The inner monologue of Joe Gilgun

Joe’s shoot is a continuation of a photo series I’ve been creating around men’s mental health. The last series I released in 2017 had positive feedback and I was keen to make a new one. The latest portraits are more intimate. I’ll shoot the lads wherever they feel comfortable and just chat about how we […]

The inner monologue of Joe Gilgun

By Louis Bever

Joe’s shoot is a continuation of a photo series I’ve been creating around men’s mental health. The last series I released in 2017 had positive feedback and I was keen to make a new one. The latest portraits are more intimate. I’ll shoot the lads wherever they feel comfortable and just chat about how we are feeling, as if we are discussing what we are having for dinner.

I had the chance to sit down and have a toastie with Joe in his flat in Manchester. Joe agreed to the shoot after I approached him in my workplace. I have always appreciated Joe’s honesty.

We shot the portraits on Joe’s balcony as the light was phenomenal and I was introduced to Steven the seagull. I wanted to talk to Joe about what the slimming hell is going on at the moment. We discussed men struggling to interpret their emotions, our struggles with pride, and exchanged anecdotes of our own past with mental health hiccups and how we have coped with it.

Joe and I shared the opinion that to really improve our mental wellbeing, we need to expose ourselves to do things we don’t want to do. If you struggle with public-speaking, then force yourself to speak publicly. The effects are significant. Just getting up in the morning to wander to Tesco’s for a pint of milk is so beneficial for your head. We also discussed being honest with yourself and to your friends about how you really feel. Understanding how your brain works and separating yourself from your anxieties can help rationalise huge problems which don’t always have to be so huge.

Louis: So do you think the ‘stiff upper lip’ attitude towards men and mental health is slowly becoming outdated?

Joe: Definitely, I feel the tide is starting to change. Men are now more open to wanting to talk about it, but you’ve got to know how to talk about it. If you’re in an environment or in a social group where it isn’t accessible, how are you gonna learn?

Louis: Do you think that’s probably lots to do with both toxic masculinity and genetics?

Joe: Yeah definitely. There’s an element of nurture involved as well.

It’s like the Philip Larkin poem ‘ They fuck you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do’

Louis: I swear that was on a Supreme t-shirt?

Joe: Yeah. At the end of the poem, it’s very clever, he says ‘Man hands on misery to man. It deepens like a coastal shelf.’ And I think what he’s saying is, you know all these thoughts and worries that your parents have they hand those on to you and the waters become more and more muddied as each generation passes through. It’s almost like you can’t figure out why you feel so shit.

I worked with this Jewish guy in America called Matty, and he was like a fucking hero to me, honestly, he really looked after me out there. Now Matty had the odd mental issue here and there, he’d get a bit stressed out and was an amazingly resilient man. He told me: “I’m third generation Holocaust, so my mum and dad were raised by two people that barely made it through and I still have the mentality of trying to survive just like grandma and granddad did.” There’s nurture and nature. I mean, we have this argument with serial killers all the time.

Louis: I was speaking to another lad who was experiencing depression and he said the only way he really gets over it is by putting himself in uncomfortable positions, so for example, if he doesn’t like public speaking or the gym he’ll expose himself to it …

Joe: Yeah forcing himself …

Louis: Yeah, like if you force yourself to get out of bed there’s lots of good that can come out of it

Joe: But anyone reading this won’t wanna hear that.

Louis: No.

Joe: They don’t, the last thing you wanna hear when you’ve got anxiety of any kind, is that you need to put yourself in the firing line.

Louis: Yeah exactly.

Joe: I remember it myself, thinking I can’t, I mean Jesus Christ is it not fucking bad enough, is it not bad enough now without me having to put myself through this torture and it really is torturous. People go ‘the lion isn’t in the room’, I’m sorry but it very much is for that human being, it’s very real. I suffer with anxiety throughout the day and I’ve had a bit of a melt down this very morning, anxious, depressed, frustrated, partly circumstance partly chemical, you know.

Louis: So when you’re in that position, what do you do to ease your mind?

Joe: I vent to people that I care about, and that’s self destructive but I’m doing it you know.

Louis: The problem with the reassurance is that once you get heartened from it you want to get it again.

Joe: Yeah. When you need the reassurance the most, you almost sabotage it in your head. The pattern of behaviour I follow is that I find someone that I care about and try to rip their head off, and this morning that was me. I’ve had some bad bipolar days man, it’s not helping that I lost my dad as well. I’ve been really struggling to deal with that, and it’s not that the help is not accessible, it’s all around me but there is an element of feeling like a fucking paper bag in a hurricane.

