Mental Health, Music


People who have been reading this blog for a while may remember that I experimented with doing a regular thing on a Friday dubbed “#NewMusicFridays”, it was a short lived experiment that I only kept up for two weeks but I never wrote off the idea of writing more under the category of music, and so we come to this week’s Sunday post, which as you may have noticed is basically me writing about anything that takes my fancy whilst the content for Tuesdays and Thursdays is fairly rigid, this is done on purpose as I spent years just writing about videogames, which I still love to do, but that time really dampened my love of the medium for quite some time.

Back on topic then, here in the UK is an award called the Mercury Prize which is awarded to the best album released in the UK by a British or Irish artist or group. It’s not something I’ve historically paid alot of attention to, I normally see the nominations and tune out when they’re performers have never really grabbed me. However, this year IDLES’ “Joy as an Act of Resistance” was nominated, which I voted my favourite record of 2018, so I was paying it a little more attention this time out.

Needless to say, IDLES didn’t win, a grime artist by the name of Dave did, now is where alot of people will tune out, but please, don’t. Let me continue.

Dave came to my attention earlier this year when he performed at Glastonbury and dragged a fan up on stage to perform a song of his called Thiago Silva, the fan was chosen because he was wearing a Paris Saint-Germain replica shirt with Silva’s name and number printed onto the back, no body expected him to do this:

Grime isn’t a genre I’ve particularly paid alot of attention to, its not that I don’t like rap music, I really like stuff from the late eighties and early nineties that I was exposed to through my brother and have been really enjoying Netflix’s “Hip Hop Evolution”. I’ve just not spent much time listening to much UK rap if I’m being honest and thats maybe a mistake on my part.

So Friday I had to go shopping, and thats the day I read that Dave had won the Mercury Prize, so I loaded up Spotify and listened to his award winning album “Psychodrama” and I can certainly see why its been so well received as its an exceptional album that, like with IDLES’ effort, is something I feel everybody should listen carefully to the message of. “Black” smashes things out of the park when it comes to educating the world on what Dave (and possibly many more individuals) feels it is to be a black man in modern Britain. It’s not an experience I can speak off with any conviction beyond seeing from the outside the experiences of a friend when I was very young man. He was in a mixed race family, his mum and sister were both white (he had a different Dad to his sister, but she was never, ever his half sister) but his Dad was absent and as the older of the two children he was often left in a position of caring for his little sister and would walk her to school every day so his Mum could earn enough to put food on the table. Every day after school (we went to different schools, he went to a church funded school, I went to the local primary) he would knock for me and we’d play football or go out in the Den or he’d push me around on my Go-Kart. But he would always be checking on the whereabouts of his younger sibling (who’s Dad was also absent I might add). Throughout “Black” I pictured him and how at 5pm every day he’d’ rush home with his sister and I’d not see him till the following day whilst at weekends he would often be helping his mum shop or be at Sunday School.

The other track I’d like to draw attention to is “Lesley (feat. Ruelle)” which at 11 minutes is a very long rap record, its not an easy listen either as it tells a properly horrible story that, to my mind, tries to raise the issue of toxic masculinity (an issue that regular readers will be aware of me trying to address and come to terms with myself) and the damage it does to everybody with the story being told from the perspective of a woman in an abusive relationship. The story being told is horrific, but the lyrical content is astounding, when it came on I was just walking along but I soon found somewhere to sit and just listen to what Dave had to say, to go any further would be to spoil the experience, but its a song I think everyone should listen to.

Mental health, masculinity and ones identity are my interpretation of the themes that Dave has tried to weave into his content on Psychodrama, that the whole album is played out with the background of being part of an appointment with the narrator’s therapist really drives that home and, much like IDLES’ record, I feel this is a record that will go down as being one of the most important in modern history. It certainly deserves to, so give it a listen, I’ve made it easy for you by sticking the whole album from Spotify below for you.

