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.
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
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
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.
On a warm summer day in Co. Down, the sun shines brightly from its zenith, looking down upon countryside which is being surveyed by a mysterious, figure-less but curious entity, floating in the air.
The surrounding area is made up of a network of country roads and fields, dotted with houses.
Large birds such as Jackdaws, Magpies and Rooks fly swiftly through the air. From somewhere below, hidden in the bushes, their location known only through their high pitched chirping, dozens of Finches and Blue Tits fly quickly from branch to branch as they scan the nearby houses looking for food and trying to avoid the local cats which patrol the area hoping to make a meal of any unsuspecting creature which they can pounce on.
As I grow accustomed to my few form, I become aware of its mass, its thoughts and memories. I suddenly know all that he knows. I am all that he is. At last I become aware of his senses.
Through helmet-clad ears, a slight breeze carries upon it the sounds of nearby birds, still chirping happily, unaware that soon the calmness of the countryside will be shattered by the roar of a motorcycle.
A breeze picks up and blows through an open visor, cooling a face whose striking blue eyes peer out through a dark visor and survey all that is before him. The road stretching away into the countryside; the white road markings; the cats eyes road reflectors; the birds in the air; the trees and bushes and fields on either side of me.
I listen intently to the wind and scan it for sounds of possible traffic ahead and to the rear of me.
I can feel the adrenaline as it begins to build and course through my veins in response to thoughts signalling what I am about to do.
I start to take deep breaths, trying to get as much oxygen to my muscles, preparing them to act swiftly when I call upon them within seconds of starting off.
In a few bends time I will see, 2 signs stand as guards signalling the beginning of the 60 mile per hour speed limit and the ending of the 30mph village limit.
Adrenaline comes in waves and makes me feel giddy. I feel alive and everything seems to be in slow motion. I know I have entered into the Holy Grail of the mind – I have entered “the Zone”. This is where you are so focused on what you’re doing that the only thing that matters is what is happening this very second.
Ahead of me the road disappears to the left. As I approach I move to the right of my lane, eyes scanning for each last bit of information: the white lines of the road lengthen signalling the approaching bend is going to tighten.
I slide to the left of the bike and put my knee out to shift my centre of gravity. My eyes seek out the vanishing point where the 2 curbs appear to merge and become as one.
I start to scan with my peripheral vision, looking out for anyone or any animal that might suddenly get suicidal and want to step out in front of me.
I have reached the point where the road starts to turn. With a steady throttle I lean off the bike, using my body-weight to pull it down into a tighter line, whilst keeping my head looking up and ahead and pushing down onto the foot peg with my right foot in preparation of the corner opening out.
I feel the tires grip and as I lean in further. I can feel the wind hitting my chest in a gently and welcome breeze.
Suddenly the corner starts to move away from me signalling I can accelerate should I wish to do so. I start to sit the bike up and move over to the left of my lane as the second bend approaches. I do everything as before only in the opposite direction and then I lean and turn left once again.
This whole time I feel alive. My heart pounds with such force that I fear it wants to burst free of my rib-cage.
Ahead of me are the 2 signs guarding the entrance to the national speed limited roads.
I pull over and stop, turning the engine off and hearing it ping as it starts to cool. I can smell the petrol and oil as it wafts up inside my helmet, carried by the heat coming of the engine.
I want to savour this.
I sit and think about what I have just done and feel endorphins, pleasure hormones, surging though my body. A thought enters my head; “this is better than sex.”
With my eyes closed I start to think of what I am about to do and a stray smile grows on my face.
Take a deep breath…hold it…hold it…hold it…and slowly let it out. I take another and hold it, let it out and open my eyes.
I see the trees; hedges and fences forming a corridor through which the tarmac follows with all the weaves and curves that this type of plane brings.
Inside my helmet I can hear the quick, rhythmic, thump thump thumping of my heart as blood is pushed round my body with ever increasing ferocity, in familiar response to the anticipation of what I am about to do.
