LOVING OURSELVES

How do you love yourself? Self-love and self-compassion are the greatest jobs to find within.

Finding inner peace and happiness means cultivating compassion towards ourselves. This is easier said than done of course. Self-love and self-compassion are more than just being good to ourselves, such as relaxing in a hot tub or buying nice things, although these things can help, but so can a lot more.

Self-compassion is an inner job. It has to do with how we hold ourselves, how we relate to our feelings. It means finding the strength and resilience to embrace the full range of our human emotions. It means tapping into inner resources that can meet our feelings with a gentle embrace rather than with judgment.

Being human means sometimes wrestling with uncomfortable emotions and facing the challenges life throws at us. 

There is nothing outside of ourselves that can even enable you, to get better, stronger, richer, quicker; or smarter. Everything is within. Everything exists. Seek nothing outside of yourself.

At the same time, be proud of who you are. Recognise and accept what you are not good at, but focus on what you can do well.

Some of us make people laugh, some are good at maths, others cook fantastic meals. Some of us share our lifestyle with the people who live close to us, others live very differently.

We’re all different. It’s much healthier to accept that you’re unique than to wish you were more like someone else.

Self-love, self-compassion and self-esteem are interlinked in some way. Feeling good about yourself can boosts your confidence to learn new skills, visit new places and meeting new people.

Allowing a good self-esteem to help you cope when life takes a difficult turn for whatever reason can be acknowledgeable, however look deeper within and look at self-love and compassion. It can be the hardest job, but recognising it and practicing will be the greatest job.

Work out if there’s anything about yourself that you still want to change. Are your expectations realistic? If they are, work towards the change in small steps. Compassion means accepting ourselves as we are. It means meeting our feelings with love and gentleness rather than trying to fix ourselves or get rid of them. It means being our own best friend.

It may sound strange, but being compassionate toward ourselves also serves others. Feeling more peace inside, we have more to offer. By becoming more familiar and gentle with our own feelings, we can extend compassionate attention toward others when they are feeling distressed or challenged.

My uniqueness is my bless, my wants have worth, my presence is my power, I have the authority to create change. 

James

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/

GRATITUDE

What is gratitude, how can we use gratitude, do you practice gratitude?

Gratitude is a quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness. It’s not just gifts though, it goes far beyond that.

Gratitude, thankfulness or gratefulness is a feeling of appreciation felt by positive responses. The experiences of gratitude has historically been a focus of several world religions, with it being a topic of interest to ancient, medieval and modern philosophers.

Through life, appreciation is recognised as something valuable to you, which has nothing to do with its monetary worth, however what about the affirmations of goodness, the good things in the world, gifts and benefits that we’re all receiving.

Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for.” —Zig Ziglar

The source of goodness are outside of ourselves, that we acknowledge through other people, those people who gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.

Grateful living is a way of life which asks us to notice all that is already present and abundant from the tiniest things of beauty to the grandest of our blessings – and in so doing, to take nothing for granted.

We can learn to focus our attention on, and acknowledge, that life is a gift. Even in the most challenging of times, living gratefully makes us aware of, and available to, the opportunities that are always available; opportunities to learn and grow, and to extend ourselves with care and compassion to others.

Grateful Living is supported by daily practices, tools, habits of the mind and behaviours that can be learned, translated and applied to many aspects of our lives. It is also nourished in community and in relationships.

Small grateful acts every day can uplift us, so why not make a difference to another persons life, whether it be big or small. Random acts of kindness are beautiful gestures that can comfort you or the receipt.

Why not make time for someone you don’t know, maybe make a donation to a charity or bring freshly baked bun to your local emergency services. Offer your kindness to family and do something nice for a friend.

Gratitude for the gift of life is the primary wellspring of all religions, the hallmark of the mystic, the source of all true art. ~ Joanna Macy

Each morning I wake up, I thank the universe for giving me another day, allowing me to stretch using all my muscles, allowing my lungs to help me breath and giving me another day to use all the abilities to get me through the day ahead.

I walk through nature giving gratitude to the sounds I hear, the smell of the summer grass, and appreciate the trees. I’m grateful for the shade and the daylight and I share my thankfulness to our weather, whether it’s warm, cold or wet.

