Let’s talk about MENtal Health

It’s a strange thing having to call the police on your own family. Especially when you know full well the damage the police can do to a person that looks the way you do, and let’s not pretend. We know. But when all else fails there’s a system in place that you’re supposed to trust, and desperate times call for 999.

My dads Mental Health hadn’t been great for some time. You suffer unexplained illnesses, get made redundant and eventually can’t work because you’re in and out of hospital so much – it begins to make sense, of course you’re not going to be the happiest person in the world. Particularly if you’re from a community where this is simply not something you talk about. But he’s damn near the most resilient.

You know what, people don’t give enough credit to the people who are literally pushed to their limit, plan to end it all and then come back. There’s a real strength in acknowledging your weakness, and for that lesson alone I’m grateful. But to be honest, it’s taken me a while to get to this point of being able to communicate it.

Selfishly I was angry for the strain it put me through. Truthfully, I was scared for the fact that I learnt that I myself wasn’t strong enough to confront it and face visiting the Unit myself. I grew up with such a stigma about Mental Health and ‘crazy people’, about asylums and ‘lunatics’ and then one day you need to go and visit your own dad in what’s probably the worst place imaginable in the world for someone to ever recover. It’s hard. *pause for my fragile tears.* Realistically, I was incapable of having to deal with that knowledge – the “what would people think of ME”. The great, now, how am I supposed to be? The, looking for comedy because sarcasms always (trust me bro, I’m an expert) the quickest way out.

See, my dad had attempted to kill himself whilst I was at Nandos. Half a chicken medium with peri salted fries & spicy rice had never tasted so bitter when I got that call to come home. (Don’t worry, I still rate and eat nandos, and one day I’ll be important enough that they’ll give me free chicken, but we’ll get there, #struggles).

He’d been talking about it for a while, mumbling to himself, acting erratic, far from the man I knew when I was growing up, the non-stop, I’ll work overtime bus driver/taxi driver/van drive/ just DRIVER, and yep, like Buju Banton said, this man did not stop at alllll. But, I’d ignored what I didn’t understand & I never really thought he’d do it. He’d grabbed at a lot of pills and taken them right in front of my mum and then passed out in bed is how the story goes…

So, sadly, I had to leave Nandos before I got the chance to fill up my “tap water” with more coke & make my way home. When I got in, it was a dark atmosphere, you know those ones where the tension is just mad thick, sort of like that year everyone was chucking glass bottles through the sky at Notting Hill Carnival and vuvuzelas were the in-thing. And yes, my references are random but if you know, you know. Pretty soon, the paramedics came, ran through some checklist on a scale of one to ‘kill myself right now’ how do you really feel though & gave their two pence. It wasn’t looking good.

It got more intense later that night when he was now awake, scrambling around the house looking for sharp objects and me and mum were frantically trying to hide every pill, knife, blade etc in the house. Somehow, my man still found a screwdriver and was pointing it at his own chest. It’s strange how someone else’s pain can make your own heart stop.

By this time, the police were there, it was pretty much like on TV. They were doing their job of coaxing him as best as they could, trying to level him out and bring him down. Bring him back. Me? I was still full from Nandos & fighting that urge for a post-food nap to be honest. But, sleepiness aside, I remember the chat with one police officer, he said he couldn’t forcibly remove him from his own home even if it was in the interests of his own safety. Except in this situation, I was the homeowner, technically this was my home. This was my decision. I remember the anxiety of wondering what would happen next. Where do you go when you’ve threatened suicide twice in a day in front of the Feds, the meds & your own family? I made my choice. I made our choice.

A few hours later, I had a phone call from the police: ‘your dad’s run away from hospital and we don’t know where he is. Wait, hang on, we’ve found him.’ Another phone call to tell me: ‘Mr. Khan,(please don’t call me that, it’s too popular & I’m unique ok?) he’s been sectioned under section 3.bla bla of the Mental Health Act and will be taken back to hospital. He was now under their authority.

Like I said, it’s a strange thing to call the police on your own family. But love is a strange thing right? I’ll never underestimate the strength it took for him to spend a month in a place like that, to recover and rest in a place where you’re just reminded of stress. But I’m grateful. And I’m proud. I’m proud of what he taught me about the true measure of a man, of a human being, of what being pushed to your limits truly looks like and the importance of receiving help. I’m grateful for the lessons that night taught me about the limits I’d go to and the decisions I’d make just for the people I love. But more than anything, I’m grateful for what I’ve learnt about Mental Health and the understanding I now have about being open about your emotions and your feelings. About self care and about stigma, about talking and about acknowledging but most of all about sharing. About the importance of sharing your story.

This is why I’ve shared this story, not only to advertise nandos (for free might I add, again, where is my free chicken?) but also to shed light on something important and so necessary and on what is to me something which is absolutely vital to talk about. Mental Health, particularly in BAME communities is something so necessary to talk about, it’s a journey for my family & I and there’s still a lot to learn, but it’s a journey we’ve started. Let’s talk about MENtal Health.



