinating to me. Watch it, and see the difference in response from a man harassing a woman, to a woman harassing a man. For me this sums it all up. Male suicide is an issue in its own right. But it’s also linked to a much broader social problem. Did you know there are only a handful of charities for men who suffer abuse in the home? Compared with the hundreds for women? Why is it considered harder for a man to cry than a woman? Why is a woman harassing a man funny?
Some things to think about.

Useful links:

CALM ZONE

#project84

ManKind Initiative: http://www.mankind.org.uk/

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Social media is absolutely frigging exhausting.

Every morning I wake up, and it’s competition time. ‘Ping’ goes the phone – who’s been nominated for a prize today? ‘Ping’ it goes again. Who’s poem did what where? ‘Ping’ a third (or gazillionth) time. Was that a prize I didn’t even know about?  Did I miss it? Yes i did! Someone else won it, oh bugger oh christ…

I’m using the world of poetry as an example merely because this is the world I love and am involved with. And I’m as guilty as the next person for ‘sharing’ my wonderful news when I have it.

But social media sharing, isn’t really ‘sharing’ is it? It’s rubbing what I’ve got, and you haven’t, in your face.

To share used to mean: to divide, apportion, to give.

Now it means: to give access. More specifically, access to all the brilliant things I’m doing, and then a deeper access to the inevitable realisation that you are in fact, not doing them. And perhaps should be.

And then you ask why you’re not. You doubt yourself, question your worth, your abilities, even your creative path, over and over again. Day in day out. And why? Because this sharing from the ‘alls wonderful’ corner is pretty much constant, and an addictive act, both for the giver and the receiver. Inevitably, it becomes all-consuming, chipping away at your perception of the genuine patterns of life and the ‘real’; from the positive success filter.

A painful and unhealthy way to live, particularly when every day turns into a self-assessment. Not of the ‘self’ in relation to what you may have written for example; but in relation to other people and what they’ve achieved. You put yourself down before you’ve even had a chance to make something happen for yourself.

I turned the Twitter and Facebook notifications on my phone and computer off a long time ago. Now I only look at them when I want to.  But being the highly competitive person I am, I still find it overwhelming when I go online to discover all these voices shouting ‘me! me! me!’ (or worse ‘them! them! them!’ because they know it gets them some sort of social cred). Either way, it’s too much information of single kind. Just a sweeping platform for what’s wonderful and amazing and brilliant about the world and we humans. When in reality, we humans and the world live in a sorry state. And by the time we look up from our screens are start noticing the cracks and fissures, it’ll be too late.

Social media platforms, of any kind, were always about glorifying and worshipping the self in a very non real, 2D way. In light of the new Facebook scandal (it was only a matter of time) I’m wondering if it might be time to take a step back from the online world. And I’m saying this as much to myself as anyone else. Too often have I written a post about a published poem, or a workshop invitation with the phrase ‘Feeling humbled and delighted to…’ Oh fuck off. I wasn’t humbled, and I was more deliriously giddy with the thought that someone had actually taken notice of me at all, than graciously ‘delighted’.

I wonder if we should have a #realitycheck day. There are so many other ‘days’ out there. #realitycheckday means you can only post about the bog-standard reality of your every day life. ‘Feeling humbled and delighted to have made jam on toast’ or whatever it might be.

Or maybe we should just shut our phones off altogether and go write some poems.

Men suffer abuse and harassment at the hands of others. Either in same sex relationships, or from women. Men can be driven to feel the same sense of worthlessness a woman feels. Can be stripped of everything that makes him unique. What another person says, or does to him, time and time again, can ultimately destroy him. And this is hardly ever talked about.

Our society is destroying men. Even now, when the fight for equality and balanced thinking is at an apex – men as victims of abuse, domestic or otherwise, is still considered a taboo subject. I’m aware that there’s room for a deeper argument here. Perhaps the pressure men put on themselves to live up to what is expected of their gender, doesn’t help matters. But neither does society’s ignorance towards the root cause, and the ongoing problem.

And what happens afterwards too – when some men feel there’s simply no way out of their abusive situation, than to body-and-soul remove themselves from it? This scenario is met with even more deliberate blind-sightedness. Perhaps interpreted as fear. Either way, it isn’t taken seriously. Not by many people, not by many charities. And certainly not by the police. From my experience, a situation of this kind is brushed under the carpet as quickly as possible. Anyone directly involved, discharged within hours. And the broken families, simply left to pick up the pieces.

‘Imagine a virus we don’t fully understand. Imagine it is killing young men in record numbers. It kills three times as many British men as women, although nothing adequately explains why. The government confirms that while almost all other leading causes of death are being slowly eroded by medical and social progress, deaths caused by this virus are at their highest for decades. Yet the money we spend on researching and treating the problem stands at a fraction of what we spend on those other leading causes of death, as do charitable donations from the public.’ 