With a hand, clad in a leather glove and reinforced with various pieces of Kevlar armour, I reach forward and turn the ignition, seeing the familiar green neutral light coming to life.
With my right hand I reach forward, grasp the throttle and push in the ignition button with my thumb, whilst simultaneously pulling in the throttle lever with my left hand and balancing the bike with my right foot, I bring the side-stand up with my left foot.
The bike rumbles into life. A quick twist with my right hand sends the tacho needle upwards, at the same time unleashing a whine from the engine. This is just a taste of what is to come.
With the clutch in, I press downwards on the gear lever with my left foot and ½ feel ½ hear the click as first gear is selected.
Placing my left foot on the ground, I balance the bike between my legs as I pull my black tinted visor down with my right hand, completing a typical biker look and sending me into anonymity from the rest of the world and softening the sound of the engine…but not for long.
I have ridden this road before. I know where it goes. It’s one of the tightest and twistyiest roads I have ever found in Northern Ireland.
But this time is different. This time I want to ride it harder and faster than I have ever done before.
I settle back into “The Zone”; a state of awareness so high that everything seems to slow down. I become aware of everything in front me, on the edges of my peripheral vision I start to scan the road for any suicidal creatures looking to spoil my fun by trying to dive under my front wheel. I also become aware of my mirrors and start to constantly scan them more than ever, with the fear that blue flashing lights and a squealing siren brings to my fragile licence.
With everything set, I slowly twist the throttle hearing the revs build and begin to feed out the clutch.
As the bike creeps forward, I quickly bring my feet up to rest on the foot pegs, balancing the balls of my feet on their edges.
Onwards I go and when I reach 20mph and with the clutch fully out, I violently open the throttle.
I need to get up to speed quickly.
I feel my entire body slide back into the seat as the bike surges forward in response to my actions on the throttle. The front wheel grows light as the front end lifts up in a slight wheelie, and then comes back down.
I grip the handle bars tighter and use my feet to push forward in an attempt to brace myself against the violent forces I am about to subject myself to.
I allow a smile to creep across my face as sheer concentration gives away to an emotion. And instant later the smile is gone from my face, once again replaced by sheer concentration.
The dangers involved are not too far from the back of my mind. I know what could happen should I make just a single mistake, no matter how minor it may seem.
The engine pitch gets higher and higher becoming just a scream.
I look down and see the needle of the tacho meter drawing very close to the 10,500rpm red line.
In the same glance I also notice that within less than 2 seconds, I am already at 50mph.
I close the throttle and at the same time I hook the toes of my left boot under the gear lever and pull upwards, short shifting into second gear.
The bike responds by once again by slightly lifting the front wheel.
All around me the hedges, trees and fences merge into one singular blur.
Below me, the white lines in the centre of the road join as one solid line. The cats eyes forming little bumps as they wiz by at ever shortening intervals.
Suddenly! The road reaches upwards very sharply.
I think, “Oh f**k! I forgot about this!”
Too late to do anything about it now.
The front wheel starts to angle upwards, following the road skyward. The handlebars, grown suddenly light in my grip, signal that the front wheel is now airborne.
I brace myself as best as I can as I feel the back wheel rise over the crest of the hump.
For a split second I am flying though the air like an airplane. The wind is whipping at my leathers and helmet; pushing hard against my chest.
Then I feel my stomach heave as the rest of me, bike and all, begins the violent descent towards the road, wheels still spinning in midair.
With my weight already sent rearwards by the acceleration force of the bike, the rear wheel hits the ground hard; a split second later it is joined by the front wheel.
The rear-end begins to squirm and fishtail, as minor undulations on the road surface magnifies the forward motion of the bike, upsetting the handling.
Just as quickly as the bike is unsettled, it straightens out and I regain total control, backing off the throttle just long enough to regain control of all of my senses.
