An open letter to my parents….

Dear Mum and Dad

You must have thought that it all went terribly well the day that I asked the question “Why is mine different from Dad’s”? You told me that I’d had “a little operation to avoid trouble later on”.

Boarding school was an eye opener. I hated being a “Roundhead” (circumcised). How on earth had this happened to me? What had I done? Why? It is questions like these that have been spinning around in my head ever since, what a waste of a mind.

The reason for an amputation without the patient’s consent is usually “If we don’t cut it off he’s going to die” somehow you didn’t apply this rather sensible rule to my genitals. Why do you wince when my kids suggest pierced ears, tattoos and other piercings? You did not flinch at Dr M’s suggestion.

Why did you Dad not defend me did you think you were doing me a favour? Did you not even care?

Teenage years brought masturbation, which was possible with care. Female partners could easily be too rough as I had no loose skin for them to grip. That little operation removes what would grow into about 15 sq. inches of highly sensitive tissue, that is about the same area as a £5 note.

Ever since school days I have felt fundamentally flawed. Which has led me to thoughts like why should I give up smoking. It is very hard to view ones body as a temple when you can see that someone has been in and smashed one of the windows for some fresh air instead of just opening it. I have tried to make the best of it. I do hope you had no idea of what was involved. The fifteen minutes of excruciating pain with Dr M and his instruments.

Regret is one thing I know very well. I can say that there is not a day that passes when I don’t curse my misfortune in this regard. I live with intense feelings of violation. Every time I look down I see the scar, which shows me just how I have been abused.

Some people still think that the circumcision of a healthy child is not abusive, how that can be I do not know. Genital mutilation has been the cruelest thing ever done to me.

What I do not want is anyone reading this to be in any doubt that circumcision is cruel, it still hurts more than fifty years on. Here I am with clear physical evidence of a serious sexual assault and no chance of redress, is it any wonder I sound a little hysterical.

I really used to believe it was my fault that I could not accept my fate. You left me angry, confused and ashamed about the state of my genitals and that is quite a load to carry through life. I think I am an average man in almost everything. The thing about me that is not average is that I have written this down as honestly as I can. Many men have to deny their pain or remain mute but if enough men tell their stories then perhaps society will stamp out this dreadful abusive practice.

Until recently I could not have written this letter but with the support of Norm UK, my wife, family and friends I am coming to terms with the pain behind the content. I now also know that I am not mad and not alone.

Your son

If you have been affected by circumcision contact NORM UK.
See: http://www.norm-uk.org/

Geoff’s story of abuse

I met Helen on an online dating site and at first our relationship appeared idyllic. She soon fell pregnant and we made plans to spend our future together. Soon afterwards I found out that she was an alcoholic in recovery and had four children who now lived with their father (her ex husband), they had been removed from her care after a drunken suicide attempt a year prior to our relationship starting.
Helen’s behaviour became ever more controlling and manipulative as the months went by. She would check my emails, text messages and Facebook account. She also hacked into these account and sent text messages to my female friends from my phone pretending to be me.
Helen became violent towards me. She threw a laptop, threatened me repeatedly, destroyed another computer and would soak my sons (from a previous relationship) ironing once I had completed it. She singled my son out at meal times and often refused to allow him to eat desert. She would also serve his last and slam his plate down in front of him.
He witnessed her shouting, slamming doors at me and indulging in long periods of ignoring / isolating behaviour.
Helen also prevented me from maintaining relationships with friends by constant questioning, checking behaviours – it was easier for me to not go out that face a barrage of questions.
Helen threw me out of the house we shared, started drinking (began phoning friends and family telling the most abhorrent lies about me and spreading rumours that I was using pornography) and took an overdose – all within two month of our baby daughter being born, I later found out she had been drinking throughout this period. Despite all of this I decided to try again with the relationship but it only lasted another 5 months before I had to leave.
When I left Helen told a social worker that I had been violent and abusive towards her. The social worker advised her that I was to have no unsupervised contact – I was never invited to the meeting or allowed to put forward my side of things. I never received minutes of this meeting. Helen also lied to the Police that I had stolen some of her possessions – this prevented me from being able to recover my things before she moved out of the house we rented. I lost virtually all
of my things and an £800 deposit on the house. She telephoned the police the day before they were going to arrest me that she had found the items.
For the past 14 months I have had sporadic contact with my daughter and Helen still spreads lies and abuses me through the phone, text and email. She has threatened to lose me my job and contact with my son if I put in an application for a court order. My life is getting better slowly but it has been a living hell for almost three years now.

MANKIND NATIONAL HELPLINE: 01823 334244

If you are a man suffering Domestic Abuse or Violence the MANKIND NATIONAL HELPLINE is open Monday to Friday 10am – 4pm and 7pm – 9pm.

