Where To Begin, A Journey Of Self Discovery Through An Illness Of The Mind

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Some people describe an illness of the mind as a nervous breakdown or a breakthrough of the mind, or madness, or “Oh he / she has problems with their nerves “!! all the usual cliche’s made by the unknowable / unacknowledgeable  people in  society who, without realizing the actual damage that they are doing to the person they are referring too.

In reality it’s called creating a stigma

I always refer to my recent encounter as my breakthrough, as an illness of the mind, not unlike any other illness I have had through my life, and I have had many, all of them life threatening, but none more so than my illness of the mind.!!

An illness of the mind in all cases is challenging to the sufferer, who becomes detached from the world around them, and their family and friends.

This is manifested by withdrawal from reality by way of sleeping all day, loss of motivation or purpose, loss of self esteem, loss of concentration, loss of self worth, and a conviction that whatever I do its wrong.

While the above does represent a number of sufferers but not all and certainly not the  most serious of cases, there can be people who suffer from psychosis / Schizophrenia, and bi-polar depression  but the one thing that is common among all sufferers is a feeling of unity as we are all ill of mind and we all suffer from a lack of understanding from people who have not had the misfortune to suffer an illness of the mind.

 It is estimated that at least 30% of the Irish population will suffer an episode of depression in their life time.

In many cases it explodes into their lives without warning or without the sufferer realizing it or understanding the reasons for it.

That is until in many cases they are hospitalized by their GP ( as it was in my own case).  I had all the symptoms of acute depression but as I was convinced I had a physical illness my focus was on a medical cure for my chronic back pain, which I was convinced was as a result of a major surgery I had in January 2015 which led me through 2015/16  having every medical test possible to try and discover the cause of this unbearable pain but to no avail, as this pain continued unabated and in many cases and on many days it got worse.

For me my loss of energy, concentration, sleeping for long periods during the day, being angry at those around me, feelings of uselessness and a burden to those who care the most for my welfare, this pain was so severe that I wished my doctors would tell me  I was terminally ill,

Unknown to me I was terminally ill but not as I had suspected, I was suffering from a different type of terminal illness it’s called extreme stress / depression/ anxiety.

This was to lead to a serious and acute bout of depression, which can lead, and sometimes does to a person making a terminal decision  with regards their own life.

My initial response to this event was one of fear, a fear of the unknown and the future, what would people say? what would my neighbors think ? what would the in-laws and out- laws have to say or think ?!!

After a couple of weeks in hospital I was to understand that it did not really matter what they said or thought, because at the end of the day this was  my illness and mine alone.

I  could lie down under it or I could turn it to my advantage, I could make the  decision to accept responsibility for my own recovery with the help of my medical team .

It was at this point that I decided that my life had to change, I needed to unconditionally accept my illness and do my share to achieve a full recovery.

AND SO I WAS TO BEGIN MY JOURNEY OF SELF DISCOVERY.

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During my journey I was to discover who I am;

I AM A FATHER.

I AM A HUSBAND.

I AM A GRANDFATHER.

I AM AN UNCLE.

I AM VULNERABLE.

I AM COMPASSIONATE TO OTHERS.

I AM VALUABLE TO OTHERS. 

I AM LOVED BY OTHERS.

I AM NEEDED BY OTHERS. 

 I AM SPIRITUALLY ALIVE.

I AM EMOTIONALLY ALIVE.

I AM AT PEACE WITH MYSELF.

I AM RECOVERING AND I WILL ALWAYS BE.

I HAVE BEEN THROUGH THE TUNNEL OF DARKNESS, AND I AM OUT INTO THE BRIGHTNESS OF A NEW DAY AND A NEW LIFE.

I AM NOW RESPONSIBLE FOR MY MENTAL HEALTH

                                I AM ME !!

 

    

 

 

A Mindful Experience

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When I was putting this poster together, it all happened without thought or intention from me.

When I was in hospital recently one of my fellow patients asked me to go this therapy so I decided I would if no other reason than to kill time and to stop Eddie giving out to me !!!

