Rob Vanston is a student studying a Creative Writing MA at the University of Brighton, and has an unhealthy interest in cosmic horror. He is currently doing a writer’s residency for the Centre of Arts and Wellbeing where his aim is to explore the experiences and benefits of mindfulness on his creative work through this blog.


“If your knee was holding you back and making you limp everywhere, you’d go see a physical therapist. There is no shame at all in admitting you need help with your mind. None.”

–– Arnold Schwarzenegger


I’m not the best at opening up. If I have a problem like a lack of sleep, a deadline cropping up, or a mild financial worry, I tend to keep these details to myself, like a dirty secret that no one needs to know about. The insomnia then turns me into a zombie automaton running on caffeine fumes and Pot Noodles, the deadlines creep closer and the money problem starts festering like black mould crawling up a once pristine wall until its consumed every thought and every minute of my precious sleeping time. My partner starts asking what’s wrong and I decide to give her my generic response: ‘ I’m just tired is all’, instead of telling her the real truth that ‘I have a deadlines due, and I may struggle to pay the gas bill this month. I really need help organising stuff.’

Meanwhile, whilst I’m fobbing off my partner, I’ve still not found the time or motivation to get that commentary or essay written that’s due in the next few days, and have been playing Star Trek Fleet Command in order to take my mind off things. I begin to panic, I want to disappear, vanish for a week or two, hoping that the university and my work colleagues (who I’ve been ratty with), won’t miss me. Twenty-four hours slips to two and I still haven’t got the nerve to ask Jess for an extension because I feel that will just cause more aggravation because she’ll ask more questions, because everything will seem trivial to her. Because, because, because. You get the picture.

Although it may seem that this response to my issues might help avoid dealing with them, in reality it poses several problems between myself and my partner, and threatens my time at university. Jess would have helped, along with most tutors on my course she understands, and doesn’t want to anyone to fail or, more importantly, suffer a mental breakdown, but this thought doesn’t enter my brain because it’s hell bent on panicking. During this time my partner’s probably noticed I’m quieter than usual, possibly got a permanent frown on. This in turn makes her feel frustrated at not being able to get a proper conversation out of me. Meanwhile, I’m hoping she doesn’t ask me about my issues because to talk about them means having to open up and answer many questions – which I’ve got no answer too. I feel like she’s badgering me. Not only that, when she asks me to do something around the house I get arsey because I’ve got bigger problems on my mind than hoovering or tidying up. And when I do get to do what she asks, I’ve done it wrong because my thoughts are elsewhere. As this spirals out of control, my partner’s well-being also takes a battering and we both end up feeling low, all because of the invisible tension between us, and my lack of communication.

In their latest findings, The Priory learnt that of the 1000 men they surveyed 77% of them have suffered a mental health issue like anxiety, stress or depression. The survey was commissioned to better understand how men think and react to their own mental health. The biggest cause of mental health problems are work (32%), financial worries (31%) and their own health (23%). 40% of those surveyed said that it would take suicidal thoughts to push them into seeking help. Latest figures show that 74% of all suicides relating to mental health in the UK are committed by men. The Priory’s findings also concluded that 40%, not necessarily the same 40% as before, have never spoken to anyone about their mental health, with 22% admitting they would not feel comfortable talking to their GP about their issues. But the figure that is most worrying is that out of the 1000 men, 29% said that they were ‘too embarrassed’ to seek help because of the stigma attached to asking for help. This means that if these men had spoken to someone or asked for help the previous figures might well have been a lot lower.

The reasons for this is that men associate asking for help for a psychological or emotion issue as a sign of weakness and shame, which is one of the defining key elements in toxic masculinity. Men have been culturally trained and socially pressured to be tough, strong, aggressive, to reject all feminine traits such as accepting help, domesticity, emotion (which leads to being emotionally hardened). Men have an unhealthy fascination with power and only feel worthy if they are seen to have money, status, and influence. Toxic masculinity is our Kryptonite.

Other reasons for men avoiding or not asking for help is that they feel that friends and loved ones may not understand them, or they may just be lonely and have no one to turn to. Everyone at some stage of their life needs help. When we were children we got help from our parents, what is wrong with asking for it when you’re an adult? When is the right time to ask for help? Before your problems consume you or when you think it’s too late?

