It’s been a strange old time since February. The world ground to a halt. We all feared for our safety, our parents, our jobs and becameincarcerated in our own homes for weeks on end. As you’ll see in the previous post in February, I stood up in front of a thousand people and poured my heart out in a TEDx Talk. 5 months later it’s out. The reaction to the film of the Talk has been overwhelming. How could me talking about my journey justify the ten million minutes (I’ve just calculated that) that have been spent on me.
I grew up admiring TED talks. When I lived in South London (and come to think of it Sydney) I’d regularly fill my commute to work with “Ideas worth spreading” ringing through my ears.
I’ll be honest I never thought I’d have anything worth saying – and still every day I wish I didn’t. But as I say in my talk “ I can’t go back, so I have to go forward. I can only try to help the next Steve.
This TEDx journey began in May 2018. I was talking at a suicide prevention conference (before I’d even finished the film) and a very lovely (and quite amazing) lady called Anne came up to me. She had lost her son to suicide and wanted to do something to help. When I finally finished the film.
I think we exchanged a few emails – I’ll be honest I can’t remember I get so many. But I remembered her saying she wanted to do a screening in Tunbridge Wells in February – which when I read it was so long off, I just agreed.
Then as it approached Anne said we had to pay for the rental of this massive theatre. And I tried to talk her out of it. I’ve only sold over 150 tickets once. The Premiere. I’ve had screenings as big or even bigger. It’s just they have been free/paid for. Do we really want to take on that pressure of selling the tickets?
She said yeah – trust me.
And in the next email everything changed.She told name she had put me forward to “TEDx Royal Tunbridge Wells and they are very keen for you to apply.” She weren’t on…. “Being invited to apply doesn’t guarantee that any applicant will move on to the next stage…..Each and every application for TEDxRoyalTunbridgeWells is reviewed by our team, before going through a careful selection process. We’re thrilled that one of our team has identified you as a potentially great addition to the next event, but must stress that being invited to apply doesn’t guarantee acceptance.” Timing wise- it could be perfect to pull in a substantial crowd to the film showing on February 12th; the TED talks are on 1st February.Have a ponder,Best wishesAnne” I told Claire and she said, “I never tell you to do anything but you are doing this.” So I did. And from 300 I got down to 50. Then 3 video interviews. Somehow down to the final 12. Be careful what you wish for. You’re doing a TEDx Talk.I was given a coach called Caroline Hall, and she was (and still is) amazing.
So for November, December, January. I wrote. Drafted. Wrote. Drafted. Practiced. Drafted. Practiced. Practiced. Practiced. Practiced. Practiced. Recited. Repeated. Practiced. Post It-ed. Practiced. Timed. Practiced. Recorded. Practiced. Filmed. Emailed. Practiced. Zoomed. Practiced. And I was getting nowhere. It wasn’t going in. Why isn’t it going in? I had books. Recordings. Every spare second. And I wasn’t getting it. Why wasn’t it going in? It came to the day before the rehearsal and I just still hadn’t done it without notes. As I went down on the train, I started to feel real dread. What is blocking me.
I got to Tunbridge Wells. Met a few other speakers (all amazing) the staff (all amazing)and all the crew (all amazing) – so my imposter syndrome kicked it. Of course I jumped about all loud and laughy like I always do, but I was crying on the inside.
When I finally got to do my rehearsal. The last of the day. I was awful. No I really was. I was like a rabbit caught in the in headlights, and you want the car to carry on – just to put the poor thing out of it’s misery. I was just in shock after it.
Why couldn’t I do it? – Caroline was really good with me. And suggested coming back tomorrow morning at 9.30 and try again. The event didn’t start until 12. So although a little bruised I went back to my hotel room. And kept trying.
After a call to my wife I tried to go to sleep at 9.30. I didn’t sleep well. I don’t know how many times I woke up. But it was a lot. I finally got up for at about 5.30/6 for a wee. I remember waking up and going to the bathroom. As I did I thought “Oh I had to ring Caroline, to tell her that I can’t do the talk, because Steve was still alive.” – because “Steve had turned up, said he was sorry he just needed some time to himself but everyone is happy now he’s back, his mum and sister were there laughing. He looked a little rough around the edges but he was happy and I was so glad to see him, it made me feel warm…. Then it hit me. It was a dream. Fuck. I looked up at myself in the mirror and I was crushed by reality. I walked back into the main room and burst into tears.
