Here’s the text for the 1 February 2022 “Pause for Thought” I offered on the Early Breakfast Show with Vanessa Feltz on BBC Radio 2. The theme is related to “Time to Talk Day, the nation’s biggest mental health conversation”. Listen in here.
I come from a family of chatterboxes. When we get together, it’s never quiet. Stories are spun, jokes are told, laughter abounds.
My Dad is like this everywhere he goes. He’s a motorcycle-riding, fire-fighting, pint-buying, hard-living, exhaustingly-exuberant guy who wants everyone he meets to join the party. His friends call him “Wild Bill”. One time at a pub he convinced everybody in the room to push their tables together into one big, raucous conversation. He moved through the crowd like a cruise director.
I’m not as gabby as him but I am definitely his son: I love a good natter almost as much as he does. But as I’ve grown up, I’ve noticed another similarity between us. We both love to talk, but we’re also both emotional bottlers. We don’t easily share our feelings. We’re prone sometimes to stay on the surface of things, and our chattiness can be an anxious way of avoiding the uncomfortable stuff inside of us.
Maybe because Dad struggles with that, too, he’s been a source of great help to me.
Like when I told my family I was gay. In 1995, in the American South, coming out was really controversial. When told my parents, very unlike him – Dad didn’t say anything for a while. Finally he spoke up: “Son, I love you, I’m getting us a pizza, we’re gonna talk, and everything’s going to be okay.”
Or a time later in life, when I sank into an unexpected depression that absolutely walloped me. I didn’t know what to do, so I called Dad. And he didn’t rush in with empty words, he didn’t say “push through it” or “don’t worry about it” or “stiff upper lip” or any of that nonsense. He just said: “tell me about it”. And he listened as I discovered how important it is to talk.
There’s a Bible verse where Jesus says: “Don’t be afraid: nothing is hidden that won’t be revealed; nothing is secret that won’t be made known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light.”
Dad’s not really a church-goer, but he’s taught me so much about God. How talking vulnerably – how bringing the deepest and sometimes scariest stuff into the light – is not only good for my mental health, but is also healing for my soul.