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JCIP #245 – David Cooper

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In episode 245 of The Just Checking In Podcast we checked in with David Cooper.

David is an artist who specialises in producing art from the world’s longest running TV show, The Simpsons, with prints taken from iconic scenes and his favourite characters.

In this episode we discuss: his love of the show and how he got into drawing, painting and creating, which members of the Simpsons cast he most enjoys drawing, work-life balance and the positive fact that he’s never had artist block!

For David’s mental health we discuss fatherhood.

As always, #itsokaytovent

You can buy one of David’s prints on his website here.

You can also subscribe to his Patreon here.

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Music: Patawawa – Strange

Breaking My Silence – Part Four

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By Freddie Cocker

This is not an article I ever thought I would write, or need to. However, recent events have transpired which provoked a desire in me to write this to start a new journey of recovery.

Before I even wrote this, I went back-and-forth with myself about whether I indeed should write this piece.

In recent years, I have been a big advocate against people oversharing some of their deepest, darkest mental health issues all over the internet.

A previous podcast guest and friend of mine Freya India did an excellent piece on the Triggernometry channel which I would recommend that encapsulates most of my thoughts on this.

However, I felt it was necessary for my recovery to write this piece, and I hope in the process, help other male survivors take that next step in their healing process.

I have previously wrote three separate pieces about my experience of Childhood Sexual Abuse (CSA). This was a repressed memory for around 18 years and it took several years of therapy to process this and heal from.

This included two rounds of a very intense form called Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR), as well as one round of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

Prior to December 2023, I genuinely thought I had left that trauma in the proverbial rear windscreen. Whilst that trauma will never leave me completely, I felt I was in a place where I could progress with life alongside the scars it had left which I could manage. Unfortunately, another incident of sexual assault was unlocked in my mind which I know I need to confront.

The Breakdown

In December 2023, I had a mental breakdown as a result of some of the scars from the sexual abuse I thought I had recovered from.

The same feelings of not feeling worthy or undeserving of love re-emerged and the avoidant attachment style I thought I had moved out of, came back with a vengeance, telling me to run away from anything resembling love and connection.

Obviously, this deeply affected me and I felt a whole range of emotions, including frustration and anger at myself, confusion as to why this breakdown had happened and isolation at the feelings it provoked in me.

I have spoken on previous podcasts and interviews about something I have recognised in myself as ‘reverse stigmatisation’. When my mental health issues exploded to the surface during my university degree after a decade of suppression (which I had to use as a survival tool), I felt huge stigma about disclosing and being helped by others. I thought I would be a burden on others, I thought I was ‘less of a man’ for going through these issues and that I was unworthy of help. Thankfully, these stigmas have gone.

Unfortunately, what has replaced it is, ironically as a result of the work I have done with Vent over the past seven years. In these seven years, I have become a pillar of support for many people in my life, and I’m very happy to take on this role.

However, the scars and feelings from the sexual abuse are incredibly dark, uncomfortable and not ones which I feel is worth putting on people’s shoulders. Most people don’t have the emotional intelligence to know how to handle that type of conversation. The few that I have attempted to broach this with either resort to banal platitudes, which do more harm than good or state that they don’t know how to help.

As such, I have very few people I can turn to in times of crisis. This suppression likely contributed to the breakdown.

Thankfully, even in a crisis, I was able to reach out to a few people in a literal cry for help. The person who responded and helped me, delivered Mental Health First Aid on me and gave me a resource to help me was my friend and previous podcast guest Duncan Craig, who is the CEO of a charity for survivors of sexual abuse, We Are Survivors.

He pointed me to their male-only support group, ‘The Safe Room’, which I joined a week later and have been in ever since. I have taken so much positivity, comfort and courage from the sessions I have had with the other men in this group and it has helped me enormously.

The Conversation

Despite this new lifeline and resource, it was a simple conversation I had recently which unlocked the memory which is the centre point of this article and what caused me a huge amount of distress.

Weirdly, it was a chance conversation with someone at a friend’s birthday which provoked this repressed memory to emerge from the recesses of my mind.

Myself and this person got into a lively but good-natured conversation about a range of ‘hot button’ issues.

