The thing that was broken
Has now begun to mend
My hope has been awoken
As I near journeys end
My path has been rough
And filled with much emotion
I knew it was tough
Like sailing a stormy ocean
I do not regret my past
For without it I would not be
Able to move on at last
And finally be free
I can see in plain sight
The end of my plight
The dawn has broken
Now my hope has awoken
A future lies before me
Unwritten and totally free
Whereas before I could not see
That the best is yet to be
I will give it my all
And defiant I stand
Because I will never again fall
For upon my feet I will always land
Mind Maps are something I came across whilst studying for my GCSEs and they have stayed with me since then.
My English teacher, Mrs Morby, told us that before we begin writing a story, we need to plan it out in our heads and visually before we begin writing as it would help us provide structure.
For example, when I was writing the Titanic poem, there were certain areas I wanted to cover such as:
- Why was it going so fast
- Something about the people boarding it
- Recent history
This helped me keep on topic and gave me different areas which I wanted to cover.
But Mind Maps have also helped me when it has felt like I have too much going through my head to even think straight. It has helped me visually see connections to different things that were going through my head and which I couldn’t understand.
I approach Mind Maps in relation to Mental Health as though it was a spiders web.
At the centre of the web is me. My life. And from it there are branches that go off into different areas of my life. The big areas from which everything else is connected. E.g. Work, Health, Home etc.
From here I can break things down even more into the image you can see above. I can then see the bigger picture of what is going through my head and from here I can make connections. E.g. I enjoy outdoor photography so I can make a connection between it and my physical health as it means I have to get out and walk, which has a positive impact on my life.
At the same time I can create a box relating to my PTSD and draw connections to anywhere else in my life that it can be connected.
Suddenly this nice spiders web is no longer orderly and structured, but has connections that link different areas and it becomes quite messy.
But it does help me see those connections and through self-awareness I can either challenge those beliefs or I can pick an area to work on improving.
E.g. Coping = self-harm = physical pain = impact on my physical health as it takes time for my injuries to heal and I feel I need a way to justify them to people who may query them.
In the past I have had to do a web, such as that for my PTSD, in other areas of my life to see what the relationships are between the different groups and where those connections not only are but where they also lead.
So in the end I have an overall picture but also a more detailed picture of each specific area of my life.
Doing it this way has shown me just how complex mental health can be and how it can drastically affect different areas of my life which were seemingly unconnected. But that PTSD has its tendrils linked to every aspect of my life and personality. It’s impossible to untangle it without completely changing the person whom I am today.
In fact, the only way to remove it is to go back in time and stop my dad from being murdered; then I would be a completely different person and we delve into the realms of “what ifs” and that road only leads to pure speculation without any concrete evidence or impact on my life today.
These diagrams are just examples and simplifications of what my life is like.
Any questions, just ask 🙂
Let me ask you a question. Could you name the most wonderful experience of your life?
Most people may describe losing their virginity, others the day they met their partner. Whatever the case, just remember and remember well!
I’m going to try and tell you about mine. I say try, because the most wonderful experiences are ones for which words are not enough to describe, a voice does not compare too and even you cannot describe the feelings and sensations you experienced, to yourself!
It all started on a family holiday to Lough Melvin in Co. Fermanagh in 2001. We were camping in a town called Garrison, on the shore of Lough Melvin, through which runs the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. ‘Twas into the last night of the trip, about 8:00pm that night, whilst my family was in the camping reception house, when I decided to go for a long walk to gather my thoughts.
As I ambled along I decided to go to the small peer jutting out into the lough. The light had begun to fade, turning the sky ever darker shades of Grey, and the wind was blowing, not strong, but enough to give a chill through the thin jacket I was wearing.
Following the shoreline, I walked into a small stone and concrete parking area and past a white van with a man and woman inside and then to the beginning of the peer.