As we entered the therapy room all I could see were four tables and  six people at each table  which where covered with magazines and six pairs of scissors and everyone ready to go  I thought,what next? here we are back at primary school  cutting out pictures as Eddie stands back laughing at the shock on my face as I say “Jesus Eddie what have you got me into this time ? !!!” but never the less I said as promised I would stay and give it ago as we took up our seats

I started to look through the magazines to find pictures when suddenly I saw the heading:

I’m Beginning To Accept Myself For Who I am :

At this point  something strange started to happen. As I was continuing to leaf through the pages I felt that this was not me in charge off this project but my mind and that my hands where only the instruments to do its bidding as more and more pictures presented themselves to me which I blindly stuck to the cardboard to create the poster.

Not thinking much more about it  I returned to my room and put the poster on top off my wardrobe went off  had a cup of tea and as it was a sunny evening a walk in the garden with Eddie where we talked about the class we both attended.

I tried to explain to him what had happened, he laughed at me and said your off your head !! we both laughed as I said I suppose that is why we are in St Pat’s !!! as Eddie say’s “Its the medication stupid !!!” once again laughter as we continue our walk joking with each other, as we are joined by other patients from our floor, the poster was never mentioned again

A couple off weeks later I started my [ CBT] Therapy which is about helping people to deal with trauma and post traumatic stress disorder, something I never thought about until I had my breakdown / breakthrough.

It was at one of these sessions that I was to realize and learn about a thing called “compassionate self “

This is a therapy where we look at the decision’s we made  in our lives and why we made them etc. what where the positives and what where the negative?

As I continued on with this therapy my mind was becoming more clear about the past I was for the first time able to stop beating myself up and start to regain my self esteem and self respect by knowing that my decisions were made for the right reasons and not self gain or self glorification hence your compassionate self.

It was after one of these sessions that I returned to my room to prepare my laundry bag that I happened to take the poster down, as I left it on my bed I looked at it one more time only to see the biggest success any human being could have

      As I Now Accept Who I Am

I Am Me!!

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The Challenges Of Life

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As we go through life we will all have to face challenges, some of these of events / challenges we will face with great courage where we will overcome them with gusto, and in other times we will fail miserably. But nevertheless we will continue to try even if its against all the odds of success.

Some people describe this as being pigheaded, determined or in Irish terms, { A Thick that just won’t give up !!}

Sometimes these unbearable challenges are hoisted upon us by way of  serious ill health which in most cases are life threatening as we hang on by our fingertips and hope that the Surgeons will get it right as we are wheeled  into the theater for our biggest challenge.

Knowing of  course that the real work will only begin when we arrive back into the intensive care unit as our nurses and doctors will await your waking up out of your very own anesthetic !!

But  can you imagine if in your later life you had to face that four/five times  as you fight to recover every time, and all are for a different illness but at the same time all related to the first  illness.

Sometimes the body just cant take any more as we suffer unbearable pain which just never seems to relent or even lessen.

It’s called chronic pain, a pain that will drive you down into the darkest place, a place no one ever wants to go, it is called ACUTE DEPRESSION !!

An illness that is even more life endangering / threatening   than any psychical illness, simply because we have lost all our reasons to live, where the taking of ones own life is seen to be the answer.

No more pain, no longer  are we a burden to our family, we will reach out to our God and seek love, comfort and forgiveness for our sins and for which we intend to do.

Or hope that a doctor would just  say we can’t do any more for you, as he tells you I can only say 6 months to a year and then it will be all over no more pain no more suffering

But then we wake up one morning and we decide to give our god forsaken life one more try  { The Thick Irish Man}.

But then all the questions start.

Why can’t you just allow me to go to your judgement rather than have all these people judge me and my life;

Why ? all the questions but few answers.

 How will  we try and tame that black dog of depression  and anxiety,and if so how ?

Who will help me?,

Who will understand me?

Was this awakening the hand of comfort from my God.?

Is he/she telling me I had more to do on this earth and I am not ready to take you?

Am I to face further suffering and pain? what more pain will I have to endure, or is my God to give me further strength to bear this cross,? to shine that light of hope, and where will that shining light take me?, Will He guide me to my inner peace? will He pick me up when I fall ?

