EXHALE AND RECOVER

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

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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/

DOGS AND MENTAL HEALTH

How one dog can make the biggest difference to your mental health.

The companionship that a dog can offer you is a great way to reduce anxiety and stress. A dog can be a great source of comfort, companionship and motivation for their owners.

Dogs have been known for being a great motivator for people struggling with mental ill health. In many ways, any pet can help us to live mentally healthier lives, but dogs especially are great at encouraging owners to get exercise, and this can be beneficial for those suffering from depression.

“Money can buy you a fine dog, but only love can make him wag his tail.” -Kinky Friedman

It’s known that both cats and dogs can have calming effects on their owner just by cuddling them, sitting next to them or having a play around. Caring for a pet also gives your day a purpose and a sense of achievement. It also helps you feel valuable and needed as an owner.

Walking your dog often leads to conversations with other dog owners and this helps owners to stay socially connected and less withdrawn. People who have more social relationships and friendships tend to be mentally healthier.

Jack, my wee dog is great companion all day every day. He give me the greatest company, a sense of security and he even listens to me ranting and of loading my frustrations and in return; I get cuddles and kisses.

Jack is a mix breed being collie x lurcher so he needs his exercise and playing around with him is a great way to release my own negative energies plus I also get to burn off a few pounds too.

Pets have evolved to become acutely attuned to humans and our behavior and emotions. Dogs, for example, are able to understand many of the words we use, but they’re even better at interpreting our tone of voice, body language, and gestures. And like any good companion, a loyal dog will look into your eyes to gauge your emotional state and try to understand what you’re thinking and feeling.

“No matter how little money and how few possessions you own, having a dog makes you feel rich.” – Louis Sabin

Jack is like my own therapist, if I cry, he is by my side trying to kiss and snuggle, if I’m in bad form he was sneaky his way into my arms or to sit on my lap and when I am full of energy and happy, so is he. Jack provides valuable companionship and more importantly he adds a real joy to my life whilst giving me unconditional love.

– James Keenan

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

ON THE ROAD TO RECOVERY

This is a blog I wrote for AMH, New Horizons in Downpatrick. A small insight to how how this wonderful organisation helped shape my life and gain some qualifications whilst on my journey through recovery.

I’m 30 years old and for 25 of those years I have been challenged over and over with the heaviest, deepest and darkest of experiences. I’ve felt lonely, weak, worthless, lifeless and distinct. I was bullied, I was abused, I was used, I was neglected, I was homeless, I was targeted in a terror attack, I had special needs, I watched the domestic violence within family life, I watched the Troubles from my bedroom window, I struggled with my identity, my sexuality, psychologically and physically.

I struggled mentally and emotionally, but I smiled, I joked, I laughed, I gave up my time to raise money, to volunteer and to help the community. I pretended I was normal. I pretended I was ordinary, but the fact is I was just a person, a human and a self-taught, self-managed and a genius of an actor.

I didn’t want to stand out from others. I didn’t want to be an obstacle, a thing people avoided. I simply didn’t want to be judged, yet I was that obstacle, I did stand out from others and I was judged. I wanted to be noticed for the right reasons and not for the bad, I wanted to fit in, I wanted to see myself when I looked in the mirror but realistically I saw a person I didn’t recognise .I attempted to end my life numerous times. I was unsuccessful, hospitalised and struggled through recovery.

A doctor said my actions was deliberate self-harm and was it? Absolutely not, I needed to escape. I wanted to escape. I had no control of my life and that needed to be changed. I lost my pride, my childhood, my teenage years, my early adulthood; I lost people I thought were my friends, I lost family who I thought I’d have for ever. I was betrayed and my sanity was stolen from me. I was struggling and gasping for breath as if I was drowning, unable to escape from the chains around my feet, arms and neck feeling as if I was anchored to the seabed.