Looking out onto the lough; the waters were dark and black. A thick carpet of cloud in the sky hid the setting sun from sight. The mountains around me were smooth with a few white house’s dotted on them, like stars laid down onto the landscape, and the occasional row of trees marked otherwise unseen field boundaries. I could make out the different shades of green grasses on the hillside and could tell where it was longer in some places.
To my right I looked back at the campsite. The few tents of different shapes and sizes, some with vehicles stationed outside, making mini boundaries, an old rock harbour big enough for the few row boats still tied there and the rocky walls being held in place by huge amounts of thick chicken wire. As I allowed my gaze to travel I could see the large circular, red brick structure with the fresh water tap, the park with a few swings and a climbing frame, the utility shed with showers and toilets with automatic outside lighting and finally the stone wall marking the edge of the site.
In-front of me was a peer maybe 40 or 50 feet long, wide enough only for one person to walk, a metal grab rail on my left and wooden decking at my feet, turned dark brown, almost black by the fading light. The peer was being supported by thick round, concrete pillars below, disappearing into the black swelling waters of Lough Melvin.
I started out. Heading for a small right angled turn at the end of the peer. As I walked, the wooden decking felt damp and slightly slippery from being soaked by the water for so long. My hand clutched the cold metal grab rail, as I looked down I could see the black water through the gaps in the decking. There was no way for me to know just how deep the water was should I have the misfortune to fall in. This realisation sent a chill up my spine and played on my nerves. But on and on I carried till I reached the end. And I looked out at the new sight that welcomed my eyes. I could see more of the Lough, more of the mountains and more of the setting sun. I could see where the thick darkening carpet above me broke and allowed some of the land below to bathe in the suns warmth. Where the carpet did break, streaks of yellow and orange light came flooding downwards and onto the mountains below. Like the heavens above opened for a short time and allowed me to bear witness.
Fear and my now over active imagination took over and I slowly proceeded to walk back along the peer. The planks beneath my feet did in deed feel slippery to my step. At one point I thought I was going to fall in, but my main concern was not for my safety, but for the expensive camera I had taken with me.
Back the way I came and onto the campsite I went. Down to the shore once again. I found a spot just a few feet from the rocky shore, sat down on the damp grass, looked and listened to the wonders happening around me. The sound of the water breaking on the rocks just feet from my feet (excuse the pun) and the sun still trying to break through the thick graying cloud carpet. Eventually the grass beneath me got too wet and I went in search for another observation point.
I found a bench made of thick wood and mounted on two concrete pillars painted white and covered in pebbles for decoration. The dark chocolate coloured seat looked inviting when compared to my current perch.
As I sat on the bench, I shivered both from the cold and the dampness of the seat but my discomfort was soon to be forgotten as I gazed out upon the shore waters once again.
And again I found myself lost in a world of beauty and peace.
The clouds now threatened to rain. I scanned the Loughs length taking in every detail my eyes could find. On the far shore white buildings stood out like stars in the night sky. An array of greens in varying shades marked field boundaries made of grasses, trees and bushes.
As the night progressed and the sun sank further into the distance, the cloud began to break and fracture allowing light, like gleaming blades, to shine upon the mountains. Almost as if God himself were viewing the land. And the waters changed colour to a deep, dark blue haze.
The evening wind started to blow, piercing my jacket and biting at my skin, and causing tiny waves to form in the waters and crashing into the rocky shoreline.
Streaks of oil floating on the surface left behind by some unknown vessel show up like white slime trails.
In the distance mist starts to roll of the shallow mountains like a hazy tide slowly coming towards me. Enveloping everything in its path. The greens and browns and yellows of fields all get swallowed by the encroaching tide.
I look up at the clouds and can clearly see the different layers. The lower parts are a light Grey turning to a graphite shale colour. The upper levels retain a light white, still being fed by the disappearing sun.
In the furthest parts of the Lough a seemingly tiny boat can be made out only by the white colouring of its sail in contrast against the darkening Lough waters.