When self doubt raises its head will He guide me back and give me the strength to overcome my weakness and fear.

Once again more questions than answers !!

Then I ask ? what was it that  awoke me that morning, what was it that told me I was going to be OK, its not your time and as we don’t know or understand the human mind  but something was talking to me, so I decided it was time to follow my mind. This was to be the first step of many in my recovery.

As I put my trust in that voice in my mind, which has guided me home and out of that darkness into the brightness of a new spring, where just like the daffodils sprouting from the darkness of the soil  I  too am reborn into life’s brightness.

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A MESSAGE OF HOPE

 

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As some might already know, I have just come through a 10 week stay in St Patrick’s Hospital for mental health  Dublin,

Since I was discharged six weeks ago and arrived home it has given me the opportunity to look back at the most life changing event of my 68 years

For almost a year unknown to myself I was losing my own self esteem, self worth and confidence, and entered into a deep depression which was brought on by a long period of illness and chronic pain which all started way back in 1992 and continued right up to 2017 in which time I had 7 surgeries including for cancer , a heart bypass , the inserting of 7 stents over time to my heart arteries  and the removal of  part of the right lung, all of these where a trauma to my health system and body , but what I never considered was the damage all this was doing to my mental health, that was until the the 22nd of June 2017 when  I entered into my GPs surgery  an emotional and physical wreck, lost, without energy, crying, and a distressed shaking,  broken man. 

I had unknown to myself hit the wall of severe depression and post traumatic stress disorder.(PTSD) by the 2nd of July 2017  I was walking through the threshold of St Patricks  Hospital for Mental Health being supported by my wife  Catherine and daughter Niamh

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As I walked through the doors I was unaware of what I might meet or come in contact with but I was soon put at ease as I met my medical team who explained what was to happen next, but it hardly mattered as I was just glad to be somewhere safe and where my road out of this deep darkness would begin.

After my admission process was finished I was brought to my ward         ( Kilroot ) which I found to be a coincidence as I muttered to myself  “The last place I saw that name was away back in the early 1960s as my two older brothers where engineers at the ICI plant there outside Carrickfergus County Antrim and it did not have good memories as they where driven from their jobs as they where Catholics working in a totally Protestant area. Thankfully that was not to be repeated in this Kilroot !!

As I entered the ward a nurse meet me linked my arm and showed me to my bed  in a four bed unit and said to me ” Don’t worry Philip we are here to help you get well ” that was the best news I had heard in a long time and my wife Catherine was so relived by that statement she was able to go home knowing I was in the right place.That I would receive the unconditional care and love of a dedicated group  of people who knew my Illness and what needed to be done to help get me well,

I spent the first three weeks of the ten in that ward as the medications took effect in slowing my brain from being a racing maze  to a more normal or what they would describe as manageable which would  enable me to take part in other program’s that will  contribute to my recovery

BUT THE MOST IMPORTANT THING I FOUND IN THOSE EARLY DAYS AND THE DAYS AND WEEKS TO FOLLOW WAS THE LOVE SHOWN TO ME BY ALL THE STAFF FROM THE DOCTORS, THE NURSES, TO THE CLEANING AND THE DINING ROOM STAFF BUT THE MOST IMPORTANT WAS THE SUPPORT GIVEN TO ME BY MY FELLOW PATIENTS  OF ALL AGES  FROM THEIR EARLY TWENTIES TO SIXTIES ALL SUFFERING FROM SOME TYPE OFF MENTAL ILLNESS BUT MOSTLY FROM ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION IT WAS DURING THIS TIME THAT THIS LOVE WAS TO SPUR ME ON WITH MY RECOVERY

HOPE 

Some wise man once said    “From love grows hope ”  and yes in my experience that is true.

As I moved from my four bed unit to my own private room I could see the broad smiles of my nurses in recognition that I was now on my way to a full recovery , as I can now take part in the many recovery lecturers and workshops I was to take part  in the following seven weeks  but the glory of having my own room where I could go in, close the door to think / meditate , listen to music of the Buddha chants, ( which I found helped me to relax and sleep and still do !! ). once again my hopes for a recovery where to rise as my confidence was to improve as the negative thoughts where slowly leaving my mind.