Falling to the floor, I began sobbing. For fucks sake. I tried to go back to sleep but couldn’t. Ok mental fitness. Ok mental fitness. What do I do. Ok I talk about going for a run. I’ve got any gear. Lets do that. So that’s what I did. By 6.30 I was running around Tunbridge Wells, with my talk echoing through my headphones. I’d been going about 10 minutes. And then I broke down again. I remember bering bent over outside some closed shoe shop. Looking at my reflection to a lady in her 50’s off to work asking me “if I was ok” – I wanted to say No I’m not, I’ve just dreamt my dead friend was still alive and I’ve never been more un-ok in recent memory” – but of course I sipped my tears away on my sleeve and said: ”Yeah, yeah, sorry.” Why was I apologising? I hobbled back to the hotel. Cried some more in the shower. And went down to breakfast at about 8.30. I needed something to eat. But I couldn’t. I loved the hotel. Loved the look of the breakfast. I ordered an omelette. But when it came, I couldn’t eat it. I tired, but nearly threw up. I felt so bad when the waitress asked me if there was something wrong with it. “No there’s something wrong with me. I’m in a really bad way” – I didn’t way to her. I finally forced a fruit salad down my throat. And the third cup of coffee before 9am.
Then Cheddar walked it. Cheddar Gorgeous – is a Drag artist from Birmingham who lives in Manchester – and is a lovely lovely man. We’d only met the day before but chatted like I’d known him for years. Both talked about nerves, about pressure. About being our best – “ I didn’t tell him about my dream/morning – I didn’t want to burden him – and to be honest I think I was still trying to process it. I suddenly realised I had to be over the road for another rehearsal. (Because I was that bad the day before.)
So I bolted across in the rain (nearly got hit by a car) and then 1/2 hour later I was on stage again, trying to recite my 12 minutes. Again I was poor. I was overwhelmed. And predictably I broke down and began to cry again.
What was I going to do.
Maybe I couldn’t do this?
Maybe I’m not strong enough?
Caroline could see I was clearly shaken, everyone in the bloody auditorium could see I was shaken.
We went out int the rain and hit the local Pret. I needed a strong Pret Soya Latte. Maybe I needed something stronger than that. We walked. We talked. She said I didn’t need to do this. I could pull out (I really appreciated that she said that) – but I knew there are few things in my life that I had to do – and this was one of them.
I thanked her. I told her I’m going to do this. And I promised I would let her or the event down. They had paid a lot of money to get me here, put me up. They had to make sure I would deliver.
We walked back and I went off on my own. I needed to find somewhere quiet. So I just started walking up stairs. Up and up and up and up. Finally to a door that took me out onto the roof. It was beautiful fresh clean air and amazing view, some clarity.
I stayed up there for a bit, reciting the talk. Trying to get it in.
Then Claire called. She was at the station and walking up the road. How much do I show her? How damaged do I feel? If I tell her everything, will she stop me doing it?
She arrived and gave me a the warmest hug I think I’ve ever had. I think I was shaking and she just held me. We sat and watched the others and all the prep.
I saw her and Caroline share a look – and I introduced them. I then tried to snap out of it and introduced her everyone else I could see.
We went off to Cheddar’s room, My new BFF for a day. I think Claire was a bit confused how we were such good friends do quickly.
As we sat in the Green Room – everyone was nervous you’d be mad not to be right? 1000 people paying a lot of money to hear us talk.
But is my talk good enough?
Then my phone went again. My mate JP had travelled from Bristol to see me. Amazing. I meet him and his sister. And Jerry Milner – my friend from Primary School, then Neil and his girlfriend Emma. It was amazing to have them in the audience. Then guilt again. Why do I deserve their time?
I was in a mess.
I left them to see why the plans were – I was on at 1.30 – so I think I need to get some time alone. I needed to go back to the roof.
I got up there and looked down at my phone. Missed calls from Gav, Blue, my mum.
Messages from people wishing me luck. Fuck. I have to do this.
I started running on the spot. Rain started dripping down. Ok I needed to do this.
I’ll be honest I remember walking on. I remember the heat of the light. The claps. The silence. I don’t remember the next 12 minutes. What I said if I stumbled. I don’t think I cried. I think I remembered the changes. I think it went ok.
As I walked off the host John came up to me and hugged me. And then I think I walked back stage. Hugging Caroline, Lizzie, Stephanie, Cheddar. All with tears in their eyes.
I think it went ok.
Claire came back stage and hugged me. Tears in her eyes.
“Did you see that?” She said.
“See what?” I replied.
“The 1000 person, standing ovation.”
The following hours were a blur. Lots of people telling me how inspirational the talk was. How they had been effected. Inviting me to talk on podcasts, set up Talk Club, even something bigger than that (but that’s another post).
It’s now been over a month since TEDx and I’m still not quite sure what happened.
TEDx RTW told me it can take up to 4 months to get approved by big TED. It might never get approved (if I said something wrong/wasn’t good enough) but as soon as it’s out you’ll be the first to know.
Until then – I don’t know how I did. But for the people who were there it seemed to help.
So it’s been a while. And we’ve been busy. Very busy.