The above is taken from Sam Parker’s article ‘What can we do about Britain’s male suicide crisis’ published last year. In sharing this, I’m not at all saying that male suicides are always directly linked to domestic abuse and harassment. They certainly aren’t. But, there is an important link to be made. As with issues of men as victims of abuse, the vulnerable man is in focus. Or more pertinently, out of it. And for some reason, the legitimate presence of male vulnerability isn’t being talked about or properly addressed. Why? I have no idea. But this reaction seems pretty common and consistent, and from where I’m sitting, drives the stigma attached to the man who has been hurt, or who hurts inside, deeper into the foundations of our society.  As a result, this makes the issue very, very hard to address. Even for me. A woman, who fully and openly supports the #metoo campaign, can’t seem to get much interest on the importance of #mentoo, as an equally abominable and pressing situation. Not just a fucking footnote. If this is how it is for me, how hard do you think it is for the man who’s actually suffering? Do you think he’ll even suppose he might be taken seriously, or heard?

I sometimes think that if things had been the other way around for my dear brother, he would be behind bars right now. Matthew was the kindest man I know, and the most dignified and often, the quietest. He was the one pushed to the point of no return. And the person who did this to him, hasn’t had to answer to it once.

In two weeks I’ll be 30. I’m writing this post because, what I’d love, is for anyone here considering buying me a little something, to donate a sum of money in the name of the charity ManKind Initiative. They’re a small charity (no surprises there) providing emotional support and practical information for men who are abused and harassed in the home. Because yes, it happens. And yes, it’s a big problem as abuse and harassment towards women.

Today I say #nomore

Love, always.
Charity donations: http://uksaysnomore.org/mankind-initiative-support-available/
Other links: Why will no-one fund male domestic abuse chairites?

Since Unable Mother came into being, people have asked me what the book is about. In many ways I’ve avoided working out how to respond to any question like this, because ideally (like many writers) I’d like the writing to speak for itself. But after chatting with a dear friend in a coffee shop a few weeks ago, I can see it that it might be both useful and interesting, to offer a little insight – especially for those considering buying the book. And so for you (and also for me) here are some of my own thoughts on Unable Mother in a little more detail.

Unable Mother is essentially about the dual terror-beauty of motherhood. This is something maybe all moms (all parents) can relate to, but never in exactly the same way (I’ll come back to this later). My own complex and binary motherhood experience, revolved around the absolute denial of being pregnant in the first place. But in equal measure, the joy of knowing I was. Linked with this, was this desperate want for a child, coupled also with the fear of it being true. This was a major struggle for me during the first three-quarters of the pregnancy, and one of the most confusing and frustrating periods of my life.

I was entirely disconnected – from my body and from what was happening inside of it. The poem ‘Flesh’, probably apexes this sense of detachment. Here, I describe in the detail the moment of my daughter’s birth, but with no real resolve or follow through to meeting the child at the end. Really all the poem wants to do is focus its energy on how I experienced the moment. Or rather, how the disappointed part of myself –  thinks I experienced it:

‘You couldn’t accept the natural
give, the heavy
flower

of your uterus.
Someone had to drug
every knot in your spine

so you could hide
beyond the yellow mask
of sleep;….’

Hiding ‘beyond the yellow mask of sleep’, was something I felt I’d always done. Unable to hear, or connect with the little person growing inside me. Little did I know, that somewhere deep down, I was hearing and connecting with her all the time. And this realisation comes out in other poems, of which there are maybe three or four. True and absolute love poems to Josephene.

Motherhood, is also as much a universal subject, as it is entirely unique. This is the second central detail I would perhaps give to the book. I get the feeling when we hear the word ‘motherhood’ we think ‘blanket term’. But it isn’t. Motherhood is like a box, and each box for each mother is very different.  This book is my own, very unique account of my journey into motherhood – but it’s also I feel, a symbol for this inherent uniqueness. This idea that each and every single motherhood journey is entirely its own, and almost incomparable to any other.

There’s also that theme of loss. Coupled with love of many kinds, and domestic disturbances. Losing the first baby, the ‘twin’, in unusual and confusing circumstances (strong links perhaps found here to the denial and detachment) is something I’ve delicately addressed in this book, with one poem in particular, ‘Dissolving’.

Too, have I attempted to intimately expose the terror-beauty of my personal relationships with men. One man in particular, who is very dear to me and always will be.

Unable Mother with friends

 

Final thought…

Jane Commane beautifully describes the poetry of Unable Mother as ‘ unfolding origami’. This is so true. In fact, I would say the whole collection reads like this – a deft, origami package. And while each poem has it’s own moment, really it needs to be read in full. And so my advice would be to let yourself be open to these un-foldings. Go with it, because things will fall into place in the end.  All the emotional urges I explore are separate – but urgently linked. And what I am really saying when I say ‘Unable Mother’, announces one single thing, and many others, all at once.