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.

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

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