By Carla Louise Gailey
Photos By: Yuvi K
In light of Movember, I chatted to eight exceptionally inspiring men who comfortably opened up to me, and shared their thoughts on men’s mental health in the hope to raise awareness and destigmatise these issues. It’s incredible to see how much power there is in vulnerability and I am honoured that these men trusted me enough to share their stories through my words.
Co-owner of RECON, creator and collaborator, Matt has an inimitable passion for movement, nutrition and music, and is on the relentless pursuit for alternative ways for emotional, mental, physical and spiritual healing through Eastern and Western medicine.
Mantra: “Growth over discomfort”
Where do I even begin with this individual? To categorize Matt would be unjustifiable and nor will I even attempt to do so. It’s clear to me that Matt is an individual who has always firmly gone against the grain of what is deemed “societal norm”. Getting to know Matt, and being a mere spectator of his self-discovery journey, watching him follow his passion of discovering alternative ways for emotional, physical, mental and spiritual healing has been both enlightening and inspiring. I had the pleasure of spending an afternoon with Matt, to peel away at some of the layers that encompass the charmingly charismatic individual behind his orange sunglasses. In between mindful sips of his recently launched Recon Limitless coffee, infused with medicinal mushroom extracts, he swiftly dove into the struggles that he feels men are facing today. “As men, we are taught and programmed to be constantly dialed in, to “man-up”, be the bread-winner, the alpha and to be perpetually competitive with our fellow brothers. To me, there is no comparison, just connection”, Matt explains. “Often when we feel comfortable to share our emotions with others, we are frequently told to stop being sensitive, weak and to just move on. I think this is one of the biggest struggles men face and then, subsequently, we turn to vices and substances, such as alcohol or drugs” he elaborates. “Alcohol especially, in my opinion, is something that brings out one’s subconscious thoughts and feelings, and I think that is why men gravitate towards it and thus potentially end up excessively over-indulging in it. It’s these substances that assist us in unmasking those feelings without having the feeling of guilt or shame attached to it, and allow us to let go and release our true emotions: whether that may be anger, insecurities, comparison or lust”, he explains. Matt has often found himself in circumstances of using alcohol as a form of escape and a way to mask and hide from his own emotions. Through years of research of finding ways to heal from traumas and insecurities, he has uncovered tools through both Eastern and Western medicine, movement — especially through yoga, intermittent fasting, herbal supplements, intuitive and nutritious eating, mindfulness, meditation and cold water therapy, and has slowly but surely been peeling away the layers of his respective struggles, tapping into his most authentic self and finding his utmost potential in becoming the very best version of himself. Spend a few minutes with Matt and you’ll see that it is evident that he is the product of his preachings. Matt urges men to embrace their individualities, sink into their emotions, feel a sense of safety to be vulnerable and seek ways of peeling away at those layers and unearth the tools that work for them and their respective healing processes. “For me, healing myself through thoughts, having faith, enjoying the journey and not being attached to the outcome are the ultimate keys to contentment and enlightenment”, he gushes.
Chasing elite times, Dave’s passion for social media is filled with his running journey while educating others on living a holistic life and all things Benji (his doggo).
Mantra: How badly do you want it?
I’m almost certain that by now you’ve heard of local amateur runner Dave, or otherwise known as Davey on the run. Dave is an enthusiastic athlete and #fitfluencer who is using his platform to inspire and motivate others through peak performance, health, lifestyle and most importantly self-love. His daily posts and reels on his social media accounts will either leave you inspired or in stitches of laughter, or better yet, both. “One of the biggest challenges I have had to overcome is the lack of self-love. My difficult past placed me in a mental space that had me questioning my self-worth and confidence and made me place other’s happiness before my own thus feeding off of their energy, rather than feeding off my own”. One thing Dave realized was that you truly cannot love others until you learn to love yourself. “I use each day as an opportunity to be proud of the person I am and who I am becoming”, he describes.
Vulnerability for Dave is multifaceted, to him, it means to be different, to want more, to want less, to step outside of the boundaries that society places us in, but most of all, being vulnerable means to be entirely yourself. “When you can truly be yourself, without a shadow of a doubt, that’s when you’re being truthfully vulnerable”, he explains. While Dave is not spreading inspiration on his social platforms by educating others on living a holistically wholesome lifestyle, he still makes time in his busy schedule for his full-time career, working with local brands, spending time with loved ones and snuggling his dog Benjamin. “I believe that with mental strength, self-love and a great support system, that is the perfect recipe for a happy and healthy life”, Dave explains.
