It’s the question that always seems rhetorical, the one that doesn’t really tend to have an answer according to society, Ireland and the world’s elephant in the room – yes, it is 2018 and we for some reason feel scepticism to talk about our mental health. The very stigma and socially accepted norm is one which I hope burns to the ground in a rather swift fashion.
I’ve suffered from poor mental health at various intervals in my life, and I know that is normal and just part of the human experience at times, so why shouldn’t I be allowed to talk about it? Whether I am allowed or not, it’s something I would still like to discuss my experience with. It is time to challenge this stigma that has existed as long as modern society has itself. Take for example a guy like me – I am a man, a young man, studying at one of Europe’s greatest universities, in my dream course, with friends from afar and friends from home at hand, and home only merely around the corner – Surely I couldn’t have a problem in the world?
Oh, you’re so very mistaken, my friend, for when we can assume one is fine, that may not be the case at all – as a matter of fact, I ate my lunch in the bathroom today, and I can’t explain why, or how I feel to anybody right now – but I know eventually I can.
Having negative thoughts is a part of human life, and it’s something that I accept as a fact that not every day can be a good day. If every day were a good day, well then wouldn’t life be wonderful? Regardless of one’s general state of mind, everybody has a bad day. There needs to be a realisation in this country, that it is OK not to be OK. Were everyone always happy, in good spirits, full of fun and morale always high – then we would live in a fairy world where we all danced like leprechauns jumping into pools of gold and drank water coloured like rainbows – think of how bizarre that sounds, now think of how bizarre it is to think that a human being should be happy every day of their life, and how incredibly stupid it is that modern society does not condone speaking out about mental health, and that anyone that suffers from a mental illness is tarnished with the one brush.
On a personal note, I have suffered from poor mental health upon multiple occasions in my life. Throughout primary school, I was bullied over my appearance and for the fact that I was intelligent – I was seen as a ‘nerd’, a ‘teacher’s pet’ and a ‘rat’. I felt very alone at times, although I had friends, it was almost a crime to be seen with me, just because I didn’t conform to the norms of acting childish and engaging in chaos in the classroom, from a young age I was always entirely focused on my work. In hindsight, this was really affecting my mental health even at a young age – School was a place where I used to flourish. It was somewhere where I felt I had a unique ability and a talent – I was not like the other children back then, I was not good at sport or didn’t excel in many other fields. Being subjected to abuse for this made me suppress my talents and made me not want to stay at school or even interact with others.
Thankfully, this began to go away once I started secondary school. However, once I reached the beginning of third year, I began to feel very down in myself all of a sudden. I had many more friends in secondary school, an unprecedented popularity due to falling in with the ‘right crowd’. I was able to dish out banter but I was very sensitive to being made fun of and whatever else myself. If someone made a gibe about me, I would laugh it off on the surface and seem relatively impartial and unaffected. All my friends were well liked by everyone, were in relationships and were growing up really fast, I felt stuck in a rut, but by means of breaking out of my shell and a rapid change of appearance, my fortunes saw an upturn. Going into my Junior Certificate, I had the best friends and family a guy could ask for, began to see people romantically, was well-liked and performed brilliantly in an academic sense and it was honestly the happiest I ever remember being. The day before I sat my Junior Cert, tragedy struck, and in the aftermath of such tragedy my mental health plummeted to the lowest it had ever been.
After a tragic accident, one of my best friends was clinging onto life in Cork University Hospital whilst the rest of us sat our English exam. That night, news filtered through that he had passed away. My entire world and its foundations simply collapsed.
I have never felt grief like that ever in my life. I was so angry at the world that it had happened, I kept asking why, I kept feeling so confused and broken at how such a wonderful person had been snatched away from us without a minutes warning. That day was the day I stopped being a boy, and the world around me forced me whether I was willing or not to become a man. Unsurprisingly, the death of my colleague had a hugely detrimental effect on my academics and in the summer months which followed, my life began to spiral out of control. I felt so lost, alone and confused. I felt like no matter who I talked to that nothing would fix it, no one could bring him back. When school came back around, I couldn’t face it. The only thing that ran through my mind was the vivid image of the empty desk that reminded me of the void in my life that I thought I would never fill again.
I cried every day and every night for six whole months. I had embarked upon a new relationship in the aftermath of the trauma, and things did pick up a little. The sense of newfound belonging and connection helped to soften the blows and slowly but surely I began to turn my traumatic experience into something I could use as a source of inspiration. I began to try and live my life in a way that he did, he was always happy, optimistic and looked out for others. I began to see each day as a blessing, and I picked myself up and began to make the most of life, seeming as it was so short and unpredictable. Once again thankfully due to the support of others and a healthy and active mind, I picked myself up, however it was only to fall again.
In September of 2015, I felt myself losing my sanity. Nothing could be worse for me than being a teenager doing my leaving cert, until I became a miserable teenager doing the leaving cert. I found out that people I thought cared about me and loved me really didn’t, and the realisation that there was nothing I could do to salvage something hit me like a train. I felt constantly down, heartbroken. The things going through my head day after day and night after night were unbearable, I thought they would never go away. I thought that over time these feelings would fade but realistically they never did. Time is supposed to heal you but I found it doesn’t.
I tried to get over everything, make new friends and focus on school. But the dark shadow of negativity was always looming over my shoulder and found its way back. I began to think that I might need help, so one night I just gave in – for fear of what might’ve happened inside my head had I not done so, I told someone I needed help and I went and got it. That’s when I came to a realisation, my family and friends make my life worth living. That’s the moment I found my cure. There is no one cure for sadness.
But there is a cure for sadness inside each and every one of us. The only problem is that you have to find it within yourself.
Mine happened to be my unconditional love for others. I’ve began to see the light at the end of every tunnel. I am a forgiving person: there are people out there who’ve broken me but I’d still take them back into my life in an instance. Thankfully, I don’t have as many negative thoughts as I did at first. But like everybody, I still have my days when I feel like shit and I feel like locking myself away from the world. If there’s one thing I’m trying to say here it’s that life can be cruel. Everything can fall apart at once and bring you to your knees. Nothing will ever be perfect: you just have to find your balance. Each and every one of us has our own personal cure for sadness and misery. The only way you will find yours is if you get out of bed and get out into the world. You may discover a new life, a new love, a new happiness. I question whether I’ll find this myself, and I do have my doubts, but life always has a surprise in store. Giving up cannot be an option. Be grateful. Be happy. I thought I may as well open up and say it: it’s OK not to be OK.
I shared this story not for my own personal benefit, but for the benefit of those reading it. To anyone who may be experiencing times of distress, I just want you to know that you’re not alone and that no matter how much you don’t believe it – someone cares, and someone always will. Help will always be at hand. I hope that by sharing my story, others will find the courage within themselves to do likewise. I am not perfect, I never will be, and I will have dark days, but by the powers inside of me, I will rise above them and live my life to the fullest – for I know that it can change in the blink of an eye.