Change was needed, so I began to look more into my inner-self, self-compassion, my values and ethics, I needed to find a distraction, I needed meditation in my life and began my search for inner peace. I thought I lost everything, but that was just a thought. I looked too deep in every little thing and found the skills to be able to categorise my thought process into realism. My search to find inner peace continued and I began to self-care. I eventually found strength and courage to learn and then to practice gratitude. I began to seek the positives in every negatives.

Support was what I needed, a listener, I needed compassion and some understanding. I was referred to AMH, New Horizons in Downpatrick by the mental health services in the South Eastern Trust. I was nervous, anxious and scared when I made my first initial visit to meet my key worker to plan my interested and create a time table. I instantly felt at home, the welcome was warming, the staff felt like friends and when my journey ended I felt as if staff where family.

The support was huge, I could call upon any of the staff in the many different areas of the organisation to ask for support or to answer a question and it was never a problem. Always smiling, always laughing, always involving you. The staff didn’t make me feel as if I was a service user, I felt part of the team. It felt like family.

The variety of educational programmes was huge, courses ranging from music, IT, gardening, to photography, customer service skills, yoga, health and social care, and management programmes stress, confidence and self- esteem.

The staff, the establishment, the organisation itself and all the positives that come with these factors has helped me grow to become the person I am today. I was timid, shy and felt lost at first and now I’m able to interact more positively with people. I am much more confident, I am able to voice my worries and concerns, I appreciate the values I gained, I’m grateful for the opportunities to finish with qualifications I worked hard for.

Not just staff, but supporters and the listening ears when it’s needed and more importantly it’s helped me understand mental health and has guided me back to employment and fulfilling my hopes, dreams and ambitions.

These guys at New Horizons and all the dedicated work they all do is tremendous and they shouldn’t be overlooked. These people are no superman or wonder-woman, they are real life heroes, assets to our community and the more people who are made aware of the organisation, the bigger the chance stigma around mental ill health will reduce and those affected by mental health can be supported through their recovery.

I’m so appreciative and privileged to have been involved and hope our paths cross within the near future. Thank you.

James Keenan

AMH New Horizons “Thank you James for sharing his story” – James has taken part in the “Working it Out Project” at AMH New Horizons. The project is part-funded through the Northern Ireland European Social Fund Programme 2014-2020 and the Department for the Economy.

THE POWER TO CREATING YOUR FUTURE

We can change our future in seconds, a future controlled by our thoughts and what we do now will make an impact one way or another in your later life.

The person you will be in 5 years’ time will be based on the things you read and watch on television and the people you hang around with today. This may come across as nonsense, but in reality it’s very true, but it just doesn’t apply to you, it applies to everybody as well. 

You, the person you will be in the future is based on everything you do today. The people you hang around with, more so the people you listen to. The stories you learn, the opinions you believe, the books you read and the videos you watch – all this information you take in – both positive and negative will affect your future one way or another. The activities you do, whether it’s exercise or holiday, a trip to town or a night at the movies This will all show in your future.

It’s the smallest of things that we may not acknowledge, the things we take for granted all day. The food you eat today will affect your future on a visual and energy level. The same applies with your and thought process. What you feed your mind will shape your future massively. If all you do is take in all the negatives, well I guess that’s what your future is going to be made up of? 

Set yourself goals to aim for, inspire yourself to see the the positives in everything. The more you feed your mind with successful thoughts, and surround yourself with those who have the same ambitions. It doesn’t matter where your information comes from – you may read, you may get it from podcasts or videos – it doesn’t matter, just make sure you keep feeding your mind every minute of every hour, each day. Time is critical. 

Your future self is always telling your mind to show some empowerment, some sort of discipline to stop with the judgement, long periods on your smartphones, to spend less time feeding your bad habits and learn to focus on the important stuff, all the positives, the roads to successfulness. 

Don’t ever lose your life direction to be like other people. I have two separate opinions on this. You can work your hardest now to strive to have fun later or you can have fun now, study later and still have fun. It’s optional, but don’t go jumping in head first, ask yourself what is your gut telling you, what is your head telling you and what is your heart telling you. I attend to follow my heart. Just don’t lose focus on what you do every day for it’s each day, each tiny little things that will dictate your future. What you want out of life, you must put in. 