“F**k! That could have been nasty!” go the thoughts, quickly through my head as I luckily get away with what could have been a serious accident. “I’ll remember where that is next time so I don’t hit it at the same speed.”
I look ahead through the darkened visor at the smooth tarmac 50 yards ahead of me, as it turns sharply to the right. The hedgerows and trees giving me early warning of just how sharp the impending turn really is.
I back off the throttle slightly to give myself more control. Racing towards it, I lift myself up just enough to slide ½ an ass-cheek off the seat, put my knee out for better control, and start to lean the bike over, feeling its stiffness as it tries to resist; my eyes totally focused on the point ahead of me where the corners of the sides of the road seem to merge in unison into one – the vanishing point; constantly scanning the sides of the roads with my peripheral vision, alert for any sudden and unexpected dangers.
The bend begins to straighten up. I start to stand the bike up, getting on the throttle at the same time and gathering more and more speed as I bring the bike completely upright.
As suddenly as the last bend is over, the next bend appears.
I read the road and it tells me it’s just as sharp as the last one.
I point the bike towards the middle of the road and start braking…hard! I feel like the bike is trying to throw me over the handlebars, as the suspension compresses and the front end dips. Senses learned from years of brisk road riding tell me that I could brake harder if I wanted to, but I have already slowed to the ideal speed for this corner.
Just as before, I hang ½ off the bike and scan the road and hedges for potential hazards. Midway through the corner when the road begins to open up for me, I am back accelerating hard, short-shifting through 3rd and 4th gears.
The next bend is 100 yards ahead of me and turning right. I look at the edges of the road; the trees growing smaller tell me that the road is angling down.
I scan the fields to either side of me looking for any breaks in the hedge which may signal a hidden entrance to a field. I also look ahead as far as I can, examining the road for any mud or pot holes.
The smooth tarmac is completely clear of any debris.
As I approach the corner, I back off the throttle, brake hard, pull in the clutch and press my left foot down, feeling the click as 4th gear is disengaged and replaced by 3rd. I press down again and engage 2nd. At the same time I have manoeuvred myself over to the left 3rd of the road.
As I approach the bend I see that it is quite open, so I stay in 2nd, lean the bike over, and keep a steady speed through the bend.
A nice, long, sweeping right hander.
Below me, I can feel the tyres gripping the road, telling me there is nothing to worry about.
Suddenly, the road swings back onto itself as the road turns to the left.
I feel a moment of sheer panic and utter fear as I realise that I am going fast. Too fast! I can’t turn at this speed!
My mind races into overtime. Thoughts fly though my head so quick I don’t have time to consciously process them.
I think, “Too fast! Too fast!”
“Sit the bike up…quick!”
I fight the fear of crashing as my eyes become fixed on the edge of the road.
Years of experience honed on the road, come to my subconscious and instinct takes over. I think, “Don’t panic. You can do this! Don’t look where you don’t want to go. Look though the bend! Concentrate! You can do this!”
My brain tells me to brake…hard! Brake now!
“No! Don’t brake yet! Brake now and you will lose the front end! Sit the bike up first, brake hard on the straight and you will make it!”
I can’t move quickly enough. Things are happening too fast!
Somehow I manage to get the bike upright, long enough to scrub off as much speed as I can.
I hang off the left side and just hope I can make it. I hope the tyres don’t loose grip or I’m screwed!
I lean further and further than I have ever leant before.
Heat and red hot pain shoot through my knee and up my leg, like I have just been touched with an electric grinder, as I feel the road through my leathers.
Instinctively I lift my knee up a fraction of an inch. And the pain fades slightly.
Then the road begins to straighten out.
I start to stand the bike up again and back further off the throttle. I allow the engine breaking to take over and as I come fully upright and pull over to the side of the road as relief sweeps through me.
I made it!
As I select neutral, put the side-stand down and turn the engine off. The entire world speeds up as my senses return to normal. I can’t believe that I just made it.
