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/

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 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

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

MY HOPE TO INSPIRE

By sharing my experiences and beliefs, I hope I can inspire at least one person by giving them hope.

Hi Guys,

I wouldn’t say I am a fully pleadged blogger, professional and making money, i’m just a casual guy who is an amateur blogger sharing his story through words inspired by his lived experiences.

To an extent I will say unfortunately, but I can now see the positive impact of having a mental health illnesses by awknowledging my growing strength and believing in myself, having self respect and embracing courage.

When I first started blogging, I had some ignorant people share their opinions on mental health and suicide, commenting abuse under my posts. These persons and their their input slowly began to affect my want to express awareness.

I deleted blog after blog and started again, changed my name and shared what I felt is important to me. I do understand that a persons opinion is allowed and I fully respect that, I believe in having a right to express opinions however when opinions turn to abuse, it becomes a different story.

It hasn’t been all bad, it’s been powerful over the last couple of years sharing my lived experiences and allowing strangers to connect with me.

Receiving messages of gratitude admiring my bravery, showing courage and creating an awareness is a real joy that leaves me inspired. Reading such comments makes blogging worthwhile publishing.

At the beginning of my blogging journey I had always said if my story was to be shared and only one person was to read it and learn from my mistakes and errors and embrace courage, in sharing my story and showing courage is most definitely a story worthwhile sharing.

The statement that is often repeated in my blogs; “I hope to inspire others, like others have inspired me”  is a statement I strongly believe in and hope that I can inspire at least one person.

My hopes are realistic, I will not be able to inspire millions, but I write from the heart and writing about my life experiences is a method of managing my own recovery in a therapeutic manner to overcome a past of negativity, trauma and pain.

“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.” – Helen Keller

James Keenan


JOY AND HAPPINESS INSPIRES OTHERS

A poem of joy and happiness to inspire others alike.

I’m thankful to those I love and care,

It’s those that hold me when I’m in dispare

The warmth of their cuddles, their kisses and hugs too.

It’s fills me with warmth and feelings so new.

With a network of support from professionals and those not,

Makes me feel secure, something i’ve learnt to adopt.

Whatever happens within the centre of my chest,

My mind may not be great, but my heart knows best.

I’m not saying by all means, it works for all.

But for me personally, i’m smiling and standing tall.

We are different in many shapes and forms,

For me it was strange, as if I was drying in a thunderstorms.

My life isn’t great and nor is it perfect,

I attempted suicide in fear I’d be seen as a weakening reject.

I’ve grown to think it’s normal when it’s not,

I woke up in the garden thinking I had lost the plot.

So my advice to you; be brave, smile, speak up and don’t pretend

Otherwise like me, you’ll suffer and apprehend,

Stand your ground and don’t be bullied,

Stay strong and show your worth with a good deed.

Through words and experience I hope to inspire,

I pray for a persons hope that doesn’t expire.

With love, experience and use of my expression,

Through truth and hope, there’s no such thing as perfection.

Don’t fake smile and pretend to be okay,

Just be you, live and love, through each shining day.

Through days of blue, just be yourself and pick your colours

For its through joy and happiness that inspires others.

– James Keenan

WHO INSPIRES US?

A little about my inspirations, family, boyfriend, managers, friends and those famously known. Who is yours?

How often do you reflect on life and ask yourself “who inspires me”? How often do you reflect on gratitude? Who is your biggest hero? Do you have a favourite superhero? If you could be anyone who would it be?

Maybe it’s your parents or a celebrity figure who inspires you, maybe your biggest hero is your beat friend or a musician and maybe your favourite superhero is Captain America. Gratitude may even hold the gift for allowing you to inspire other people.

Here is my list!

My biggest inspirations are my Sisters. They are all incredible in their own individual ways, showing devoted love, laughter, strength and commitment. The 05 (Siblings and I call ourselves this) and are closely knitted and led by truth, security, compassion and overwhelming love.

I have three awesome friends, all Australian and we all met in Cambodia.

1) Jason, a pen pal from Perth who moved to Cambodia after a volunteer stint at a local NGO called Volunteer Building Cambodia (VBC). He loved his volunteering experience that much, he moved out to Cambodia and started working for the organisation. His loyalty, personality and his kind soul made me want to meet him all the more after years of writing. I have travelled out twice, spent four birthdays together and he became of my best friends. He is still in Cambodia and has took a journey starting his own NGO helping the LGBTQ+ community. He inspires me in many ways and I look up to him for inspiration.