I thank my guardian angel and archangels for keeping me safe and listening to my troubles and answering my prayers. I share my gratitude to everyone who deserves kindness, being everyone though especially to all those persons making a difference, hospital staff, employees, friends and charities.

I’m grateful to have the love of my partner, to have a man who accepts me for being myself.

I’ve had the worst upbringing, however it’s made me the person I am today. I show gratitude for the strengths and courage history has brought me. I show gratitude to the universe every single day keeping me steady on my feet and bringing my all the joy I receive.

Gratitude can change the outlook on your past, brings peace for today and can create your blessings for tomorrow.

The benefits of practicing gratitude are endless. People who regularly practice gratitude by taking time to notice and reflect upon the things they’re thankful for experience more positive emotions, feel more alive, sleep better, express more compassion and kindness, gratitude is personal to each of us, but it’s all controlled by the same sources.

I’ve added this list of gratitude gestures which you can do over one month. Give it a shot and come your second month, it will be like you’ve been doing it for many years.

– James Keenan

A SMILE THAT MAKES CAMBODIA

A journey I made in Cambodia in 2015 and 2016, a little insight through my journey and what you can expect during your visit too.

What’s a holiday without a bit of adventure? If you’ve an inkling towards the exciting side of tourism, Siem Reap has a lot to offer you. Whether it be cycling the day away through the countryside or munching on spiders you thought you’d only ever squish below your shoe, this Cambodian city has something for everyone.

A decade ago, Siem Reap was the place where you stayed, ate and grabbed a beer or two between explorations of Cambodia’s 12th-century temple complex Angkor Wat. Now the city that Angkor made is something of a destination itself, luring visitors with a lively and varied dining scene, stylish hotels, genial residents and a laid-back river town ambience. 

There is a growing community of Cambodian and international artists, performers and designers reviving traditional arts and experimenting with new means of creative expression, but please don’t expect dancing animals at Phare, the Cambodian Circus. A height of creativity, the circus runs every evening filled with dance, music, storytelling and circus arts come together in a sophisticated hourlong show staged by students and graduates of Phare Performing Social Enterprise’s Battambang school, which provides free arts education to economically and socially challenged Cambodian youth. 

In the narrow streets or by the town river, you will find stands of tempting iced coffees made up with condensed milk and syrup or you could head to Little Red Fox Espresso, for a taste of luxury expressos. 

At night you’re in for a treat when the narrow streets and open areas expand with lights and stalls of the Cambodia Night Market, a place for Cambodian designers to showcase their admirable work to sell. What makes this market special, its mostly made up with homemade, recycled materials that are fabulous pieces of art, from sandals and bags to wallets and teddy bears.

The best way to avoid the crowds at Angkor Wat is to rise before the sun and venture beyond the main temples. You can travel the fun way by tuk-tuk at 4 a.m. to be at the entrance to Angkor Archaeological Park, however the view is outstanding with the sun reflecting against the old stone of the temples, the experience itself is something magical. You can also cycle to the temples, which is a bit of a track but by goodness its great fun. I did both ways of transport, tuk-tut one day and bicycle the next. The countryside is beautiful, the temples are outstanding, the silence around the temples delivers a sense of peace whilst the surrounding areas covered in green forest with monkeys swinging from tree-tree and elephants walking along the roadsides, connecting with nature appreciating the environment around you brings you a huge sense of mindfulness. 

Angkor Wat is the world’s largest religious monument and is one of the seven wonders of the world. This iconic temple complex in the Siem Reap province of Cambodia attracts nearly 2.5 million foreign visitors annually, a number that continues to grow each year, yet province remains one of the poorest in the country.

The passing tourists can do their part to spread the tourism wealth by staying a few extra days to explore beyond Angkor Wat and contribute to the local economy, conservation projects, and social enterprises that are paving the way towards a brighter future for locals and creating meaningful experiences for visitors

There are so many NGO’s (Non-Government Organisations) that allow volunteers to help make change to the poorest communities in Cambodia by offering your time and a small fee. This was my main purpose to visit Cambodia, an experience that was something I’ll never forget. 

I joined forces with Volunteer Building Cambodia by carrying out a skydive at the Coast of Northern Ireland and a abseil down the most famous and most bombed Hotel in the world in the heart of Belfast City to raise funds. 

