69 Months Later

A couple of bloggy things have happened in the past week which have got me thinking about why I’m still doing this. The first was this:

Never in my wildest dreams did I envisage that as many as 70,000 page visits would be made to view my ramblings. Admittedly, in the peak years of 2013 and 2014 the success of BlogSurfer was significant in generating site views, and this has subsequently declined. But nowadays, I get more ‘likes’ and comments for my posts, and this more than compensates for not having the bigger numbers any longer. I’ve never considered myself to be a writer – just someone who dabbles and has taken advantage of the ease with which the interweb permits anyone to make their mark, albeit a very small one. And those interactions make it worthwhile: there is a sense of being part of a community, of belonging, and we all need that in our lives.

The second thing was the annual congratulatory message from WordPress on my ‘anniversary’ which, for some reason, they think falls in June. I know this to be impossible as the chronology just doesn’t work for me. But, as you do, I harboured a tiny doubt that they may be correct after all – I’m approaching 65, I have memory lapses more than I used to – so I thought it worth checking. I couldn’t find anything in my settings that would help, so I resorted to checking my previous posts. The first was made on 2 October 2012, and makes reference to my having set up the blog around six weeks earlier. Now this does indeed fit my memory, so maybe I’m not heading into my dotage just yet! Reading that post again was slightly surreal: I’ve never had an out of body experience but I imagine it may feel something like this. Was that really me? Did I really have the nerve to assume that anyone would want to read anything I wrote, that it would hold any interest for them?

I thought I’d share it again, as very few will ever have seen it. In its unedited glory, here it is:

“Hi!

I’ve had this blog set up for 6 weeks now and have somehow acquired 3 brave followers without having said anything, so I thought it was about time I introduced myself and told you what this is about (cue rapid exit of aforementioned followers!). So, I’m Clive (but you guessed that from the blog’s name, right?). I’m 59 (but only just!), divorced, living solo, and I have two beautiful grown up daughters who are the centre of my world. I work in the NHS, for a large Trust in London, and am planning to retire on my 60th birthday. I love books (on a Kindle), music (folk, rock, Americana, alt-country) both at home and live, I enjoy TV sports, especially football and cricket, and am a long-time supporter of Dover Athletic (home town team) and Spurs (someone has to!). All very ordinary then, so why am I telling you any of this?

Almost exactly a year ago, I was diagnosed with depression, along with a still unspecified sleep problem. This eventually kept me off work for nine months, and I went back in July, part-time working up to full-time after a month. As part of this process I was referred for counselling to help me adjust back into the real world, and I’m about two-thirds of the way through a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). This has involved a lot of thinking and writing, in ways I’ve never really done before, about me, my feelings, hopes, self view and the whole experience of the past year. And this will continue into the future – I’m still on a high level of medication, barred from drinking and advised to be careful when driving, either separately or together, and still have big problems sleeping. But my counsellor has said that he finds my writing ‘inspirational’ and has encouraged me to start this blog, both because it will be good therapy for me to open myself up like this, but more importantly because others suffering from the same debilitating illness may see something they recognise in this and will hopefully draw some comfort and encouragement from it.

A subject like this could well be, erm, depressing really. But that’s not my way. I intend to write this from my perspective, of course, and I can’t do that for long before throwing in elements that could generously be considered to be ‘humour.’ In no way would I belittle the subject, I’ve experienced too much for that, but there’s no point doing this if people find it depressing or boring to read. And I’ll go off at tangents along the way too – things which strike me as interesting, usually but not necessarily related to my current experience of being ‘in recovery’ from the illness, which I hope you’ll find interesting too.