As I sit, I admire Mother Nature and all her glory. I look at the watch on my wrist and it reads 21:30. Half nine at night. I’d been watching the Lough for what seems like 15 minutes when it has actually been 90 minutes. As I sit I think about what I had the privilege of witnessing, thoughts and feelings of peace and serenity fill my entire body extending to every nerve from the top of my head to the soles of my feet. Mere words are not enough to describe this sensation, but it is one I shall never forget.
The gentle dripping of water on my face and jacket tell me it’s going to start to rain. Time to go back to the tent and get a bite to eat and still think more of, what has possibly become, one of the most awakening and perfect experiences of my life and one which is likely to remain as fresh at the time of my death, as it is on that very same day in which they took place.
The older i get the more I realise just how ingrained this is within myself. It’s like looking at yourself and trying to notice the details and not just the overall picture. Within your exterior, hidden in plain sight, are all these details that make up who you are and they are there if you know where to look.
I say exterior, rather than interior, because I am referring to physical clues such as tone of voice and body language. Non-verbal communication.
In my case I have a strong compulsion to punish myself for the slightest wrong that I perceive. Simple things that have caused no distress to others feel to me like they are worthy of reprimand and I MUST be punished.
Recent Example No.1
Last month my wife went on a foreign holiday with her sister for a few days. This holiday had been planned for months but only booked a matter of weeks before the actual departure. I was invited as well but I declined for practical reasons and I also saw an opportunity to spend some time doing some things I always wanted to do but couldn’t whilst my wife was here. Nothing bad, just spending some time up the coast at night (ref Kinbane Castle).
The next day, I decided to watch a couple of DVDs and to have a few drinks and let my guard and defences down. It was during this period that my wife and her sister text to ask me what I was up to and I replied via FB messenger that I was sitting naked having a few drinks and beginning to feel tipsy (I don’t know why I said this as I was sitting fully clothed) and I suddenly got a phone-call from my sister-in-law saying that my last message was sent on a group chat and that I should delete it ASAP.
Too late; I received a reply from someone who was not meant to see that message saying ‘TMI’. I deleted my message right there and then but the damage had been done. My sudden concern turned to embarrassment, even though there was nothing to be embarrassed about. Unfortunately this proved to be a perfect storm as not only was I starting to feel intoxicated, I also hadn’t taken my meds the day before nor on this night in question, and my embarrassment quickly turned to anger.
Suddenly, and without hesitation, I sunk my teeth into my left arm and bit myself hard enough to make my teeth ache in my gums. In an instant the alcohol that I was using to lower my guard was now my weapon of choice to further self-harm. I knew I would be sore and there was a possibility that I may have a rough night ahead of me, but I didn’t care and I felt like it was something I deserved as I was such an idiot for not being more careful about where I send my messages.
This is like the time when my dad asked me if I wanted to move to Antrim a few years before he was murdered and I said no. I know the names of the people who murdered him and I know mine is not counted amongst them and never will be.
I know I was not to blame for his death; but survivors guilt leaves its own scars and this is one of them.
I know I am being irrational in that I have nothing to feel guilty about. I know I need to stop punishing myself for every slight I do. I know I need to stop letting others make me feel guilty. I know I need to stop treating myself so badly and I know I need to stop self-harming. I know I am a nice guy with a good heart who is caring and compassionate.
But I also know that I hold myself partly to blame and that as I cannot punish the people who killed him, I CAN punish myself as the nearest substitute.
I also know that after 30+ years I need to stop this destructive behaviour as the only person I am hurting is myself…but I can’t help it. It feels wrong if I don’t punish myself; like I am letting the guilty walk free.
Recent Example No.2
I was driving home one late afternoon and I saw the lights ahead of me turning from green to yellow. I knew in a second or 2 they would be red and I need to make a decision NOW as to what action I need to take. Do I have enough time to stop safely? I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.