There came a point where we both disclosed that we were survivors of abuse, and at one point in the conversation, they asked me a couple of questions I felt were completely inappropriate to ask. I pushed back and politely shut these questions down and they eventually accepted me setting that boundary and we moved on with the conversation.

What those uncomfortable questions then triggered was the unlocking of an incident of sexual assault that occurred not when I was a child, but as an adult.

The Incident

In my research for this article, I checked the date that this incident happened and it took place on 17 September 2018. This was several months before I wrote the first of my three articles on CSA, in January 2019.

The shock of this incident, coupled with the CSA I still had to recognise and heal from likely made my brain think ‘Naa, you’re not ready to process this one yet, we’re going to lock this away until you’ve sorted everything else out’. And there it remained, locked in my brain until May 2024.

The incident in question happened at one of my favourite music venues in London, KOKO. I was seeing one of my favourite artists, Sofi Tukker, on my own and whom I have gone onto see again at Shepherds Bush Empire in recent years. I would thoroughly recommend their music to everyone.

The band have a large gay fanbase and as I was waiting for the headline act to come on, a gay couple stood next to me began chatting to me. They were both very friendly and I prefer to pass the time before the band come on talking to strangers anyway.

As the night went on and they had a lot more drinks (I drank nothing and rarely do at most solo gigs I go to), one of them took more of a shine to me.

The first violation he did was grope me. If this act was done to a woman, it would be deemed sexual assault in and of itself, but I laughed it off and carried on enjoying the show. I’ve had similar attention from gay men in other spaces over the years i.e. Pride and I’ve never had a problem with it (it’s usually a good self-esteem boost!).

However, my light-hearted reaction to this violation likely led to this man feeling like he could do what he did next.

As the band finished their set and the crowd began to disperse, as the couple left, this man sexually assaulted me. It only lasted for at maximum a second and I instinctively batted his hand away as he did it but looking back, my body was clearly in shock at what he had just done. I was perhaps in even more shock that he felt he had the audacity to sexually assault another man in front of his boyfriend.

Again, even an act of violation at this level I tried to laugh off. I do not know why I did this looking back.

Perhaps I felt that if I had reacted in self-defence with violence that I would be the one who would be worse off.

In a crowded venue, with literally hundreds of witnesses watching, in today’s society, I would have looked like I was inflicting an unprovoked, homophobic attack on a helpless man and the abuser could easily have employed DARVO (Deny, attack, and reverse victim and offender) tactics on me. Whom would the police have believed? I’ll leave that hypothetical scenario up to you the reader to decide.

The Consequences

Ever since the memory of that night in September 2018 has come flooding back, it has consumed my daily mental health.

The first overriding emotion I had from that night was anger. What on earth possessed this man (outside of alcohol) to feel like he could do this to me?

The second was frustration. Every time I feel like I have come close to taking the proverbial next step in my life and mental health, something like this comes along to thwart it. The analogy that springs to mind is Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part III and the infamous line; “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”

The third and final emotion, strangely was gratitude. It was gratitude to the man who asked me those inappropriate, uncomfortable questions as without that, who knows if this memory would have ever been unlocked?

It was also gratitude to myself. I am grateful to my mind for protecting me from that memory whilst I was about to start the process of dealing with the previous CSA. I am also grateful to it for unlocking this now and not several years down the line where it could have derailed something special or a part of my life where I could not afford to have another breakdown.

The Action

Taking responsibility for my mental health is always something I have prided myself in and will continue to do so for the rest of my life.

Therefore, I have taken the decision to go back into therapy to work through it and temporarily step away from my support group for the time being until I have healed sufficiently. Emotionally, it would be too taxing to manage both at the same time, as much as I would like to.

The Conclusion

As with most of the articles I write, I set out thinking I will write about 500-600 words and it becomes an essay! This one has been no different.

I hope this helps any other male survivor reading this and tells them that recovery and healing are possible.

I hope it gives them the patience to persist with their recovery journey as any survivor will tell you that change and healing does not happen overnight, which for me as a man with very little patience is easier said than done!

Finally, I hope that I can look back on this article in a few years’ time and recognise it as the final piece in the jigsaw that I needed to put in place for me to take that next step in my life.