This is where – for me – mindfulness comes in. The stigma surrounding mindfulness is related to the way it has been promoted; ‘softer emotions, peace, compassion, tenderness, love and vulnerability’ are all things associated with the feminine image. Which is weird because mindfulness and meditation has been practised for thousands of years mainly by male monks. The recent sessions I’ve been undertaking have helped my composure, but you can’t just expect one or two sessions to solve a mental health issue. Mindfulness is an ongoing routine, the more you do it the more it become ingrained in your daily lifestyle. That’s why millions of people worldwide are devoted followers of it. I still have the odd wobble or a minor panic, but that’s good. It shows I still care about my life choices and my wellbeing. I’ve learnt that if things get too much or if I’m struggling with my sleep pattern, it’s okay to just stop and take time out. Doing this helps to slow my thought patterns down a bit.

After each meditation session I go home with a feeling I can only describe as calm, almost euphoric, but not in the sense of a drug induced all-night rave, no, this euphoria is different. It’s a bit like turning a computer off if it’s overheating and giving it time to cool off, so that when you turn it back on again it can complete tasks far quicker than before. The bus journey home is the most reflective I’ve been all week. It gives me time to take hold of what has been another busy week. I sit and stare out of the moving window, watching the frantic lifestyles of Brightonians as they go about their daily lives. My thoughts are rearranging the rest of week. I have a plant-based horror poetry anthology to be getting on with, a blog to rewrite, a dog to walk, and two submissions to magazines to send off.

Cooper enjoying a spot of mindfulness. Photo by author.

First I’ll walk Cooper, use this time to think about the composition of the poem, then retreat to the spare room where the for the rest of the afternoon, I’ll split my time between the poem, the blog, and at least one of the submissions, and in that order because I read somewhere meditation and poetry are good buddies.

After I’ve done my writing, I sit with my partner and pluck up the courage to tell her how my week has been. She’s noticed the dark saggy bags under my eyes, and asks how much sleep I’ve had. She frowns at my answer. I need sleep, but I do need to study. I’m often up 6am most Tuesday mornings, my body clock is used to this. I normally walk Cooper, and then start studying until midday and then walk Cooper again before going back to bed eight hours later. I could do a couple hours of study, then go straight back to bed. I don’t have to get up until at least 6pm, have tea and then go to work. That’d give me at least six or seven extra hours of unadulterated prime kipping time. The next time I hit the pillow will probably be Wednesday 10pm. The stress of the last few days has resided, just by finding a permanent solution to my sleep disorder. Better to have a full days shut eye than be the walking dead for a day. I then tell her about the possibility of our heating bill being slightly higher and might struggle to pay the difference. This too has a resolution. We both agree to only turn on the central heating at a certain time of the day for a few hours; the rest of the time we’ll just have to slum it in double jumpers with hot drinks.

She then takes an interest in the poem that I’ve spent all afternoon composing. So I decide to read it to her, it’s called A Moment from Now. I tell her it’s the second draft, no one should read their first (there will be more rewrites, I’m certain of this):

moments from now
the trees will be forgotten
and we will live with regrets

the lungs of this world
will struggle to breathe
and the octopi will rule

My problems are trivial compared to others, but they do impact my life when I reflect upon them. Left unchecked they lose their triviality and could spiral into a mental breakdown. Some issues aren’t as simple as this to solve though, so I would implore anyone that is suffering any form of mental distress no matter how trivial to get in touch with either their tutors or a professional mental health worker. Problems are best when their solved and not left to fester, best solved sooner rather than later.

If you need help or further information:
Tel: 0300 123 3393
Tel: 0330 094 5717 (Local charges may apply)
Or 116 123 (free from any phone)

The British Snoring & Sleep Apnoea Association
Tel: 01284 717688

Or talk to our Student Support and Guidance Tutors who can help you with any issues impacting your studies and wellbeing here at the university


Read Rob Vanston’s other blog posts in this series –
Writer in Residence | Rob Vanston | Mindfulness: How Meditation Can Help With Mind Clutter

Writer in Residence | Rob Vanston | Mindfulness: Reverie–The Calm after the Storm


1. Arnold Schwarzenegger quoted in Sarah Al-Mahmoud, “Arnold Schwarzenegger Gets Candid About Men’s Mental Health, Therapy, And How He Feels Social Media Has Changed Us,” Cinema Blend [Online], 22nd April 2023. Available at: < >. [Accessed on 20th February 2024].

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