A Lust For Life is a movement for mental health and well-being in Ireland. Our site covers a range of articles on anxiety, stress, wellbeing, fitness, cbt, therapies, minfulness, psychology, depression, personal stories, nutrition and compassion.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month over in the UK – a month geared towards breaking down stigma and starting conversations about mental health. It’s about that message of “it’s ok not to be ok”. It’s about wearing a green ribbon and showing that we’re open to talking about mental health, that we understand that everyone can be affected both directly and indirectly by mental illness. It’s about showing that there is no need to be ashamed.
I am not so sure.
I am not so sure because of the following:
I can start a conversation but is anyone listening?
Even if someone listens, there’s no guarantee that the professionals in the mental health services are going to.
Even if the professionals listen, there are not enough resources for them to be able to actually help me in a constructive way.
Finally…as someone affected by mental illness, the greatest stigma imposed on me is by myself. I can’t turn around and say “I’m struggling” and I also can’t blame anyone for that.
By mentioning the word “stigma” too often, are we creating it? Should there not be a zero-tolerance response? Never mind breaking it down, there should not be stigma. I know this is simplistic but it’s also true. If I was sitting here with a broken leg, I wouldn’t be agonising over whether or not I could, or should tell someone that I’m in pain.
If I was sitting here with a broken leg, I would still have my career as a social care worker. Simplistic also, but sadly true. It would be clear what treatment was needed. It would be visible. It wouldn’t have be “proved” or measured. People would be able to talk about it.
If stigma didn’t exist, maybe more money would be put into the mental health services and utilised in a way that would offer options to people affected by mental illness. Therapy…for as long as is needed and a range of therapies to suit a range of people…counselling, addiction support, CBT, DBT, occupational therapy, peer support, psychotherapy, trauma therapy…options to let people know that their individual situation is just that and there is no need to squeeze themselves into the “one size fits all” medical model that rejects more people than it actually helps.
There would be options for people in their worst moments so they don’t have to sit in a crowded A&E department feeling out of place and waiting to be sent home because there aren’t enough beds or doctors. Options so that people don’t have to wait until their darkest moment to look for and receive support.
Options to spread awareness that mental illness isn’t just one thing. Just as our bodies can suffer from a wide range of illnesses and injuries, so can our minds. Yes, mental illnesses encompass anxiety and depression but there’s lots more like bipolar disorder, schiozophrenia, PTSD, personality disorders, eating disorders, to name a few. Some are a result of what we’ve been through. Some have a genetic predisposition and some are a combination of things. Indicators of inner distress such as psychosis, suicidal thoughts, self-harm and dissociation don’t define the person. But shaming or silencing them increases the distress.
No stigma would mean being open to understanding a person’s experience just as is it. Not trying to fix it, ignore it or politely walk around it but letting it be. It would mean responding in an open way.
“How does it make you feel?”
“How do you feel?”
“What would help you?”
“If you’re struggling, what do you need from me?”
“I hear you”
“I would like to know…if you want to tell me”
“You are important”
“You are brave”
“I hear/see you”
Stigma is the dangerous veil that covers things up when there’s fear on both sides…one afraid to talk and one afraid to hear. It’s the people and doctors who decide that if you look well and are neatly dressed that you are “fine”. It’s the voice inside you that tells you that you mustn’t show weakness and that you are only going to be a burden to others.
So, when we start conversations it needs to be about more than putting the responsibility on people in pain to talk about it. Sometimes that is just not possible. But creating an atmosphere of acceptance means accepting that the responsibility belongs to us all. Are we asking ourselves and each other how we are? Are we questioning the politicians who come to our doors? Are we accepting that anyone can suffer from mental ill health…it is not a choice and it’s not a character flaw? Are we making sure that our loved ones, from childhood to old age, know that there’s someone to hear them if and when they need it?
I’m reading back and wondering if this sounds idealised or preachy. It isn’t meant to. Every situation has variables and we are all a sequence of events-our pasts, our personalities, our emotions. Nothing is predictable.
I’ll finish on what a symbol like the Green Ribbon means to me. It makes me think back to the beginning of my own story when I knew something was terribly wrong and had no idea what, if anything, to do about it. I think of that fear and the worry that this was going to be my life now. Then I look at everything being done this month to help people in that situation see that they have choices and that they are not alone and that what’s happening to them has a name and a cause and possible solutions.
So, for them, let’s keep it going.
“. . . With the wonder and bitterness of someone pardoned for a crime she did not commit I come back to marriage and friends, to pink fringed hollyhocks; come back to my desk, books, and chair.” ― Andrew Solomon, The Noonday Demon
If you avoid conflict to keep the peace, you create a war inside.
Something I have been doing most of my adult life I’m afraid. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I have mental health challenges.
Yesterday was my 13th wedding anniversary on May 13th. 13 is unlucky for some and the last few anniversaries we went away for the night which ended up an absolute disaster over something stupid it’s always the way. Waste of money, babysitting and precious time as we don’t ever get away alone!
So this year I decided to have a low key celebration and book a gorgeous Indian in Greystones followed by a walk by the Coast. It was delicious and I really enjoyed the walk listening to the waves it was so relaxing. Success except it wasn’t our actual anniversary…
The night before our actual anniversary which happened to be a Monday night we had a bit of a barney. Here we go its definitely jinxed. We discussed Tommy Tiernan’s interview with Adam Clayton regarding mental health and alcoholism. There was a very positive article about the interview praising Tommy for being such a good listener and Adam for being so open and honest. ‘Depressing’ my husband said.
I was disgusted as during our walk the night before I had shared some of my pretty intimate deep dark thoughts I have had from when I was depressed over the years. Something I have not shared with anybody before. We also discussed my family he said it is what it is, they are what they are you just need to manage it which made perfect sense. So I defended Adam saying how amazing I thought he was for sharing his story letting others know they are not alone. I went to bed that night not a happy camper.