Devon is the proud and passionate owner and founder of Grow Green and Nature’s Relief who is passionate about natural alternatives to traditional medicine and supplements to assist the human body in their health, wellness and performance.
Mantra: Be the best you can be and make the most of each moment, keep it simple, fail fast, learn faster and keep smiling.
When I met Devon, I was so excited to meet someone who is as much of a detailed storyteller as I am. Devon is exactly that person, and for that, I am immensely grateful. Coming from a professional rugby background, Devon learnt a variety of valuable lessons not only about the body’s performance and recovery but also about humans and working together towards one common goal. After a few injuries and surgeries, and many highs and lows, these led Devon to pay close attention to his mind and body and learnt how to perform both mentally and physically. Injuring yourself as an athlete takes major tolls on one’s body, in both a physical and psychological sense, “I had a lot of negative thoughts surrounding me after my surgeries, and I was exceptionally hard on myself. Now, I just try to practice taking the lessons I have learnt, and focus on my future self, rather than my past perceptions”, Devon describes. “Accept that you are a constant work in progress, and be okay to open up to others about your weaknesses. We all have them. You’d be surprised how many people share similar struggles, and together, you can share your tools in strengthening these weaknesses”, he says. The biggest stigma around men’s mental health, for Devon, is that a lot of people think men don’t suffer from mental health issues and that they can solve them on their own. “I think we can destigmatize this through meaningful conversions, being honest and breaking down your fears. Fear is just an illusion as it’s an estimated prediction of your future outcome”, he describes. Devon wants to encourage people, especially men, to take a leap of faith, always have integrity, a strong work ethic, find balance in all areas of their lives, and share their fears, obstacles and experiences with others in order to connect and learn from one another.
Craig is a certified Business and Self Development Coach, offering one-on-one coaching to individuals looking to level up their lifestyle. Having traveled to nearly 70 countries across the globe, Craig has worked with a wide range of individuals helping them find their purpose, or get back on their path to freedom as they navigate the trials of the internal and external world around them.
Mantra: Die with Memories, Not with Dreams!
I have never known someone to be so committed to an article and photoshoot, that he would fly down to Umhlanga from his temporary home in Johannesburg so that he could be present and be a part of this movement. This is just one of many admirable characteristics of Craig that I am inspired by. Craig and his wife Belle, own a company called “The Feel Good Movement” which assists individuals in finding themselves, energy, exercise, lifestyle, gratitude, optimism, overcoming and development (can you spot the FEEL GOOD acronym yet?). “Our goal is to change the world, one person, at a time and create a community of empowered individuals fulfilling their ultimate life desires”, he describes. Through his many trials and tribulations, loss, grief, travel, liquidation, coaching and travels, Craig has found a massive sense of empowerment and strength through seeking tools to heal, grow and inspire others through his story and others’ stories he’s learnt on his journey of life. When tapping into what vulnerability means for Craig, he simply explained: “As someone who grew up with two sisters and a predominately female extended family, I have had to learn for myself what it’s like to cope amongst the alpha males and the masculine ego, especially working in industries that are extremely militant and rely on a dominant hierarchy. As a result, this left me feeling vulnerable at times, but through my work, I have now come to deeply understand the importance and value of vulnerability in a man’s growth and development and that the old way of thinking is outdated”. Through travelling the world, Craig learnt that we get to choose our environment and those we spend time with. “I’ve discovered that there are so many men out there who have walked the similar life paths as I have and can communicate on a different level. This has shown me that vulnerability can be one of the greatest tools a man can master. Vulnerability is strength, not weakness”, he explains. Craig’s aim is to help men recognise their potential and embrace their most powerful and authentic self, so they can face the world feeling empowered and help others do the same. A lot of his coaching is focused on allowing my clients to speak openly to a non-biased person, and sometimes by simply saying what’s on their mind, they find a sense of calmness deep down that they never knew they had.
Ex-rugby player, ex-vegan, ex-aspiring management accountant, and ex-English teacher, in the current pursuit of his true purpose of producing inimitably nutritious food and healing the Earth through regenerative, Biodynamic and Permaculturist farming practices.
Mantra: To leave the Earth just a little bit better than when I arrived here.