You can read the previous articles Freddie wrote on this below:

JCIP #244 – Luke Loughlin

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In episode 244 of The Just Checking In Podcast we checked in with Luke Loughlin.

Luke is the Co-Founder of Men United, a platform which seeks to empower men to reclaim control of their wellbeing by nurturing their mind, body, and soul.

The platform was set up by its Founder Troy Colmer, who then befriended Luke and asked him to come on board.

Troy set up the platform when a friend of his disclosed his mental health story to him and he saw the power of that conversation and wanted to provide that to other men in Canada.

In this episode, we discuss the story of Men United and what gap they want to provide in the men’s mental health conversation in Canada.

For Luke’s mental health, he was diagnosed with ADHD and a learning disability when he was nine years old.

Like many boys who exhibited ADHD traits, especially from working-class backgrounds, he was often labelled as a ‘troublemaker’ in school.

Luke was then sexually abused as a teenager by the mother of his then-girlfriend when he was around 15/16 years old and was also raped by her on one occasion.

He came out about the abuse four years later to his parents. Unfortunately, when he went to the police about it, he was shut down and ignored.

That betrayal, combined with the abuse caused him to spiral. He began drinking excessively, developed an addiction and began sabotaging his future romantic relationships, friendships and relationships with his family members.

He tried to get sober in 2019 but unfortunately relapsed and tried to take his own life.

From there, he began a recovery journey, accessed therapy, worked on his attachment style and has taken him to where he is today as part of Men United.

We discuss all of these experiences, why male survivors of sexual abuse, especially ones abused by female perpetrators continue to be ignored in the wider conversation and the dark side of mental illness.

As always, #itsokaytovent

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Music: Patawawa – Strange

Mind On The Game – Alex Kihurani – Part 2

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In this episode of Mind On The Game, we checked back in with World Rally Championship co-driver Alex Kihurani.

We first checked back in with Alex in April 2023 and a lot has happened in Alex’s life since then.

Alex’s daughter was born three months premature and has had health complications throughout 2023, which has been challenging for Alex. his wife and their wider family.

Then, on 19th August 2023, Alex received a phone call in from his mum in the middle of the night whilst competing in a European Rally Championship round in Czech Republic.

She gave Alex the news that his dad had died suddenly in a car crash. Immediately, Alex was not just plunged into grief but had do a significant amount of ‘death admin’ regarding his dad, as his dad left no will.

A few months later, on the same day of that month, on 19th November, Alex’s wife’s brother died. He was 36 at the time and died from SUDEP (Sudden Unexplained Death in Epilepsy).

Alex had to deal with both these life traumas, plus his ongoing care he needed to be for his daughter and become a support pillar for his wife and both their families.

In January 2024, Alex decided he needed to take some time out from the WRC and focus on his mental health and his family.

He accessed therapy, which he is still doing now and is back co-driving in the British Rally Championship at time of recording.

In this episode, we discuss: both those griefs, fatherhood and being a dad of a child with special needs, the balance he had to strike between supporting his wife through her grief and having the support himself from others, how therapy has helped him and his latest achievements in the WRC.

As always, #itsokaytovent

You can listen to Part 1 of Alex’s journey here.

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Music: Patawawa – Strange

JCIP #243 – Melanie Bradley

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In episode 243 of The Just Checking In Podcast we checked in with Melanie Bradley.

Mel is the Founder of ‘Men Against Mountains’ (MAM), a platform and men’s mental health hub which aims to build connections, share men’s stories and allow them to be listened to, heard and feel understood.

Every Sunday, Mel hosts a ‘Sunday Summit Session’ with a different man to share their story.

In this episode we discuss: how and why Mel came to start MAM, why we need to adopt a ‘one-size-fits-one’ approach to men’s mental health and why in her opinion men in the 45+ age bracket are being left out of the men’s mental health conversation.

We then explore the external life events which often cause men to fall into poor mental health such as: unemployment, divorce, parental alienation from their children, financial troubles or something else, and why bland platitudes in the mainstream conversation aren’t going to solve these issues.

For Mel’s mental health we discuss panic attacks which she had in her early-20s and the stigma that existed for issues like this 30 years ago, a few years she spent travelling, motherhood and post-natal depression she went through after the traumatic birth of her first child.