The simple, sturdy Khmer-style wooden houses provide shelter and security for Cambodian families living in need. Poor education, lack of skills and a shortage of job opportunities mean many rural Cambodians are still living in extreme poverty with inadequate shelter.

The new builds replace fragile structures that offer little protection from the elements. I seen first-hand how improved living conditions change lives, through better sanitation, increased security, better sleeping arrangements and healthier living. Children in secure homes are less likely to get sick and more likely to attend school. It’s incredible.

VBC have achieved to build and provide over40 wells, 85 toilets, a warehouse, a community Centre with four classrooms, computer room and a library and over 200 houses with the help of volunteers across the world to donate, sponsor and visit to help be part of the organisation raising more than $900,000 in sponsorship.

This is incredible for VBC to be a small, grass rooted organisation that started by one-man Sinn Meang and a small team of builders. 

To think, the poverty rates are high in rural Cambodia, where many people are still living on less than $1 a day. The impacts of inadequate housing can take its toll on these families. I saw children who don’t go to school and many having health problems through lack of sanitation or secure housing and sleeping arrangements, yet their happiness across as if they have absolutely everything in the world. 

These guys prove that all you need is love and a smile to be rich. I couldn’t be prouder of these families for doing what they do on a day-to-day basis, the love is something I have never witnessed before.

I was lucky enough to meet some amazing people during my time there – locals and tourists and I left feeling inspired and that I had helped make a positive difference to the lives of the families that I built for. I loved all of it! It was everything and more that I hoped for. Building with VBC was very enjoyable. I learnt a lot through my experiences, how to appreciate the many blessings I took for granted and how heart-warming it is to give back to society. The smiles on the faces of the locals was my main purpose to keep motivated to continue, the joy was priceless. 

As the sun sets upon the magnificent Angkor temples, the party in Siem Reap city begins. Nightlife in the iconic Kingdom of Wonder offers an alluring variety of pubs, clubs, cocktail bars, and everything in between. In one quick stride down major roads in the city, you can indulge in a cold Angkor draft beer, bust a move on the infamous Pub Street and chow down on a fried tarantula. The Siem Reap nightlife scene offers an abundance of options for all types of travellers for a fun night out in South East Asia.

It’s with people from all over the world filling the streets dancing, drinking, eating, and looking for a thrill, the nightlife has a magnetic energy unlike anywhere else. Due to the city’s small size and concentration of most nightlife options located centrally around Pub Street.

The magic of Siem Reap started when I stepped of the plane, the extreme heat hitting my body, the quietness of the airport and the dirt track roads. The closer I got to the centre of the city, the busier it became with tuk-tuks, motorcycles and bicycles dodging one another, the stands at the side of the roads, children barefoot playing by the rubbish. The blurring music of Pub Street and the night lights dazzling my eyes and traditional dancers performing on the side streets. It was spectacular. 

What about my visit to the Pagoda every evening at 5pm. Wat Preah Prom Rath Pagoda is one of the most beautiful pagodas in Siem Reap. It’s a real beauty and my favourite, located by the river side near the Old Market. The monastery has many fine, colourful wall paintings and you will find many modern statues inside. Often, you will see monks who greet you with a smile and a sign of sampeah.

I visited every evening by walking around the grounds so peacefully taking in the colours of the murals and shrines whilst listening to nature, energizing myself inner self to meditate whilst sitting with the monks of the pagoda and listening to their chants and I closed my eyes and listened. It is something I do at home now.

I set of to Cambodia to meet with a pen pal who moved from Australia to Cambodia after his volunteering stint and he ended up working fulltime at VBC. It was amazing to meet after years of emailing and writing letters. Our meet was special, I felt as if I knew him my entire life. If it wasn’t for Jason, I doubt I would have ever visited Cambodia, so he gave me one of the best experiences of my life giving me hope, adventure, experience, friendship and leaving me inspired. I made many friends, some very close who I love and adore today. 

I jetted of from Ireland to Cambodia with a broad mind, taking everything for granted, my phone charger, a cooker, electricity, school. I knew it was a country experiencing poverty so I thought I would need to do my bit. 

Despite my fear of heights, I took on a skydive on the coast of Northern Ireland and an abseiled down the famous, most bombed hotel in the world raising a fantastic $5,000. 

