Wednesday, 4 November 2015

We are all going to Die

Human remains at the body farm

"Bodies are, after all, merely forms of energy trapped in lumps of matter waiting to be released into the Wider Universe."
I read that sentence recently in a newspaper article about how quickly the body starts to decompose almost immediately after death. After the moment of death the energy held in the body follows the natural laws of chemistry. If the undertaker didn't use their bag of tricks then it would not be possible for us to see our loved one last time, so that we can try and remember them as they were, and not what they have become. Nothing. Their essence and energy has vanished.

They live on through the memories they have created and the love they shared. 
I hadn't set out to read about the decay of a human body. The headline and picture drew me in. 
And yet something in the article had resonated with me in a way I needed time to digest. I suppose like that undigested food left in the body at the time of death. Of course most people don't like to think about what happens to them after the time of death. 
As humans we spend most of our lives trying to ignore and avoid facing the reality that we will expire. Ernest Becker wrote the seminal book on the topic, Denial of Death. 
So the point of this post comes from that realisation that my body is, after all, just a form of energy trapped in lumps of matter waiting to be released into the Wider Universe. And this is why I see depression as a denial of life. For me, when depression is severe, it feels like my mind is decomposing. By decomposing I mean that my mind is involved in a lifetime battle for survival against  a killer force.
If I had could any wish granted in the world it would be to have some peace of mind. My nirvana is a place where the capital city is Peace of Mind. Mental illness makes my mind a hiding place of fear. A dark lonely place I often have to retreat into onto my own because I want to try protect family and friends from a sick brain. A decomposing mixture of thought processes that serve no other purpose but to torture.
Mental illness is a master thief. If my body is merely energy trapped in lumps of matter then it would be great to be able to enjoy the ride. I want to enjoy my life and be a good parent, husband and friend. But mental illness is an unseen cancer that is suffered in the lonely theatre of the mind.
I know our time in existence is short, a tiny grain of sand in an infinite universe. And as the article said I am waiting to be released into the Wider Universe. 
We are taught about decay in the Bible, earth to earth and dust to dust. Well the universe is welcome to reclaim the chemicals that made up my head.
I often feel like a right lump of useless  matter. And without the energy! Energy would allow me to not want to hide in the bed. Energy might help me find that hidden land called Peace of Mind.
That's all I want in my life. Some sustained periods with a peaceful mind. I have only had sporadic contact during my adult life. 

Sunday, 19 April 2015

The Crying Boy

Image result for the crying boy painting

We had this picture in our house when I was growing up. It is called The Crying Boy by Italian artist Angelo (Giovanni) Bragolin. In the 1950s, Bragolin worked in Venice after the Second World War, painting Crying Boys and selling them to tourists. 

As a child I can vividly remember the picture. It often un-nerved and confused me. Why is the child crying. Is he being punished for doing something wrong. Will someone come and heal his pain. Why is he on our wall?

In fairness, our house, like all good Catholic houses in the early 1970s, had the standard issue of crucifixion pictures with Jesus dying on the cross.  I found those pictures difficult, ghoulish even. It confused me to see his mother Mary, forever frozen in time and powerless, as her son's life expired.

Walt Whitman, the famous poet once said 'I dote on myself, there is that lot of me and all so luscious'. I can see how that might be true in myself, at least in theory. The idea that I too may contain multitudes and hidden depths. That I deserve to be kind to myself, to find myself a worthy person and to face life with luscious optimism.

Would that it be true. But my journey has not been on a clear road. Like The Crying Boy I have often been frozen in an expression of fear as I traversed the road less travelled.

I wasn't to know as a child that my internal wiring was faulty. From childhood I was hypersensitive to criticism and abandonment. I was terrified of bullying and being attacked. I had a private little world in my head where I retreated at times of most stress. 

Moving forward 35 years, I was recently diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD). It is the first time in my life that I feel I have a compass to understand my co-ordinates. I know now that emotions can be my sworn enemy. They rise and fall like wars, with the power to destabilise and overwhelm.

BPD is an illness that has taken me to the edge of my existence. As I once wrote in a story 'I don't think much of myself but I am all I can think about'. Each new day is another challenge to get out of and stay out of the bed. 