2) Marjorie – Jason’s Mum who I met during my visit whilst she was visiting Jason in Cambodia. We hit it off instantly, by goodness I have never laughed as much in all my life until this beautiful woman came into my life. Her soul is gentle and her amazing attitude inspires me every day to be more like her and life outlook as a mum, grandmother and friend is something incredible.

3) Alana – we met whilst volunteering at VBC and again we hit it off instantly. If I wasn’t married at the time and confused over my sexuality, this girl would be my wife. Her outlook, kindness and overwhelming caring personality speaks a million words, through her actions alone. Her smile makes me smile, her laugh makes me laugh, her stories makes me want to tell stories. A beautiful soul inside and out. Alan came to Belfast and surprised me just before New Year in 2016 and it meant so much she made her way across the world and stopped by for a few days proved how special she is.

Who is my hero? It’s got to be the one man who has shown me the world by simply existing in mine. My dearest Andrew, a man I love and adore so much, a boyfriend, a companion, a best friend and my entire future. Andrew came to Belfast on a work project and we met over social media as friends and we met up and hit it off straight away. Andrew helped me identify who I really was and most of all, who I wanted to be. I am proud and overjoyed to have Andrew in my life. He saved me in so many ways and I am forever grateful for his love, care, support and loyalty. I found happiness when I met him, I feel complete. He’s my life. He’s my all.

Andrew & I

I’m thankful for the kindness of these powerful women who sit closely in my heart for the work they carried out, the love, care and positivity they showed to each person who crossed their path. Gratitude and kindness at its truest…

1) St. Mother Teresa a lady gifted with positivity, a person who gave hope to those suffering in poverty. An individual who prayed with the lonely and held the sick as she whispered prayers into their ears. I truly believe if Mother Teresa was alive today, the world would be a better please with her powerful words of wisdom. She’s now more well known since being canonized as a saint in 2016 and her famous quotes are echoed across the world. Mother Teresa a woman who I’d chose first to be a friend.

2) Princess Lady Diana, once a member of the Royal Family being the first wife to Charles, the Prince of Wales and a Mother to Prince William and Prince Harry. Lady Diana became the people’s Princess and was a lady who wore her heart on her sleeve. Her soul was beautiful and her generosity, her positivity and kindness was never overlooked. The Princess was well known for her charity work in the UK and abroad covering Mental Health, Cancer and those who battled with HIV/AIDS. She helped raise funds, spread awareness and reached out to those who admired her, needed her prayers and more importantly she stop and listened, spoke the truth and was admired for her honesty and dedication to our society.

3) Sir Richard Branson, a man I’ll forever look up-to for inspiration, advice and guidance as an a business man or in a role of management. He is a man with a heart, someone who respects his employees and his attitude towards life is simply magical. His businesses and enterprises, his private life and working life, his long heard stories and quotes simply make me smile. I hope to open my own coffee shop and travel the world. If Sir Richard Brandon can do it, then so can I, what a legend!!

What about my superhero? Who is my favourite? I have loads I love, but it has to be the friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man, I mean come on, who wants to climb buildings, study on the ceiling of your bedroom and swing across the city from building to lampposts? Ah, me?? A legend, a great superhero and a fantastic watch as well as read.

Finally, let’s talk about me? All these persons above, friends, family, partner, famous faces and superhero are all awesome but do you know who inspired me the most, who I think is the real superhero, who I show gratitude towards, who is my hero? It’s got to be myself.

I’ve had some rough journeys throughout my life, some moments I wouldn’t want to relive, however i’m a firm believer that my past doesn’t define who I am and I will stick by that, but it has proven strength, courage and hope. I’m proud of me, I inspire myself and if I can face up to the demons of mental health, then surely that makes me a superhero? Well let’s pretend for now.

Stay awesome guys, reflection is good!

– James Keenan

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

My life from start to present; Beauty & the Beast!!

Beauty being life, the beast being the darkness.

Tied up, hands across my neck and a pillow pushes against my face, my ability to fight back doesn’t seem possible. My sight fades before me, my lungs are closing and my heart aching with fear, i’m anchored as a weight and dropped into the wild ocean, my lungs tighten and fill up with water and my body struggles to breathe. I’m drowning quickly and my future becomes more and more distant. Every second passed, my life comes to a close, i’m now counting my breaths wondering what will be my last… This is my story!

