In ‘What Works For Me’ – a series of articles considering how we can find balance in our lives – we talk to people about their self-care strategies.
Professor Green sleeps with his bedroom curtains wide open, but it’s not because fame has turned him into an exhibitionist. The rapper and documentary-maker says being woken up by the sun each morning helps reduce his anxiety – forcing him out of bed and into a routine.
“If I’m in an anxious place in the morning and I’ve got a bit of a knot in my stomach, rather than feeding it, I nourish myself instead – I get out of bed and walk the dogs,” he tells HuffPost. “I just find that getting up and out and getting my day started, irrespective of what my sleep was like, makes me feel better.”
Starting his day earlier – and switching his phone off at 9pm to avoid distractions – also helps him “chip away” at his to-do list, which he used to find overwhelming.
“The longer you leave things the more they manifest, the more you have to do and the more difficult it seems to take that first step,” he says. “But I think the first step is the most important thing when it comes to mental health.”
The 35-year-old, whose real name is Stephen Manderson, has long been open about the mental health problems he’s had since childhood. Alongside anxiety, he’s experienced bouts of depression and continues to be affected by OCD.
“I used to count a lot when I was a kid, I’d twitch my leg muscle for every word that someone spoke,” he recalls. “[Now] my OCD often presents itself as hypochondria if everything starts to feel like it’s getting out of control, but I’ve got much better at recognising it.”
He describes his mental health as being in “a really good place” at the moment, and tells me he stopped taking the antidepressants he was prescribed last year.
“In the time when I was on them it did help break a negative thought cycle,” he says, adding that it changed some of his own preconceptions about medication. “But there’s a stigma that comes with it. I didn’t want it to define me, like ‘oh he’s on antidepressants’ and I’m quite stubborn. I like to try to fix things other ways if possible.”
Coming off them was tough, he admits: “I had terrible side effects. I was in bed for 17 hours a day when I was getting on them and it was a much similar thing while I was getting off them.”
This year marks 10 years since Manderson landed his first record deal. In that time, he’s witnessed how the music business is “one of the only industries where certain bad behaviours are celebrated”. But the decade has also taught him it’s unrealistic to aim for a consistently happy place – instead, he’s managed to find contentment.
“I think happiness is something that you feel – like sadness is, but I don’t think it’s necessarily a constant,” he muses. “If there’s any baseline, it’s really just [being] content, and being in a place where you’re able to experience the highs and the lows.”
A key part to finding this balance has been learning to say no, even when that means turning down work. Having been brought up by his ‘Nanny Pat’ in a working-class, Hackney household, it’s something that took years to get used to. “When you’re from a background like mine, there is no safety net, there is no plan B and I think: ‘I have to make this work’” he says.
But 10 years in the business has afforded him the confidence (and money) to know that turning down one job won’t cause the world to implode.
“There’s something really important in understanding what is good for you and not just doing what everyone else wants you to do,” he says. “Because if all you ever do is say yes to people, you’re never really being yourself, you’re just being who everyone else wants you to be.”
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The hardest opportunities to turn down are often the charity gigs, he says, that have continued to flood in since the release of his 2015 documentary ‘Suicide and Me’. The documentary followed Manderson as he sought to understand the factors that may have contributed to his father’s suicide, and the reasons why men still account for three-quarters of suicides in the UK.
It came at a time when discussion around mental heath and toxic masculinity were still in their infancy, and Manderson wasn’t sure how the film would be received. “I was worried about people seeing me crying, people seeing me upset – even down to things like me being booked for work and stuff,” he recalls. “I worried it was going to affect that, and that people would pass judgement.”
But the response was overwhelmingly positive, teaching Manderson a valuable lesson: it’s okay to be vulnerable.
“All anyone commended me for was my strength,” he says. “That made me realise there is a strength in vulnerability if you own it and if you’re honest with yourself about what your vulnerabilities are. You run into problems when you try to deny those vulnerabilities and that’s when you become unstuck.”
The documentary catapulted Manderson from rapper to role model and – in a new Gillette campaign – he talks about the role models that have had the greatest impact on his own life.
There’s Nanny Pat, for example, who became his legal guardian as a child after his mum left when he was one. His dad had become a father at 18 and was an intermittent presence in his life. Manderson saw his dad for the last time on his 18th birthday – and was told that he had taken his own life six years later.
He “hates to think where [he’d] be” without his beloved Nanny Pat, he says. “If I didn’t have her I would have been in care,” he tells me, adding that she taught him hard work while juggling three jobs. “Everything that was thrown at her, she bounced back.”
His manager Ged, who he’s had since he was 20, has become another parental figure. “Occasionally when I do really well at something, he’ll send me a message and say how proud he is of me,” Manderson says. “Don’t get me wrong, I would love to have had that from my dad, but me and Ged, we’re as much friends and brothers as he is any kind of parental figure.”
Despite finding ways to manage his mental wellbeing, through his music and these role models, Manderson maintains he’s still a “work in progress”.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen one day from the next,” he says. “I just hope this period where I’m at continues, because it makes life a hell of a lot easier and a hell of a lot more enjoyable.”
This Father’s Day, Gillette is celebrating all the role models that help you be your best. Join Gillette in thanking the people who’ve made a difference in your life. #MyRoleModel