‘Men are Trash’ & how we clean up the litter

Men are trash, men are dogs & well, masculinity is ‘Toxic’ *cue Britney Spears*. If you’d told me any of this 10 years ago, matter of fact maybe even 5 years ago, there’s no way I would agree with you. In fact, younger me with less of a beard & more of an attitude would probably argue with you as to why it’s ‘you feminists’  who’ve got the wrong end of the stick. See, I’d have probably said something about how women are fighting for rights they already have. Or, perhaps something even more ill-informed about why we actually need to start fighting for Men’s Rights because it’s political correctness gone mad…

Yeah – I wasn’t just stupid, I was Vote-Brexit-To-Get-Rid-Of-The-Immergruntz-Stupid.  The sort of stupidity that unfortunately, is less about actually making an informed choice in order to believe what you’re saying, and more down to a complete lack of information, and in fact, being given mis-information in echo-chambers. Echo chambers like being at the back of the bus as a teenager, with a bunch of guys your own age who are all sweating pints of pubescent testosterone to mask the thick stench of Lynx Africa & 4 for a pound chicken-wings (I can smell it already, & I’m wincing). Guys your own age who will slander and defame girls and women simply because they believe it’s the right language to use, because they heard it somewhere else, or an older boy had said something, or maybe because they’re literally stealing words or references right out of popular culture like music or film. The mis-information that girls or women are a certain way or their behaviour makes them a b*tch or a slut or a hoe that I hold my hands up and say I was a part of perpetuating, & why? Because quite frankly I knew no better. See if you’d told me then, sitting at the back of a bus with a matching tracksuit (God forbid) whilst banging out T2 ft Jodie – Heartbroken from a Samsung held together with Sellotape, that men were trash, I’d have probably told you that you had no idea what you were talking about. And neither did I.

Skip the clock forward a few years & through reading, being around the right people & simply unlearning a lot of the language that I used to navigate my way through certain social situations, I recognise now the need for a new and better understanding of Gender. I was recently given the opportunity to be part of a panel of men on BBC Radio 4’s Women’s Hour on a special show talking about Masculinity in the world today. I suppose me being me, I meet a number of intersections & tick several boxes (Anyone from any Diversity Boards reading, get yer chequebooks out). I’m young, sort of, I’m not-white and I’m still clinging on to my working-class roots so I suppose I can speak about life from a fairly nuanced perspective. But, for me, the real honour in this was I was speaking specifically about young people, and what young people have to say about masculinity today. See, the career path I’ve had, facilitating workshops in schools across the UK about social issues has really opened my eyes to the whole spectrum on which young people sit in regards to how clued up they are on issues pertaining to Gender.

You’d think in a  changing world where people are constantly walking into the office saying ‘blimey, hasn’t time flown‘ that perhaps our understanding of social issues would also be accelerating on fast-forward. And, to an extent, you’d be right. Except, that whilst in general, younger generations are more accepting, left-leaning and progressive than generations before them, the amount of understanding they have about exactly what the issues are, remains largely the same comparatively as it was 10 years ago. Take myself for example, now I’m not saying I was your ‘top lad’ degrading women for ‘banter’, spouting out lines I’d learnt from my favourite pick-up artist whilst walking around Westfield in my Ecko tracksuit from JD Sports (*shivers with embarrassment, yes I did have one of those*). BUT, the lack of understanding I had around what the issues for women were & why an intersectional & ever growing Feminist movement was needed remains largely similar with young people today. The fact is, that whilst young people grow up in a time where it’s brilliant that people are becoming comfortable enough that movements like #MeToo can exist, it’s sickening still that the world still largely protects & endorses the toxic, trashy behaviours of men whose ill-doings have given way to said movements. As young people today largely condemn such actions, it would be great to move forwards and have the spaces for conversations about what the issues, terminologies and language that we use around Gender are so as to mitigate & eventually end this toxicity.

When on Radio (this one time, on Radio 4 Camp…) I tried to get across that there is a gap between the expectation of young people to be more understanding & progressive & the education of young people about the issues they are supposed to know. I remember going over and over what I knew I wanted to say in my mind (flashback to GCSEs), and it’s this: today, to “be a man” comes with the weight of a history of men being & inflicting the problem & that needs to be both understood & accepted in order to move forward. When boys see Feminism as a movement ‘not for them’ and in fact a movement against them, simply because they don’t understand what it’s about, there is a problem. When boys feel that there is only one archetypal ideal of masculinity, your traditional Alpha-Male, super-buff (large up Anthony Joshua though), dominant character, there is a problem. When boys don’t understand that they can cry, that they can talk about mental-health or that there is such a thing as emotional intelligence, there is a problem. The idea that ‘men are trash’ is born out of centuries of oppression and recent decades of continued problematic men in all sections of society but for a generation of young people growing up today it is important not to mis-inform, misguide and misdirect before we end up with the cycle continuing once more. *drops mic*….

*picks mic back up* It takes men from an older generation to hold their hands up and admit to the wrong use of language, to apologise and admit that unlearning is key to truly bring about change. To advocate for & support movements in favour of Women, to acknowledge male privilege and speak out. Toxic (you can’t deny Britney is in your head) Masculinity is damaging to everyone, men, women & future generations but to truly clear up the mess of the insurmountable trash, we must begin to more openly and accessibly have conversations about gender, masculinity & femininity with the generations to come or just like T2 & Jodie, we’re going to end up ‘heartbroken’ once more when the cycle continues.

(For a link to the Radio 4 conversation, to chat about this or just reminisce about the tunes you played at the back of the bus, hit me up on Twitter @Tweetsbybilal)

P.S. My matching Ecko tracksuit was cool at the time.