I hit the accelerator and saw the lights change from yellow to red just before I reached them. I had just went through a red light.
FUCK! STUPID STUPID BASTARD!!!
My wife had to calm me down because I didn’t cause an accident and I wasn’t caught by the authorities and I was starting to over-react in a big way over something so simple that it may go unnoticed by other people or it is the kind of thing people do all the time.
It’s what I do and whilst I can override these instincts some times…others lead me to some sort of self-harm.
I try, internally, to make them feel better by punishing myself for their wrongs rather than my own. I feel like I take upon my shoulders all the weight and troubles of the world because this is what I have been doing most of my life and, whilst it is entirely illogical, it is something I feel I am compelled to do.
I am just too bloody nice and too caring 😦
This is a completely natural emotion to feel. It keeps us safe when we feel threatened, increases respiratory rate flooding the blood with oxygen and releasing adrenaline and our bodies natural painkillers; in preparation for either attacking a danger or running away from it – flight or fight.
I have some difficulty with this particular emotion as it conflicts with some of my personality traits in that I am not an aggressive person and I do what I can to avoid conflict and try to deescalate any increasingly hostile situation which life throws at me.
I have seen people get angry and loose their temper with people who are only doing their job or they get so engrossed and passionate about a sport that they easily take offence at anyone who disagrees with their view.
Anger also has its place within our society. Soldiers, martial artists, sports; any sort of situation where we are competing against or in conflict with another person and anger is useful in a controlled way as it improves our performance, increases our pain threshold and enables us to go that little bit further…or in the case of military personnel, helps keep them alive.
For me its different as it conflicts with my personality. I hate being angry. I don’t find it to be a pleasant emotion and it makes it easy to loose control of a situation and react negatively. But then again, that rush of endorphins flooding my body and increasing my confidence can be exhilarating lol.
Sadly my anger often times results in self-harm and emotional pain that’s almost beyond endurance.
I’ve spent years learning to be on the lookout for warning signs that I am starting to get angry and as a result my anger rarely sneaks up on me. There are usually early warning signals. Maybe I am feeling more irritable than normal or I feel that adrenaline starting to be pumped into my blood and my breathing increases. I also use my eyes, ears and mind to assess what is going on in my surroundings to see what the stimulus is that could be impacting negatively on my emotional state.
In the meantime, having had these early warning systems being triggered, I immediately focus on my breathing to try to calm down. Deep breath in… hold… and slowly release. Repeat as often as is needed. I also take myself out of and away from any situation that is causing this level of distress.
Sadly we all have a breaking point. I’ve found myself in situations where I need to have that physical release of energy and I usually end up punching a wall and damaging my knuckles or biting my arm until my teeth hurt all the way to their roots.
This is a controlled, and destructive, release as I will NOT take my anger out on ANYONE as I don’t believe this is productive. And I rarely find myself in situations where my safety is in question. I am always on the lookout for an alternative to a physical confrontation. I pose a danger to myself, but not to others.
But like I said, we all have our limits and even mine can be tested to the extreme…
Many years ago I remember one night when I was supposed to be staying with a friend in their flat. They had a visitor from Scotland over and the 3 of us were supposed to be going to a fancy dress party. I had my dads leather jacket and was going to go as John Travolta from Greese.
The situation that night took an unexpected turn before we even left the flat. My friends visitor had begun drinking and, having been informed somewhat of my past, he began questioning me about my experiences. I wasn’t happy about this and refused to answer. But the questions kept coming and were becoming more aggressive in nature.
I could feel those familiar warning signs being triggered and I was becoming concerned. I began to employ calming breathing techniques. As the minutes went by the questioning changed and this visitor began to ask before demanding to try on my dads jacket. This to me would be the equivalent of trying on his skin and desecrating his memory.
I looked to my friend for help and asked them to help; but my pleas were ignored whilst they laughed.
I had to get out of there before I snapped. I began to pack up and was being told to stay by my friend whilst being called a ‘chicken’ and a ‘little boy’ by this visitor.