My experiences extended far and beyond my expectations, I left the Country on my two visits feeling part of the culture of Cambodia. I loved Cambodia that much I could see a future there for me, however with other commitments, I needed to return home. I didn’t leave empty handed, I left this beautiful Country rich with happiness, friends, cherished memories and special moments. I managed to build 3 houses, a toilet, home repairs on another house, made a start on the community centre and left blessed by the Khmer Buddhist Monks.

When I arrived home, I needed to do more, I sponsored a family. A single mum and four children, I donated money for a lengthy period providing them with food and education for the children each month. Receiving pictures of these beautiful people enriched me with sincere proudness.

If you ever find yourself stuck for a holiday, I recommend Cambodia for an adventure of a lifetime experiencing culture, the outstanding natural beauty of the temples and the gift of volunteering, you will not leave disappointed.

James Keenan

ACCEPTING TIME

Time is the one thing we all have in common and what is important is how we can use that time. How important is it to you?

We are all different heights and weights, we all have different talents, we’re all from different cultures and ethnic backgrounds, but we all have time.

The only thing that we are given that’s common to everyone else is time. Who you are and what you become depends on how you use your time. We all have twenty-four hours in a day, black or white, young or old, rich or poor, we’re all given the same amount of time every day.

Time cannot be stopped, you cannot stop a day, you cannot stop an hour, but you can control how it will be used, which means that even know time is unstoppable, it’s controlled and what you do with it, determines who you become.

One of the things we all know about life is that it is always changing, sometimes you are up and sometimes you are down, sometimes you are happy and sometimes you are sad. That is life! When we begin to understand and know that accepting reality that we will have our ups and downs, but during those down moments, that is where the growth takes place, that’s where the work is.

Anyone can feel good when they’re happy and their children are well behaved. Anyone can be excited and love their life because their bank balance is growing. Anyone can be positive and have faith under these circumstances, but the real challenge of growth, mentally, emotionally and spiritually comes when you get knock down. How you handle it, is where the growth takes place.

I think of time a lot, because time is life, 365 days of measuring time will allow yourself acceptance to begin its journey. Find your purpose, bury your past and look to the future. Time is a blessing or a curse depending how you manage it. Time is life, what you become depends how you use it. Time is free, but it is priceless. You can’t own it, but you can use it. You can’t keep it, but you can spend it and once you’ve lost it, you can never get it back. Time is given to us as an eternity. Time is given to measure the purpose of life. Time is powerful.

I took time for granted, I abused its worth and used it stupidly. On realising the importance of time, it made my life outlook differently and it saddens me that I am only realising this now. It took my past to attempt to take my life and the little confidence I had was stolen from me. It’s undoubtly sad that it took something as cruel and life changing to realise the importance of self-neglect and my worth.

I had to take time away from work to be able to find my identity and reflect on my actions and health. It took my actions to be honest to myself and to those important around me. On reflection, I thought what am I doing? Why am I doing this? Why am I ruining something that could be so positive? It took a while and I found that my answer was fear. I couldn’t be honest about my mental ill health and to overcome my past frightened me so much so that my future felt threatened. I felt my future was non-existent.

Do I continue to destroy my life, or do I fight against it? I fought. I fought long and hard and swore I would never find myself in that dark place again. I wanted to return to work, however I felt vulnerable. I was deemed vulnerable by the medical professions in the services I was involved in. I worked hard to get well and to overcome the things that once made me shy away.

I was hospitalised due to my mental health and with a fantastic support network around me, I wanted to spend my time differently. I felt and seen the value in time and that’s when I realised the importance of life.

Just before my hospital admission I began a course with Open University and despite my recovery, I studied, researched and completed my course to a high standard and my result reflected how hard I worked to achieve considering my surroundings. It was during my spare time, I enhanced my writing skills and whilst struggling with dyslexia I put my pen to paper and started writing poetry and entered competitions. I unfortunately didn’t win the competition, but when I received feedback, I continued to remain proud to hear I wasn’t shortlisted but was greatly advised how to change my writing skills differently by a Northern Ireland author.

I kept writing and my poetry was found, highlighted and shared by the South Eastern Trust within the NHS. “The Untold Heroes” was written to celebrate the staff of the NHS in its 70th anniversary year. It was printed and framed and given to Ards and North Down Borough council as a gift to commemorate the conferring of the Freedom of the Borough on all healthcare staff. It now hangs at Bangor Castle in the Mayors parlour and another is due to hang in the Ulster Hospital. The success of my poetry pushed me to write more and now I have written poetry for NexusNI a Northern Ireland based charity for survivors of sexual violence.