Whilst getting ready the next morning he said happy anniversary. ‘You too’ I said grumpily. Eating breakfast I reread an article I wrote about Personal Responsibility and how I can learn to respond not react ie go angry inside also known in my case as sulking which can go on for days. When we were leaving my daughter gave me a big hug saying happy anniversary, have a good day. She then went into the kitchen demanding that Daddy say the same. So he did kissing me on the lips. I still wasn’t happy!
Later that morning I needed to ring him as I had a question about the house. I was glad I had an excuse to ring. He didn’t answer but called me back shortly afterwards. We spoke about the house as I slowly but surely plucked up the courage to bring up the elephant in the room. I expressed my disappointment in his reaction to the interview. About how I had poured my heart out to him the night before. He said you shouldn’t get annoyed about things like that. The point is I did. Self advocacy.
I finally hung up the phone having got a load off my chest in a very calm fashion. I no longer felt angry wow what a relief. Is it possible to cope with things differently. Temper is for suppression and feelings are for expression. I wonder if I handled life like this would I manage my wellbeing better. Would I express, clear the air and learn to let things go.
On the way home from picking up my son from school I stopped at the vegetable shop and picked up delicious fruit, salad, vegetables, mozzarella cheese, balsamic and crunchy rustic bread. The local shop had my favourite wine Sauvignon Blanc. It was a gorgeous sunny day so I planned to eat outside in our beautiful garden. My husband came home with probably the nicest flowers he has ever bought me and yummy banana bread and rhubarb and strawberry tart with cream.
Things could have been very different and if it had been I know I would have been very depressed that yet another anniversary had come and gone without marking it. 364 days till the next one. I am so proud of myself. It is possible to retrain the brain and manage things differently. We need constant reminders hence rereading my article which spoke about important days in the previous year being ruined like the lead up to and the first few days of our summer holidays. Christmas Day I was also triggered and didn’t manage the situation very well unfortunately.
I have got over the hurdle of our anniversary successfully and am sure will be challenged again. Hopefully I will remember the outcome can be different. If and when it is then I am sure I will be less reliant on taking extra medication for my mental health. I have put reminders in my calendar on my phone to help retrain the mind. Is this what is known as neuroplasticity I wonder? If only I could put this into practice with my mother and siblings that is another days work.
“… and how to say ‘no’ to this unhealthy behaviour.”
Whitney Cummings is a highly successful comedian from Los Angeles. From 2011 to 2013, she produced and starred in her own comedy show called Whitney. During this time, however, she was plagued by the toxic habit of people pleasing.
“I was so apologetic and afraid of people not liking me, that… [I] slowed down the writing process and confused employees. In the room, people would pitch jokes, and I would say ‘yes’ to all of them, because I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. I’d have to go later and change them, and then — all of a sudden — the script comes out and their jokes aren’t there, and they feel betrayed and lied to.”
It was only after therapy for an eating disorder that Whitney fully realized the negative impact of her people-pleasing actions.
One day, while attending a support group for her self-destructive behaviour, Whitney heard someone say, “People pleasing is a form of Assholery.”
She couldn’t help but agree, “because you’re not pleasing anyone. You’re just making them resentful… and you’re also assuming they can’t handle the truth. It’s patronizing.”
People-pleasers never say ‘no’
It’s hard to disagree with Whitney, but at the same time, people-pleasers are some of the nicest and most helpful people you can meet.
They spend much of their time helping others. They’re great organizers. You can always count on them for favours. And they always make time for their family and friends.
There is a reason for this, however…
“They never say no.”
That’s the problem. For many, saying yes is a habit, an addiction even, as they always put others before themselves. They want everyone to be happy, often going to extreme lengths to keep it that way.
Why do people-pleasers do this?
Some worry about how others will view them if they do say ‘no’. Others don’t want to be seen as lazy, selfish or uncaring, something which is deeply rooted in a fear of rejection and/or failure.
For many, however, it’s a need to feel needed, driven by a false sense of importance like they’re contributing to someone else’s life. This is highly problematic as their identity is based on the approval of others.
The risks of people pleasing
People pleasing might seem harmless, but it can lead to serious health risks — both mental and physical — especially when taken to the extremes.
First, people-pleasers rarely prioritize their own self-care. By putting others first, they spend less time relaxing, exercising, and planning healthy meals, and as a result, are more prone to health problems.
Second, by saying yes to everything, people-pleasers overcommit. With less time to keep everyone happy, this can quickly develop into a vicious cycle of anxiety and stress, especially at work. In extreme circumstances, this can lead to depleted energy levels, and even depression, because they can’t continue with their addictive habit.
Third, because people-pleasers feel like they can never say no, it’s easy forsilent anger to build up over time. This often leads to resentment, which can damage even the strongest relationships.
Fourth, by always saying yes, especially to requests for favours, people-pleasers can be taken advantage of. Even worse, exploitive people will see them as easy targets when they realise they can’t say no.
How to say ‘no’ to people-pleasing
“Make your peace with the fact that saying ‘no’ often requires trading popularity for respect.” —Greg McKeown
To stop people-pleasing, you must learn how to say ‘no’.
But first, you need to get clear on why it’s important to say ‘no’.
By saying ‘no’ to what’s not important, you’ll have more time for what is, such as relationships, hobbies, and your health. Your ability to deliver, at home and at work, will increase tenfold. With fewer things to think about, your mental wellbeing will dramatically improve. Time is one of your most valuable resources, and you can’t get it back.
Now for how to say ‘no’.
Robin Bernstein, a professor at Harvard University, has spoken about her struggles with saying ‘no’. So much so that she developed five principles and wrote an article about it called The Art of ‘No’.