Story reproduced with permission from: http://www.mankind.org.uk/mentelltheirstories.html

I lie on the floor with my headphones on

A poem written by a man with mental health problems……

I lie on the floor with my headphones on

I lie on the floor with my headphones on the music is balm and pleasure
It helps my mind from blowing away
Like some old bit of paper, yellowed, loveless,
Destined to the gutter, smiling with a rotten mouth
catching flies, catching waste from every direction
with a long black tongue.

I lie on the floor with my headphones on, the music is balm and treasure
And my inner pain is treated with cool kind fingers,
With healing substance that enters ears first,
then all other regions, speaking, spreading to the spirit’s dryness,
like an oasis found at the end of a terrible struggle
in a barren, desolate place.

I lie on the floor with my headphones on, the music is balm and leisure
Some of the best experiences are when listening to music,
It doesn’t have to be a certain kind,
as long as one can absorb completely and abandon everything else
it can change one’s mind
it is sound food for the senses

I lie on the floor with my headphones on…..

NB: This poem was originally written for Mental Health Week and has been provided with the permission of the writer and Care Co-ops in Brighton & Hove.

On circumcision

I am 58 years old. I was circumcised as a baby upon a doctor’s recommendation. As a young boy, I soon noticed that I looked different to my father and to other boys and men. I didn’t see another other circumcised penis until I was grown up. Even though I had no conscious memory of having a foreskin, I nevertheless felt that I had something missing from my penis. It didn’t feel or look right. I wanted to be able to cover the head like other boys. When I discovered what had happened to me, I was horrified. I hadn’t been born like that after all, and neither was my disfigured penis the result of an accident. Someone had deliberately done that to me! What gave them the right to do it? I hated the family doctor. I felt ashamed of the way I looked too. As I grew up, I didn’t get used to it either. In fact, the feelings of injury, loss and shame got worse.
However, there is a happy ending. Several years ago I discovered NORM UK and found out that it was possible to “restore”, or at least grow a replacement foreskin, although it will never be possible to regain all of the nerve endings lost to circumcision. I can now accept my body. I feel that as far as possible I have corrected the damage done to me as a baby. I feel at ease with myself.

My mate

A man he trusted not long before we first met had raped him a year earlier.
We immediately became mates. Him a straight lad living with HIV and me just slightly older, a gay man on the game. It never dawned on either of us that our friendship was from the very beginning, ‘odd’. Like moths drawn to a light we were both in our own ways looking for escapism, we found ourselves immersed in strobes and lasers each pulse of light penetrating our eyes as we laughed and held each other up on dance floors, we loved each other as much as you can love a mate fuelled by how generous our dealers had been. Somehow we both knew our problems would not be solved. Endless clubbing soon turned to longer chill outs with deeper conversations, often for days with little or no sleep.
I had a secret I could not tell; I had more than one secret. I could not tell him.
I had been raped many years before – it just did not seem right to tell my mate and anyway I had not come to terms with it myself, I still haven’t, so why burden him with all my crap. He knew though. We both knew. We both dealt with our shared burden by being there for each other; by finishing each other’s emotions not just finishing each other’s sentences. We could read each other’s hurt and pain, and in an instant almost panicky way feed each other an immediate fix of laughter or sheer nonsense to balance things out again.
Then one day out of the blue my mate asked me to get him heroin. My heart tore apart at that same time he uttered those words. I knew that I could no longer provide him with that same ‘fix’. He needed more than I could give him and it hurt to look into his eyes. It really hurt!
‘If you take heroin I cant be your mate anymore’ I screamed
Our eyes would meet in the street for many years after. Barely nodding to each other. We both were hurting but I refused his hand of friendship. I needed my mate and he needed me. I also knew he needed heroin more than me. I knew this well, as this had been my only other secret.
We said goodbye to each other last week. My mate asked for some CD’s of the music we once tripped away on so happily so many years ago. He also asked for a disposable razor, and we laughed together when he said ‘don’t bother bring me a pack of razors ‘ we both knew why.
He was in his bed chocking when I arrived on the HIV ward. We sat there for hours looking into each other’s eyes over 20 years since we very first met. Our lives now taken completely different paths and yet our eyes as always were laughing full of fun and mischief.
I turned and left, my mate grabbed me and asked to be cuddled; I felt his lips kiss my neck goodbye. It was only then that I thought just for a moment our friendship was ‘odd’. My mate gracefully and respectfully showing that much love to me. A generous gift indeed.
I never once told my mate I had HIV. Of course he knew.
Rest in peace mate. I loved you.