Enough for now, I’ll start the real posting soon. In the meantime, the three of you, I’m relying on you to help me spread the word and get me millions of followers. No pressure then! See you again soon.“

That post received a princely 3 ‘likes’ and 4 comments – and 2 of those comments were my own in response to others’ kind words of encouragement! Viewing figures were a little higher than either you or I might have imagined, though:

In those days I was much more active on Twitter than I am now, and had a number of people with whom I had regular twitchats. I imagine that they were prompted by Twitter to read the post though, as I say in it, it was only a brief introduction to what I really regarded as the starting point for this blog: when I posted the three parts of ‘The Story of My Illness’ over consecutive evenings in early November 2012. I know that many of them were ‘eagerly’ awaiting these – impatience was growing among some of them! Viewing stats at the time specifically for each of those posts were 52, 40 and 45 – although, as WordPress users will know, most of our page views become part of the large amorphous mass known rather unhelpfully as ‘Home Page/Archives,’ which doesn’t really permit a true view of the ‘popularity’ of a post, does it? If you haven’t seen those posts before, or want another look, they can be found under ‘My Story’ in the menu at the top of the site. They give you a good idea of where I’m coming from.

To those of you with large, popular blogs, with thousands of regular followers who ‘like’ everything you post, those stats will probably seem pathetically low. But that’s not why I do this. I’m content for this to be a hobby and if people are kind enough to read, like and comment then I’m very grateful for that. It’s not as though I make any money from this, nor would I want to: I’ve had many offers of hosting guest posts from commercial organisations, or of reviewing products in return for freebies, but they were all politely rejected. For me, although it is probably being po-faced to say it, it comes down to a question of integrity. I wouldn’t sell my body for money or trinkets (assuming I could find someone sufficiently desperate to take up the offer) so I don’t see why my words should be any different!

Reading that initial post again has given me several ideas for future posts: some things in my life have changed, some need updating, and as what I’m really doing here is sharing me with you I think you deserve to know. Of course, you’ll have had many clues about what is going on with me from my posts, so you will know that I did indeed retire on my 60th birthday – my thoughts on that are in the menu item ‘Retirement’ and I rather belatedly covered the celebrations in this post – and that I still enjoy my music, for example. But you won’t know that one of the lasting legacies of my long spell of depression is that, while I can cope perfectly well with newspapers and magazines, I have read very few books in my retirement: the powers of concentration just aren’t there any more! Life changes, and we adjust!

You may also have noticed the reference to the blog’s name including my own: when I first started out, with absolutely no experience of the blogworld, I just called this ‘Clive’s Blog.’ It was me, and it seemed to fit! I renamed this after I retired, both to reflect my new status as a gentleman of leisure and also my love of music. In case you don’t recognise the title (how could you not?!) I covered this in the first of my occasional series of #SaturdaySongs.

The main reason for starting this blog was to be supportive of those suffering from mental health issues. Whilst I may have digressed (a lot) from this, it is still a regular underlying theme, and you will see more on it from me in the future. Speaking of which, this is my 298th post and I’ve been thinking of a suitable way to mark the 300 milestone. Keep watching – I hope you like what I’ll be doing for it! And maybe I’ll mark my actual 6th anniversary in some way, too, though I haven’t given that much thought yet: it’s three months away, anything could happen before then!

The underlying message behind this post – yes, there is one, and thank you for getting this far! – is that those two little triggers have got me thinking about why I started blogging and why I still do it. I’m not unique or special, and I suspect you all have a variety of reasons for your blogs. But it is worthwhile taking a step back every once in a while, both to reaffirm our intentions and to confirm that we want still to be doing this. I know about me: how is it for you?

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Mental Health Awareness Week 2018

A couple of weeks ago, when I shared Feeling Good? – For Mental Health Awareness Week I said that I was in two minds about posting again for the actual week itself, as the theme this year was Stress, and I didn’t feel that I was qualified to write about that any more, having, I thought, managed to remove most of the stress factors from my life since I retired.

The week is organised by the Mental Health Foundation (MHF), who do a great deal of good in raising awareness of mental health issues and supporting those in need of help. Their website can be found here and is well worth a visit. It was they who have prompted me to post this: I’ve been on their email list for a long time, and a recent email from them invited me to take their ‘stress test.’ I thought I might as well, and did so in the expectation of a very low score. What I got was this:

This came as a bit of a surprise. These tests are, by nature, a little subjective, but I had done my best to be honest with myself – there wouldn’t have been much point if I hadn’t! But even to be as high as on the cusp between low and moderate has made me think. Maybe I’m not doing as well as I thought? What should I do to improve things. You can see from the image that the MHF offer a ‘Be Mindful’ course to help reduce stress levels and I followed the link to it. I’m not sure that it is for me, or that I’d be spending the £30 wisely, when there are so many courses, books, videos and apps available at a much lower cost. This might seem shortsighted to you, but I’m a pensioner on a budget!

