2013. Absolute darkness. My young daughter had fully recovered from lifesaving surgery at Great Ormond Street Hospital just a few months before. She was now fine. Throughout the process I too had been ‘fine’ but now it was clear more than ever I was not.
Constant intrusive thoughts swirled in my head – calculations were attempted at how fast I would have to drive into a wall to end it all. Panic attacks, guilt, shame and silence. Grinding my teeth day and night. A quick temper. Random private crying sessions. Hoping someone would put me out of my misery.
Cue my first therapy – difficult to access, I didn’t really engage fully – but nonetheless I picked up some useful bits that I could use later.
I then discovered, through that work on myself, that I had an eating disorder. Cue twelve months of being bounced around mental health services until I finally got what I needed. I was the only man in a group of fifteen. I couldn’t open up, I couldn’t let myself feel in such an exposed setting. Again, I took what I could get from it and hoped I could use those skills later. Feedback from other participants included the words “quiet” and “brave.” The man who thought he could entertain and mask himself was done.
Then came a period of virtually nothing. My career had stagnated, my weight had piled on again and I was somewhere towards being ‘happy.’ In truth, feeling neither good nor bad; but I had become acclimatised to it and that numbness masked some of the pain for a good couple of years. My family grew when my youngest son came along and was perfectly happy and healthy. A rare moment of joy – though I couldn’t feel a lot of it. Only more numbness.
On September 9th 2018, I visited Legoland with my family – though for days I’d complained of abdominal pains. We ended up leaving early after I constantly felt like passing out and I later ended up in hospital.
Now came some changes I’d never expected – up to 30 trips to the toilet per day, colonoscopies, endoscopies and a myriad of other tests. None of them seemed to find the root cause of the issue.
In the months that followed, I began to eliminate foods from my diet and kept a record of how I was doing – how many times I went to the toilet, how I felt and experimented with coming off the medication for a few days at a time. Thankfully, I kicked them and their side effects to the kerb and kept running. It took a lot to change, it took a lot to learn to live without medication doing little more than masking the pain.
Roll forward to the 8th May 2019. A fresh start… a new challenge awaits. I had grown to a whopping 24 stone by this point. I’m not quite sure how it happened, but my body had taken some severe punishment and I needed to change for the sake of my career, my kids and more importantly, my health.
The first month went like a dream. Through careful planning, eating cleaner and drinking more water, I’d lost 8kg, but personal problems threatened to derail my dream of being healthier.
Then by some sheer stroke of luck (fate, whatever you’d call it), my wife was at the doctors with my young son. She somehow spotted a deeply-buried photocopied poster of a new men’s fitness programme for Thurrock called “Shift the Timber.” She called me with the details and I snuck out of work and nervously made that call to see if there was a space for me. The induction was buzzing, filled with men of all shapes and sizes and ages – all looking to turn their lives around.
Under the careful tutelage of Gordon and Ben, our coaches – we combined football training sessions with Mark and his team of nutritionists who painstaking pored over 50-odd weekly food diaries and provided feedback and suggested food swaps.
Shift The Timber provided me with a sense of community, togetherness and somewhere I could talk freely, have a laugh with others and get a little fitter in the process. I count myself extremely lucky to have been given the chance and the guidance and I have now lost five stone since the beginning of my journey in May 2019.
In March 2020, I was invited to take part in a study by John Day from Healthwatch Essex to recount my experiences of being a man who had tried to lose weight and live a healthier lifestyle.
Having my say was cathartic, if not a little self-indulgent. As the conversation flowed and I managed to put across all my frustrations, moans and groans – there was something that resonated in me. But what was it?
In the past year or so, I’ve met around 60-70 men who all wanted to change their lives. Ordinary men, with ordinary lives and ordinary jobs – many of them felt exactly like me – a little left out by life, while wellbeing and health was either something promoted heavily towards women or depicted chiselled gods pumping iron. Ladies and Gentlemen, none of what you see is real life – just smart marketing to make you spend more!
That’s when a comment I made to John during that call really stuck with me. For days, weeks and even months; one thing I said rattled around in my head.
“There’s no one like me who will stand out in front of the world and tell them who we are. I’m sure I’m not alone” – or words to that effect.
Then I thought to myself, “Why me? Why not!”
In May 2020, I began recording some thoughts. Putting together ideas and things that I had learned over the past seven years. Hints and tips that helped me to survive when things got tough and how to fuel my body properly and enjoy life like a man in his early 30s should.
I found these littered with my experiences, my struggles and an underlying, ever-present theme of hope; one of constant slow progress (but progress nonetheless).
This became a holistic health plan aimed at men like me. Who had thought their best chance at life had passed them by (because of bad life experiences, poor physical and/or mental health) and as I started to gain momentum, the positivity made me more and more open to change.
When I stood on top of my own personal summit, it seemed as if images from my life flashed across the sky – a montage of struggle, of pain, of loneliness and isolation – littered with the occasional flash of joy, happiness and love. It was then that I realised that I had grown, I had changed and even through the toughest storm, I had made it. I would argue that I am now a better husband, father and friend.
The results of the report that John is creating will go on to help shape policy. If you’ve never felt like you have had a voice – or you have been too nervous about standing up and making yourself heard, I would strongly recommend and urge you to take part.
For more information and to get involved with The Weight of Stigma project click here.
Adam is currently writing a book about his journey – Summit: Achieve your goals. It is also available as a podcast. If you want to find out more click here.