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Angelena Boden

Angelena Boden

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In Men Feelings Run Deep

A recent radio programme featuring the loss of the steel plants in Teeside and the resultant redundancies brought home how badly men, in particula, are affected by redundancy and the hopelessness of trying to find new work once they reach fifty plus.

A moving story from a wife whose husband fell into a deep depression, triggering an increase in drinking and smoking and a steep decline in his health, took me back to a time when my first husband lost his business. Pulling up the walls of denial, he continued to go to his empty office and sit amongst the detritus of unpaid bills, lost orders and computers thick with dust, he became a phantom figure in the block of offices.

When he came home at the end of his so-called working day, he was angry and abusive and talked about a conspiracy to destroy him. Realising that his depression had taken on a new dimension, I tried to get him to seek medical help. The problem with paranoia, once it gets a hold, is that anybody who wants to help, doctors included, become co-conspirators in the plot. This went on for years. Money was tight as the family relied on my income and secret debts were uncovered yet he continued to deny and blame and rage. I didn’t want to divorce him – who walks away from someone in desperate need? – but I had to save myself and the children.

It’s a myth to think men don’t feel the pain and grief of loss whether it’s from the death of a parent, child or employment. Women are lucky to have empathy and sympathy from a wide circle of friends and we can talk about it… endlessly if necessary. We can openly cry, scream, rage and down copious amounts of wine in the safety of our networks because maybe we don’t feel the same need to be visibly resilient.  

Men who can find a healthy release from their grief have the chance to recover more quickly and find a new path but the silent majority suffer in silence and it can kill them.

My ex-husband returned to his family who in turn turned their verbal daggers against me. ‘This wouldn’t have happened if you’d been a proper wife,’ was the regular assault in the early days yet they’d failed to tell me he’d suffered bouts of depression in the past. Sadly he didn’t pick himself up enough to create a new life. Stories of men turning their faces to the wall in shame or self-hatred after losing a job or a business are not uncommon and I’ve seen some die well before their time because of little support and limited external services to help them cope.

Not everyone can take their redundancy payoff and set up a business so they can say, ‘Redundancy was the best thing that happened to me,’ as they celebrate making their first big sale. If you only know about steel or coal mining then it’s unrealistic you can suddenly turn your hand to bar work or cake-making. Some do, of course, but on vastly reduced wages and hours and against fierce competition from younger workers.

We need to increase the mental health support for anyone who finds themselves unemployed and that should include help for their desperate families. Depression can manifest in abuse and who knows how far that can go?


Crisis can bring us together

I hear people asking the big question: ‘When will the craziness end?’  I assume they mean the murder, mayhem and extremist behaviour we’ve been witnessing for the past year and more.  It’s interesting though how a few of these conversations seem to be within the context of self. Here’s what I mean.

I’ve cancelled my holiday to Turkey this year (and it’s all their fault!).  I wonder if my grandparents said, ‘we planned to visit Auntie Flo but her house has been bombed and it’s not fair.

My understanding is that the war and subsequent major conflicts have brought people and communities together, sharing  what they had, comforting those in despair and working in a spirit of love, hope and co-operation.

There will always be a selfishness and a survival of the fittest when disaster strikes but in my experience it’s rivalled by the kindness of strangers. People check on their neighbours and help the physically less able with shopping or cooking and provide a supporting shoulder for the vulnerable. I remember when it was commonplace to take hot meals round to the recently bereaved as a way of showing empathy. Food is a uniting factor when times are tough.

New bonds are forged in times of crisis. People talk to each other face to face to share their fears and feel a sense of solidarity that’s not there when all is right with the world.  Yes, there will be people who take advantage of such situations by escalating criminal activity and trying to capitalise on the misfortune of others but watching how individuals have risked their lives to help survivors of earthquakes, tsunamis and war should give us hope that the intrinsic nature of people is altruistic and not selfish. 

We don’t have to look overseas to ceaseless acts of kindness when disaster strikes. The floods in Cumbria in late 2015 brought out helpers from all over northern England whatever their nationality or religion. Even if we can’t physically clear homes of filthy water and damaged possessions, we can offer a cup of tea or even a few moments of comfort.

Working with the homeless has shown me that it’s sharing our time and showing our care that has more impact than throwing a few coins into a plastic cup. Creating a bond even for a short time is about making a human to human connection, something most of us need when the world feels like a frightening place as it does right now.

We look on helplessly as more people around the world are murdered by whatever means at their disposal and belief systems however twisted and we wonder what we can do. We light candles, create hashtags, lay flowers in the hope it might help. Even though this small act of solidarity has been criticised by mean spirited commentators, it shows that in our helplessness, we are joining together against acts of evil, there’s nothing we can do to stem the tide of hatred and terror.

But there is something we can do. We can stop the keyboard warrior behaviour which doesn’t help heal the hatred and divisions we see in society. If we want real change then we need to be part of the solution and not add to the problem.

 Let’s show a bit of blitz spirit and help just one person in need of company, conversation and comfort. It might make us feel a little bit more in control in these extraordinary times.