What this test result has done is to get me thinking. I still don’t think I have any major stress factors in my life, though my main concern – my physical health – has potential for this. But it’s not like I’ve experienced in the past. As well as my long period off work in 2011-12 with depression, I was also away for three months in 2006-7 with what my GP called a ‘stress-related illness.’ That was at the time when I was starting to go through a divorce, and there were obvious reasons for the way I was feeling. But I don’t have those now, so why should I be scoring even low numbers on the test? I need to take a look at myself, I think, and work out if there’s anything I should be doing to prevent those numbers going up. And therein lies the lesson for us all, and the reason why organisations like the MHF exist to help us.

As part of the week, they have published a number of short videos on YouTube. I’m going to share a couple with you here. Firstly, a general one explains what stress is, and how it can lead to mental health problems:

The MHF has also undertaken a survey to find out how we think we are coping with our lives. In this brief video, they present a few of the key findings from the survey:

I find it shocking that 74% of us feel that we aren’t coping, and that this figure is even higher amongst the 18-24 age group. Last week, the Parliamentary Select Committees for Health and Education issued a joint report which called on the Government to make good on its promises to improve mental health education and treatment for young people: it appears that they need to give this the highest priority now, and not lose sight of this in the midst of everything else they are trying to deal with. Young people are the future of this country, and we shouldn’t be failing them.

I make no apology for the fact that this post is focused on the UK, because that is where I live and know most about. But mental health issues affect every country in the world, don’t they? May has been marked as Mental Health Awareness Month in the US since 1949, and is organised by Mental Health America, whose website can be found here. Their theme this year is ‘Fitness #4mind4body.’ Whilst the theme may be different, the underlying message is clear: we all need to be doing more to improve our own mental health and to help others. And that goes for governments, too.

A Man Blogs, Aged 64 and a Half

If you look closely towards the bottom of the sidebar on my blog you’ll see a badge for something called ‘Post 40 Bloggers.’ Click on this and it will take you to their site, where you will find a range of posts by people over the age of 40.

A taste of the excellent Post 40 Bloggers site.

They have kindly featured a couple of my posts before, which is why I wear their badge of honour, but in recent weeks they have promoted a number of posts that have got me thinking about whether I should be doing this. I’ve been wondering if there is, in their writers’ eyes, some kind of upper age limit beyond which blogging becomes inappropriate, like an onscreen version of dad dancing. Oh, and it appears that being male is apparently a disadvantage too, as for some reason their featured writers have, by and large, somehow omitted to notice our existence. It’s time to redress the balance, I think!

Some might say that age is irrelevant, but if that is the case why mention it or write about it, as quite a few have been doing? My age is part of me and who I am, it gives me life experiences not available to younger people. Of course, I understand that ageism is still very prevalent in many industries, and I know that I have the luxury of being protected from this, now that I have retired. But, without that burden, I don’t keep my age a secret or shy away from mentioning it, when it suits me to do so – like now! We can still write when we are older, we don’t lose the ability to communicate just because we are in our 60s, not our 40s: fortunately for the likes of me, I don’t have to contend with anyone telling me I’m too old to do the job, or to fit in with the younger cool kids, and I know that makes me very lucky.

And men can blog too – there is no natural monopoly on subject matter. Of course there will be some subjects that will appeal more to one gender than another, but that doesn’t mean we can’t read them if we choose to do so: for me, the quality of the writing is of equal importance to the subject matter, so why should I worry if it isn’t ‘meant for me?’ Maybe I should start writing about football and cricket – there could be a whole new market for me in Australia on creative uses of sandpaper! But just by saying that makes me think there could be a post in there somewhere about how we develop our sporting loyalties and what they mean to us. Is that a topic which would appeal more to men than women? Is it being sexist to think or say that? You might think that – but I don’t. It is just my response to the sexism – in the sense that they believe only they can do it – that seems to be implicit in several of Post 40 Bloggers’ featured writers. And I have many female friends who have an interest in sports, so I am well aware that this is a subject of wide interest – no need to pick me up on that!

