EXHALE AND RECOVER

A story of my life, written by Our Life Logs.
**warning contains sensitive and adult content**

Covered by ourlifelogs.com.

I grew up in the 1990s in Belfast, Northern Ireland, during the times of “The Troubles.” If you didn’t know, The Troubles refer to a nasty civil dispute that spanned over 30 years between the British and Irish in the country over religious and nationalistic differences. Naturally, this made Northern Ireland a dangerous place to grow up.

When I was eight, riots made their way to Belfast and brought angry people with the intent to cause destruction by throwing homemade bombs into buildings. Well, my family was one of the unlucky houses hit. I remember waking up to a loud crash and the smell of smoke and petrol. My mother, my four younger sisters, and I were forced to evacuate.

Meanwhile, my father was drunk at a pub. When my mother called to tell him what happened, he basically said, “Well, I can’t do anything about it.”

He left us alone to fend for ourselves. Furious, my mother left him but still allowed him to take us every other weekend. I hated visiting him because he used to tell me I was stupid and that he didn’t like me very much, and all he ever did was drink at home, or leave us kids and drink at the pub.

Me as a baby

Having left our father, my mother started drinking every day and every night, leaving me to step up as the older brother. I wish I could say I held the family together, but that’s not entirely true. In some areas I succeeded, and in others I failed. We all just tried to get by.

For a year, our family jumped from one hostel to another until we found a small flat in 1998. By then, The Troubles were coming to an end, but the trauma was irreversible. Living with that fear took a toll on my psyche, and unfortunately, it was just the first of many dominoes to fall in deteriorating my mental health.

My mother did her best raising my sisters and me alone, and I tried my hardest to be helpful. Every Monday morning, I’d collect my mother’s benefits for her from the local post office. There was always an elderly gentleman queued up when I arrived. I eventually got to know him and would look forward to seeing him as he would give me 10 GBP whenever I saw him. To a nine-year-old in the ‘90s, 10 GBP was a lot!

But then, the “how are you’s” turned into strange, inappropriate questions like, “do you masturbate?” I began to see him daily on the streets in the neighborhood. He told me that if I told my parents about the questions, I’d get put in a home and they would be arrested.

One day, the man told me about a toy car that he’d left at his flat. He asked me to come by and get it. Innocent and trusting, I agreed, and that’s when the sexual abuse began. He often tied me to a chair and forced me to touch him.

Looking back, I wish I had screamed, but in a scenario like that, it’s often fight, flight, or freeze…and I froze. This went on for six years, and he kept me silent with threats and gifts. I didn’t want my parents to go away. So, terrified, I never told anyone and the secret weighed down on me until I grew to hate myself.

When I became too old at 15, the abuse stopped, but the years of damage remained. By then, I was struggling to grow into a teenager and figure out my sexuality. There was a duality to my feelings that made me question if I was having thoughts about men because of the abuse or if was I truly curious. I hated it. Not to mention people were being called gay as an insult on the streets as it was a heavily conservative area.

I began to feel like I was contagious and disgusting. I tried overdosing on pills but I had no idea how to do it. The pills I chose just made me sick.

In 2009, in the midst of me battling all the demons that had weaved into my psyche, I was hit with another wave. I learned that my father was sexually abusing a close relative when he got drunk. I was furious and tried to get the police involved. I see the irony of wanting to report others’ abuse when I was afraid to report my own, but maybe this was my offhanded way of getting justice.

Unfortunately, my father heard that I had sought help and got spooked. He killed himself before the police got to him, refusing to face his crimes.

When his family learned what happened, they immediately targeted me, blaming me for his death, saying that the allegations were false. They turned their backs on me, and I, of course, was riddled with guilt. I felt like I was at fault for his death, and having something like that on my conscience made the dark feelings from my past traumas grow stronger. I attempted suicide by overdosing once more but failed.

I was embarrassed that I had failed. It began to feel like I could do nothing right.

I tried my best to move forward despite my mental health crumbling with each hit. I found a job taking care of old folks and I started experimenting with both men and women. Eventually, I fell in love with a woman and married her in 2012. She knew that I was bi-curious, she knew about my father’s suicide and about my childhood (except the abuse), and still, she accepted me.