GRIT - not a new idea

GRIT – not such a new idea.

 All three of my school prizes were for Grit and Determination. Even back in the sixties, this was seen as a quality to be proud of, but I saw it as an ‘also ran’ prize. I wanted recognition for my skill in French or English Language.  Nowadays, having ‘grit’ is a promoted as a positive trait based on passion and perseverance with schools being offered awards for helping young people to develop these qualities so they can leave school more rounded and equipped to deal with life’s inevitable knocks. There’s a certain commercialisation about it.

 I grew up at a time where central heating was not common place – coal fires provided heating in our home – and frost patterns on the bedroom windows greeted us in the mornings. I remember a mad dash to get dressed for school, sometimes pulling on clothes under the bedding during the Great Freeze of 1963. It made me tough.

Baths were limited to a few inches of water twice a week but we were lucky as many homes in the 1960’s still didn’t  have bathrooms. A tin bath was dragged in front of the fire and filled with water from the kettle.  Chicken was a Sunday treat with the rest of the week’s main meals made up of cheap cuts of meat, potatoes and plenty of vegetables. Most women baked, sewed, knitted and mended, stretching the weekly housekeeping to the best of their ability. I don’t remember going hungry or without school uniform but I do remember being incredibly cold and miserable in our solid walled bungalow.

We didn’t think of it as hardship as my father was always in work and my mother at home. The message I received was ‘Cash only and hard work brings rewards.’

My early training in grit and determination got me through and out of a controlling relationship, helped me build a business and become fiercely independent, survive a breakdown and help others to do the same. It helped develop a strength of character that helped me pursue goals without giving up when times got tough but more importantly to keep pushing through physical and emotional pain without complaining or blaming.

Books, training courses, workshops and presentations on Grit and Resilience seem to be ubiquitous these days and I wonder if it is something that can be taught in a theoretical framework.

 For me, it was something that developed out of necessity although having a strong personality helped. It’s one thing to become hardened to life’s knocks and shocks and blunder through life in a state of numbed disassociation but can we really develop tenacity and stoicism as an applied skill? 

Grit is about stickability and rigor.  We didn’t talk about goals or passion.  We talk about ‘gritty resolve’ to achieve something and trusting in our own ability. It’s about not relying on others to solve problems but figuring it out for ourselves. Sink or swim.

In 2012, the concept of ‘grit’ became more prominent thanks to Paul Tough’s book, ‘How children succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character.’

My Dad would probably be rolling his eyes at all this analysing and labelling of what we took on as a matter of course. I can hear him saying, ‘ You get up and get on with it. What’s to talk about?’ 




If there’s one word I am heartily sick of hearing it’s Brexit. Even the sound of it sets my fillings rattling.  I don’t stand in either camp as I have this unhelpful knack of being able to see things from both sides but as this is not a political commentary,  I’m not engaging in that debate. Plenty of people, much smarter than I, have done the demolition work on the result. As a believer of accept and move on, my eye is on the pile of poo people have been slinging across the divide over the past week and it’s beginning to stink.

I’m not going to describe myself as a specialist but I have spent over thirty years observing and studying behaviour in order to help individuals, couples and organisations resolve conflict. Behaviourists can offer all sorts of theories as to why we do what we do and mediators can use proven methods to encourage compromise and reach win-win solutions. As a trainer I’ve used tried and tested methods to help resolve customer disputes, friction between colleagues and all-out war within families. 

We think we can hurl rocks of vicious and abusive language at people who don’t share our views and cry, ‘you’re too sensitive’ or trot out the ‘sticks and stones’ adage to prove that it’s their problem. No. It’s ours.

Words hurt. They can cut so deeply and become entrenched in the mind’s pathways that some people can tip over into depression and worse.  We’ve seen the effect that overt bigotry has had on individuals and groups who are going about their everyday business. We’ve watched with open mouths the insults spewed out by both sides of the political divide, burning with acrimony and blame. Screaming ‘it’s democracy, get over it on comment sections of serious politic debate cuts no ice in the end. It gets boring.

When we start to accuse professors and people who have spent their life’s work studying economics, politics and social behaviour of being incompetent and resorting to four letter words to express rage, powerlessness and frustration we need to heed the words of Robbie Burns. In paraphrase he said, ‘the greatest gift we have is to see ourselves as others see us,’ and the picture isn’t always pretty. *

No matter how deep and raw emotions might be, we are civilised enough to express our viewpoints in a calm, rational and above all caring manner. We don’t have to agree with another’s perspective on a situation but we do have a choice as to how we debate, argue, disagree. Understanding behaviour as everything we do and everything we say and accepting that it has an impact on those on the receiving end, even if they put up a protest, is the start of healthy communication and moving things forward.

What right to I have to insult, criticise, blame or spew hatred at another?  If I come across somebody who is negative and in a state of permanent rage I talk to them. Calmly, softly, kindly. It’s surprising how quickly the emotion dies down and they are willing to tell you their story. Then it’s down to you and me to listen and try to understand.

*To A Louse – Robbie Burns.

O wad some Power the giftie gie us

To see oursels as ithers see us!

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