Tim Ferriss also has a deep interest in this subject, and in his book Tribe of Mentors, he asked 130 of the world’s top performers about how they’ve become better at saying ‘no’.
Leadership expert, Greg McKeown, is another proponent in the power of saying ‘no’. In his book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, he wrote a whole chapter about it.
Based on the combined insights from these experts, here are 9 tactics on how to say ‘no’, and more importantly, how to do it artfully:
Explain the predicament you’re in. If solid logic will stop a conversation in its tracks, let it fly.
Don’t explain.Sometimes you can leave yourself open to judgement and negotiation if you try to explain yourself. So just say: “Sorry, I’ll have to take a pass”. You don’t have to defend your position.
Decline with gratitude. Be grateful for the offer, but kindly refuse:“Thank you for the opportunity. I appreciate you asking, but I’m maxed out with other commitments at the moment”.
Show them you thought about it carefully: “I’ve had to think hard about this because it sounds like a great opportunity, but I’ll have to take a pass. I simply have too much on right now”.
Make it non-personal. Establish a blanket policy that applies to everyone:“I’m sorry, but I’ve made it a policy to say no to any social events until…”, o“I’ll have to take a pass, I’m on a coffee shop diet for the next two months”.
Use your calendar. Simply tell them: “Let me check my calendar and get back to you.” This will give you time to pause and reflect, and ultimately give you a chance to make a decision that suits your needs.
Volunteer someone else. It’s often the case that people don’t care who helps them — as long as they get help: “I can’t do it, but X might be interested.”
Say it with humour.“Nope, not for me!”
Just say ‘no’.If it’s something absurd, just say no, or if it’s an unreasonable message, delete it.
Take away Message
Wanting to take care of others is a beautiful thing, and if you’re a people-pleaser, it’s likely that your heart is in the right place.
However, you cannot do this at the expense of yourself. By saying yes to everyone else, you are putting yourself at risk.
To stop this toxic habit, you must learn why and how to say ‘no’.
Why? Because it’s only by saying ‘no’ that you can focus on what’s important in life. This includes your loved ones, your career, and your time.
How? Maybe you explain yourself, maybe you don’t, but you should be grateful, thoughtful, and most of all, make it non-personal.
Saying yes is easy, saying no is hard.
So take a leaf out of Paulo Coelho’s book, and “when you say yes to others, make sure you are not saying no to yourself.”
Liked this article? Check out brianpennie.com for similar stories, and get the FREE program I developed to make remarkable changes in my recovery from 15 years of chronic heroin addiction.
Brian is doing a free talk at 7 pm on Tuesday the 11th of June in the Draoicht theatre at Blanchardstown Centre.
It will focus on helping people with busy minds and anxiety, and a few other tactics that Brian has used to transform his own life.
Suicide is not a dirty word. Nor is it a criminal act. It is the result of a fragile mind that can’t take any more pain. It is a terrifying, lonely, empty feeling that convinces the weary traveller that this is the only solution. It is not selfish, nor is it courageous, but it is also the hardest decision you will ever make in your life. It is impervious to love, reason and logic. I know this, because I’ve been there and while everyone’s struggle is extremely personal, I’m sure those will agree that that little voice in your head; the troll, the demon, whatever name you give it, is hard to quieten. But even though I know all this and am glad I never succeeded, nothing prepared me for being on the other side. Nothing prepared me for losing my best friend.
My Da was one in a million. I know everyone says that about their father, but I’ve never been so loved and adored in my life. We never called him anything but Da, or Bettsy, the nickname he was widely known for. Times were hard for him growing up. He was a proud, Pearse Street man, but there was no such idea of dealing with mental health back then and he quickly adopted a method of dealing with hardships by using his fists. It was a cutthroat world in his prime and you had to think on your feet. Despite this trait, my Da was the biggest softie. Having three daughters did nothing to honour his hard – man façade and myself and my sisters completely ruined him – in the best possible way.
He had this tremendous personality that made you want to be in his company and made a lasting impression on everyone he met. He had a way with him, which invited people in. If he liked you, you knew it. If he loved you, you were the luckiest person alive. He was fiercely protective of everyone in his life, he listened with an open mind and if he could help, he always would. He was super cool too; throwback to the Stephen’s Day when we took him to the coolest bar in Dublin, Bruxelles. (Coolest in my opinion anyway) when a young girl begged him to dance with her. Of course he obliged, he was incredibly fun.
My Da was a father to more people than his children. He proudly served as Lord Mayor of Ringsend and Irishtown for 2 years, fundraised for Pieta House and had the biggest personality. Most sufferers do. He volunteered for the Ringsend and Irishtown Community Centre Summer Project for over 20 years and the kids got used to his expletives as he was such a teddy bear. He was funny too and the ‘Bettsy cha cha cha’ dance on the bus to the likes of Clara Lara would burst your eardrums. One of the children told me that this year, the bus was too damn quiet. I would often joke with him that when he ‘croked’ we’d name the project after him. Seems futile now.
We talked a lot about his passing. I would even joke that each year I would buy him a voucher for Nichol’s funeral home, so by the time he passed, it would be paid for. I even joked that his featured picture ‘would make a great coffin photo.’ He had that kind of sense of humour and we had that kind of bond. I had to joke, it was the only way I could ever comprehend having to lose him one day and maybe the reason I’ve been single so long is that he was the God damn love of my life. I don’t see how my Da died as an act of weakness or selfishness. He was in terrible mental anguish and I’m trying not to let every detail of what I could’ve done take over my life. But It doesn’t stop me from wanting to scream abuse at the sky, or become dehydrated from endless tears.
I constantly told my Da that I loved him, like we should tell the people in our lives every day, because I loved him every day. No one is perfect on this earth, but to me, he was. I remember him bringing us to Funderland, to the beach and even into the Hammond Lane where he worked, that would later become the Community Centre which became the job he was most proud of.