Our relationship started off great, but over time, she became more controlling. She’d clock the miles on my car and freak out if I derailed from her expected schedule. Then, it grew harder when she fell pregnant only to miscarry. We didn’t talk about the loss. It simply hung in the air around our every movement. She’d dismiss my issues with mental health and tell me that it was all in my head. I began to feel trapped and depressed by the grief and control of our relationship.

Then, in 2015, I had an out-of-body experience where I was cutting carrots with a knife and had a psychotic break. I vaguely remember calling my mother and telling her I wanted to die. My mother immediately told me she was on her way. She was coming from the countryside, so by the time she got to me, I was outside in the garden in my underwear in the pouring rain. When I came back to myself, I was baffled at how I’d gotten out there. That’s when I knew my mental health was getting far worse.

Not long after this experience, my wife and I separated, and while we remained friends, I felt empty.

Then, an angel came into my life—a man named Andrew. We met through Instagram when he commented, “Nice smile,” on one of my photos. We met in person, and it was love at first sight. I told him about my mental health issues, and he embraced me. When we kissed, I knew for a fact that I was gay. It felt right, never like how it was with women. In discovering this, I came out to my mother and sisters who accepted me with loving arms.

Me, my mum and sisters

Yet even a healthy relationship can only do so much for a person still battling self-hatred and repressed trauma. It’s like a band-aid. It stops the bleeding, but the scab always has a chance of busting back open.

I started hearing voices that convinced me I deserved to die and that my feelings were punishment for driving my dad to suicide. In 2017, I tried overdosing again, and just to make sure I succeeded this time, I tried hanging myself too. Thankfully, my partner, Andrew, found me before it was too late. He helped me check into a mental health facility, but being there only made me feel worse.

Ten days later, I checked myself out of the facility and tried to hang myself again, but the belt ripped. Quickly, I grabbed a scarf and tied it to the doorknob. Somehow, the door didn’t stay shut. I failed then too. That was when I took a look at the scarf and the door and knew I needed to accept help, even if it was going to be hard.

I was sent to a psychiatric hospital where I remained for three months. The voices continued until I was placed on psych meds. The voices may have quieted but the meds made me feel numb, like a dummy. One of the only things keeping me tethered to the outside world was Andrew. Through each of my suicide attempts, he stayed by my side. While in the psych ward, he visited me and supported me in my recovery.

And and I

I knew I could completely trust him, and after years of keeping it hidden, I told him about the childhood abuse. Andrew said to me, “You’re never going to get better if you don’t report this and get closure.”

Unfortunately, and fortunately, the investigation proved that the man who abused me had already passed away. I wish I had spoken up sooner to prevent others becoming his victims, but there was no going back. Even so, I felt…lighter. Simply being open about the abuse for the first time in my life was justice I could be content with.

When the doctors concluded I was fit to be discharged after three months, I started seeing a counselor for the sexual abuse and another for mental health problems for the next year. All that was well and good, but it wasn’t until I discovered Recovery College in 2018 that I had hope.

Recovery College is a program curated to educate those struggling with mental illnesses and help them learn how to self-manage their symptoms, help others, and step back into daily life. Through them, I was able to recognize my own strength, practice mindfulness, and develop a self-confidence I’d lost early in life. They helped me see that the bad things that happened to me weren’t my fault, even though it felt like it for so long.

I was so grateful for their help, I decided I wanted to be a part of others’ recovery. I had so much life experience to pull from and I wanted it to be used for good. Through the program, I got qualified, received my certification in suicide prevention, and began teaching there in 2019. I was trained in mental health and acute emergency care, gained specialist skills in suicide prevention, and now work in the SET Recovery College as a peer support worker and tutor and work within emergency acute care within the ED (Emergency Department) when busy. I also volunteer with NexusNI, a charity that provided me with the specialist counselling to overcome the trauma of sexual violence and rape.

I also found the courage to begin blogging about my life experiences and volunteering in the community. In doing so I’ve found healing I never thought was possible.