So The Crying Boy is like a mirror for me when I am not feeling well. Why am I crying? What did I do wrong to end up coping with a mental illness? Can I ever climb out of the picture and melt the frozen ice that locks the moment in time.

Because I too have felt frozen in a look of sorrow. My fear of bullying was punished fully in a job which I had to leave after 23 years. The scars of that battle will never fully heal and I experience panic attacks and heightened stress. 

But at times I also see hope in The Crying Boy. While the picture has frozen him in a fixed point of time, that in itself is an illusion. The boy deserves to have broken out of the frame years ago to follow his dreams, dote on himself and explore his multitudes.

And that is why I am trying to let go of 'The Crying Boy'...

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Joining See Change as an Ambassador

I feel gratitude for the last few days and that's a nice improvement. Depression robs gratitude when your head feels on fire, full of intrusive thoughts and negative loops. But I am starting to feel more solid ground underneath my soles.

I can tell this when I remember to spot the little things. Like the daffodils bursting into golden light in the park next door. Like the dark evenings loosing their icy grip on the light. Travelling to and from work each day in the bright is a simple pleasure. And when my motorbike accidentally drifts into a bus or cycle lane it shortens the journey. I suppose travelling lightly among rush hour traffic is symbolic of clearing your mind of negativity. And I will eat happily at that table.

I have so much to be grateful for. A wonderful wife and family, wise old friends, physical health, a job to go out to. Yes my illness acts like black sunglasses some days so the light struggles to get in. I do understand when those around us struggle to comprehend why on our dark days we seem unable to show or feel gratitude. I get it.

I do prefer though when it doesn't lead to you being told a story about something worse that has happened to someone in the 'real' world. It might be physical ill-health or financial worries. But I cannot feel any better because someone else is suffering. For me that is sadness and difficulty multiplying out to hurt more people. It's no consolation to any of us.

But as the topic suggests, my mood has been helped hugely by becoming involved as an ambassador with See Change. See Change is an alliance of organisations working together to bring about positive change in public attitudes and behaviour towards people with mental health problems. Stigma fighters. See

I feel priviliged to join their team to help out. It's going to take years to reduce the stigma out there. Did you know for example that 40% of Irish people question whether a person who has had a mental health illness is suitable to be a parent. I am a proud parent of two great people. And 50% wonder if we are capable of regular employment? I wonder are they the 50% who house some of the bullies and bluffers out there who think little of inflicting pain on others?

I wrote a song this week that captures my own belief about our health. When things are at their darkest always remember that the light must come again. So hang in. We all need to keep on keeping on.


Friday, 6 March 2015

Can I ever forgive the bastards?

Image result for forgiveness

I was struck like a bomb today when I read a blog piece by  called 'Should You Forgive Someone Who Harmed You?' It triggered an awareness and an anxiety that I carry like a huge bag of heavy explosives. She wrote:

"After interpersonal trauma, it is understandably very difficult to forgive the person who harmed you. This is especially true when the abuser never acknowledges what they did or faces consequences for the harm done. It can feel like the only thing tying them to the crime is the anger of their victim. The problem, of course, is that the survivor’s anger hurts the survivor far more than the abuser. Anger doesn’t hold the perpetrator accountable. It can’t make them sorry. It doesn’t make them pay. If it could, there would probably less repeat offenders.... Anger can, however, consume the person who is angry. It takes a great deal of energy to hold onto it, energy that the survivor is spending on their perpetrator instead of themselves. And you deserve better."

I recently got a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder. My train journey has stopped over the years at destinations like addiction, OCD, severe depression, and then bipolar disorder. So keeping on the rails has been a major challenge in my adult life. I believe I was born with faulty internal wiring in my top floor.

Unfortunately over three years ago I suffered a major interpersonal trauma. From a very minor start, I was bullied mercilessly to the point where death would have seemed better than a tortured life. I had worked for 25 years in secure employment. It had given me some stabililty and self-respect. I felt no option but to report the initial bullying so there could be a neutral investigation to be fair to both sides.

From that moment on every procedure was broken to protect the bully. The bully was joined by HR and senior managers in a fight I couldn't win. They targetted my mental health and referred me for evaluation in the hope that could tarnish me. The independent medics supported me so the bullies subjected me to disciplinary procedures. When a group decide to target a victim it's called mobbing.