Louis: Where are you up to with your acting now?

Joe: I feel naked without acting. The fear I’ve had in the past six years about it, has made me write my own show. I was like, I better do something. I wanna be part of the industry but I can’t be in front of that camera anymore so what I’ll do is, I’ll write it and get all these confident people to do what I used to do. And there was just a terrible sadness about it, I still do therapy as much as I can.

Louis: Is that CBT?

Joe: It’s a mixture of a few things, a lot of it is anger management. I’m not an easy character, I’m a difficult man, and my behaviour isn’t always great, I do struggle a lot. You have to go and face it unfortunately. It’s taken nearly six years to get to a place where I’ve been able to write the the show, I’m the creator of the show and a big part of getting it on TV and making sure it’s worth fucking watching, that alone is a lot of pressure. And on top of that, I’m fucking acting in it, I’m really proud of myself.

Louis: That’s great.

Joe: It’s a big deal to overcome that, and I think for anyone out there that’s reading this and suffering with chronic anxiety, it’s  doable. And I am a fuck up, I’m still a fuck up, still make stupid decisions.

Louis: So you’re using it as a drive really, to better yourself? Cause I know, when I’m taking pictures, I’m never happy with the  final result. Someone could say oh that’s a great portrait and I think, well there’s still stuff wrong, that next time I’m gonna do better.

Joe: I’ve never watched any of my films, like – ‘oh yeah I’ve smashed it’, I mean fucking hell dude like you can always do better, there’s always room for improvement you’ve got to fight constantly, all the time and do something every fucking day. Like dude, I drag myself out for a brew in the morning down in the Northern Quarter I go alone. The reason I’m always on my own is I can’t really, often I can’t stand myself and I think if I can’t stand me how can anyone else. You know, it’s not like I don’t have mates and accessible people, I will isolate myself.

Louis: Well lots of people are introverted, or you’re either a bit of both or one or the other. Everyone is completely different.

Joe: I seem to be between the two, but I go out and I get this pointless coffee that I don’t want but I’m sat outside, I’m making an attempt.

Louis: Yeah, exactly.

Joe: As I’m getting older, I’m starting to realise that when it comes to mental health it’s about ticking the little things off the list.

You know, I’ve used this, analogy which is we’re all walking around with these bags of rubbish. Even the fucking pigeons sat on that bloody balcony have their problems, some people’s bags are up to the hilt and others not so much. And what I found is, often people’s bags are full with other people’s rubbish. Things they’ve picked up on the way and ultimately what happens is the bag splits, the rubbish goes everywhere, you end up stuck in your own house. Because you’re not offloading it, and sharing it with people.

Louis: Can you tell me a little about your bipolar?

Joe: I feel like online you might have some people, I guess who might be going oh I’m having a bit of bipolar, of course they’re not having bipolar, they’re just having a shit day and they’re using that as a comparison almost making a joke of the symptoms but I mean I’m cool with that, you know, if you wanna have a laugh at our expense then please go, ‘cause honestly if we can get a laugh out of all this sadness, then go for it.

Louis: It normalises it doesn’t it? In a way?

Joe: Exactly that! Normalises us, and the truth is we are all, you know there’s this thing where everyone goes, we’re all the same, we’re all just flesh and blood. We’re not all the same! We’re incredibly different, all of us and I think the trick to it all is just being alright with that.

Louis: Would you say it’s like what we mentioned earlier, about exposing yourself?

Joe: Yeah. A pal of mine, his routine was terrible anxieties much like myself, and he’s sitting in his flat and not doing any exercises, sleeping through the day and he’ll be up all night. I was like right, well no one’s up at night cause everyone’s in bed. So get your torch or head lamp, put your walking boots on and go for a midnight walk. We’re surrounded by countryside, so he’s out in the outside, and he’s slowly starting to improve, he’s becoming tired from the exercise now, he’s got off his ass and he’s trying, he’s doing his best.

Louis: I think we’re lucky in a sense that we know what we’re passionate about that gets us up in the morning, even if it’s really difficult. With me, it’s doing something actually serious like this, I love taking pictures anyway and it gets me out the house, even with running, I know that oh I don’t really wanna go for a run, but I know that feeling after I go for a run…

Joe: And that is the thing right, you don’t have to fucking go on a run even. Just leave the house and breathe in some fresh air. A lot of anxiety is not that easy to fix, not like breaking a bone, it’s gonna take years, and years, and years. And often a lot of it is child trauma like stuff that you cannot help and you can’t now process shit like your average man. I’m 35 and still fucking struggling to process some. I’m lucky because of my job, it means that I can do the therapy, not everyone’s that lucky and the problem is everyone’s individual, everyone’s mental health is not one man’s the same as the next. Because each and every person’s experience is different, talking therapy I feel is the one. The trouble is, it’s not accessible for everyone.