If you want success, put it in there, keep it in there and remember it’s there. Live for your dreams. If you want health and fitness, put it in there. If you want peace, love and happiness, put it in there. If you want a strong successful business, put it in there. Your actions equal your results. Your thoughts become things. What you put out there you attract. The law of attraction is a powerful thing and it’s only you who can put out to the universe to create the destiny you want. 

It may come across as being silly, but acknowledge what you are thinking, what you feel and hear, what you believe. Keep teeling yourself “my mind is strong, I am strong, my thoughts are strong, my beliefs are strong, my life is strong. They say I can’t, but I can! They say I won’t, but I will! They say I’m not, but I am. I am limitless. There is nothing I cannot be. There is nothing that an not do. There is nothing that I cannot have.”

“I hold the power to my future, to my dreams, I have control of my life now and I will continue to use my strength, my abilities, my positivity, my aims, goals and ambitions. I will be the person I created”

Who ever said we don’t have powers? We all as individual hold the ability to have such powers, but you need to believe it. You need to feed it. You need to know how to create it. 

James Keenan

POSITIVITY TO SUCCESS?

POSITIVITY TO SUCCESS: Is a short write up how to manifest your thinking to positivity for an end result of successfulness.

The way you think and what you believe of yourself will have a great impact on your success and your happiness in life. Things like “bad luck” and “problems” happens to everyone. Even the most successful happiest people have problems. It’s not the problems you get but the way we deal with them.

Those who constantly think positive thoughts will generally attract more positive things into their life. You don’t have to believe this but if your life is full of challenges and negativity, try thinking more positively and see how your life will start to change. Once you see this happening, you will start to see the power of positive thinking.

The power of positive thinking is actually a style of life that we can create for ourselves. In order to understand better, how the power of positive thinking works, it is needed to understand that it is actually something that we anticipate. If a person who anticipates failure in a life matter is very likely to meet failure, while things change for people who anticipate success.

The power of positive thinking is unimaginably great and it helps people experience only pleasant and happy feelings, which has a positive impact on people’s lives. The positive thinking has the power on every aspect of your life, as it makes you look and feel better and it helps you have a more powerful voice and body language.

The positive thinking is contagious, which means that it also affects the people around you by touching their subconscious mind through your feelings, thoughts, words and even body language. It is known that people prefer those persons who have positive attitudes, instead of those who think so negatively.

It’s often said that success occurs when preparation meets opportunity. Now, opportunities will undoubtedly present themselves with time, but how are you treating yourself through all of the time spent in preparation for accomplishing your goals in the meantime?

Are you giving yourself credit for the work and the energy that it takes to become a more successful individual?

The success of equation has to do with being good to yourself, self-care and allow headspace. Treating yourself with kindness and encouragement along your life journey. It’s important to celebrate all victories large and small on the journey toward fulfilling your dreams. This helps promote the power of optimism through the law of attraction.

It all begins with recognizing that you are a successful individual right now and your successes can only go up from here. No matter we’re you are at in life right now, you have the world right at your fingertips. Remember you have the power to create your own destiny to empower your universe.

It takes strength having the determination to pursue your happiness, your goals and your dreams. That alone is a massive success in itself.

It takes an incredible amount of courage to wake up every morning and keep moving and keep motivating yourself to work toward the life that you’ve always imagined living. You have to recognise your very worth on the days you feel you can’t manage, but do. Self praise is hugely important and you have to commend yourself for facing all life’s obstacles.

Every direction of your journey should be celebrated, for success is not a simply destination. Success is not something that we arrive at one day. Success has everything to do with your individual day to day choices, actions and experiences. No matter how big or small they are.

Successfulness, optimism, the law of attraction and mindfulness has to do with being true to who you are and how you choose to respond to every circumstance that occurs in your life.

Practice, Practice, Practice is the best way to see the positive in every aspect of a persons life. You can only be the greatest version of the best you.

– James Keenan