I did everything with my Da; shopping, drinking, holidays – oh the holidays! Who can say that they’ve been to Benidorm with their Dad 5 times and loved every second? We talked you see, all the time we talked. He got me and with all my mental health struggles, I needed that. I needed to feel accepted growing up and he provided that. He was and will always be my hero and love is not a strong enough word to describe how I feel about him. I will love my Da until there are no stars left in the sky and until Ireland wins the World Cup. He treated me like a princess, then a queen and it was no surprise to my siblings that I was his ‘favourite.’
We simply loved each other’s company. We talked three times a day at least. He eventually hid his phone in the kitchen press (he didn’t know how to put it on silent) when I’d venture off out with my friends, because he knew the inevitable 4am ‘I love you’ call was coming. He was a beautiful man too and didn’t look his 71 years of age. He had hair that David Tennant would be jealous of. He loved wearing suits and when we cleared out his home, we found about 50 neck ties.
Because he’s gone now. My rock, my friend, my Daddy is no more. Of course I’ll always have vivid, loving memories, but the piece of my heart he took? I’ll never get that back. When someone dies, it’s hard, when someone chooses to leave, it’s a different kind of grief. I’ve been through and will continue to feel moments of anger, abandonment, sadness, dread and indescribable pain, when I feel my heart will literally shatter. I often wonder how I’m still here, how many times can my heart actually break without failing me completely? But I have to carry on.
There is the fear that I will fall apart, but suicide is not an option for me anymore as I can’t undo or unlearn the work I put into myself. Plus, I simply refuse to. I don’t think of myself as a strong person when I’m at my lowest, but I’m still here. I still get up, shower, go to work, walk the dog and that’s enough for now. When they found my Da, it was the worst day of my life, but I’ve more years to come, more of life to come, more memories to make. Maybe I haven’t had the worst day of my life yet, but maybe I haven’t had my best either.
The truth is, I finally got to a place where I don’t need acceptance anymore. I still live with anxiety and depression every day, but I balance it out. The key for me was always balance. Sure, I might say fuck it some days, but I make up for it the next. Those little things we do? That’s true bravery, that’s strength. The little things can be your Everest, don’t discount them. And don’t be hard on yourself. Do applaud yourself for that short walk you took, the meal you prepared, the anxiety attack you went through and came out breathing. It doesn’t matter who cares, as long as you care about yourself.
I have a million questions for my Da. Answers I will never get, questions I’m trying not to torture myself with, but that’s normal. I wouldn’t consider myself religious, but my beliefs tell me I’ll meet him again. My faith also tells me that we are here to learn and what we don’t learn here in this life, will follow us to the next. Karma is not a punishment, it’s a tool that presents itself time and again until we get the point. My thirst for knowledge will not end with my father, nor will the love and respect I have for myself. . I won’t let my father’s death be in vain, there is help out there, I promise you. A kind friend said to me after his passing, that ‘I know you’ll turn this pain into something beautiful and creative.’ That really touched me and this is my attempt.
Don’t give up, please don’t ever give up. I am a one hundred per cent success story and if I can do it, you can too.
If you are affected by any of the issues in this article please note the following numbers.
Pieta House 1800 247 247, AWARE 1800 80 48 48, Samaritans 116 123. These people are compassionate, non judgemental and are here to help.
Ireland Today are aiming to raise funds for A Lust For Life, Aware, Pieta House and the Samaritans in memory of Brian Betts, father of contributor Jennifer Betts. The money raised will be divided among the chosen charities. Thank you so much for your support.
Perfection disguises itself as a rosy red apple, sweet to the touch but filled with a bitterness and toxicity that can course through your veins, and reduce you to a former relic of the person you’re supposed to be.
Culturally, perfectionism is endemic of a society that has lost touch with its core values. To be perfect is to be inhuman and thus we must critique perfectionism under the same microscope as we would a chronic illness or mass infection. Perfectionism is a public health crisis and also more destructively, a disillusioned image of what humanity should strive towards. It is a flashing amber that if fed can turn into a fire and move destructively from person to person reducing everything in its path to waste.
A western ideal, the aspiration towards perfection is manufactured in the minds of marketers and salespeople. Our bodies become the canvas upon which profits can be made and abuse of power can be extrapolated. It ultimately is a power game, as in order to create perfectionism, the idea must exist that people are somehow imperfect the way that they are. Beauty companies manufacture flaws in our biology which can be read as opportunities to extract monetary gain, as we’re exploited and even worse monetized into a type of commodity fetishism. I use the word fetish here as the body is sexualized and made inanimate in order to package and sell it as a means of capitalist gain.
The truth of perfectionism is that it doesn’t exist. When we remove ourselves from the exterior world and look inwards, it’s telling that we begin to find our own answers to some of our most burning questions. The oldest of these existential questions is “who am I?” and most peculiarly the answer is often made up of forces that lay outside of perfectionism. For me I found the following:
1. I am a son
2. I am a friend
3. I feel things deeply
4. Kindness is my virtue
5. My insecurities connect me to those who love me most deeply
In none of these findings would I use the word “perfect”. I am a son, but I make mistakes that annoy my parents every day. I am a friend, but sometimes I say or do things that cause my friends pain. I feel things deeply and this leads to moments of great elation but also periods of unwanted contemplation. Kindness is my virtue but I’m often struck by the realization that the world is often unkind. My insecurities connect me to those I love, but appear as demons at times when my energy or sense of self is low. In none of these areas am I “perfect”.
The reason I can’t find perfection is because it doesn’t exist. I know this inherently but find myself striving towards it like a horse sent out with a pre-planned destination. But I get lostevery time and only when I remove my blinkers can I begin to forge my own path. In those moments I feel strong and laugh at the very idea of perfectionism.