I still feel giddy with the adrenaline in my system and with it comes exhaustion and relief. My body suddenly feels very heavy. My arms and legs feel like lead weights. I feel physically drained. All that panicking really took a lot of effort out of me. I am so glad it is over.
I think, “It was only 5 seconds ago that I was having a great time before nearly being caught out by that bend.” I’m bloody lucky I didn’t crash!
I look down at my knee and see that my leathers are only scuffed. But my knee is aching.
I’ve had a lucky escape. “Think I will take it easy on the way home…then again, maybe not.”
Calmness washes over me. I start to feel his body relaxing. The near miss on the bend, which happened just seconds ago, begins to fade into blackness as it becomes a distant memory and the rider, feeling somewhat confused, remembers nothing of what has just happened.
As we separate, the land and the rider begin to fall away as I rise higher and higher above the countryside.
Through senses beyond human comprehension I look down upon the being with who I was as one just seconds ago. I watch as he shakes his head and ponders how he arrived at his current location without remembering how he got there.
Unknown thoughts and assumptions fill his mind just long enough to make him hesitate for a split second before deciding to continue on his journey.
He starts the bike up, retracts the side-stand and selecting 1st gear. Quickly opening the throttle and releasing the clutch at the same time which has the desired effect of hoisting the front wheel several feet above the ground as he speeds off down the road.
As the bike and the rider disappear into the distance and the sound of the engine slowly fades into nothingness, the only sound remaining is that of the soft breeze as it blows through the branches of the trees, rustling their leaves. Then the birds’ return, their chirping once again filling the air…until the next time.
As for me? I carry on drifting though the air and into the distance, leaving behind Co. Down, but retaining all the pleasurable experiences I gained whilst being a biker for a fleeting few minutes.
Feeling unsteady, I ride off slowly, still trying to calm down. Still trying to fully realise what I had just been through, only one thought lingers in the back of my head as a wicked grin slowly grows upon my face. “The next time I come round here I’m going to nail that bend!”
If I was to walk down the street with a bandage or a limb in a plaster cast or even in a wheelchair, I doubt very much that I would have taken as much verbal abuse as I have and I think any physical attacks would have been avoided in their entirety, though I am sure I would receive some sort of verbal attack.
I also seriously doubt that anyone that has ever attacked me in ****** would have done so had I had an arm in a plaster cast.
But with a mental disability, such as PTSD, no-one sees it. No-one sees, nor do I believe they would even care, the impact their words can have on me.
I keep telling myself it’s their opinion and I don’t have to listen to it…but it comes down to the following:
Are their words stronger than my own ability to ignore them? Sadly the answer is sometimes ‘yes’.
I fight to ignore them, but I’m also fighting not to self-harm as a result. I don’t want them to have that kind of power over me. But when I am in a vulnerable mood then my resolve is not strong enough and each word uttered strikes me as though it were a physical blow.
One of the things I have to remember is that my Disability is a hidden one. It is not on show for the public, nor most people, to see. For me it is a private issue as it involves disclosing a lot about my past.
However, I have learned that there are ways to disclose enough so that the listener has a good idea of my past, whilst withholding anything I do not wish them to know e.g. the extent of my self-harm or the emotional turmoil I live with daily.
Physical disabilities are understood by the public. They are, at times, easy to spot, and a Blue Badge is something they can instantly understand.
Mental disabilities can be hidden and, unless they are disclosed, are not easily spotted. Even if they are made known, I do not believe there is the awareness out there for people to understand the scope and weight and impact these disabilities can have on peoples’ lives.
What is it like to live with my Mental Disability?
It’s hard work…would be the simple answer. I’ve spent years working hard to keep my symptoms under control…trying to hone my thoughts so that I am completely aware of my emotions, especially my annoyance, frustration and anger*; which are 2 separate emotions.