Since the last post I’ve been up and down the country, clocking up over 50 hours on trains and talking to 100’s of amazing people. And We’ve done 10 more screenings.In the last 10 – I’ve been to:
FESTIVAL OF MIND (WATERSHED BRISTOL)
NORWICH CITY COLLEGE
NHS (WATERSHED BRISTOL)
ST IVES (CALMTOWN)
Each one very different. Each audience very mixed. Each one different levels of need. But each one amazing. I’ll be honest it’s starting to take it’s toll. The last one before Christmas was hard work. Not because of anything specific.
It’s draining talking about mental health – but the worst bit I find is I have to be 100% on it. I have to be full of energy, full of compassion, and say the right thing. Because that is is the moment I’ve worked to. That moment of real help. It’s hard. bur worth it. So when you get a good reaction or you can see their eyes change, I know I’ve done my job.
And maybe just maybe changed a life.
Actually I’m a lot deflated. I’m a 2 week old balloon. That you have to squeeze to prick with a pin because it’s too flaccid.
I knew it was going to be a hard one. Sales were bad for a while. So after a load of Social media, Tweeting everyone that has “Newcastle” and “mental health” in their profiles – and a few that didn’t .
I was even on community radio this morning plugging the night, and still only 6 sold. – and not all of them turn up. It’s hard not to take it personally.
My eldest saying to me “Daddy why are you leaving us again?” – traveling 5 hours to get here ( and longer back tomorrow) Feeling guilty that BrewDog have paid for my Travel and accommodation etc for me to be here.
When is the juice not worth the squeeze?
When the screenings are good they’re great. When they are bad I feel awful. Tonight I feel awful. Let’s hope the people in there think it was worth their time and energy.
*Update – I had a fantastic chat after. And even with a young man who overheard the film and talked about his own struggles. It was worth it. Thank you to he people I met tonight.
Ok so this is the the last one of the week. The final furlong. It’s hard to get the energy for it but I’m expecting a nice one. I’m at FlyKick – a posh kick boxing gym near Euston.
It was a younger screening, a hipper one. Sam and Miranda set it up. And I had a great chat about Mental Fitness before the screening we had 18 in the room. A lovely relaxed room.
Mixes of make and female that sparked a fantastic conversation after. 4 men in their 20’s all in football world and all finding it hard to actually look after their minds. Exercise is fine. But one of their friends had taken his life and it’s almost like they hadn’t broached it.
We finished at 10pm. I got to paddington and missed my train. So the last train of the night (the 11.30) – and I walked through the door at 2am.
.I’m not going to lie I wasn’t looking forward today. I was worried. I was tiered. And as I got upat 6.15am– after finally getting to sleep past midnight – I wasn’t feeling prepared. I had just about managed to process the day before. The thing I was trying to work out was – who am I to tell theses blokes to look after their mental health? They are locked up. They are in a place where their freedom has been taken away – and not nice things, and not nice people are.
So who is this this twat in an orange jacket who keeps talking about feelings and numbers out of 10? As I walked to Gillingham station from my rather weird hotel I kept going over an over it in my head.
So when I got the train to Sittingbourneat 7.30 am– Screening 5&6 this #mentalhealthawarenessday done. 2 prisons. Swaleside and Standford Hill both on the Isle of Sheppey. It was an amazing and humbling day. From the 35 men wI started to feel ready for the day.
At Sittingbourne I met Taff, who works in two prisons across in the Isle of Sheppey. Ther plan for the day was to go to Swaleside in the morning – a Cat B prison for men who have been sentenced for 4 years to life and then to Stanford Hill – a Cat D – Open Prison – where men try to adjust to getting out.
I was worried about the Cat B. But to be honest I felt safer there than I did in Rochester.
As ever technology was a problem. Taff and I spent nearly 2 hours walking from one office to another to collect a protected thumb drive, a laptop that would play and then finally trying to download the film. Which we couldn’t actually put on the drive – because it was all restricted.
In the end Taff, just dropped me with a bunch of inmates and left – so I just started chatting.
There were 35 there. And it was quite daunting but as I talked it just became obvious that we were all the same, we had just made different choices. One bloke called Jim, was 9 years into a 21 year sentence – I didn’t ask – I didn’t want to think what someone does to get a 21 year sentence – he talked about how its tough to keep positive, it’s tough as his wife has moved on. It’s tough as he had made some bad choices on the outside – all trying to keep up with that her thought his wife and what he wanted. But doing that hurt his relationships. And although he talks to his kids and sees them once a month he’s failed them. We then talked feelings we talked the need for honest Talking, and one said to me that “Talk Club could change lives in here.” His honesty was amazing as we talked for 20 minutes – before they were taken back to their cells. And just before they left – he thanked me for coming in. Saying g it means a lot to them for someone to come in from the outside and share what I did. They all took a Talk Club flyer. And who knows if it will help but in all honesty – even theist taking it and reading it – well that information might have just helped.