The trauma has never disappeared and my doubts have only ever heightened with now the smallest of things becoming the biggest struggles to deal with. It’s immediately became harder than what I ever expected survival to be and now i’m tired. I’ve lost the fight, strength and courage to overcome a past so dark, demons would run from it.

I don’t feel ordinary, I have never felt normal. I’m embarrassed, I lost my dignity and a childhood that should have been filled with joy and cherished memories, but that was stolen from me and replaced with horror that I only but wish was an actual nightmare.

I find myself in the same place day, it’s a destroyer. I feel as if i’m chained to my past, the darkness is darker than ever before and it has become unbearable. I feel as if i’m an explosive ready to self detonate.

Everyday I wake up to reminders, smells, words, the media and television and it leaves me frightened for the next 24 hours. I may not show it but I’m living it.

My life was cruelly stolen from me. I struggled to pretend. I struggled to move on and forget, but it all seemed impossible.

Ive kept this horrendous feeling, these thoughts and the reasons I want to end my life. I have tried to talk and I seem to remain to hide it still, but in reality I am not coping, it plays in my head, it’s always in the back ground. I can’t concentrate, I can’t sorely think of my future as I feel trapped. I still feel i’m drowning only this time not in water, but in despair.

I’m afraid of losing the people I love the most, my mum, my sisters, nephews and partner, they are my only light, however a question I ask myself repeatedly, without telling them. Does my family know that I’m failing to be the best version of myself? Do they know how dark my mind gets? but the most repeated question I bury deep within my mind. Do they deserve to live on the edge and wonder what day will be the day?

I’ve felt invisible my whole entire life and the only time i’m noticed is when i’m needed to help with something. The feeling of being used, just isn’t enough. I don’t want to be used or relied on, I want to be seen for the person I truly am, but if I can’t identify that, I can’t expect others to see it either. I guess that’s the skill of a good actor, i’ve a skill I never thought I had. I just want to be held, loved and reassured.

It’s question after question now, each day being the same. Is the world out to get me? Am I being punished for other people’s actions? What did I ever do to deserve this punishment? My biggest fear now lies beneath my fragile skin fearing that eventually people will see me as the way I see myself.

My anxiety is a curse, unfortunately aiding a lack of control in my work, social and personal life and a past of trauma controlling my future? My mental health dictating the now and the fear allowing death to be more inviting than life itself. I don’t want people recognising the same beliefs I hold being a failure.

I could be a millionaire, a film star and have the world at my feet. I could have the biggest family and social circle of friends, married, children, my own home and the best cars, yet I would still feel lonely. I’m easy to satisfy, I don’t believe in wealth and having the best, but I still feel saddened and frightened, I still feel lost and I’m hurting. I wish I had that one person who can understand me, that would be my wealth.

You know torment when you realise the saddest kind of sad is when your tears can’t even drop and you feel nothing. You have no emotion. No feeling. No sense, it’s like the world has just ended. You cry but nothing leaks, you don’t hear, you don’t see, you just freeze and then for a second, the heart stops and you see death as clear as if you already lived it before.

Living with trauma and battling mental ill health is like a war, you either win or die trying, you lose or surrender. I argue that without darkness there would be no stars, but what happens when it’s dark and no stars are in sight? Your faced with the debate, is there light or not?

It can be difficult for someone who has never experienced mental ill health or to know how you feel deep inside. I wouldn’t expect any person too, but someone who wants to understand and know how you’re feeling is precious. They don’t come often and sometime not enough or none at all.

My struggles are real, the stigma alone is hurtful and the events causing the trauma and the diagnosis of mental health is a challenge on its own. I wish it was all nonsense and made up, I wish it didn’t exist.

Depressive disorder, agoraphobia, PTSD and emotionally unstable personality disorder, survivor of sexual abuse, neglect, bullying and mental and emotional abuse and a survivor of suicide. The list goes on but the desire to want to be normal is overwhelming. The search for perfection becomes more difficult than accepting my inner emotions, yet the desire for normality pulsates around my damaged mind even though I know they don’t exist?