I am ALWAYS 100% aware 24/7/365 of my anger. I am reflexively on the lookout for any warning signs that I am getting annoyed, frustrated or angry. I’ve maintained this heightened awareness for 20+ years now. It rarely takes me off guard. Though it can surprise me just how quickly I can get angry at times and I always catch it in time so that I remove myself from that situation before I do something I would enjoy at the time but later regret once the flames have died down.
On a normal day I can function quite normally. You would never know I have Mental Health issues. I would say I am quite an intelligent. I have a good heart and my intentions are always honourable.
My mood can swing quite dramatically from one day to the next. One day I can be highly functional where nothing can bother me no matter how much abuse or threats I get from the public.
Then the next I am living on a ‘hair trigger’, where it would take just a simple comment to send me on a downward spiral.
I feel I need to talk about this. If I were to give it a name; a form; I would describe it as a Dragon.
My Journey began
So many years ago
Where it will end
I do not know
The scars I have
You cannot see
They are not on my skin
But hidden inside me
The rage that was bottled
Has now begun to crack
Once it shatters
There’s no going back
The fight is on
The dragon has awoken
Now its container
Has finally broken
I will beat this anger
And I will thrive
I am now stronger
And I will survive
You will not kill me
That much is true
You’ve done your worst
And I say ‘Fuck off’ to you!
Whilst my Dragon slumbers there is peace in my heart and all is right with the world. But once he awakens…he just wants to watch the world burn. He is fire and fury at all the injustice I have ever experienced. He doesn’t care for others or their emotions. His pain, our pain, is too numb for the empathy of others.
My Dragon feels like raw power. I feel agony when he is fully awake. My body aches all over from holding back the pain and emotion I am feeling. I feel my legs give out from underneath me and I fall to the ground. And yet the fire doesn’t go out.
I cry. Fuck I cry. I let my dragons’ full fury out and feel him unleashed upon the universe. I cry silent tears and scream my loudest…silent scream. Not making a sound is my last and only remaining strand of control. A silent protest to my Dragon, telling him he has not bested me completely.
I HATE him and he hates me.
What is a bad day like?
On Monday 19th February 2018 I experienced, what I would describe as, ‘an episode’. This is what I call the results of a small events leading to a mental breakdown where all my defences fail and I am in a state of visible distress.
I think I slept OK the night before. I woke up several times during the night (this is normal) and didn’t feel tired. I think my cats wanted fed at 0400 and 0500 when they don’t get fed until around 0600.
I made a minor mistake this morning and it put me in a bad mood. But I was trying to keep it under control and was looking forward to a day working in ***** on my own so I can blow off some steam by going for a walk and pounding the pavement.
My mood worsened when I saw my colleague walking into my office. I was annoyed my solo day was ruined. I began my shift 10mins early and I kept my head down and my eyes looking only a few feet ahead of where I was walking. Actually I nearly bumped into a few people.
I felt very annoyed and recognised the warning signs and began to consciously do breathing exercises to calm my mood down. I knew I was in danger of having ‘an episode’.
I was OK at first; I was busy concentrating on my breathing and keeping a lid on my anger and listening to my music on a black earphone, which was helping immensely with my mood as it was giving me something else to focus on.
As I walked past the male he tried to get my attention. I thought nothing of it and continued on. Then I heard him again. I turned around and saw him giving me the finger and smiling.
That was it. That’s all it took. I felt my Dragon waking up. I knew now that I was in deep trouble. I could feel those angry flames rising and the tears threatening to spill out of my eyes.
Regardless, I fought those flames with every ounce of strength and will power I had. But it was too late. My Dragon had awoken and I knew I needed to return to my sanctuary.
Once I was there, I took a break; though I still didn’t feel safe to let loose in the way that I needed to as I knew my colleague could walk in at any moment.
Seeing me during a full blown ‘episode’ is every distressing. I don’t release all of my shackles; I never do as I am too scared to turn my Dragon loose. He just wants to destroy the world and see everything burn.