When I look back on my life, I see how much pressure I put on myself to hold it together despite what I was going through. I wanted so badly to appear normal and perfect, but the truth is, no human is. I used to live a life of holding my breath, but now, I can finally relax knowing that the demons of my past are behind me.

This is the story of James Keenan

James currently resides in a small town on the countryside of Downpatrick County Down, Northern Ireland (the burial place of St. Patrick), where he works as a suicide prevention specialist and writer. Growing up during The Troubles which led to his house getting bombed, James’ life started out rough and continued to be rough including sexual abuse in his pre-teen years, his father’s suicide, a messy marriage, and struggling with his sexuality, which all led to major mental health problems and many suicide attempts. It wasn’t until 2017 that he got the help he’d been needing for years. Since then, he has recovered and learned how to manage his depression. He is now employed in the Recovery College. He is also working closely with other charities and has dreams of starting his own charity. James believes that his biggest achievement to date is fundraising for a Cambodian NGO and twice visiting to build three houses, a toilet, and repairs on other houses previously built—and, of course, having managed his own mental health while helping others through their recovery, trauma, and preventing suicide within his local community.

This story first touched our hearts on June 22, 2019.

He likes to write poetry in his free time and plans to write his first novel soon. He is grateful for his partner who has stuck by him through his recovery and loves him despite his affinity for oddly designed socks. He remains proud of his sibling and says his dear nephews are the apple of his eye. He plans to focus on his future with Andrew, adopting children, travelling, and marriage. He also hopes to start his own business, create his own charity, and focus on writing a novel.

James in Cambodia

| Writer: Kristen Petronio | Editor: Colleen Walker | https://ourlifelogs.com/2019/08/01/exhale-and-recover/

THE UNTOLD HEROES

A poem to celebrate the 70th year of our National Health Service in 2018. The poem is dedicated to all the NHS staff whom work extremely hard to deliver a high standard of care.

The National Health Service, our country’s greatest treasure,

Health care at its best, as services come together.

The most wonderful thing about the NHS is its people,

Those overworked during times most vital.

A service so magnificent and its people so devoted,

Staff performing to their best, with health checks all promoted.

Bands of all grades and the volunteers,

Giving their their all. Tackling heartache and fighting back the tears.

A great proudness with sincere gratitude,

During their busiest, they deliver with a caring attitude.

In Nursing there is no such thing as just a band three, four or five,

It’s not just a job, but an honour to strive.

Long waits and delays are known to happen,

Raised voices and patients’ patiences snapping,

It’s not because staff want you to wait,

It’s the emergencies, prioritised at a very high rate.

Nurses and support workers on their feet all day,

Working thirteen hours with few breaks and that’s on a good day.

There’s so more in all professions within the NHS,

It’s just not needles and medication. It’s not an act to impress.

The efforts to deliver great care clearly show, just how passionate,

Through dedication and beyond, how one can be so compassionate.

They have abilities to listen and comfort at your worst,

They use the best of their ability to ensure you’re properly nursed.

Skills beautiful demonstrated that are truly inspirational,

All are welcomed and equally treated, a service so sensational.

All grades of profession, the untold heroes of our National Health Services,

A service that offers the very best. A tribute to their purpose.

Seventy years of devoted care to those patients old and new,

As a nation we come together, to say a massive Thank-You!

A poem by James Keenan Emergency Department Practitioner

In commemoration of the 70th Anniversary of the National Health Service

OUR SOLDIERS

A poem written in dedication to all those brave who served for their country in World War I & II.

In a war that saw new weaponry technology,

Soldiers of war stay in trenches of agrology,

Friendships grew with soldiers of many nationalities,

In combat, soldiers who became friends counting their casualties.

Horrific experiences of soldiers in active combat,

who became targets and many became their enemies doormat,

Men and Women who served their time in war,

Struggled in conditions and sleeping on the floor,

The many enduring the most brutal forms of welfare known,

Losing friends and colleagues and no remorse shown.

Those soldiers where sent often and far away,

Many left and returned and some made to stay.

Some made to battle sore, to much became overwhelming,

Wounded, injured and bodily swelling, death occurring, and news began spreading.

Wanting home and journeys impossible,

In time, victory was won and outlooks looked possible.