Grief Encounters is a weekly podcast series that looks at an issue that affects us all and yet remains so difficult to talk about: grief. Hosted by Venetia Quick and Sasha Hamrogue, the pair are hoping to open up the conversation around loss and create a modern platform for people to share their own experiences, and start open dialogue around the subject of death and all that comes with it.
On this week’s podcast Sasha (Venetia will be back next week) got the opportunity to speak to the psychotherapist, writer, and grief advocate Megan Devine.
Megan’s career as a therapist was mainly based around working with people with substance addiction. It wasn’t until a summer day in 2009 that grief would become a firm fixture in her life, as her Matt drowned in a devastating accident just three months from his fortieth birthday. In Megan’s own words “It was random, unexpected, and it tore my world apart.”
In the years since Matt’s death Megan has gone on to found Refuge in Grief, a grief support resource and online community which serves both grieving people and those looking to better support grieving people free online resources, and professional training. Megane is perhaps best known for her 2017 book It’s OK That You’re Not OK, which is widely seen as one of the staples of Grief Literature.
Since beginning the podcast, and the initial planning phases back in October, Sasha had flagged Megan as the one guest that she wanted to speak to above anyone else, because of the impact Megan’s book had on her while grieving for her mom. Megan was so honest, thoughtful and at times hilarious with ehr words throughout this interview, and we really think everyone will enjoy this episode a lot.
If you’re looking for a safe haven to express how you feel, share articles, photos, memories and more, join the Grief Encounters Facebook Group. A place for support, compassion and empathy for those grieving.
Sometimes we can all feel a little, or a lot, down in the dumps. For good reason, financial, family illness, loss, employment, not enough time, too much time, or for many other reasons we can’t quite put our finger on. That’s life. At least mine. Everybody has their own demons in many guises, and to a different extent. I had felt somewhat overwhelmed which led me to undue stress and just a little “yucky”. I had felt that there was not enough outlets to vent my frustration. Of course there are lots of great self help books out there, great catchphrases and solid messages but something was missing. Even when I came across solid articles but not everybody gets it. I kind of equated it to a game of “Snakes ‘n Ladders “. There is always three snakes on the top line, right when I needed a ladder. Ok back a few squares and roll again. There has to be a better way.
On direction from my GP , and a little searching I came across “ HEADS UP “, [formally known by MOJO, currently they are going through a rebranding, and constantly tweaking improvements ].“Twelve weeks, two days a week”, just thought it would be quite a challenge for me at that point, but, what the hell. What’s to loose. Immediately on meeting Catherine and her team it was apparent that this was not their first Rodeo. For me, after just a few modules the bonding was obvious. A mixture of Mindfulness, open reflection, a few laughs and gentle exercise was plenty for me to put things in order. No pressure. Probably by design, I never saw, or needed name tags. I can not say enough about all the many positive things about of the course, only testify that it worked for me.
IS THAT IT??….. No, on completion [Dec. 7 2017] all ten who completed the course were presented with a help/reference package, toolbox [ and pizza ], courses, to take the next steps. Sorry to say goodbye. Subsequently, in Sept. of 2018 Catherine and her very, very hard working and dedicated team put together a “Peer to Peer support programme “of seven weeks,[ as the name suggests ] to help the next round of participants. I loved it. Seven of us from the South Dublin Chapter, joined eight men from Kildare and bonded instantly. For me it was a great reinforce of all the positive energy that we had and have. It can only get better. I went with the whole group, up to a retreat centre in Co. Wicklow for a day out, and chat, walk, lunch. How nice.
This is what the programme did for ME. Constantly I was reminded that it was mine, my programme. Part of the “Heads Up “ mantra. Now the snakes for me are a little shorter, and I lost a few, while the ladders are longer and more frequent. Ladders trump snakes. Twelve months ago I could not write this letter, now, thanks to all my life is in a much better place.
Contact Catherine in South Dublin County Partnership to find your local Heads Up on 014649300, and watch out for their new website coming soon.
“One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.” — Sigmund Freud
I used to think I knew a lot. I didn’t. I believed my own lies, weaving an imaginary world full of delusion, denial, and deceit. Combined with chronic anxiety and an overactive mind, this warped view of reality steered me towards a life of addiction.
In early August 2013, fifteen years of this madness had taken a climactic hold. I lost my job, my mind, every important relationship in my life, and my body was rapidly deteriorating.
I finally decided that I needed help, but the world had other ideas. With too many drugs in my body, I was too much of an insurance risk for detox. They told me to come back when everything except opiates had left my system. But I couldn’t wait, I needed to take action and decided to do cold-turkey at home.
The following few months were the most painful of my life, but also, I believe, the very thing that saved me.
I was two days into my home detox, and when I came around, I was lying on the sitting room floor with my face in a puddle of blood. It wasn’t my first or last cold-turkey seizure, but it was certainly my worst. The force of the convulsions had driven my teeth through my tongue; that’s where the blood was coming from, and every muscle in my body felt battered and bruised.
My younger brother thought I was dead and rang my dad in a panic. But moments later, in a complete daze, I crawled back up onto the couch, and tried to watch my favourite TV show, ‘Breaking Bad’. I know, it doesn’t make sense, but it seemed like the most logical thing to do at the time. My brain was scrambled, and when the ambulance arrived, I couldn’t even tell them my name.
I have no memory of what happened next, but vividly remember waking up on a hospital trolley several hours later. The room was somewhat dim, yet the dirty yellowish lights still hurt my eyes, and the mature orange walls were strangely troubling. My body ached all over, especially my gums and tongue.
The stink of vomit, combined with the sickly sweet, disinfectant-like smell of the hospital made me feel nauseous, and the dry taste of blood only made it worse. What disturbed me most, however, was the muffled sound of suffering throughout the night. There was a child sobbing in the corridor, and an intoxicated man who had soiled himself talking nonsense as he sat on the ground.