I finally began to cry as I felt the full might of the pain and fury I was trying to hold back. But I fight to stop every time a tear finds freedom. I went outside and grabbed the metal railings and just shook it hard. It swayed dangerously enough that I realised I was in danger of damaging more property.
I stood at the door and cursed the universe for giving me all this pain when I don’t deserve it. I feel my anger crystallise towards my dad and I feel furious with him for leaving me when I was 8 years old. I feel huge unimaginable guilt at feeling this emotion and my anger doubles and so does the pain.
I had terrible and distressing thoughts going through my head…feeding the fire I was trying so desperately to quench.
15mins later I rang ***** and explained what had happened. I rang again 15mins after that and following a conversation, during which time my previous fears were realised when my colleague came in and stood near me and heard more of my conversation than I wanted him to, it was decided that I was going home sick. I said I was throwing up and explained what he needed to do.
On the way home my anger was still strong. Those distressing thoughts, now made worse by the guilt I was feeling at having them, drove me to tears once again.
The drive home was dangerous. I was fighting a war; and sometimes winning, sometimes losing the battle that was raging within my own mind. A silent fight which only I was aware off. At times I was physically shaking with rage…whilst the entire time I was telling myself to calm down; focus on my breathing. Keep my mind clear and don’t think about anything.
When I finally got home I felt some relief to be somewhere safe and where I can fully express all the complex emotions and pain that were going through my head and manifesting physically through my body.
I made it into the kitchen and I just felt exhausted. I the strength I was using to keep my emotions in check was finally depleted. My legs gave out and I collapsed onto the kitchen floor.
Then the pain came…there was no holding it back. Emotional pain made physical. I felt like my entire body was in agony and I was screaming and crying as hard as my lungs would allow, but only a whisper escaped my lips as I did not want to alert anyone to my private torture.
Eventually the pain subsided enough for me to stand and compose myself; though it took several days for my anger to fully subside.
Sadly I know that this will happen again. It’s only a matter of time. It hasn’t been the first time this has happened and I know it will most definitely not be the last. It’s only a question of when…?
Note: Names and dates of this incident have been altered to protect identities, but that does not change the fact that this murder took place and nor does it diminish the everlasting affects it has had on me and my family in the years that have since past.
We each have an origin story. A series of events that have taken us from one location and have led us to where we are now.
In my short intro I state:
“I am someone who has spent the last 30yrs living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of being a Victim/Survivor of ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland. My PTSD has driven me to the brink of suicide more than once.”
The question you are probably wondering is…how did I get here?
It was the late 1980’s and ‘The Troubles’ were still going on. The news frequently mentioned punishment beatings, bombings, shootings and murders.
My mum had just left with my baby sister to go to a local Chinese to get some dinner and my dad was standing at the end of the driveway have a beer with a few of the neighbours.
Late one warm, dry summer night as I was playing on the pavement outside my house with my younger brothers toy car, I noticed a pair of car lights coming up my street.
The car stopped outside my house and as soon as I saw the men wearing masks I knew there was going to be a murder.
I ran for the house and when I was mid-flight I turned and saw the sparks coming out of the barrel of the gun and my dad falling to the ground. I knew he was dead.
I later found out that he had been shot between 5-7 times, including twice on the ground, and any one of those bullets would have been fatal.
Subsequent police investigations discovered that this was a purely sectarian murder of an innocent family man, who left behind a widow and 3 young children…one of whom witnessed his murder.
Our lives were forever turned upside down that night and we have been living with the consequences ever since.
But as this is my journey, and I cannot speak for the other witnesses or family members, I can tell you that I cannot remember the 12 months following this murder. For that year my mind was, and still is, a complete blank.
The ripples of that night are still flowing today as the blood flows in my veins. In the years that past I have developed PTSD and its affects are life-changing and impact on every aspect of my life. The older I get the more I can see just how complex and destructive it is.