My learning didn’t end, I continued to seek new skills and qualifications and whilst in recovery I was excited to use Recovery College to help me understand my own mental health and diagnosis. I went on to study a little more through the college and gained a lot of certificates. I am now trained to facilitate courses within the Recovery College and I’ve just co-produced my first programme that I will co-facilitate. I furthered my learning and now hold a few OCN qualifications and trained as a Suicide First Aider, I am excited to be a Suicide-Safer Community Designator to help save lives and offer my support to communities. I am now currently studying a stress management and confidence building programme and to gain more computer skill knowledge which will help my blogging, I am studying an ECDL IT programme.

I’ve learnt how to manage my time to seek more skills and qualifications, I have accepted my diagnosis and now I know there is no stopping me. I now volunteer for two charities and within the Recovery College. I now self-advocate and I have completed my own personal WRAP, a Wellness Recovery Action Plan. Wrap is a self-designed prevention and wellness process that anyone can use to get well and make their life the way they want it to be. I have completed my WRAP facilitating training and now trained to deliver the programme to schools, communities and other groups including workforce. I’m studying sign language and counselling skills and hope to work closely within the South Eastern Trust, Unison and the Open University and study more relevant qualifications and in hope one day I will qualify in nursing or paramedic science.

I’m now optimistic and more excited than ever before about my future. If I could give advice to others and not just those persons with a mental health diagnosis, I’d say:

“Turn your dreams into a reality, we all hold the power to create a future that we want. Vision what you want and believe in your worth, you will face obstacles and have days you don’t think you will see past but believe me you can get through anything by simply believing in yourself. We are what we repeatedly do; excellence, then is not an act but is a habit. We all grow to believe that normal is the best way to be and that perfection is something we all can become, but in reality, it’s just a myth of false hope. What is normality? Does it even exist? What is perfection, is it real? Know you create your own happiness and accepting the truth about time and the importance of life, simply believe in your own worth and put your strengths together to create a universe so powerful, it will guide you to your own destiny. No one is normal, nor are we perfect, but we are all human and we’re all good enough.”

– James Keenan

THE TROUBLES AND ME

My story of personal experiences during my time growing up as a youngster during the ‘troubles’ based in Belfast since 1989.

Ireland is most famous for its Guinness, the shamrock, its international music figures Bono and Van Morrison, but what about Belfast?

Belfast has grown massively over the years being a fragrant city of culture, opportunities and landscapes of outstanding natural beauty. The city is widely famous across the world being the birthplace of the Titanic, the divide between the catholic and protestant communities, and the conflict known as ‘The Troubles’.

The height of the troubles dominated all of Northern Ireland since the 1960’s and ended in 1998 during the Good Friday Agreement.

The conflict still continues with the occasional riots, the mighty protests, the 12th July marches and murders making headlines on a regular basis.

I wasn’t born during the height of the troubles during the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, however during the 90’s was enough to traumatise me. Unfortunately today there are still aspects of my life today which is badly affected, battling with PTSD.

I lived in an area of the Limestone Road known as Parkside situated 50 yards away from Tigers Bay. Parkside was a catholic neighbourhood and Tigers Bay being protestant. There was a huge divide between both communities which fuelled the troubles.

I have many experiences to share, some being small and others huge.

My journey to primary school was at the top of my street, but taking that walk each morning, you never knew what you where going to face, whether it be rioting, verbal abuse or a bomb scare. You never really knew, it was a gamble each morning.

It was a terrifying time and now in adulthood and reflecting back, I honestly don’t understand how I managed to cope all those years of suffering.

When riots started whether it be 10am, 9pm or 3am you were alerted each time by the loud sirens that rang from the neighbours gardens.They sounded just like the war sirens you would hear in the films. Everyone was alerted, adults would get together, teenagers would wake to get involved and the children, some watched, some cried in fear.

During the days after school or the weekends, the kids of the area, me included would gather up stones, slates and rocks in huge buckets and glass bottles would be collected too. Crates would be led out in rows and we’d be given petrol to make petrol bombs for when the troubles would occur.