The red fire extinguisher
My senseless behaviour over the previous few years had pushed everyone away, but my family somehow rallied around me in my time of need. When my sister arrived at the hospital, she was stunned by what she found. It was not pretty. What she remembers most was my skin, which she described as waxy grey, with a texture like soft dry putty. My primary organs were screaming for blood, and when she touched my arm, she was frightened my skin would break away. I have no idea what I looked like, but I still remember how I felt; I was broken; physically, emotionally, but most of all, mentally.
Source: The picture on the left is 2 years before I hit rock bottom. The picture on the right was taken in 2017, 4 years after I reclaimed my life.
One memory from that night remains intense. I could barely move my head when my focus landed on a red fire extinguisher. I knew the colour red, and I knew it was a fire extinguisher, but I could not link the two together. It wasn’t a ‘red fire extinguisher’; it was just ‘red’ and ‘fire extinguisher’. They were like floating links of a chain, completely detached. I remember thinking: “WOW, you’re f*cked, that must be brain damage”. But I didn’t care, or it didn’t matter, I’m not sure. I had fought so long to keep my mind intact. But there was no more fight, no more struggle. I was utterly defeated, and for the first time in my life, I surrendered.
“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.But those that will not break it kills.” — Ernest Hemingway
Opiates aside, I remained drug-free over the next few weeks, and I was finally allowed to go to detox. Now it was just a minor issue of a 15-year opiate withdrawal. Like something out of an IRA film, I was picked up on the outskirts of Dublin (Ireland) and driven to an unknown location about 20 km away. As I sat in the front seat of a beat-up minivan, I reflected on my predicament. I was entering the unknown, in more ways than one, but my new journey was strangely exciting.
The detox facility was a little farm in the countryside. The long tree-lined driveway led up to an old house which sat in the middle of eight acres of land; four football pitches to you and me. The perimeter was lined with huge blackberry bushes and there was a tranquil little stream that cut across the far right corner. Under different circumstances, it might have been a nice little retreat, but there was something about the place, something haunting, that seemed to hang in the air.
I was introduced to seven other addicts on my arrival, and over the next few weeks, we’d cook, clean, talk, cry, and look after the farm together. We grew our own vegetables and went for walks around the grounds. There was also pigs, cats, donkeys and chickens on the farm. I loved being around the animals, and I grew particularly affectionate with the chickens. Give me a break, I was about to go through hell.
It is difficult to describe what opiate withdrawal feels like. It is often compared to flu, which is close, but with several key omissions. It’s a roller coaster of emotions, feelings, and physical sensations, many of which have not been felt for a long time. My gums were throbbing, my feet were on fire, and my insides were a mess. I was also terrified of the silliest things, as my wardrobe scared the hell out of me.
The most intense physical symptom, however, was the fever. The sharp shivering sensations cut to the centre of my bones. I vividly remember one night as I lay on the bed, quivering for hours, as the loneliness of the early morning seemed to taunt me. I put on as many clothes as I could, including my jeans, my jacket, and a thick grey bathrobe. I got back under the covers, but it was no use, I was freezing, and soon realized that time would be my only salvation. As I lay there trembling, cold sweat streaming off my body, it finally dawned on me why the mattress smelled so vile. I wasn’t the first one sweating in the bed; I’ll leave that to your imagination.
Ripples from within
The physical symptoms were bad, but manageable in comparison to what came next. Combined with chronic insomnia, the biggest challenge was coping with the intense waves of anxiety. Amplified to levels I’d never experienced before, it felt like electricity rippling up and down my body, or insects crawling under my skin. I wanted to run, but there was nowhere to go. One night I thought about climbing out the window, but I was afraid of my bloody wardrobe, never mind the pitch black night of the countryside.
I was now in the depths of withdrawal, and couldn’t face my bedroom anymore. I hadn’t slept in days, and spent the next six nights sitting at the kitchen table; all the other rooms were locked. It was a small kitchen, about 12 x 20 feet, and although it was homely, it was stained, worn, and old. As I sat at the end of the table, I wanted to run away from myself, escape the relentless anxiety. I must have done 10,000 laps of that little kitchen, but I couldn’t outrun my demons.
The nights stretched for miles, and I still remember the “Tick Tock” of the clock chugging in slow motion. Again it seemed like time would be my only saviour, but for the first time in my life, I was unsure if I would make it. I didn’t specifically think of suicide, but there was no end in sight, and I couldn’t see a way out. Now I knew why they locked the knives up at night.
I’m not even mildly religious, but that’s when I decided to pray; it was all I had left. I had lost my grandma a few months previous, and we were very close. She was a devout Catholic, so I just sat in the kitchen and asked her for strength. I’m still not religious — maybe I should be — because I firmly believe that my grandma got me through those nights. Below is a photo from the diary that I kept — the last word is “answered” — I must have still been shivering!
Source: An entry from my diary during detox
The race was over
It was now the 8th October 2013 — four weeks into detox — and I received my last ever dose of methadone. In the week that followed, I felt a profound shift in my being, like my ‘spirit’ or ‘soul’ had been woken from a deep sleep. Words such as these had always confused me, but for the first time in my life, they made complete sense. It is difficult to verbalize — it’s more of a feeling — but in what seemed like an instant, everything seemed to glow.
Colours were more colourful. Sounds were more cheerful. Things that were once hollow were now full of depth. I sat on a fence on those October dew soaked mornings — mesmerized by the vibrancy of life — as Mollie, the resident cat, would crawl up my leg as I watched the sun rise up from behind the trees. As the sun flickered through the shadowy autumn treeline, I was awe-struck by its beauty.