I have been through more counselling than I ever believed possible (I lost count after seeing my 15th or 16th counsellor/psychologist. I have spent the last 30yrs (and I will expand on this, and other issues raised in this post, in a separate post) trying every coping strategy I can think off, whilst avoiding illegal drugs and alcohol abuse.
I have battled suicidal impulses, self-harm, depression and much more. But sharing these behaviours is the point of this blog.
At the time of writing this I am older now than my dad ever will be…and brings its own problems.
To date, despite knowing the identities of the gunmen, no-one has been brought to justice and due to the forensic counter-measures taken at the time, it is unlikely anyone will ever spend even so much as a single day in jail for this horrible crime.
And to make matters worse, I was told that even in the extreme unlikelyhood of someone actually going to jail for murdering my dad, under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement 1998, the maximum the person(s) would be sentenced to is 4yrs and they would be freed in 2yrs or less. I wouldn’t call 4yrs for intentional and premeditated murder is not justice; but these killers have given myself and my family, through their actions, a life-sentence.
My dads death is, and always will be, an unsolved murder…
After a long dry period of warm sunshine during which time we spend many a day going for walks or laying about and basking in the heat when we get the chance, it is easy to forget the cleansing affect a downpour can have, especially early in the morning just after sun rise.
The leaves on the trees open up and the air feels fresher and is filled with the smells of nature, as if the earth has just awoken from a slumber and is now stretching and readying for the day ahead.
As I drive towards my place of work I see a layer of cloud resting on Cave Hill like a veil, partially cloaking the mountain from view. The memory of a once occupied ancient fort perched atop and now in ruins, returns to my consciousness and I can’t help but wonder about the thoughts of the former inhabitants of this ancient land and what it would have been like to be amongst them on a morning such as this, overlooking what would become Belfast.
Looking out to the shore as I drive along continuing my journey, the high tide of the sea is filled with hundreds of seabirds all resting on the gentle movements of an otherwise apparently calm sea.
Occasionally I catch a glimpse of an upturned bird seconds before it disappears below the surface of the water in search of a tasty marine meal before resurfacing like a bobbing cork.
The sound of the rain against my windscreen pulls my thoughts out of their daydream and, with a rush, all the sounds of traffic associated with modern life rush to greet my ears.
This entire time, which may only have been a few seconds, my eyes have been staying alert to the possible dangers of the road which accompany 21st Century living.
When I have a few quiet moments at work to reflect on today’s car journey, my thoughts once again return to the past.
The Norman Castle which has stood ever vigilant over the Lough for nearly 800 years now stands out amidst the modern world. It’s presence never waning and constantly serving as a reminder of where we came from and with closer thought, of battles fought and won. Brave warriors throughout the centuries fighting to survive countless savage and bloody battles.
I often wonder what it would have been like to have lived during the time of its construction. How different would Carrickfergus have been and looked. What remains today of that ancient landscape that is still recognisable today? Some of the town streets have barely altered their path from the Medieval period during which they were first marked out. The town walls still stand just as imposing as ever, though now the threat has passed and their defensive purpose now rendered obsolete; they remind us of a more violent time during which they were very much needed and actively used.
Along the Marine Highway still stands the original sea wall marking a shoreline that was still in existence 100yrs ago. The main road and associated gardens now occupy land that was once owned by the sea and reclaimed at the hand of man in an effort to keep up with the ever changing and evolving society in which we now live.
The full moon and stars of our own galaxy would shine like billions of fairy lights hung high in the night’s curtain, brighter and more startling in ways that there are few opportunities to observe in today’s world of light pollution, which shields their glory from view.
Still, we must carry on the traditions of old laid down by our ancestors, in the best manner appropriate for the outcome that we seek to achieve.
We find ways to incorporate our love of the Goddess and God into our everyday life and each environment in which we find ourselves.
And all we have to do to reconnect with nature is to go for a walk and feel the same wind, sun and rain upon our bodies as did our ancestors before us and become at one with them and with the spirits of the earth and sky.