It would usually start with verbal abuse, some shouting and some stones would be thrown. Then glass bottles and before you know it, petrol bombs are being used, blast bombs going off, group charges and the police would arrive in their riot gear, ramming both communities with their land rovers and before you know it the British Army are in their land rovers and saracens and they would be lifted out in their riot gear.

I’ve seen land rovers being set on fire and some blown up, I’ve even seen a land rover being rocked so much so it was pushed on its side. I’ve seen police shoot, soldiers on fire and have seen a lorry being given permission by its owner to be pushed towards the protestant community, set on fire and abandoned. That’s how dedicated people where during these moments of conflict. It was pretty horrific!

I would love to say I never got involved, but with friends sneaking off and throwing a stone, I wanted to do the same. I was terrified and the one time I did, I was caught on camera. My ma and da gave me a hiding when the found out. It was my first and last time.

When the riots was happening it was scary, but when nothing was happening it ghostly too. Usually when it was quiet you knew something was up or something was going to happen. You just didn’t know when.

At night the street lights would be cut and you’d hear breaking glass shatter, you’d smell the fumes of the paint that was thrown over cars, a neighbouring houses and across the street roads. The next morning when bright you’d see the damage, the disgust on the faces of those targeted and the anger bursting from every person on the street.

I was a target myself having a knife put to my throat as a teenager, being accused of terrorising an alcoholics home. Thankfully nothing more happened other than the blade sitting beneath my chin and the warmth of urine streaming down my leg. I wish I had have been that person terrorising the persons home, then I would have known why and that the scare I would have deserved, but I was completely innocent.

Another night my siblings and I where in bed and my mum and grandfather was sitting in the living room downstairs at around midnight. The street electrics was cut, rowdy crowds was heard and flashes of fire was seen. My family home was targeted in an arson attack with petrol bombs, leaving us homeless for months living from one hostel to another. My mother grabbed us all and we evacuated the building, my grandfather was stood outside shouting god forgive you to the arsonists. I remember that night as clear as if it was yesterday. I can still feel the coldness of the ground beneath my bare feet as I ran from the building wearing nothing but my batman pyjamas.

Months after the attack we moved back into the same house after it was renovated, I wore my shoes to bed for I do t know how long and the area became super cautious.

Another day I left school and from there we had to scoot to Tesco for our weekly shop. We had to pass our house to reach the supermarket and I didn’t want to carry my school bag, so I left it at my front door. We went to the shops and on our return, the street was closed, filled with police, the army and bomb disposal. My schoolbag looked suspicious propped up against our front door, they called for emergency services and the street was evacuated. I had to explain it was my school bag and had to identify the bag and the contents inside. That just showed how cautious everyone became. Again, I got another hiding for making a scene and being a lazy b*****d!

The riots continued and continued, it was like a competition, game scoring who one what fight. Even on Christmas morning rioting still occurred, it was just horrible.

The troubles where bizarre all over Northern Ireland, the news on the television was always crammed by the riots and the newspapers front page was blaze after blaze.

The trauma was endless, the sights became a regular thing and nothing would surprise you. I seen a gunman put a gun to a neighbours head and run off, I was dragged to the ground by a stranger telling me they where shooting, I was evacuated from school due to suspicious packages being found and bomb-scares being made.

The area soon became a horrible environment and residents lost interest in their home, some fleeing the area and many putting barriers up on their windows and peace walls was erected, cameras were put in place and although they didn’t stop the riots they reduced them a little.

My family ended up moving away from Belfast to a seaside village in County Down. It was a game changer having little worry, the peacefulness and the freedoms was immense.

Parkside still exists with new developments, the peace wall within the local park is open during daylight and one of the peace walls was made into a garden whilst another was removed. Tigers bay still stands with new developments and the two communities are working together.

Right across Northern Ireland you will always have political groups scattered here and there and conflict will always continue, but if two communities can join forces and become one, I am hopeful for our future.

Despite all the hardship, the trauma, the worry, the fears and sleepless nights growing up, the sights I have buried into my head and the memories replaying constantly…

I can honestly say I have zero anger towards any protestant community. I have nothing bad to say about the emergency services whether they are police or soldier, man, woman, young or old. I don’t hold grudges For I have learnt to accept all for who we are and what we can do together to create hope, love and peace.

– 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