Gaming, General, Mental Health, Music, TV

Mind Games: Men, Gaming and Mental Health

I’ve been sitting on this post since around the time I started writing regularly, but its something I’ve been struggling to put together, there’s been alot of self doubt in regards to me actually writing this as I’m really, really concerned that my writing ability isn’t at a level that I feel I can do this justice. It’s a topic that I find particularly challenging.

So, a little background, I’m 35 now, I have three children, all girls, one of whom is 15. I was exactly four weeks to the day off turning 20 when she was born. Two years prior to that I was diagnosed with depression and put onto anti-depressants. Around a year after moving away from home and before my eldest daughter was born I decided I felt much better within myself, I was working and despite being young I was looking forward to becoming a Dad. I decided I was “better” and stopped taking my medication. I’ve never been particularly out going, I’ve always preferred being in my own company or with an individual than big parties and the like, so spending the next few years with just my partner, myself and our daughter, but playing on XBox Live reguarly was absolutely fine. I wasn’t well though, and the pressure of adding two more children to the mix, being made redundant twice and taking on a job where I was very much out of my comfort zone and meant alot of changes at home left me in a really dark place and things became really bad for my whole family, for which I still hold myself responsible. I had to seek help and am now back on medication, its a low dose, but its helping. I’ve started to socialise a little in recent months, its only once a month at a book club, but its just enough and once the kids are back at school I’m looking at other things I can do that will keep me healthy.

However, its very easy to close myself off, seal everything away and bottle it all up, its what my Dad’s always done so its a learnt behaviour. Thing is, this has all come back to mind in recent weeks, especially after being reminded that the world lost Chester Bennington two years ago. Now I used to love Linkin Park, I adored their first album, they weren’t my favourite band (during that era it was Feeder, but it came as a shock when the news broke about his death and the circumstances around it. Like Kurt Cobain, its easy to look back and point to their lyrics and say “oh this was them asking for help” or whatever, and its easy for people close to them to wonder if there was anything they could have done to help them, you only have to listen to Feeder’s “Comfort in Sound” and “Pushing the Senses” albums to hear the grief and torture our loved ones put themselves through after such events (for those that aren’t aware, on the back of Feeder really hitting it off with their Echo Park album plus singles Buck Rogers, Seven Days in the Sun and Just A Day, drummer Jon Lee took his own life, he tried to call Grant Nicholas, lead singer and guitarist of the band, shortly before he did so but Grant didn’t take the call and was full of guilt afterwards, something he has spoken openly about in interviews and his lyrics ever since). Its not just Chester though, look at the list of high profile suicides.  Chester Bennington, Anthony Bourdain, Chris Cornell, Robert Enke, Keith Flint, Dave Mirra, Gary Speed, Robin Williams. Both that list and the names mentioned are only a small proportion of reported suicides, both Male and Female.

However, suicide is the single biggest killer of men under the age of 45. An despite campaigns from the NHS, Mind and movements like Movember, we men seem to not be doing anything about it. We still bottle things up, despite knowing better, I still do it from time to time. We still won’t talk openly about it and we still don’t do much, if at all, to look after ourselves. There’s been great movement in recent years in most people looking after their physical health in a much better manner, gyms are everywhere you look, Instagram is full of people showing off their bodies, both the Google Play and Apple App stores are chock full of free apps that are designed to get you active, and thats great, personally speaking its something that I need to do for myself. However, how many of us take the time out to really work on our mental health? When people who we think have it all, like Bennington, decide to take their own life, then building a social media profile counts for nothing when you aren’t even comfortable in your own mind. When you’re full of self doubt, its exhausting.

I mentioned up post about the book club I’m a part of, I’d be lying if I said I found it easy. The whole group are lovely, but I purposely walk the 40 minutes to each meeting with my earphones in listening to my favourite music in order to deal with my own anxiety before walking through the door of my comic shop, saying “hi” to every body and then finding the courage to voice my opinions on the book we’re discussing at that particular meeting. I have other systems in place too, although they’ve slipped in recent weeks and I’m finding getting into the habit again particularly difficult. Each night I had a handful of apps I’d work through:

Brain Yoga

I’d spend 15-20 minutes an evening working through these apps, then take the dog for a walk before taking my medication and vitamins, then getting into bed (with my phone out of reach and all the apps locked down) and reading my book. I used to be a poor sleeper but this routine has really helped over the past twelve months.

