Content warning: this post contains references to depression, anxiety, substance abuse, domestic violence, suicide.
On the fifth of March, 1991, my twin brother died. Some of you will already know this; it's not a secret, and indeed it was something I talked about in a Fireside Chat video recorded a few years ago.
What I've talked about less is the effect that had on my mental health; it's fair to say that it somewhat blighted my twenties with depression, I'm sure that it, at times, made me not an altogether pleasant person to be around.
And anniversaries, or big news events, can sometimes bring a lot of feelings flooding back. That can manifest in things like anxiety - you probably wouldn't believe how much I sometimes dread attending BLUF events - or self-medication through injudicious use of alcohol.
But, on the whole, I've been lucky. I've been able to access help and, at times, proper medication when I've needed to, and after over thirty years, I'm reasonably good at managing these things. Not everyone is so lucky.
Many of us have, as we grew up, been told that "boys don't cry" or "real men don't show emotion" - the sort of things that's often referred to as toxic masculinity. To an extent, I think the leather scene itself can also impose some of those pressures, as some of us strive to create the image of the perfect, strong leather man - whether as top or bottom.
And, as a result, some of us break, in different ways. We fight with our mental health, too ashamed or frightened to seek help. Or we seek refuge in drink, or drugs. Some of us break for different reasons; over the years, I've temporarily given a bed to a few gay friends who've suffered domestic violence. For other people, it's bullying or harassment at work, or even physical attacks in the street.
Whatever the cause, some people find it hard to cope. But there are people who can help.
In 2021, we added a Helpline option on the BLUF web site - you'll find it on the Info menu if you haven't already. This is provided by our partnership with Find A Helpline, who provide an up to date directory of crisis helplines in over 100 countries around the world. These helplines cover a wide range of subjects, including suicide, substance abuse, domestic violence, and general LGBT help.
Starting this Spring, we aim to go further, with a new BLUF campaign called Time To Talk; you'll see the first fruits of this on our stand at Darklands in Antwerp next week, with posters that we've produced in conjunction with RealClearFetish!, and a new set of contact cards - you can also see all the current versions in the photos attached to this blog post.
The contact cards have the message 'Time to talk. Sometimes, we all need a little help' on the front, and on the rear is the URL for Find A Helpline, plus a QR code that can be scanned with a phone to go straight to their list of helplines.
We've so far produced the first run - of 1,000 cards - with messages in English, German, French, Spanish and Dutch. They'll be available first at Darklands, and my intention is that, hopefully by mid-summer, we will have arranged to have at least a small supply of these available in every venue where BLUF events are hosted.
Whether someone wants to pick up a card to take away, or discretely snap the QR code to use later, I hope that this initiative will enable people to reach out and find the support that they need, wherever they are in the world.
Please remember, whatever the problem, however big and insurmountable it may seem, there is help out there.
It's time to talk.