I was at primary school when I noticed something was up, I somehow felt different to others, it was noticed in the classroom, in the playground and in the area I lived. I know I was no adorable child or smart. I was that child teachers felt sorry for and invited me into detention for a little company during break times. I was the teachers pet, the boy who had the special jobs. I had learning difficulties and required special needs right up until my last years of secondary school. I struggled to read, write and take in information, follow instructions and understand numbers, yet give me a clock I could estimate time and distance, read a map and remember directions. I was organised and very creative, yet I still felt like a spare tyre that was too small to fit.

I would sit in class, thinking of what I will face on lunch break from the bullies in the playground, will the Belfast troubles keep me awake tonight and how will my dad be today, good form or bad. I felt somedays I would just cry in class for no apparent reason and then pretending to be sick in hope to get home just to have a cuddle, but who was I kidding? I never had a cuddle or felt any sort of emotion like that from either of my parents.

As I grew older I learnt what mental I’ll health was and things began to make sense. It was the events that caused me horrific trauma and physiological issues that triggered my rawness, the hurt, the physical pain and the mental abuse.

My father’s behaviour was abnormal, he was a completely different person when at home than the person he was when in company of others. His friends thought there was no one like him and his family thought he was an angel. He was out of control, his behaviour as a partner and parent was just too cruel. He took all his frustrations out on his children and my mum and sometimes I thought he hit out for no reason just to see those who loved him most, hurt.

Itwas clear since my early childhood that my dad didn’t like me, he told me often enough in anger and in generalised conversations. All that I ever wanted was to grow up and have a brother and a dad who I could turn too for a chat or on a Friday after work to meet up for a game of pool over a pint, but this was never going to be reality.

Dad had a drinking problem, he drank most days if not every day, but the older I got I began to identify his drug habits too, which then began to make sense of his behavioural pattern.

He was an abusive father who took his anger and frustrations out in way possible, yet my siblings and I still loved him. He was abuse to his partners too, verbally, mentally and whether they knew it or not he was a cheat right up to his death.

My parents separated and we moved to woman’s aid for safety. We moved from hostel to hostel and were deemed homeless. The embarrassment alone was raw.

Years passed and my mother moved to the countryside and my father remained in Belfast and due to secondary education my sister and stayed in Belfast in Dads care. It was obvious Dad and I never got on. He would leave early morning, head to work and when he came home, his dinner had to be ready and waiting on him prepared by my younger sibling, otherwise he would kick off. No thank you, no nothing but a few slabs and verbal abuse.

I was often the son who was called queer, faggot, hated against for visiting my grandmother, his mother every night threatening not to tell any of his business. I loved my Dads parents, my grandparents, I doted on them. His brother and sisters I loved dearly, but wasn’t allowed to share anything with them. It was sad.

Most nights after dinner he would shower, shave and head to his local pub where all his friends thought he was God’s gift, but really and truly he was an arsehole. He’d return home late, some nights I would be in and other nights I would still be at my grandparents house. The nights in, he would bring in a kebab and be all over me as if I was his blue eyed boy, the. He would question where my sibling is. I’d explain she’s in bed sleeping g, it’s 2am and has school leave her be. He would scream to her to get up. He’d smell her for aftershave, ask to look through her phone and then beaten for no reason. Nights I was in my Grandparents, he wouldn’t let me in on my return and leave me standing outside for hours.

Dads behaviour became very suspicious and he began accusing my sibling of her stealing his clothes when I was the guy of the household and never was I accused once.

The screams of my mum twenty plus years ago I can still hear clear; begging dad to stop beating her. I can still still hear the wallops from upstairs and the fear and hurt on mums face and later the same I can still hear and see the same fear and hurt on my sisters face. Horrific!!

I can justify my dads behaviour towards me when he used the buckle end of his belt to wallop me hard causing bruising and sometimes drawing blood, but to hurt my mum and sister, I could never justify and never will.

I stood up to my dad many of time and sometimes you could see the fear in him and although all I did was stand up to him, it was a great joy to see him scared, but usually I would would be spoke down too telling me I was nothing, I wasn’t his son, calling me a queer, a blue eye and ending with the word spastic!!

I always wondered why mum stuck it for so long, but it was soon apparent she was scared, but what was her turning point?

