John, dispatch manager
What do you think a positive male role model is, do you have one, and would you consider yourself one? If so, why?
For me I think a positive role model is someone who others look up to as a source of encouragement and one worth being imitated. They are meant to show other men how to live life with some key values that guide them, such as integrity, compassion, and determination. You don’t need to be a celebrity, but anyone that has something positive to offer such as advice based on their life experiences.
I think I had two role models in my life, both sadly no longer with me. The first is my grandfather. I lost him just last month and he was a great source of wisdom, humour and a guiding force in life that gave me my strong moral compass. The second was my singing teacher. I met him when I began my classical training at the age of 19, and the impact he had on my life has truly been part of who I am since then.
I don’t think I’ve ever really considered being a role model or whether anyone would see me as such. I do always try and live my life based on the role models in my life and try and be a supportive listener to anyone and always try and conduct myself with the compassion and integrity I mentioned earlier – I’m not always successful but I do try!
How important is it to you to look after yourself and your wellbeing, and how do you do that?
Looking after our mental health and wellbeing is not something I feel most men really do. We still live in a world where it is seen as a sign of weakness for men to talk about their emotions or how something has made them feel. I didn’t always look after my own mental wellbeing, much, rather burying it away in a box in my mind and forgetting about it. It ultimately doesn’t help. Eventually, that box starts to break down until something might happen that rips the lid off the box, and you end up having to deal with more emotions than bargained for.
I suppose as I’ve got older (ripe old age of 42) I’ve started to accept the fact that it’s ok not to be ok sometimes and I’ve also gotten more comfortable speaking up about it when something is bothering me or when someone has done something to me that has really upset me. I’m more inclined to deal with it as an adult instead of trying to ignore it or rise above what has upset me. It’s quite cathartic sometimes.
The main thing I do to support my mental health is singing. It’s something I’ve done since childhood but when I started on shift work, I often struggled to do it as much as I would’ve liked. I sing as a soloist a lot, however I missed being part of a community and so I joined The Blue Light Choir. The choir was formed in 2017 after expanding from the initial “Fire choir”. The choir is a great outlet for all members of the emergency services, which has now widened the scope to include veterans and other key workers. Singing naturally releases positive endorphins and the choir’s main ethos is about promoting positive mental health and wellbeing through an enjoyable activity – there’s also often cake! Many of the members really look forward to that meeting of like-minded people and we’ve become a supportive community. As peers we can support each other through our ups and downs but in general create an environment where people can feel safe to have a little cry if the need to. Over the last year, I was asked to take over the reins of the choir as their musical director, which was both a huge honour and challenge. I wasn’t sure at first, however I now get the opportunity to teach singing to the choir and seeing the positive changes to our performances has been amazing and I didn’t realise how much it would benefit my own wellbeing being able to pass on what I have learned.
What advice can you give to other men who may be struggling?
I suppose, speaking from my own experience, the hardest things to accept is that we all do struggle from time to time, and as I mentioned earlier, that it’s ok not to be ok and there is no shame. Life throws a lot at us sometimes, and more often than not, like busses, the challenges all come at once or when we least expect them. There are now vast resources out there to help men who may be struggling, but I have found that just by sharing with someone, that conversation being heard out loud and not in your head, can really be the first step to lifting us up onto the next step out of our difficulties. Get talking… find a positive activity that you might enjoy (like joining a choir – don’t just sing in the shower!) even if you are unsure, keep trying different things until you find what works for you. Just be who you are and not what is expected of a “man”. I would definitely explore learning how to ask for support, whether that be from professional services, or friends and colleagues.
Anything else you’d like to talk about? For example, patient care, what it’s like working in the ambulance service as a man etc.
I think working in the service we do, putting on our uniform, can often make us someone who is there to talk to, and people naturally open up. Our uniform does inspire confidence and we need to be mindful that every life that we come into contact with may just give the smallest of indicators that they may not be ok. Keep our eyes open and be ready to offer support or that friendly ear to someone. Remember just checking in how people are, can sometimes be the positive interaction that improves someone’s day. I think most of us at some point may deal with the most horrific things. We might see them, or we might hear them, but each of them can have a dramatic impact on the individual. It’s important that we understand that however we have witnessed a distressing event, they are equally important and deserve equal support. The supportive measures within the Trust are better than ever with our new mental wellbeing practitioners and access to TRiM. If you feel you need something, don’t be scared to reach out and ask for help.