It’s not the only positive thing I want to mention here. Last summer the BBC broadcast a new TV show, it was on BBC2 and was called “Mortimer & Whitehouse Gone Fishing“. The premise of the show was that both Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse (who for those who don’t know are both comedians who were really rather famous in Britain in the 90’s) have, in recent years, had heart operations. Paul Whitehouse has always gone fishing and he decided that he’d take Bob Mortimer along with him to get him out of the house and try and stop him feeling sorry for himself. It’s literally two blokes, in some beautiful locations, fishing. But that does it a disservice (not that theres anything wrong with that as a TV show, even as a non-angler its a nice relaxing watch), because its more than the sum of its parts. The two guys talk, they talk about their operations, they joke and compete about the changes its had on their lifestyles, Bob cooks “heart-healthy” meals for the pair of them and its a show that does away with all the bravado that you would expect of these two men. To bring it to some coherent conclusion, its two men doing what two men should be doing, taking an interest in each other beyond “bants”.

You may be wondering what this all has to do with gaming, and you’d be right for wondering that. As I write, this post has become essentially what I thought it might become, a bit of a ramble about mental health, coping measures and the like. But I think I touched on gaming and mental health a little a while back in my The Toxicity of Gaming Culture and my review of Drowning.

I think gamers are awful at looking after one another and I’m not finger pointing here, we’re talking about a past time here thats so heavily focused on competing with one another that there’s that element of not showing any weakness. The absolute biggest games of most era’s are competetive, you can see it when you read stuff that alludes to gaming and gamers such as Ready Player One, we even turn single player games into a competetive environment, what with speed runs and score attacks. This isn’t everyone, I’d never say that, but its hard to ignore. When you have communities surrounding certain games that rather than passing on tips and advice you’re simply told to “Git Gud”, how is that constructive or making a community accessible to all? As a community we spent decades being told we were a certain way, then our past time becomes hugely popular and the most vocal types begin to lash out or we turn on each other, abuse each other and generally act like shit.

I regularly play Gran Turismo Sport with the same group of people, within our group there’s people of all levels, we have people who cant commit to playing as regularly and we even get people from outside our little community who get invited to join in. Everybody is friendly and even when things on track there’s something happening on track, it never develops into animosity. In fact its probably the opposite. There’s something about racing that, in my opinion, differs it to other competetive games. For the most part its all about driving your own race, focusing on your own performance, and then when you are in a battle with somebody else, having the ability and confidence to watch somebody else, learn where you’re stronger than they are and take advantage of that as cleanly as possible and as a gaming experience I find it both tiring but therapeutic. Thats not to say a Call of Duty, Street Fighter, Fortnite or FIFA player doesn’t find their experience of those games to offer them the same, if thats what works for them then thats great, and thats what this is all about.

There’s some much more I want to say on this subject, and its something I may have to return to in future posts. I still don’t feel I’ve done the subject matter the justice it deserves and I’m not entirely sure if I’ve got my message across in a manner thats actually coherent. It’s such a big subject that I’ve given it it’s own catergory which you’ll now found amongst my top menu. I think as I through my own journey with my own personal mental health I’ll be able to provide more insight into my thoughts on the matter, but for now I’ve literally scrambled my brown throwing this all down into a post thats as much for me as it is for you, and I think this is one of the few times I’ve put a large chunk of me down for others to read it.

Lastly, I’d like to say, if you are struggling with your own mental health in any way, please, please get in touch with Mind by calling them on 0300 123 3393 or texting them at 86493. For any readers in the US, if you’d like to leave a suggestion of whom to contact for help then please do so, I’ll be adding details in my side bar so they’re always visible.