Our family home was targeted in an arson attack with petrol bombs as my siblings and I lay asleep in our beds. My grandfather and mum who were the room that was targeted seem the attack from afar and they helped my siblings and I out of the house and placed in a safe house in the same street. That night we ended up homeless and had to live from hostel to hostel, but on the night of the arson attack we had to stay at a neighbours house and mum rang our dad to tell him to come home and explained what happened. He did come home with a friend, said nothing he could do and then pissed off back out to the pub. That was mums turning point. He didn’t care, so why should she, so after hosteling for some months, we ended up in a safe house through women aid.

School was a struggle too, though I had to embrace the fear and face the issues alone when I was bullied for the way I appeared. The anxiety alone at home was horrible, let alone the same feelings when walking to school and even in school itself .

The bullying I experienced wasn’t physical, but verbal and emotional which soon affected my learning and education. I lost my confidence all together as Childhood was no walk in the park, it was a real struggle and watching life fall apart soon became the reality of my life. I rarely seen a future for myself.

my family began to drift, Mum moved to the countryside, my dad remained in Belfast with one of my siblings and I moved to Ardglass with my mum. I met up with sister every weekend, we where best friends. I noticed my father’s behaviour continued and several times I asked my sibling a question, which she always denied.

It turned out my father was a paedophile after sexually my sibling after a number of years, which broke her mentally and emotionally.

I alerted police and social services who began to investigate simply because one, my baby sister was betrayed by her father and two I didn’t want anything to occur between his son, niece and stepdaughter, if not already.

My mothers health deteriated physically and soon began to self inflict by becoming an alcoholic. Throughout the pregnancy there was complications, due to age and alcohol, but afterwards postnatal depression was diagnosis which was difficult.

I had to remain strong despite battling my own demons, I had to fake smile and pretend to my siblings was okay. I trusted my I stinks that I will be good acting the responsible adult being the eldest to filled the shoes of being Mummy and Daddy. I’ll never be able to top their shoes, but only ever hoped I would grow to inspire my sisters, I only did best for them and only want the greatest of opportunities to arise for them.

Social Services became involved at this point and mums real love was for her drink and that was all. My siblings and I were put on the Child Protection Register and my youngest sibling was put into care. The heartbreak of that alone was heartwrenching, but we won her back through many case management meetings.

I was still tramatised by the past events and still today I find it difficult to cope with the actions of history. I eneded up meeting a girl and we got married and things felt great, but soon that began to fall apart too. I was trapped for years and couldn’t explore my childhood due to the control and responsibilties I had to take on, but it turned out that the marriage was heading down the same path.

I’m not comparing my marriage to my past, by all means. I can’t, but a sense of control was occurring and I became the victim. It was rammed into my head that my mental Health was in my head and I needed to get over the past which is one of the most hurtful and hardest things to be told.

We miscarried a baby girl and never spoke of our loss together and soon we went separate ways.

It was 2016 I could my first breakdown, I didn’t know how, why or when. I had very little memory of the event. I was then referred to the services, seen by GP and was deemed unfit for work purposes. i found myself growing into self neglect, I felt weird and creepy, I didn’t understand who I was or why. I felt worthless and all I wanted to do was take my life. I took a few months of work and then had to push myself before I was pulled for my attendance. I was still ill when I joined back to work but I was frightened to open up in case I was deemed on fit for work.

My life changed forever after being contacted over social media. I was told I had a nice smile and didn’t I fancy a coffee. I took the opportunity to meet friends and I met a beautiful Scotsman who has listened, cared and supported me since the very beginning.

I ended up taking another breakdown having needed up in two secure wards, one voluntary and the other sectioned under the mental health act. I took two years of work and felt my life was falling apart after attempting to self harm, suicide and neglect. I hated myself and became paranoid convincing myself I was being watched and I started hearing voices.

Intense treatment, medication and education has helped me loads. Education saved my life, medication helped my nerves and feelings and my therapies changed my way of thinking.

Life isn’t easy and every day isn’t the same although, the bad and negativities energies are no longer present in my life. I still have depression and suffer from anxiety and I do have relapsed episodes, but that is my life now. I’ll always be in recovery. Self-management is key!

Opportunities are endless and only we as people know where our own happiness lies: your universe is destined, only you can create your own pathway to happiness and it can be more difficult than others, but keep trying and don’t ever give up fighting.

Be yourself, have fun, enjoy life, laugh and smile throughout it, love you, make memories and more importantly live your life to the full the way you want it. You’re you, like I am me, be unique, be big, be powerful and show the world how beautiful you are. No one is perfect, but we’re all good enough.

– James Keenan