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‘I shouldn’t have been ashamed to admit that I was struggling’ – Michael Stephens on new LGBTQ well-being workshop

The co-founder of Create Space Retreats reveals the personal inspiration for 'Who am i? ', a virtual retreat exploring identity as a gay man in 2020.

By Markus Bidaux

Words: Markus Bidaux

How we present ourselves to the outside world versus how we actually feel is often at odds and can lead to destructive behaviour. 

Michael Stephens, co-founder of Create Space Retreats, knows too well the toll of hiding your personal insecurities can have on your life. Michael spoke to Attitude about how he worked through his issues and launched the new company to help people and businesses reduce stress, improve health and boost creativity.  

Michael Stephens photographed by Andrew Urwin

Michael had a successful career in the creative industry working for the likes of i-D magazine, Liberty and Virgin Atlantic. But during it all he suffered from an eating disorder and he became a workaholic.

Michael Stephens photographed by Andrew Urwin

“The internalised stress that I felt as a child resulted in me resorting to food as a coping mechanism. Food really played out across my entire life as something that occupied my thoughts and it made me make certain choices.

“Now I look back on those and know I shouldn’t have been ashamed to admit that I was struggling, but I was and it was the stigma surrounding it that was stopping me from getting help.”

“I was suppressing all of these feelings and they were coming to the surface in other ways. I resorted to work as a coping mechanism, becoming a workaholic for about 10 years, because that was a way for me to prove to myself I had value. I’m not saying it was all bad, it was just that I was doing it for the wrong reasons,” Michael reveals.

Michael Stephens photographed by Andrew Urwin

Through years of therapy, Michael processed his insecurities and re-evaluated what was important to him. He shifted his career path to start Create Space Retreats with his brother and launched his LGBTQ-focused ‘Who am i?’ series of digital retreats this July.

“The idea for the ‘Who am i?’ series came from my own experience, and the techniques and tools that I found useful over the past six years since I first started therapy.

“I’ve tried lots of different things: holistic practices, therapies and diary-writing and I have done lots of research. The ‘Who am i?’ series is an amalgamation of what I’ve learned and what I found useful,” Michael explains.

Speaking on what topics have been discussed in the first ‘Who am i?’ series Michael explained: “Some key narratives that came up were around body image, self-critique, religion, social comparisons and that feeling of ‘nothing is ever enough’.

“These all sound like quite heavy subjects, and they are, but we try to frame the workshops more like ‘play-shops’, bringing a light yet compassionate tone to the way we investigate each theme.”

The lead facilitator is Nathan Morse, a coach and Neuro-Linguistic Programming practitioner. Other guest speakers include Jonny Benjamin, who is a mental health campaigner and the founder of the Beyond charity, who Create Space Retreats have partnered with for this, Nick Kientsch, who is a meditation specialist, and James Dowler who is doing a breathwork session.

Dr David McLaughlan

And for a special series of free digital workshops on Saturday 1 August Dr David McLaughlan, an award-winning medical doctor specialising in mental health and wellbeing will be joining the Create Space retreat team.

There are limited places on each digital retreat, it is a very intimate and confidential space. For more information on the free workshops and full digital retreats visit

Read the full interview with Michael Stephens in the Attitude August issue, out now to download and to order globally.

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