Whilst this was World War one and two,

Forces to be proud of and together we thank-you.

-James Keenan

BEAUTIFULLY IN LOVE

A poem written to express my appreciation of love, protection and hope!

When I first met you I knew it was love,

As if an angel had sent you from the heavens above.

Your smile so cute gets me every time,

A beautiful signal that reminds me your mine.

It was an instant connection and being inseparable,

Our journey began to a destination to be so incredible.

It wasn’t long before I got to know you,

A man so gentle and loving with a heart so true.

The beauty of your kiss and the magic of your touch,

It’s all these reasons and more why I love you so very much.

The smiles and giggles, it’s just us two,

Now I will thank you for making my dreams come true.

Its in your arms I feel best protected and less restricted,

Our love together has only ever got stronger, just as I predicted.

You make me smile and mostly laugh,

Here I hope we continue to remain on this amazing path.

The little things you say and do, proves your love to be true,

So rest assure that no one else will ever take the place of you.

Beautifully in love, trusted and love prone,

I would rather share one life time with you rather than alone.

-James Keenan

LITTLE SISTERS

A poem written to tell a story of my appreciation towards my siblings.

You’re my life a circle, one that never ends,

We may have fallouts but can always make a mends.

I’ve now been a brother for almost thirty years,

Starting with the first arrival who brought me happy tears.

We’re best friends, soulmates and siblings too,

Even through the darkest day, we’ll stick like glue.

We stick together during events good and bad,

We know how to give a hug when one of us is sad.

My precious little sisters so loving and kind,

When we are together we’re powerfully combined.

Years have gone by and I have had time to reflect,

Whatever path you decide to take, i’ll be smiling with great respect.

You have your families and you’re maturing now,

But I still as a big brother, I always question why?

Yous are the apple of my eye, the heart of our family tree,

I love each and everyone of you forever what will be.

Together we as siblings who are totally inseparable,

Cherishing each moment and making a life so memorable.

I’m your big brother yet I can still turn to you,

The same applies I’ll always be here for you too.

You aren’t just my sisters, but you’re my inspiration,

For it will always continue throughout our life’s duration.

We may not always be together with life sometimes keeping us apart,

But that doesn’t matter for you’re all in my heart.

So in happiness and filled with love, i’m gonna shout out loud,

I love yous so dearly, thank you for making your big brother proud.

– James Keenan

THE SECRET

The Secret is a book and television documentary, written by the fantastic and beautiful Rhonda Byrne, based on the law of attraction.

The law of attraction is a tool that can be used to help change your life. It can also invite positivity into your life and by simply believing in yourself, you can change your mindset by the way you think and react. This in result broadens your core values, ethics and beliefs, whilst accepting the law of attraction this will guide you through the universe to create a destiny for yourself.

In order to become a master at manifesting the law of attraction, we have to undo the patterns that have been stored in our unconscious mind and replace them with positive, empowering patterns. In other words, we need to rewire our brain.

You can begin by implementing daily positive practices in our lives, we will shift and raise our energetic vibration so that we can manifest from a place of calm, inspired action yielding a faster result. If you get into the habit of using tools that will insert empowering and positive thoughts into your mind, you’ll be poised to produce good experiences and results!

You can start by paying attention to what you you need to focus on. Do you pay attention to what’s going right or what’s going wrong? When you’re working on manifesting your dreams, challenges will arise, but when you focus on what’s right, you become an incredible problem-solver, which builds confidence and quickly raises your energetic vibration. You will be able to move through obstacles quicker without worry of challenges.

You can practice by using breathing exercises and techniques using your belly and not the chest. This type of breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system (rest-and-digest), which helps produce a sense of relaxation and contentment and allows us to be calm and clear when taking inspired action.

Meditation is a huge advantage to use if you follow the law of attraction. Meditation can be used in a spiritual format or simply during relaxation and yoga. You can practice anywhere at anytime. Meditation helps us withdraw attention from stressful, negative patterns we’ve created over time. Practicing can be a huge benefit and has been known to change millions of peoples lives. It can improve your sleep and guide you through wellness and recovery.