Nah, fuck this, if I don’t get out of here I am going to loose my shit!
It took several trips to remove all of my belonging from the flat, but despite now being outside and away from these idiots, I was barely in control. I was physically shaking with rage.
Sadly, I seem to have somewhat of a delayed reaction in that even when I was finally out of that flat, my anger was actually increasing as the gravity of the situation began to fully catch up with me.
All I wanted to do was to kick a bin, but I didn’t do this in case the neighbours heard and began to ask questions.
I walked to my car, determined to drive away. I also knew that as soon as I got behind the wheel, this would not be safe and I could very likely end up in an accident or hitting someone; but such was the heat of my anger I decided to be selfish and not care about other people. With the distress I was feeling I just didn’t care about myself or others.
I think something must have clicked with my friend because they came out and grabbed the keys from my hand and threw them away before shoving me away from the car. I was so so close to hitting them. I wanted to. I felt justified in throwing that punch.
But the morals my parents instilled in me as a child came to the surface and they were my last line of defence.
I didn’t want to hurt anyone. I just wanted the pain to stop. Emotionally I was in agony and just wanted the pain to go away. And I will admit that had I gotten into the car in this state, suicide was most definitely an option I was actively considering.
Fortunately my friends shove, when combined with my own constant calming techniques, did the trick. I calmed down just enough to regain my desire to not do anything stupid.
After a few minutes my anger had cooled from 100C to 98C. Still far from being safe and calm, but cool enough to regain that valuable control of my mind and actions that I so desired.
I still left. I drove away angry and alone, but now no longer carelessly so. I don’t remember where I went but as I am here writing this today, I clearly got there safely lol.
I feel I should also mention that the last memory I have of my dad was at his wake. No-one knew for years that I was there.
I’m actually crying whilst I type this because you just have to read the words that I am typing, but after 30yrs that FINAL memory I have of him, lying peacefully in his coffin, as I stared down at his face, with a cloth over his forehead, hiding the bullet hole I knew was beneath it.
I knew that as a child this would be the last time I ever got to see my daddy. That memory is as fresh in my mind now as it was when it was made all those years ago.
As his murder was sectarian, I always believed that if the other side got hold of me they would kill me. I found out that most of the people there were from the other side. So, at the wake I made a decision to reserve my anger for those who murdered him and not judge or blame a society just because of the actions taken by a minor few who only had murder and hatred in their hearts.
This is one of those complex stories that I am not sure how to fully get across, so I will undoubtedly revisit this topic in the future.
Such is the nature of Mental Health that when I began to write about this I had forgotten just how complex an issue it was. So this is going to be the start of a series of posts on this topic as there is far too much to cover in one post and those reasons aren’t straight-forward.
So, lets start with the simplest of reasons for me doing this – WHY???
Less than 12 months after I witnessed by dad being murdered (don’t forget, I was a young child when this happened), during the year where I have no memories, we moved to a new town, I started a new school and just when I needed the most stability I had the least.
I had to deal with the trauma of dads murder and now I had to deal with starting a whole new life in a new house in a new town and going to a new school and trying to start making new friends.
My mind already felt like it was a scrambled egg and now that scrambled egg was put in the microwave and turned up to the max.
All I knew was that everything I once knew was no more and I realised just how little control I had over my life and my choices.
I don’t blame my mother for this; she was doing the best she could having now been widowed with 3 children all under the age of 10. I can’t imagine that anyone could have done better.
By this stage there were no arrests nor convictions for my dads murder and as I started to form new memories my young mind was in chaos trying to make sense in a senseless world where justice seemed to fail and it just wasn’t fair.
I was angry and that anger was just growing and growing and growing.
But being the quiet reserved kind of child that I was, and still am as an adult, I turned that anger (I will post more on my anger later) inwards until I could not contain it and it exploded outwards. I also felt huge guilt and blamed myself for my dads murder as, when he asked if we should move house several years earlier and I said ‘no’, we never moved and had that move taken place then he would still be alive.