The first time I met Brendan, he played a prank on me by offering me a shot of soy sauce instead of Jagermeister, following this jokester-move, and an evening of laughter with friends that went well into the early hours of the morning and it was then, that I knew that this human was one in a million and that there was may more than meets the eye to him.
After experiencing a relatively traumatic childhood amongst a myriad of issues, Brendan found himself unconsciously spending his youth, training for sport, turning to unhealthy vices, Brendan would do anything to quietly escape and attempt to work through the deep-rooted emotions that were trapped into his subconscious mind. Brendan went on to pursue his dream of becoming a professional rugby player until he suffered a severe back injury in 2016 which abruptly ended his career. “That was the greatest blessing in disguise I could have ever asked for”, Brendan explains. He lost roughly 30kgs of muscle which he described that felt like his “identity”. This granted Brendan the opportunity to begin detaching himself from the ego, and found himself being drawn to meditation, Tai Chi, Yoga, and made him start to introspectively observe and examine his thoughts, fundamental beliefs and ideas and what impact he wanted to have on Earth and those around him.
Through various healing methodologies, and being inspired by various influential beings, Brendan has used his learnings to achieve optimal health in all spheres of his life. “One of my biggest influences has been Paul Check and his four Doctor’s approach, this has been truly profound and an integral part of my journey thus far”, Brendan reveals. A difficult obstacle for Brendan has been to let go of concealing his true feelings and let go of trying to “fit in” with the rest of society, especially in terms of masculinity. “Vulnerability means having the courage to reveal your true self to others at the risk of being ridiculed, hurt, or harmed. Vulnerability is being brave enough not to care what others think, knowing that we’re all different pieces of a huge puzzle, and although we may be different – each of us are a unique and equally important part of the greater whole”, he describes. “I encourage men to take the time to look deeply within and connect with their true essence and who they truly are, behind the facades that others’ expectations of us have required and stipulated we should be. To spend time in introspective and contemplative practices to really find out who and what you are, to explore and search for your inner light and let it radiate. Without fear of the repercussions, consequences, judgments, or even the outcome. Just total and utter acceptance of who YOU are because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind”, he concludes.
Mawanda is the owner of Creative Replay and is a successful financial planner and content manager for some of the largest property groups in Africa.
Mantra: Stay in your lane and go full speed.
It’s most exceptionally difficult to not be happy in the presence of Mawanda, his contagious smile is one that can turn any frown upside down. Getting to know him through a series of questions and providing a safe space for him to open up, I found myself exceptionally inspired by his story. As a young boy, Mawanda always knew that his purpose in life was to be attached to creativity, his heart for innovation and entrepreneurship. Through his company, Creative Replay, he believes in sharing love and inspiring humanity through media and creative innovation. Mawanda has faced many challenges in life, but one that stands out was embracing a difficult role he had to take on in Matric. “After my parents separated, we had to move from a home to a flat with my exceptionally hard-working mom. This was a devastating time for us all. It was then that the concept of stepping up from being a boy into a man was introduced to me. I started paying rent at home from matric, did my best to make sure we have always had a roof over our heads and shielded my sisters from everything that was going on behind the scenes”, Mawanda explains. “Being in a place where I had to take responsibility and work from a young age, has really been a trying journey, but the rewards of growth on the other side have been so worth it”, he explains. For Mawanda, there are three monumental things that help him navigate any challenging season, these being his relationship with God, his inner circle, and constantly questioning himself with: “What are you feeding on?”. Mawanda believes that stigmas around men and mental health have been created by the relationships amongst fathers and their sons, and sadly according to our stats in South Africa, these relationships are mostly non-existent. Paired with a backwards mindset that “to be a man is to not show your emotions”, has been passed down to different generations. He explains, “I feel the best way for us to de-stigmatize this, is for men of all ages to actually start sharing their struggles and how they have overcome them, in other words for us to be vulnerable, open, and honest”. “With talking, comes awareness and an opportunity for us to be more open-minded as to how we share and face our feelings without feeling like one is less of a man by doing so”, he concludes.
Property development business owner and yoga instructor, Stephen is a believer in doing what you love to do, being religious about practicing gratitude and appreciating all the good in life.
Mantra: Anything is possible. Talk is cheap without action so watch what you promise. Love. Believe in people. Do what makes your heart sing.