It was during this time that I began to meditate and read about Eastern philosophy. I was still at the height of withdrawal, but it didn’t matter, I was spellbound by this new way of being. Even the agonizing sleepless nights were transformed, the most enthralling experiences of my life. I would sit up for hours writing in my diary, captivated by concepts such as awareness, stillness, and self. Life had given me a second chance, and I was going to devour every second of it.
I was happy, full of energy, and completely carefree. But why? I had lost everything, with many obstacles to overcome. By all accounts, I should have been struggling, tormented even. I started to question why I felt so alive. Then it hit me. I’m not sure how I missed it. It had tortured me my entire life. Self-talk, the voices in my head — the ones that drove my anxiety, and in turn, my addiction — they were gone. For as long as I remember, I was consumed by overthinking — my mind racing about what I needed to do — but the voices were silent, and my anxiety was gone. I was finally at peace. The race was over.
Releasing the grip
I’m not sure how, or why my mind went quiet, but two things stand out. The first was increased contact with the present moment, and by this, I mean sensory experiences. Hence my new found love of meditation.
The second involved my life story, which is dictated by the voice in our heads.My story had one directive: “Protect your addiction at all costs”, and unfortunately for me, I was a pretty good storyteller:
“You cannot go to detox, you owe out too much money. Sure you can’t get clean anyway, how would you cope with your anxiety. That’s why you took drugs in the first place… it was the only answer then, and it’s the only answer now. And besides, it’s not that big an issue, you always get your drugs. More to the point, are you even a ‘real’ addict, it’s not as if you’re homeless.”
I became very skilled at believing my own lies and protected them with my life. But sometime during detox, possibly the night of the fire extinguisher incident, or the long nights in the kitchen, something changed, something big.
You might call it acceptance, surrender or simply letting go, but for me…
I released my vice-like grip on the story that I told myself.
What I wanted, who I needed, what I thought would make me happy, and what I should avoid — when I dropped my story, everything changed. My mind went quiet, and my new life began.
Life after detox
I ventured back into the ‘real world’ after four months in treatment. Curious, passionate, and completely open-minded, I became a student of life, and set out to learn all I could:
I began reading deeply about topics such as meditation, self, and personal growth.
Most people don’t think it’s possible to contact the top performers in their country. As a result, they don’t get many random requests, especially from people like me. I jumped out of the box and had no one to compete with. This decision has led to some extraordinary opportunities, including speaking engagements with some of the largest corporate institutions in Ireland. The picture below is me speaking about creative problem solving to the marketing team in AIB, one of Ireland’s largest banks. I also recently launched my own business around personal growth.
Source: Speaking about creative problem solving to the AIB marketing team
As I put the finishing touches on this article, I am focusing on another new chapter in my life. I’ve just been offered a book deal with a mainstream publisher, and I’m in talks with Virgin One (Ireland’s second largest TV network) about a TV show based on the program I developed on my journey.
Through anxiety, fear, and the lies I used to tell myself, projects such as these would have scared the hell out of the ‘old me’. But not today; I have a new life, and a new story, one that’s not informed by fear, delusion and the voices in my head.
By releasing the grip on the story that I told myself, there are no more lies, there is no more fear.
I am having fun. I am taking big leaps. I am at peace. I am free.
Liked this article? Check out brianpennie.com for similar stories, and get the FREE program I developed to make remarkable changes in my recovery from 15 years of chronic heroin addiction.
It’s not uncommon for children to feel anxious from time to time, so it’s encouraging to know that there are a lot of practical things that parents can do to help. No two children are the same, so it may be useful to try a few of the suggestions out and see what suits best for your child.
Normalise the worry or anxiety. It’s so important for children not to worry about their worry! This leads to an added level of anxiety. You can reassure your child and encourage them to adopt a low-key attitude of curiosity whenever their anxiety surfaces. Validate their feelings first and foremost, listen to them and empathise with how they feel. You might remind them that worry is part of life and that some people worry more than others and that’s okay. Tell them that there are lots of ways to deal with their worry and give them the self-belief that although their worries might pop up from time to time, they can learn lots of ways to deal with it. Perhaps your child worries because they tend to over-think things and are sensitive by nature. By presenting these characteristics in a positive light, children can feel better and understand why they might worry about things.
Allocate a set ‘worry time’ of around 10 or 15 minutes daily. Use this time to allow your child to express their worries and discuss them with you. During this time, you may be able to help your child to make a plan to deal with particular challenges or problems that may be worrying them. If your child expresses worries at other times of the day, remind them that they can leave it until ‘worry time’ and then discuss it. This helps the child to compartmentalize their worries to an extent and stop them from spilling over into their entire day. End ‘worry time’ on a positive note whenever possible by asking your child to tell you some of the positive events of their day also.
Encourage your child to use their problem-solving skills to deal with particular worries that they can do something about. You can brainstorm solutions together and try out different ideas. It’s important to encourage your child to think of ideas themselves, rather than you just presenting them with your solution – that way they learn self-belief about their own abilities to cope. Role-play various situations to allow your child to practise what they might say or do if a particular event happens so that they feel more equipped to deal with it.
Teach your child about the skill of healthy distraction. If your child has a worry that they can do something about, encourage them to use their problem-solving skills. Sometimes, children worry about things that are outside of their control. In these cases, they need to give their ‘worry mind’ a break by distracting themselves and immersing themselves in an enjoyable activity of their own choice. For more ideas on this, see my article.
Equip your child with strategies for physically releasing the symptoms of stress and worry from their bodies. Physical exercise of any type is very beneficial in this regard. Gentle yoga stretches can also help. Encourage your child to try 444 breathing to help to bring a feeling of calmness to their bodies – they breathe in for a count of 4, hold for 4, and breathe out for 4. Doing a few rounds of this can be wonderfully calming – doing it with your child will benefit you both!