Move your body whatever way you want, do what is most comfortable, there is no right or wrong way to sit when meditating, manifesting your vision or practicing the law of attraction. Negative emotions are stored in our bodies on a cellular level. Moving is one way to release stress and negative energy. It doesn’t have to be intense; you can dance, practice yoga or go for a walk. It’s as simple.

Get yourself a journal, write how you want, but practice gratitude. Gratitude is one of the simplest ways to raise our vibration. When we recognize our great fortune and appreciate all our blessings, it automatically puts us in a “feel-good” energetic vibration. Writing your goals will not only help you get clear, but will help you create inspiring actions towards your dreams.

My favourite part of manifesting my thought process is reading my goals that i’ve noted in my journal first thing in the morning and before going to bed at night. I allow myself a little headspace to visualize and connect with the feeling of achieving my dreams. Feel like you already have what you want. It’s as easy.

You can practise whatever way you want, however I would strongly recommend finding headspace, meditate beforehand and believe in yourself. This is my practice.

You can only be the best version of yourself, you are the only person who has the power to create your own destiny. Be brave, smile and know your worth!

– James Keenan

Whatever feelings you have within you, are attracting your tomorrow.

Worry attracts more worry.

Anxiety attracts more anxiety.

Unhappiness attracts more unhappiness.

Dissatisfaction attracts more dissatisfaction.

And

Joy attracts more joy.

Happiness attracts more happiness.

Peace attracts more peace.

Kindness attracts more kindness.

Love attracts more love.

Your job is an inside one.

To change your world, all you have to do is change the way you feel inside.

How easy is that?

Practice, Practice, Practice.

– Rhonda ByrneAuthor, The Secret

BOY WHO’S GOOD ENOUGH

A poem written by myself, which tells the story of how setbacks stole my dreams of succeeding to be a writer.

I’m just a boy, who dreams to write,

Writing stories under my bedside table light.

This is my dream; I want it as my future,

There is nothing holding me back, yet I feel the loser.

I’ve been stuck in these manic daydreams,

But this has been me since before my early teens.

People bullied me and tried to tear me down,

Making me out to be the classroom clown.

I feel as if i’m a brainless boy who’s life is so pathetic,

I haven’t got a clue, but still I try, but i’ve learnt i’m not fantastic.

My life is always the post of something else,

But I suppose that depends on how I present myself.

I’d pass colleges with my head down in shame,

with all the things I wanted to learn, i’ve only suffered in vein.

I want to work hard; I want to write about me.

I want to write books that are meant to be.

I need to allow my mind broaden to enlightenment and interpretation,

I’ll not be William Shakespeare; I just want to be someone’s recommendation.

I just want to be me without the frustration.

Confused I’d ask for help, to be told to look up the dictionary,

I didn’t know how to, with words I couldn’t spell, it all became too scary.

While my diagnosis went unnoticed,

My dreams of becoming a writer soon became less focused.

I want to dream big so I ask to take me to that place i’ve never been,

I promise to be less scared and wanting to be heard and seen.

I will learn to love the skies I’m under,

I’ll not be that person that people walk over.

The struggles I faced, the chances i’m now taking,

I may feel knocked down, but this time I’ll not be breaking.

I’ll accept my limits, aim big and maybe I’ll be slow,

I can change, but until I try, I’ll never really know.

I’ll keep trying to come out from the darkness and into the light,

I’ll never give up, I can see my future now in sight.

I’ll not give up; I’m out to be heard,

I will do this and may not win, but I’ll happily come second or third.

I struggle with grammar and I can hardly read, does this mean i’ve a disability?

Big or small, clear or not, the beauty of writing shows such gracility.

I want to succeed but not to be famously known,

I want to write my goals and ambitions proving how much i’ve grown.

I needed to learn the charisma and education,

I didn’t need the worries of my frustration.

It’s small, yet powerful; i’m not psychotic,

I’m just a boy who is dyslexic.

I’m not normal but who is?

I’m certainly not perfect; does it even exist?

I was once given a quote that keeps me strong through the rough

“I may not be normal or perfect, however i’m just a boy who is good enough”

– James Keenan