With thanks to The Sussex Beacon nurses and HIV specialist team who cared for my mate in his final days in August 2011.

One Young Man’s Story Of survival.

Last year in February I was diagnosed with testicular cancer at the age of 20 and nearly died because I didn’t realise I had it. How I actually found out was from watching channel 4 embarrassing bodies and I was very lucky as I had the faster growing tumour of the two which I caught in its early stages.

After I found this lump I was worried about going to the doctors and getting it checked, as I was embarrassed about the doctor examining me. But I knew I had to go and get over my embarrassment as the doctors see things like this every day and its nothing to them, it’s just like them looking at your arm or your knee, and it’s just another part of the body.
So the next day when I went I just said “I would like you to check me I found a lump” and he then examined me and referred me to a specialist who I saw the following week who also examined me and sent for an ultrasound scan of my testicles, Then it was off for my blood to be taken to check the present of tumour makers. The same day I was told I had testicular cancer and my tumour markers were 258 and a normal person is between 0-1.
The course of action after the diagnoses was removal of my right testicle. This was upsetting for me to live as a young man with only one testicle but I knew I had two options and this one had the best outcome. After the operation I was told the cancer had spread to my back. And my cancer doctor told me that I had to go to a fertility clinic to store my sperm before starting treatment.

I was then given three course of chemotherapy to remove the bits in my back and to reduce the chance of it returning in future. I lost my hair on my first treatment but this didn’t bother me, as I would rather be bald then lose my life. During this time I was nearly in a coma three times this was because my white blood cells were completely zero as I had no immune system due to my treatment and nearly died.

That was when I was told that my cancer had been destroyed and I came to realise that I was not alone; many are affected by this disease from patients and their families to doctors, nurse. Knowing that gives you the strength and motivation to keep the fight going. I felt like I was one of the lucky ones and this made me feel an increased sense of responsibility to give something back and I don’t want to ever lose that!!

I believe a lack of knowledge combined with embarrassment can allow it to go unnoticed until it’s too late. That’s why I want to see a world where people take actions to beat cancer so no one dies needlessly of the disease. That’s why I’m committed to saving young men’s lives by raising awareness of testicular cancer.

Right now there are lots of young men and teenage boys who aren’t aware of the symptoms of testicular cancer as many as 2,000 young men are diagnosed every year and 71 die because they don’t recognise the signs.

So what I have done now is set up a project called “Talking Testicles” going into schools and raising awareness about the disease in my talks helps them to recognise the signs and symptoms and maybe even save their life.

I have been cancer free for a whole year and 7 months now… In some ways, this has been the most terrifying humbling experience of my live but in other ways; it has been the best thing ever to happen to me. I’m awake and aware it changed my life.

Being Circumcised

I am a 76 year old widower who like many of my generation was circumcised at birth I think I was about 7 before I realised that something important had been taken away from me. I always lacked self confidence and have come to think that I suffered from a unconscious form of Post traumatic stress disorder. For the last 3 years, with the support of NORMUK and a website called , I have been restoring my foreskin. Before that I did not know it was possible but I have regained a lot of sensitivity I never had before. I realise that although I was happily married for many years I was never very good at making love. I am aware that since the NHS came into being the number of men being circumcised has dropped considerably but some people are arguing, falsely, that it can prevent the transmission of AIDS and others do not realise that if they suffer from a tight foreskin (phimosis) that it can be resolved by stretching rather than circumcision.
I would plead with all fathers to do what I did and prevent my sons being circumcised I am sure that as well as being bad sexually it leads to personality and psychological problems. I just wish I had known about the potential for restoring the foreskin at least 50 years ago!

My hunger for control

I was 17 years old I suffered an injury playing rugby. This lead to an operation and meant that I could no longer play the game I loved.

By being forced to stop the sport I soon found myself drifting away from the social side of the hobby, falling away from close friends who I’d grown up and gone to school with and played the game with. Coupled with this, I found my self-confidence shrinking by the minute.

Until this point, I had been a happy, popular and ‘successful’ lad at school. But this one incident lead to a cascade of events which made me feel like I was ‘losing control’.
In a desperate attempt to regain control, of any nature I could, I began to limit the amount of food I ate. Over the next year or so, I began to take pleasure from the sensation of hunger. The more I denied my body the food it needed, the deeper my hunger became, and the greater the sense of control I felt being restored.
One day, the hunger became too much. And I began to purge. This quickly developed into a dangerous cycle of binge eating and vomiting. I ate whatever I could find.
The people closest to me saw that something was the matter, but I kept my illness a secret. I kept things behind the backs of those I loved the most. I lied. I became a very deceiving person, somebody I thankfully don’t recognise today.