My next step was to attend the various morning lectures which where given by the  doctors  and the  therapist who are specialist in their given field of mental health recovery  from which I was to learn so much about my illness, and how it was to effect my everyday life.but most important, how with the tools I was to be given I could / would / do, manage my illness into a full recovery.

It was after the first week of morning lectures that I was to enter into my three week course of workshops for acute depression which consisted off four two hour meetings per week, in groups of ten people , these workshops brought together all ages and genders but who had one thing in  common depression and looking/hoping  for a road out of this darkness that had engulfed our lives.

It was by attending these  therapy lectures and workshops that I first saw that twinkle off light ( and no it wasn’t the train in the tunnel !!! ) but what it was , was the twinkle of hope and not despair and the feeling of that workshop was as we all looked across the room, every on of us  where there for all kinds of different reasons but we all had one thing in common  { acute depression } and looking for help, that rope that will take us out of that deep and dark hole that we find ourselves in, giving us the Hope and  help we need  that will bring our lives back together  

It was at this stage that I was get to meet people in my own age group  ( 60+) some where male but the majority where female and all were widows /widowers who lived alone as their husbands / partners had recently died /passed on, this loss was / is compounded by the fact that in nearly all cases their children where  after  their education finishing were forced into emigration  to the four corners off the world,  to get a job and build their lives

 As they did not blame their loss on their children, but on banks and government ,  they will all solider on, as they hope  for change, hoping to see their family reunited in the land off their birth, where  they will once again see that twinkle in their eyes hear the laughter and the happy  glow that only a mother can see  and a love  that only  a mother can feel 

 

Laughter 

After two years without any laughter being in my life I had to  end up in a hospital for mental illness before I was to rediscover what it was like to have a real belly laugh 

It all began as I with other patients where sitting around  in the lounge  after  our night tea and biscuits as we chatted about  the events off the day.

There I was looking around at all these people , all like myself  drugged up before bed time and watching television when  a man  stood up and did the funny walk  of Basil Fawlty  as we all burst out laughing  and it was to get worse as we all passed comments  like ( Jesus we had to come here to get a laugh !!!!  or as we shake around the place telling people your all mad but I am alright !!!! ) 

This  outrageous behaviour and worse  was to continue right up  until my discharge !! but on a serious note  what it really was , it was the release of lots of tensions and bad emotions that  gathered up throughout the day, but we all went to bed drugged up with laughter and hoping for a better day tomorrow 

The most satisfaction day’s I had where days when I saw patients who I had  met leaving the hospital smiling and laughing looking into a new beginning in life with

 

            LOVE,  HOPE,

              AND  LAUGHTER  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A New Life of Love, Hope and Laughter

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On this damp and cold Autumn morning I look out at the trees at the back of my home shaking in the mild wind as they lose their beauty and their leaves drift in the wind down to the grass.

But these trees in the long winter to come will still protect me, my family and my home from the ravages of the winter and the Atlantic storms that will pound our land.

But come the springtime as the lambs leap across the fields, the cattle produce their calves, the daffodils sprout from the ground and the buds of new life appear we will witness the rebirth of our trees .

And so it goes with each autumn and winter the circle of life will continue. 

So it is as we go through our lives, after each illness / trauma / tragic event we try to hide our emotions and our worries and stand tall in the face of such adversity, but sometimes it all becomes overwhelming.

When this happens, just like my trees, we end up bare of feelings, self worth, confidence and belonging in this world.

As  we enter into our own winter of darkness and depression and without hope we are inside crying out for help and wondering will anyone hear us, will that helping hand reach out to us.

Then from nowhere that hand appears, the hand of love, the hand of hope, the hand of laughter, the hand of new life, just as the darkness of winter ends and the light of spring appears and the buds on my trees once again bloom into life, so also will the illness of depression be overcome with a new spring and light, as our buds of self-confidence, self worth, and our sense of place in this world starts to bloom a new beginning to life,  to be welcomed and clasped as we listen to the trees shaking  in the soft breeze and the rivers flow in a bright sun of a new Summer. 