Louis: I use the NHS the majority of the time, for things like medication, – I was first diagnosed with anxiety back in 2015. I think I was triggered after a break up.

Joe: The names, like bipolar or ADHD or schizophrenia or whatever you wanna say, the soul reason for those titles is so the doctor has an idea of what medicine to put you on. So if you’re going on record as having bipolar stage 1 for example, there’ll be a list of medicine that they can prescribe you and he’ll decide that on your behalf. And often this is the frightening thing about treating mental health with medicine. It’s often trial and error.

Louis: That’s what I was just about to say.

Joe: It’s really scary and that’s why I’m mentioning therapy, right. Like, it’s not trial and error. Most people, and this is what I wanna say, cause a lot of people have tried therapy and not got anything out of it, and what I’ve sort of seen is, is they don’t stick it out. They’ll have that session that makes them feel even worse like and nothing feels fixed. For a long time, it’s like going to the fucking gym. Four out of five sessions are shit, you feel fat and lazy and disgusting but that one day comes and you realise that all that hard work, all those days that sucked, were worth it.

I’ll say this right, with people who have mental health issues, there’s this feeling, this shame that they feel, it’s not just that they might look weak but that they feel weak. Especially in men, and some of the hardest people I know of are insane. Like I’ve got, dude I can’t tell you I’ve got massive problems, I take serious medicine every morning and every night, like they’re antipsychotics. My dad passed away and I finished our show, like during that whole thing, and I’m writing and into next season. I’m way harder than I thought I was, honestly I am. It’s the one positive to be drawn out of this fucking horrible year of sadness and anxiety. The one positive to be draw out of this is, I didn’t just survive, I’m still surviving it. I’m writing about it all the time. I’ll never stop fighting it, never. I will not accept it, I won’t give in to this, this feeling.

Louis: It’s definitely about exposure. The more exposed you are to something the better you will be at it.

Joe: You’ve got to work through the shit to get to where you wanna be.

Louis: I completely agree.

Joe: I feel a lot of men and women that hit around the age of 30, start to really struggle, and we see lots of suicides around that age. The statistics in men around that sort of getting to the point where they’re having to accept that they are now a man. You know I had to do that recently, it’s a difficult thing, I’m 35 and only just starting to accept it. You know I’ve been fighting that for a long time, like Peter fucking Pan or something, or Michael, well better not compare myself to Michael Jackson but you know what I mean.

Louis: Haha

Joe: But yeah, I feel, I think it will get easier and easier as each generation goes on but I think it should start at primary level like talking and feeling it’s ok to be sad.

Louis: When I was growing up in school. You know I went to a posh kind of French catholic school, so mental health was not even a topic at all. And then I went to a very British like school, because my dad was in the army so we moved around a lot and I was just starting new schools wherever I was, and I remember when I was at school I mean there was just absolutely nothing about mental health.

Joe: I feel like the educational system fails a crazy amount of kids, massively failed me like. It’s not the teachers fault, they’re doing as much as they possibly can. It’s about developing you as a young man and woman, teaching you how to cope so you know, why isn’t mental health a part of the process?  Teaching each other rights and wrongs and understanding one another’s feelings so that by the time you are 30 odd years of age you have an understanding for each other. I feel like that’s a big thing that we’re missing.

Louis: I like to look at this aspect of pride as well, people don’t wanna be a burden. I think lots of people don’t wanna be honest with themselves, cause they don’t want to go into the doctor and be like, oh I’m being a bit of a burden to them. So that first step of actually putting your foot through the GP or first doctor’s door is the best that you’ve got to do.

Joe: I would always encourage any medicine. I would always encourage if you can’t hold out, and if it is accessible and available to you, you must try talking therapy. And you can, this is the thing, it isn’t a quick fix, any mental health issue you are in it for a bit, it’s a marathon is what it is. I guarantee people are way harder than they think they are. Way, way. They’re capable of so much more. There’s no amount of shit that you can throw at me that I won’t survive. I really feel like I’ve been through the mill with it all.