But maybe I’m just weeing in the wind? Maybe blogging really is a female-led world? If you google something like ‘older bloggers’ this is what you get: mostly female, mostly beauty and fashion:

This is just the first screen: scrolling down gives you much more of the same.

To be honest, I found that to be a pretty dispiriting exercise. It did leave me wondering if this blogging lark really wasn’t something I should be doing. But then I thought ‘sod it, it’s my time I’m spending on it and people can choose whether or not to read what I write.’ So here I am, back after my most recent little hiatus.

For the past couple of years I have been an occasional contributor to the Senior Salon, which was set up by Bernadette and recently taken over by Esmé. Each week, bloggers choose to contribute posts and I have found many blogging ‘friends’ this way. Yes, the balance is largely towards female writers, but there are a number of regular male contributors too (I use the word ‘regular’ in relation to their blogging habits, not because we oldies are obsessed about our bodily functions – just to be clear!). But I follow many other blogs too, written by people of a range of ages and on a plethora of topics. The age and gender of the writer are irrelevant to me: it’s what they have to say which is of interest. Of course, their writing will reflect their life experiences, but why should I feel odd if I choose to read them, simply because I’m older or younger, male not female? Actually, I don’t – if you have a problem with this then I think you need to take a look at yourself and why you blog. Be honest with yourself, it might just surprise you.

Is reaching the grand old age of 40 some kind of barrier? Is it a milestone, beyond which everything changes? Judging by some of the posts I’ve seen, some in their 40s appear to think their lives are in a downward spiral. But even we poor disadvantaged males have a life expectancy in the UK of double that – people, your race is barely halfway run, and you have much to look forward to. Maybe we need a Post 60 Bloggers website? Or Post 70, or any other age you care to choose? Age shouldn’t be used in a divisive way – ‘I’m not that age so that can’t be for me’ – but people put others into pigeon holes. It’s a form of prejudice, of discrimination – don’t be ageist, please!

We’re all different and have our own uniqueness – I don’t want to be categorised as part of a ‘target market.’ I choose what I want to read, not what I’m told I should read. I would prefer people to read my posts because they enjoy them, find them interesting, believe them to be a good use of their time, and that is how I approach the blogs I read. People seem to be taking this a bit too seriously and are losing sight of the enjoyment we can feel from reading or producing a well-written piece. Surely, the pleasure we can derive is reason enough to be involved in blogging, without any other need for justification? Simply by putting something out there we are offering an insight into our selves – my blog is me, like it or lump it. I don’t mind what your age or gender are, you’re very welcome here, and I hope you feel that it was worth your time and effort. In saying this, I recognise that there are many reasons why people blog, one of these being commercial: I did originally have some comments here about monetising a blog, but they felt out of place. Maybe another time…..

Nor should blogging make you feel under pressure. Some feel they have to post every day, or every week. That may be fine for them but it isn’t my way. If I don’t have something to say, or don’t feel like writing, why should I put myself under pressure to do it? Believe it or not, but I set myself quality standards for what I post, and creating a schedule is the best way I know of reducing the quality of my output. I took part in National Blog Posting Month twice, and the range and content of what I posted was, to my eyes, all over the place. Again, that may work for some but it isn’t for me: reading some of the posts I’ve seen recently makes me think I should somehow be feeling guilty for being male, older, irregular in my posts. I don’t. And I won’t ever apologise for that.

Maybe there are far fewer male than female bloggers, and maybe older bloggers like me are very much in a minority. But if we choose to be here, what we have to say is just as valid to us as anything said by others with different demographics. Don’t lose sight of that, or of us. Who knows, you may even find something to like about us 😉