Then, one day, I stopped making myself sick. The reason may surprise you. For years now, I’ve loved dance music. During my illness, the only social events I managed to attend were big club nights where I would go with a small group of friends to see the DJs we loved. On Boxing Day 2006, I knew that if I made myself sick I wouldn’t be able to stay up all night and see the DJs I so wanted to see that evening. I knew this because making myself sick made me, quite understandably, exhausted. Being a medical student, I now know the biological reason for this effect. So I chose not to make myself sick. I had the best night of my life.

I haven’t made myself sick since.

On that day, I found something that I wanted to do more than be ill. I know it was this that saved my life.

Over the next few months I gradually put weight back on, regained my strength, and physically recovered. I started university. I attended a B-eat self-help group session at university, and for the first time talked openly to other people about what I’d been through. I cried openly like a baby in front of complete strangers. And they empathised with me. They helped me, over many sessions, to consider, accept and understand what had happened to me. This helped me to recover mentally.

I now work closely with B-eat, because I am grateful for their help. I am about to qualify as a doctor, and intend to have a specialist interest in eating disorders as I develop my career.

And, as strange as it sounds, I’m grateful to dance music. It’s my passion.
I know that my past eating disorder made me what I am today. It shaped me to be what I see when I stare into the mirror. I want people to hear my story because, although it may not appear obvious on the surface, I have been in that dark place. I know what it’s like. An eating disorder robbed me of a potentially brilliant part of my life. But I’m lucky enough to be able to enjoy my life now. I know some people are not so lucky. It is those people who I wish to help. In whatever way I can.

From men get eating disorders too website

Previous exhibition: Nov 2011 Brighton

Dandelion Stories supported volunteers from the Mens Network to work with local men and women with learning disabilities to create an exhibition in Brighton to mark International Men’s Day.

The exhibition took the form or a paper trail of stories distributed with the help of men and women with a learning disability in locations around Brighton and Hove.  The stories describe male experiences and have information on the support groups associated with that experience.

http://brightonmanplan.wordpress.com/

Why Mummy’s bedroom door was closed…..

I remember the pillow being wet.

It was the first night I slept in a different house to my daughter and I woke up on a wet pillow, because I’d been crying in my sleep.

She was two at the time and my wife decided we should have a trial separation. She wanted to see other men and bring them home so I agreed to sleep at a friend’s house and give her space.

She told me the men would arrive when our daughter had gone to bed and would leave before she got up – like that made it ok!

Her mum worked full time so I looked after our daughter in the day. And I drove home from my friend’s house every morning, crying all the way.

On the first morning my wife was still in bed. I sat on the bed with her and she told me it was still warm from a man she’d been sleeping with for some weeks. And he’d left before our daughter got up, so that was ok.

So now I knew the trial separation was real for, I spent the day numbly being the best dad I could, playing with my daughter, feeding her, changing her, bathing her, putting her to bed.

And then her mum came home with another man – a new one – and I drove off to my friend’s, away from my family, drank myself to sleep and woke up again on a wet pillow.

When I arrived home the new man’s motorbike was still there.

Our daughter wasn’t awake, so that was ok, and I took our loyal, happy dog for a short, distracted walk.

When I got back I surveyed the downstairs to find evidence of adultery. I pieced together a picture of the night before – the last CD played, the smoked joints in the ashtray, the two wine glasses together (one flirtatiously smudged with lipstick) – all enjoyed after our daughter went to bed, so that was ok!

And then she woke up and I took her downstairs. I loved her like we’d been apart forever and she had no idea how far I’d travelled emotionally since I put her to bed – she just opened her eyes and I was there again.

At some point she toddled herself upstairs and I found her heading along the long hall to open the bedroom door at the very end where her mother and lover were sleeping.

I sprinted silently to catch her, not wanting to disturb them and picked her up. She protested – ‘I wanna see mummy’. I made some lame excuse why she couldn’t see mummy – and I don’t know which was worse – knowing the real reason or lying to my daughter.

Then downstairs a phone rang. It was the lover’s mobile and the display said ‘home calling’. The man had a wife of his own and out of loyalty to my wife I wanted to protect them from being caught so I ran upstairs and slipped the phone through the door and whispered urgently – ‘the phone rang’.

I later found out they were having sex at the time – my wife told me – and I made a picture of it in my head that still exists in my memory 10 years later like I really saw it happening.

Not long after this he left on his motorbike and we never saw him again. And what hurt most was that my wife had told me the day before that her men would leave before our daughter got up – and she’d lied.

A few weeks later she left and filed for divorce on the grounds of MY unreasonable behaviour.

We’ve shared custody of our daughter since and I still cry sometimes when she’s away. And whenever her mum lies – it reminds me of this story.