I will write some other time about mobbing tactics. Suffice to say it can ruin your health, finances and relationships. Particularly if you refuse to go under the steamroller. It breaks some people enough to kill them. I fought as hard as I could for my equal rights to not have my mental health targetted. The machine threatened to fire me so I took ill-health retirement. And in legal proceedings I probably got a very bloody draw. But the machine just moved on. None of the gang members lost any sleep. Mobbing demumanises the victim enough that punishments given are seen as part of the process.

I write this detail to get to the point of the article. I now have PTSD caused by my 'survivor's anger'. It eats away at me when awake, intrudes on my sleep and diminishes me as a human being.

So I would love to have the capacity to forgive. To cash in my 'survivor' chips and feel a bit human again. To walk the dogs around the park without angry and bitter memories competing for full control. To stop feeling haunted. To mentally sit still. Its hard enough to fight the rollercoaster of borderline without septic anger seeping through my synapses.

I know that if I forgive, I win. Not over the gang of six. I am roadkill to them. But forgiving could allow me to shut that door so I can rebuild and renew. I know from attending a 12 step group that you can 'fake it to make it'. That helped to kill King Addiction. I do not have to mean the forgiveness. Just do it and move on. It's beautifully simple.

But my mind makes me pick at and nurture the angry scars. To feel that losing the hurt would be another win for them. Some days I absolutely hate them all. Other days I see them a group that mean nothing for me. Robotic clones with nothing personal.

With some DBT and lots of work on myself I hope to reach the forgiveness stage and drop the distressing anger. I deserve that much. But part of me fears I will always carry scars that empty my soul.

Sunday, 1 March 2015


This is a short story I wrote about 10 years ago. It was in a creative fiction class. I found it again recently. And I was amazed to see how it signposted much of my journey ahead. I hope you find it works as a story, but also like a memoir of living with mental illness.

It was a day like any other in Lipari. Except today it was different. ‘Bless me father for I have sinned, these are my sins’, spoke Emmet softly in the confession box. The dimly lit Cathedral of St Bartholomew sat at the top of the main hill in Lipari, a small island off the coast of Sicily.

Emmet had come to the church to see the remains of St Bartholomew, one of the 12 Apostles. Emmet's father had also been called Bartholomew, or Bertie to his friends. According to Catholic tradition the body of St Bartholomew had washed up in Lipari from Armenia. Tradition holds that the saint had been flayed and crucified with his head upside down. While still alive his skin was torn from his body. As a chronic sufferer of psoriasis, Emmet feld a morbid affinity between them both.

Emmet noted from his guide book that St Bartholomew was the patron saint of nervous disorders, butchers and bookbinders. The saint was also associated with gingerbread which was why Emmet had been able to buy some gingerbread apostle cookies at a stall in the church lobby. 

Emmet had sat down in what he thought was an empty confessional box to finish his apostle cookie in peace. He was startled when another voice in the box asked him to start his confession. It seemed Emmet was destined to have his confession heard through the little grille that divides the repentant sinner and the Lord's representative on earth. Under his tee-shirt, Emmet touched the miraculous medal his father had passed down to him on his communion day.

Emmet felt he had his own crosses to bear and shared them as part of his confession. At 48 years old, as well as psoriasis, he suffered acutely with an anxiety disorder. This made it difficult for him to truly give anything his full attention. He spent most of his days in internal monologues of worry and self-criticism. Emmet was a God-fearing man. His God traded in fire and brimstone.

Emmet had lived alone for almost two years since the death of his beloved mother after a long struggle with Alzheimers, that destroyer of the human memory. He lived in a small terraced house where he kept the grass short and the garden exceedingly tidy. Emmet took enormous pride in small details.

Emmet was tending now to his own broken heart after the sudden end to his 13 year long relationship with Nuala, a palliative care nurse. Every relationship hits turbulence. It is like a law of nature. Physics tells us that no two particles can move independently. Each one's motion depends very much on its neighbours. Turbulence can pluck down an airplane from the sky.

Nuala had wanted them to stop living atomised lives and fuse together in a single cell structure. When faced with possibility of major change, Emmet always retreated for cover. By the time he realised how much he loved Nuala it was too late. Her heart had been broken by his default position of detachment.