We then discuss her separation from the father of her children after a 20-year relationship and the heartbreak she experienced from it.

After this relationship she entered another one where Mel was domestically abused and we discuss that, chronic pain she lived with which sparked a period of depression for eight years, an addiction to tramadol, suicidality and one big ‘near miss’ attempt which happened after she changed her medication.

We finish by discussing the grief of losing her mother to cancer a few years ago, her recovery and why starting MAM was in her words, ‘my comeback’.

As always, #itsokaytovent

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Music: Patawawa – Strange

JCIP #242 – Christopher Waller

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In episode 242 of The Just Checking In Podcast we checked in with Christopher Waller.

Chris is the Founder of ‘We Power On’, which aims to improve men’s lives through the power of walking, talking and connection.

Every Sunday, Chris runs a walk and talk group in Epsom in Surrey for men from all walks of life to join and get whatever they are struggling with off their chest.

Chris started the group in September 2022 following his own struggles with his mental health which came when he was signed off work for four months during the Covid-19 lockdown. The isolation he and all of us was forced to do, took him to the point of suicidality.

Since Chris started it, We Power On has gone from strength to strength with a community now built because of his work, monthly social events and other activities which keeps people connected.

In this episode we discuss: how and why Chris started We Power On, the persistence he needed to have when no man turned up to his walks for the first two months of the walks and the responsibility he now feels for a lot of the men who come to the walks.

For Chris’s mental health, we discuss the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown on his mental health, suicidality and how the walks have helped transform his life.

As always, #itsokaytovent

You can find out more about We Power On and how to follow them on social media here.

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Music: PatawawaStrange

Behind The Decks – Harry Hayes – Part 2

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In this episode of Behind The Decks, we checked back in with Australian producer and DJ, Harry Hayes.

In Part 1 we discussed comparison culture, imposter syndrome and how he felt he was in a state of ‘music purgatory’ in the industry.

In the 10 months since we checked in, Harry has gone from strength to strength, musically and personally.

He has put out four singles, including one with friend of the pod Lily Ward, released his debut EP Zephyr in February 2024, signed with a record label and performed at boat parties in Australia.

In this episode we reflect on his Part 1 and how far he’s come since we last checked in, his debut EP, broadening his musical skillset and the anxiety he still feels before playing live, how he manages it and hopefully can overcome it in the future.

For Harry’s continued mental health journey, we discuss: the growth he’s made in his personal life, visiting long-time friend of the pod Indigo Eyes in London and how he feels he has to ‘start again’ and find a new direction after taking this next step in the music industry.

As always, #itsokaytovent

Listen to Harry Hayes on streaming platforms below:

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You can listen to Part 1 of Harry’s journey here.

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Music: PatawawaStrange
Outro: Harry Hayes – Sunflower

JCIP #241 – Russell Payne

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In episode 241 of The Just Checking In Podcast we checked in with Russell Payne.

Russ is a qualified painter and decorator and the Founder of ‘The Talking Tradesman’ (TTT) podcast. TTT aims to entertain, connect and raise mental health awareness for tradespeople throughout the UK.

Russ set up the podcast in November 2023 where he interviews tradesman from across the sector about their mental health journeys, as well as non-tradesman from all walks of life who can provide valuable insight for his audience.

Russ started the podcast after studying for a BSC degree in Psychology and volunteering on the phonelines for The Samaritans charity.

His conception of his own mental health began after his divorce from his first wife, which culminated in his children being moved to the other end of the country and a family court case which dragged on for several years.

From that moment, he began investing in himself and that was, in his words, his own form of ‘self-therapy’.

In this episode we discuss: the genesis of The Talking Tradesman, the stigmas in the trades sector and how we as a society need to be better at listening to these men’s needs, social class and how that plays into the way tradesmen’s mental health is perceived and supported in society.

For Russ’s mental health, we discuss that divorce he went through and his experience of the family court system, which triggered him to have anxiety and panic attacks.

We also discuss his parents’ own divorce when he was 8 years old. As a result of the divorce, Russ’s father experienced mental health difficulties and it forced Russ to raise himself in many areas of his life.