Recently I had the honour of being introduced to Stephen Smith, or as I like to refer to him as the OG Yogi, and after learning about his story, I felt instantly motivated to do and just be better. Stephen is one who has faced many adversities throughout his life, from business failures all the way to overcoming addiction. When interviewing Stephen for this feature, I asked him to share some of the tools he used to confront these hurdles head-on. He described simply, “I overcame these by never giving up and never stopping believing in myself. I realized I was on a trajectory that needed correction and listened to the many signs that were pointing me toward a totally different life than the high-pressure stressful grind that I was in. I recognized that I was simply numbing pain in the most basic way and that change was needed. I felt called to yoga and from the first class I attended, it was like the clouds parted and a ray of light shone on me. Yoga has been tremendously instrumental in helping me reimagine my life to be one I’m proud of”. Looking back, Stephen discovered that his biggest challenges were his greatest lessons and blessings and that in the process of overcoming his demons, he learnt the value of self-love, found his inner strength and laid a strong foundation for both business and personal success. It took a great deal of vulnerability to allow Stephen to overcome these challenges, and he shared his thoughts on the power of vulnerability with me for this piece. “As someone who always thought he had to be perfect, the word vulnerability was not even in my vocabulary. I’ve come to see being vulnerable as one of the biggest tools for men to start fixing things in their lives. Vulnerability means opening up to allow and accept love and help from others. We need to own who we are, warts and all. We all have challenges; most of us have done things we aren’t proud of. Understand that this is part of you and your journey. There is no judgement, in fact being vulnerable dissolves judgement and elicits care and love. Being vulnerable is a sign that you are ready to change, that you are ready to heal”, he describes, “The world needs epic people, so please, be epic!”
New Business Development Manager of The 13th Floor and co-owner of RECON Coffee Co, Duke grew up a third culture kid. His strong spiritual background, along with being afforded the opportunity to immerse himself in both Far-East and Western societies has meant the pursuit of holistic health remains a meaningful, active and continuous endeavour for him.
Mantra: God is Great.
After connecting with this fellow Eastern Caper through mutual friends and a shared passion for the advertising industry, innovation and creativity, I spent many hours picking Duke’s brilliant brain. His thought-provoking conversations always left me intrigued and inspired to consistently seek greatness.
After leaving King Williams Town, Duke spent his high school years in Singapore, went on to study in the United States, and circled back to his roots in South Africa. Spending a significant part of his development years abroad provided him with a unique and global perspective and understanding of life. From frequently moving around, entering manhood without a present father, and simply not having things that he thought were dreams and wishes come to fruition, are some of the challenges Duke has had to overcome. Duke’s faith and spirituality have been the ever-present forces that have guided him and have provided necessary wisdom and understanding.
One of the tools that have been passed down to him, is the practice of fasting, which he uses as a way to deepen his level of understanding, recondition his mind and spirit, and discover new elements of himself and his direction. It takes a great deal of awareness to achieve the long fasts that Duke embarks on, most of which bring a deep level of vulnerability to the surface, and when chatting to Duke about this topic and the stigma behind it, with men, he simply described it as: “Vulnerability means that we are being aware that we are not perfect beings, that we don’t lean on our own imperfect understanding, and being okay with that. Vulnerability is akin to self-awareness, it’s knowing what/who you are and what/who you are not, and being okay with that, to allow yourself to grow and be moulded in those areas. Destigmatizing men’s mental health issues is an everyday job that begins at home. It’s recognizing our own traumas and triggers, improving the quality of conversations we have as men, and the conversations we have with those younger than us”.
Duke describes how grateful he is for his circle of people in his life that believe in the goals that he has. “The 13th Floor duo of directors want to see me succeed, my mom and siblings are my strength and motivation, and I want to make them proud”, he explains. In parting, Duke shared his fundamental guidelines to a happy life: live in peace, move with humility and exist in constant gratitude.
Special Thanks To:
‘’At The Pencil we want to create a narrative that is uplifting, positive and collaborative, that encourages and inspires not only the current generation but future generations.” – Marc Rosenberg, Co-Founder
The Pencil offers an all-day experience, set across 1800 square metres, for Members to work, dine and entertain. More specifically, The Pencil comprises of two sit down restaurants, four bars each unique in identity and design, pool, boutique gym, sauna, steam room, library, meeting rooms, and event spaces.
A massive thank you to The Pencil for welcoming us and making us feel like we were at home away from home.
The Pencil IG @thepencilmembersclub + The Pencil Club Art Foundation IG @thepencilartfoundation
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