Because I could not target my anger and frustration at the person whom I knew was responsible for my dads murder, I turned my anger towards the next person whom I felt was responsible – me.
So, just to recap, within 12 months of my dads murder:
- Witnessed murder of my dad
- No memories for first 12 months afterwards
- No chance to grieve or come to terms
- Moved to new town
- Started new school
- Had to make new friends
- No arrests or convictions for my dads murder
- Survivors guilt
- Held myself partly to blame for his murder
I began to self-harm partly to punish myself for my dads murder and also partly to show externally all the pain I was feeling internally. I couldn’t cope. I didn’t know who I was, where I was, what I was supposed to do etc.
In the years that followed, from then to now, I have:
- punched walls / floors / doors
- carved words and sentences into my arm with a variety of blades
- headbutted walls etc
- ate too much
- starved myself
- ate all the wrong types of food
- refrained from drinking any fluids for 34hrs and could have pushed this to at least 36hrs easily
- exercised beyond pain
- beat myself up mentally for each and every mistake I made
- told myself I was ugly, pathetic, I deserved to die, was useless, weak, total scum, better off dead, waste of air, didn’t deserve to live – I HATED MYSELF AND FELT PHYSICALLY SICK WHEN I LOOKED IN A MIRROR
- looked up suicide websites for ideas and one idea was called ‘psychological suicide’ where the goal was to ‘kill’ your emotions to the point where you don’t feel anything. You basically become a Zombie
- became suicidal and began to make plans for my own death
This was the beginning of my journey into self-harm and anger.
There may be plenty of jobs being advertised but there is also a lot of competition for those jobs. I don’t apply for jobs, I apply for interviews and I interview for jobs.
But despite my best efforts, interviews are few and far between and in the meantime I am wondering what it is that I am doing wrong.
I know I am a good worker, reliable, punctual, skilled, I listen to and follow instructions and I even learn new skills on my own time whether it be my lunch or even when I am at home so that I can be a better worker. Feedback is always welcome and I always take on board what I am being told to do.
I understand employers are busy and cannot respond individually to every application they receive and I understand this completely. But what does annoy me is when I go to all the effort of taking time out to go to an interview and I never hear from the employer again. And the lack of feedback is maddening.
It falls into the definition of insanity being that a person constantly repeats the same actions and yet expects different results.
How can I improve when I don’t know what it is that I am doing wrong?
Then there is the interview itself and whether or not to make the decision to disclose that I have mental health issues. I am always worried that the employer may be marking me highly only to suddenly change their mind if I were to make this disclosure. I have seen and felt potential employers look at me differently once this disclosure is made. Their reaction is so subtle that I cannot pinpoint exactly what it is that has changed, and yet the reaction is so strong that it’s unmissable.
This in turn has an impact on my health as I have been looking for another job for about 3 years and every now and again I feel a tidal-wave of despair washing over me when I either get another rejection after an interview, hear nothing back from the interview or count the large numbers of jobs that I apply for and the months (at 1 point I went 7 months between interviews despite constantly applying throughout this time) that pass without result.
The last job offer I had was the one I accepted to start with my current employer.
All the while I struggle with my current role. I can do my job, there’s never been any doubt about it, but it’s not conductive to my long-term mental health and this is why I have been looking for so long.
I’m just tired of looking, but the same tenacity that has kept me alive means that I cannot give up on my search.
In addition to asking myself why I keep failing, I also turn my gaze, and sometimes fury, towards the heavens and cry out:
“Why are you punishing me!? You know what I need and yet despite my best efforts I am not getting what I need. What wrong have I done that requires this constant punishment? Have I not suffered enough during my life that I am undeserving of such a simple wish.!?“
To date my prayers and cries for help remain unanswered. But…I could be worse because at least I have a job…for now.