Remind your child of all the times they coped with difficulties in the past. Ask them what they did that helped when they felt like this before.
Encourage your child to tune into their self-talk. What are they saying to themselves when faced with a worry or difficulty? Help them to have a ready-made selection of helpful self-talk phrases that they can use to help themselves feel calm and strong, for example, ‘This is tough but I can handle it’, ‘I’m stronger than I feel’, ‘It’s okay to be worried, I don’t need to be afraid of my worries’, ‘I don’t like feeling like this, but I can take some deep breaths and cope with it.’
Try some mindfulness meditation with your child. This can have great benefits when done regularly for a number of weeks. There are lots of websites offering free guided mindfulness sessions for children, including a full set of free meditations which support the Weaving Well-Being programme (see bio)
It’s really important to support children in developing a sense of self-efficacy in dealing with their worries – a sense of belief in themselves and their own abilities. Allowing them to express and accept their worries and having a toolkit of constructive ways to deal with them can really help them to feel strong and supported.
Jenny is a 38-year-old, kind, caring and hardworking woman, married with a young child. Like many of us, Jenny is juggling a lot of different responsibilities in her life and finds it hard to carve out time for herself. Not so long ago, Jenny was in an important performance-related meeting at work, she was trying to focus on what was being discussed but was having trouble concentrating, she had not slept that well the night before as her both her mind and her phone had failed to switch off.
In the meeting, her boss turned to her and made a comment on her performance that shook the core of her being, it was mild enough, a simple suggestion on how she may engage more directly, but to Jenny, it felt like a full blown attack. Her heart raced, her palms were sweating and she was physically struggling to remain composed. It took all of her might to not flee from the room. Her colleagues in the meeting including her boss were oblivious to how Jenny truly felt as she was delivering an Oscar-winning performance of remaining calm and accepting the constructive criticism. Later on, Jenny reprimanded herself so harshly and worried for days about her reaction in the meeting. Why was she so sensitive? So weak? She felt exposed and vulnerable and was certain her boss now judged at her in an even worse light. Should she just quit her job and be done with it before she was fired? These and other catastrophic, self-deprecating thoughts clouded Jenny’s mind so much so that she never connected the raw emotion she felt that day to the fact that she had never fully grieved for her brother who died suddenly two years before. Jenny’s solution was to work even harder, longer hours.
Unprocessed emotions lie under the surface and arise when we least wish them to.
Have you ever been at work or a social occasion where you have had a similar feeling to Jenny? If you have moments, days or even weeks when your emotions can rule your life then you truly have my sympathy. If you have found yourself fighting back tears, suffocating sadness or frustration with the desperate hope that nobody will see how you truly feel then it is time to press pause and examine what is really going on for you. In order to live at peace with yourself and the world, it is crucial you become the master of your emotions rather than at the mercy of them.
To be a good master you must first and foremost be a kind one.
When we feel overwhelmed in any situation whether it is professional or personal it is often due to the unfortunate, common and entirely understandable habit many of us have which is to suppress emotions rather than to feel them. I see this so often in my work and my heart goes out to the person who has been walking around with this unnecessary pain. Blocked emotions are trapped within the body and tend to come out when we least wish them to, in the case of Jenny the tone of her boss was too much to bear and perhaps unconsciously reminded her of how her brother may have spoken to her.
In order to create calm from the chaos of emotional turmoil, the most important step you can take is to find the courage to sit with hard emotions such as anxiety and self-loathing with tenderness and patience. You need to take time to understand where they come from and the message they are delivering.
Most of us were never taught the most important form of intelligence that we need to thrive in a complicated world, emotional intelligence.
And yet, we are predominately emotional creatures and many of our decisions are made depending on the state of our emotional health. We hear so much about physical health and thankfully more and more about mental health but what about our emotional well-being? These three, are, of course, all connected. Emotions are the integral link between the physical and the mental. What we perceive and think in the mind we feel physically in the body.
Emotions are the language of the body and it is your job to listen to what they have to say.
We ignore our emotions at our peril as unprocessed negative emotions block our body from functioning and flowing. When we get a bee sting, bang our hand with a hammer or we are simply fighting the common cold virus our body produces small proteins called proinflammatory cytokines. These small proteins can both be a friend and foe. Friend when they help us to heal by drawing all the blood to the site of pain and causing it to swell. Foe when they are overproduced due to negative emotions such as stress and anxiety and cause inflammation in the body when it is not necessary. There is no physical wound to heal and the inflammation leaves you exhausted, irritable and depleted and more susceptible to disease. As we move further and further away from the traditional reductionist medical view we move closer to getting to the heart of what aids us to be the best versions of ourselves, physically, mentally and emotionally. Ultimately, to be kind you ourselves.
Learning to master your emotions is a lifelong skill and like Socrates, the Stoic Greek philosopher once said: ‘To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.” In essence the journey of self-knowledge is the key.
Here are three key tips to help you on the voyage to help you to master your emotions.
If you feel sad, angry, upset, overwhelmed, anxious, fearful, or any of the plethora of negative emotions – remember the 90-second rule for emotions – neuroscience shows that if we sit with the emotion it will pass after 90 seconds. One of the most positive things you can do is to allow yourself to feel negative emotions with courage, love, and acceptance. Feel the emotion – breathe into it rather than try to escape it. By doing so the emotion is less likely to emerge at a time that is not suitable such as in work.
Speak to someone you trust and love. Sharing the emotion with a close friend or family member is very therapeutic. They don’t need to fix the problem, simply ask them to listen to you and through their care and love solutions will emerge from yourself. I also recommend finding a good therapist if you feel you need more support.
Journal – write down all the negative thoughts that have been spinning in your mind. You will be amazed at how when you release them onto the page they are also cleansed from your mind. Do this regularly and once you have released the toxic emotions, journal on all the things that you are grateful for in your life.