 

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LIVING IN THE SHADOWS OF OTHERS

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Recently I had a conversation with a person very close to me who said,

“you have been living in the shadow of your family all your life and it’s about time you stepped out of that shadow”

That statement was to have a profound effect on how I had viewed myself for the best part of, if not all of my life !!

The conversation took place at a recent book launch where I had a small piece included in the book. The book is called  “A BITTERSWEET KIND OF BEAUTIFUL”.

This book included a sample of stories and poems written by a number of patients (of which I was one) in St Patricks Hospital for Mental Health in Dublin Ireland.

I come from a family of  nine (9) four of whom received local, National and International recognition for the various things they achieved in their lives.

As I was the youngest in the family the age gap between them and me ranged between 15 years and 10 years, but nevertheless I was identified as their brother and was therefore it was expected  that I too would  also reach their standards, and yes in my mind I was convinced I at least had to try !! but the more I tried the harder it became and the more I tried and failed it became even more harder as I was to accept the ridicule of others, this was a cloud which was to hang over me for most of my life.

During the past number of weeks I have been receiving  a therapy called  Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).  This therapy helps to make people look at the decisions they made during their lives whether they were good or bad,  whether they were right or wrong.  I was asked to explain why I made those decisions and what affect those decisions had on my life. I was asked TO LOOK AT MY COMPASSIONATE MIND, i.e. was there any self gain; was it made to help others by way of a job; or to help those in my community who were worse off than me. But no it was neither of those things, it was about me, it was me trying to live up to a standard that I was never going to achieve. My only regret is that I did not do this years ago, as by trying to live up to the standards of others it almost destroyed my own life, as it destroyed my confidence and self esteem and worth, which led to anger with members of my family.

But having said all this I always think I am one of the lucky ones as I had the support and love of my own wife and four children who bestowed unconditional love and support in the most difficult of times .

I no longer live in those shadows but happy to realise my own success and that of my children.

A Helping Hand Can Change The Life Off One But Many Can Benefit

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Last Tuesday night I went along to my local  Aware mental  health support night in Castlebar Co Mayo.

Its a meeting for people who suffer with Mental health problems A place where we can discuss our problem where we can laugh at our problem and where we can support each other with our problems.

Whilst I was waiting on other members and for the meeting to begin I happened to pick up a booklet / magazine issued by the Saint Vincent  De Paul Society

(A charitable organisation who lend a helping hand to the less fortunate in our Profit,Greed,and The I am all right Jack Society )

As I glanced through the pages I came across this poem / essay That I would like to share with you

The Highest Degree

For years I lived in the torments of Hell

No one heard when I rang the bell

I felt deprived of love and life

As I cringed in my cell of poverty and strife

 

Bills sent chills, I lived in fright

No coal in the shed on a long winder’s night

The food running out and the money spent

The week not yet over and I didn’t pay rent

 

And just when I reached my lowest – the ebb

Angels descended anointing my head

These angels, the saviours, who heard my lost call

They are God’s holy helpers, the Vincent de Paul

 

Extending their kindness, they offered me help

They clothed my children, put food on the shelf

And when in crept September and schools going back

They helped me buy uniforms and books – I relaxed

 

My body re-healed, but my heart remained broken

I had travelled dark roads, I was stripped of emotion

My spirit felt buried, a tired run-down feeling

My soul searched release and a spiritual healing

 

Then one Summer’s night, at a quarter-to-eight

Two of “God’s helpers” appeared at my gate

They guided me gently, to sign on a course

And little-by-little, I regained my life force

 

I attended more courses, it was a revelation

To re-enter life and receive education

Learning new skills made me feel ten feet tall

All thanks to the members of St. Vincent de Paul.

 

Contributed by a person who was helped

This was written in the Autumn  off 2014 its now 2017 and not much has changed but they have got now 300 times worse

So the next time you see a Saint Vincent De Paul collection please contribute I know I will

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