Taff then took me to the Stanford Hill – a Cat D – Open Prison – where men try to adjust to getting out. We had 14 in the room. And we managed to get round the tech issues by running it off my laptop.
After the screening we talked about opening up and using the out of 10 system to get men to talk. And it was really good. It wasn’t just the inmates it was the staff and officers as well.
And as taff dropped me off – and we talked about how I was one of the only people to ever ask him how he was – I really felt like I like I made a difference today. And I’m proud of that.
A Cat C Prison. Men with under 4 years left on their sentences. It was the first time I’ve ever even visited a Prison, let alone got to walk around and meet people. There was technical issues. Lots of them. Security in prisons is there for s reason. I took absolutely nothing in with me. I got searched. I was only allowed a pen and paper in there. It was intimidating. It was masculine. But it was also an honor. 20 or so men used their gym time or their free time to watch our film. Many of them work inside the prison. And they are in their cells for long periods. So I was thankful for their time.
We chatted about Talk Club. We talked about how it might and might not work in there.
How showing you are feeling anything is hard, as it can be used against you.
But introducing the idea of the Out of 10. From asking it to yourself to maybe a close Pal might work better.
We didn’t manage to finish the whole film – but we got most of it.
And all of them shook my hand and thanked me for coming. And as I stood there with one at the end he said he did believe it could work here. And me coming in made it real. So I feel like I made a difference.
To me the fact that I couldn’t check my phone, or go to the toilet without someone letting me, or even eating or drinking when I wanted was a tiny slither if what it’s like to feel how they feel.
Afterwards Rachel told me one of the inmates said to her – “20 cons in a room and you can hear a pin drop – now that was respect” – so I feel exhausted but good.
The next screening was in Gillingham at a community space called “Sunlight” – Rachel drove us over and we checked it out then went for probably the best curry I’ve ever had.
The evening was then about a variety of local charities/projects coming together around the film. This was always my hope with these type of screening for local charities to use the film as a way to talk to new people. One of those people was a local artist called Jane Benias. She has made a immersive box. To escape into. It was amazing.
The screening was great. An old old friend even came.
I chatted to men in Sheds. To a fellow male mental health campaigner Steve Loft And even people from the Local Fire service who want to explore how we can show it to Firemen. A fantastic long day. And when I finally got to my hotel at around 11pm. I felt like I had made a difference. And that’s all I can do.
Another lovely screening. Another different day. No two screenings are ever the same. The location, the crowd, the purpose.
This one with Publicis Health, about 30 or so in the room. And forthem it was about how the company can look after their staff better. What people can do individually as well as collectively.
It was nice. It was easy. No tech issues. No stress. Just nice people. I stayed and watched more than Inormallydo. And yes, I found a couple of scenes emotional yesterday. I then did the usual leave for a bitand come back.
But this time when I left. I went to the loo and had a little cry. It was nice to shed a little tear for him. I felt good after. Then at the end of screening. I got up did my usual updates of where we are and began to talk about Talk Club. Corporateenvironments mean people don’t open up as much. But it was good. Thank you.
So this Thursday is World Mental Health Awareness Day.
Which tends to mean that all of us working in the mental health space, actually test our own mental health as we are asked to do a lot of talks.
I’ve said yes to 8 screenings in 5 days.
So for this week I’ll be showing and talking about the film as well as #talkclub.
The first one is at BBH. My old ad agency in London.
It’s a fantastic place I called home for 3 years between 2005-08.
As I walked down Kingly Street Iovely memories come flooding in. Drinking in the Blue Post, spilling out on to the street in the summer.
Seeing Victor at security. Then getting in the lift. And out into the main building.
Even though the layout has changed it feels like home. The way a building smells, how it sounds, how it feels. Makes me happy.
I also remembered that Steve actually came here. And I can’t repeat what he said. But it made me laugh out loud.
One of my biggest worries of the screening is – “is it good enough?” My time at BBH was all about that. The pursuit of excellence. I piled so much pressure on myself when I was here. Good and bad pressure. So seeing old faces who might think, “oh that’s a bit shoddy” or my worst nightmare that it drops out of sync. Well those are my anxieties as I write this.
I’ve always felt my time here shaped a big part of me. It was 1 of the 3 most influential periods of my career. It gave me confidence to try stuff, to go for it, and later when I went to Australia, the foundation I learnt here made me bold.
But I feel like that kid again. 11 years on. I still feel like that bloke in a shared house who didn’t know what he was doing.
We had maybe 80 in the room.
That filled with clapping as it finished and I felt very humbled.
Lots of lovely comments – and conversation after – and hopefully we have helped people.