Emmet was always reading. His systematic mind enjoyed being fed with logic and reason. He didn't expect to figure out the meaning of life, but he sometimes enjoyed the almost obsessive search. Our capacity for thought is what distinguishes us from animals by giving us uniquely human characteristics such as self-consciousness, tool-making, imagination, planning, play, and a sense of humour.

The trip was Emmet's idea of a holiday. Nobody was asking for two fuzzy nipples or sex on the beach. Emmet worked as a system analyst in the IT section of the Department of Agriculture. His therapist had told him to try and stop thinking about himself so much but Emmet realised that he was the only thing he could ever think of.

As Emmet finished his confession he could hear the music of 'The Lord is my Shepherd' reverberating around the church. The choir were practising for the special festival mass being held that evening to celebrate the feast of St Bartholomew. It sounded to Emmet like a small piece of heaven on earth.

The choir were placed in the sweetspot of the church. The idea of a room having a sweetspot dates back to when monks where using tuning forks to tune church pillars 600 years ago. Emmet's heart soared momentarily and it felt good to be alive.

'Padre, I think I am afraid of dying', said Emmet in the dark.
'My son, you are only afraid of living', was the reply he heard.

It was at that point that Emmet realized he was alone in the confessional box.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Keep It Simple

I suffer badly with a form of depression. It's called Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

Why am I writing about this? Because I am told that writing about your journey can be theraputic. But also because too many people are ashamed to be open about their mental health. There is too much stigma out there. And fear. 

Fear of being told to pull yourself can't be that bad...what have you to be depressed don't look depressed to me...depression isn't an illness...don't we all get depressed. Etc.

It is part of the human condition that every person experiences challenges and setbacks with their mental health. But some people suffer more than others, for longer, and feel less sure that the sun will shine on them again. One in four will experience mental illness at some point in their lives.

I see my mental health journey like being on a plane. There are black dogs in the seats behind me who like to snap at me if I don't show them respect. The in-flight movie is sometimes very distressing and you cannot change the channel. It's a no alcohol flight. And I have far too much baggage!  

But sometimes when I feel more relaxed I can see faraway things out the window. The sky and the stars give me hope. The black holes frighten me. The turbulence is unsettling. And yet the plane is still in the sky, going somewhere. I have no idea where. I have asked but am just a bit-part actor.

The plane has crashed a few times, badly. Occasionally I have tried to fly it too high, towards the sun. That is the Icarus flight, an attempt to connect with lasting beauty. It's a long way down. Significant repairs and TLC have been needed. It's a miracle in many ways that the plane ever got back in the air.

When I can find gratitude I realise that my plane journey is not a death sentence. Or a death sentence. It gives me hope that I am still here. Maybe I have more strength than I give myself credit for. Peace of Mind is a faraway land that some people have told me about. I would love to check into a hotel there some day. But I need to focus on my plane journey rather than any destination.

It can be very lonely marooned in my head but I have been truly blessed with a wonderful family. Me and my illness have stretched and tested them to the limits.And yet I get unconditional love. They have never given up hope when I have thrown in the towel, too weak and tormented to go another mile. My family are the most important and valuable companions I have on my journey.

My other companions are music and writing. When I can temporarily use some creativity I feel really alive. It's transitory and fragile. But music is a magic force that can transport you out of the here and now. It can be intoxicating if you can surrender to it in the moment. And music is free.

So if you are still reading, then I will finish with a link for a song I wrote. It's called Keep It Simple. For 3 minutes and 34 seconds it helps me live in the moment with a bit of gratitude for the good things in my life.

Keep it simple, Make it strong
And if some trouble comes
It won't stay long

Easy does it, Live and let live
Keep coming back
You're never alone

Progress not perfection,
This too shall pass
Share your hope, Keep moving along

Let's be kind to each other and work with the fear.

About Me

My photo
I'm writing this blog about my personal experience of living with mental health problems. I want to be part of the conversation for change and growth. So many brave people have helped created a virtual community for us all in their websites, blogs, Facebook groups and Twitter. The community is helping to fight stigma and get mental health into the mainstream media. We need to combat stigma and open hearts and minds. I hope that sharing some of my story will support my journey to better mental health. And it would be great if a few other people find something of value for them. MacMurphy Lives will mix the light and dark. I hope to use a bit of humour in my posts. And some music content might come in aswell. Laughter and music are the only free medicines.