We then discuss the positive impact his mother’s grandparents had on him, whom he viewed as surrogate parents for him and the impact the death of his grandfather had on him when he was 24/25 years old.

We finish by discussing his own experience of fatherhood, self-development and his goal of one day becoming a therapist in the future.

As always, #itsokaytovent

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Music: PatawawaStrange

JCIP #240 – Amelia Wrighton

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In episode 240 of The Just Checking In Podcast we checked in with Amelia Wrighton.

Amelia is the co-founder of mental health charity, Suicide & Co, a charity which supports those bereaved by suicide.

Amelia started Suicide & Co with her friend Emma Morrisoe, who she met whilst working in her media and marketing career and she discovered they had both lost parents to suicide.

Amelia lost her mother when she was just 19 years old and it hugely impacted her mental health and even caused her to have grief and stress-induced alopecia.

Amelia’s mother had lived and struggled with Bipolar Disorder (BD) for the time Amelia was alive.

In this episode we discuss: the journey of Suicide & Co and how she saw a gap in the mental health conversation five years ago around suicide loss, the counselling service and other services the charity provide to people.

We also discuss the importance of language around suicide in the mainstream conversation, as well as how we support others who have been affected by it.

For Amelia’s mental health, we discuss the grief of losing her mum and what it was like to live with someone with Bipolar and the differences between how it affects men and women.

We finish by discussing burnout, medication and how she manages her self-care when her full-time job is dealing with suicide and intense mental health conversations on a daily basis.

As always, #itsokaytovent

You can find out more about Suicide & Co here.

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Music: PatawawaStrange

JCIP #239 – Gary Hayes

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In episode 239 of The Just Checking In Podcast we checked in with Gary Hayes.

Gary is the Co-Founder and CEO of PTSD999, which is a charity that was set up in 2015 to support those in the emergency services, and their families, living with Post Traumatic Stress.

Gary lives with Complex PTSD himself and was undiagnosed for many years when he worked in the British Transport Police (BTP) as a Police Officer.

Gary’s journey began when he joined the Army in the mid-1980s and spent many years in non-active service. He then met his wife, who was joining the police force and he was growing tired of military life.

He was encouraged to join himself and he did in 2003, passing through the recruitment process and joining the BTP.

He started by policing football matches in London, largely for West Ham United before then joining a specialist counter-terrorist policing team.

The year is 2005 and sadly, Gary’s policing work coincided with 7/7, which is the biggest and most deadly terrorist attack that has hit London in recent memory.

52 people were killed in bombings on London tubes and buses, with a second failed attack coming on 21/7.

Gary was seconded to the temporary mortuary that had been set up at Charing Cross to identify the victims and spent two harrowing months going through hundreds of body parts, identifying people and notifying their families.

This work had a huge impact on Gary’s mental health and he began to go off the rails, drinking heavily to cope with the horrors of what he saw.

Fast forward to the 2012 Olympics and at this point, Gary felt ‘broken’.

He got into an altercation with a member of the public whilst off-duty and he was suspended from work and given the ultimatum of either resigning or going to a tribunal and risk losing his pension.

Sadly, after 11 years of policing, he made the decision to resign and his mental health spiralled further.

He made a plan to take his own life and came extremely close to doing it. Thankfully, something stopped him from doing it. He told his wife and that moment of rock bottom was the start of his journey to recovery to where he is now and the work he does with PTSD999.

In this episode we discuss his career in the military, police to the work he does with PTSD999 now, PTSD and the mental health state of men like him in the emergency services.

For Gary’s mental health, he was sexually abused by two men in his childhood, firstly a babysitter when he was just six years old and the second was a football coach when he was eight years old.

This abuse had a monumental impact on Gary and were suppressed memories for many years. We discuss this, the suicide attempt he made after resigning from the British Transport Police, the dark and ugly side of mental illness and the recovery journey to where he is now.

As always, #itsokaytovent

You can find out more about PTSD999 here.

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Music: PatawawaStrange

TRIGGER WARNING: this podcast contains a deep discussion about suicide, sexual abuse and the terrorist attack of 7/7, which some listeners may find distressing or upsetting, so please listen with caution.