Like, whether it’ll be circumstantial problems or my mental health like it is doable, it is totally doable but you have to be open. You have to be honest and you have to practice talking about your feelings. But you have to do it, you know it’s not enough to just sit there and go, oh I agree. You have to act differently, even if it’s just a one-on-one with another friend. Everyone, you must seek out someone else as best as you can, one you feel safe with, where you don’t necessarily have to know them all that well. You’d be surprised if you mention to your friends that you’re having a struggle or your family, I think most people would be surprised. And also like, people want to help you if you care. They want you to come to them, you know, they want you to burden them.

Louis: And people take it as a complement when you trust them with your feelings . . .

Joe: Yeah, exactly. They feel safe with you. You need to find someone who suffers just like you, and just fucking hold your hand up, I guarantee over half of the people in the room with you struggle. Not everybody wants to talk about it, not everybody can but don’t let that deter you.

And it’s not whinging, you’re not being a whining bastard or a bitch, you just need to fucking do it. You’re entitled to it. Like you know, it’s a very difficult thing to overcome, especially anxiety and I mean that’s just fucking terrifying. Do you know what, I’ll tell you something, and I forgot this I should have mentioned it last year really, when I was doing all my interviews.

It actually took me a long time to recognise the difference between depression and anxiety.

Louis: Yes, yeah. I’ve got two or three friends who have depression, clinical depression and I’ve never had depression. I’m very anxious, and I’ve always just thought, depression and anxiety are the same thing. I’ve learned anxiety comes in waves, whereas depression is once you’re low…

Joe: It’s constant.

Louis: Yeah. When I’m feeling anxious, I can go to university, go to one of my friends, go for a run, go and take pictures, and after a half an hour maybe to 45 minutes I feel relaxed, whereas depression no matter what you do, you’re just down.

Joe: It really is man, anxiety is one of the most irrational fucking things sometimes.

Louis: Yeah, it is. And you forget how important a balanced diet is, with regards to how you feel.

Joe: Huge. Just don’t put too much pressure on yourself, it’s just like going to the fucking gym. One tiny step at a time. And don’t beat yourself up. Like today, I’ve been doing that a lot, I’ve been walking around just feeling like an angry wanker. I mean I’d just love to feel like a normal person sometimes but then I think…

Louis: But there’s no such thing as normal, is there?

Joe: And who wants to be that anyway right? Boring motherfuckers.

Louis: You know I didn’t have the things that I have had, then I think, where would all my funny stories you know, my personality come from?

Joe: Yeah, you need to remember it’s alright to be upset. You’re probably tougher than most people. Don’t give up like, don’t give up cause it’s hard anything that was worth doing was fucking hard work. You know, that hand out thing that people seem to think exists, it doesn’t.

You’ve got to really work for it, whether it be succeeding in your job or with your mental health, you’ve got to do something every single day. It’s not enough to do a bit here and there, there’s nothing like self discipline, there’s nothing like the love you can find for yourself if you just take care of yourself. And what I mean by that isn’t just the kind of food you eat and all that bullshit, but I mean your thought process, analyse the way you think.

I’ll give you an example, in the coffee shop I told you about, it’s like the biggest part of my day sometimes, sitting there and having a brew. And there’s this kid that works in a shop, kind of one of the trendy shops in that area, and he walks past a lot and this one morning he passes through and we see each other, and generally we’re quite happy to see one another but it’s early, and this guy is on his way to work. Possibly running late. I don’t know. And he makes the decision, to come over and shake my hand dead quick, acknowledge the fact that we know each other and that we kind of got on in the shop that day. Now I’m good with that kind of social interaction, but I see it dawns on him as we’re talking that he needs to get to work.

The next day, I see him again, instead this time he passes through, which is fine and I didn’t take offence. However I start thinking ‘I wonder what the fuck he thinks of me, I’m always sat here on my own’. In fact, I wonder what anyone around here thinks of me, I think about you lads in Oi Polloi, I think of the lady in the sandwich shop, I think about the Uber driver who fucking drops off my maccies at 3am, and I wonder what they must think of me.

And what I’m doing is I’m looking at those people to validate me as a good person who is worthy. And ultimately they will never do that. And this is the thing, that fella who walked past me will of went to work and not thought anything further about it.

Louis – Because he’s too busy worrying about himself.

Joe – He’s worrying about his own shit! I still have those moments, I’m still irrational and mean to myself, creating these stories and realities that just aren’t true. But I mentioned that to my therapist and you just need to unpack these moments. Like what makes me think I’m so fucking important that he’s going to work and thinking about me? I’ve just gone for a coffee on my own, it’s a very normal human thing to do. The trick is with these thoughts, that is there’s no evidence, then you don’t have a case.

Building your mental health is like building flat pack furniture, you have all the pieces, you’ve just got to put them together.

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