How are you today?

What I’m about to describe happened a few years ago, but the exact ‘when’ doesn’t matter. It’s a scene that could play out on any day - around the breakfast table, in the office, at the pub - so we’ve probably all experienced something like it at some point.

A colleague arrived at work in one of those ‘silly’ moods; all light-heartedness, jokes and random comments. It lifted the place and made life seem more fun. As we develop into adults, we lose the free-spirited creativity and curiosity we had as children, so this colleague’s mood on this particular day was exactly what the world needs more of.

What, then, do you think another colleague said to them? What do you think this other colleague contributed to the improved atmosphere? It made my heart sink, so you may be able to guess.

They asked: What’s wrong with you today?

Colleague 1 could have sat at their desk in a bad mood and nobody would have said a thing, which is arguably worse. Part of that would have been us giving them some space, but part of it would have been the acceptance of such a mood as normal.

For them to exhibit positive behaviour and it immediately be questioned perhaps says more about Colleague 2 than anything else. But it also speaks to wider issues of conforming with what the people around us expect, rather than what is true to ourselves.

How often do you feel like you’re expected to wear a mask and pretend to be something you’re not?

How often does somebody ask, How are you today? and you give an answer you think they want to hear, rather than the one you need to give?

Appearing vulnerable, especially in certain social circles or in the workplace, is something that many of us feel we can’t do. We may not recognise the feelings to give proper voice to them, but that only makes it more important to be honest with the people around us.

At the end of last week, I felt overwhelmed by everything I’ve got going on. I wondered if I’d bitten off more than I could chew; committed to too many things without thinking about how I could give them all the attention and energy they deserve.

I tried to recognise the feelings for what they were and accept them, then told myself there was no point letting them get on top of me. It wasn’t a cure, but it helped.

And then, on Saturday, a little calmer but still somewhat anxious, I went to the latest rehearsal for Man Up. I’ve written before about being part of the project, and I have to keep finding new ways of expressing what a positive experience it is.

Restoke, the organisation creating the show, have made a space where we, the participants, are comfortable being ourselves. Each week I am privileged to listen to the stories of others, expressed honestly. I learn something new about the people I’m singing, dancing and laughing with, and I’m given permission to be myself. It’s exciting to know we’ll soon be sharing that positivity and openness through the show that is coming together, week by week.

In the spirit of this post, therefore, I’m going to finish with a question, and I encourage you to answer it honestly. Mull it over in private or leave a comment, whatever you’re most comfortable with. The question is this:

How are you today?

Tickets for Man Up are now on sale via the Restoke website. If you’re in and around the Stoke and Staffordshire area, please consider sharing details about the show with friends, family and colleagues - anybody you think will be interested by its themes. Hope to see you there!

 The flyer for Man Up, by Restoke, about masculinity and mental health.