The older i get the more I realise just how ingrained this is within myself. It’s like looking at yourself and trying to notice the details and not just the overall picture. Within your exterior, hidden in plain sight, are all these details that make up who you are and they are there if you know where to look.
I say exterior, rather than interior, because I am referring to physical clues such as tone of voice and body language. Non-verbal communication.
In my case I have a strong compulsion to punish myself for the slightest wrong that I perceive. Simple things that have caused no distress to others feel to me like they are worthy of reprimand and I MUST be punished.
Recent Example No.1
Last month my wife went on a foreign holiday with her sister for a few days. This holiday had been planned for months but only booked a matter of weeks before the actual departure. I was invited as well but I declined for practical reasons and I also saw an opportunity to spend some time doing some things I always wanted to do but couldn’t whilst my wife was here. Nothing bad, just spending some time up the coast at night (ref Kinbane Castle).
The next day, I decided to watch a couple of DVDs and to have a few drinks and let my guard and defences down. It was during this period that my wife and her sister text to ask me what I was up to and I replied via FB messenger that I was sitting naked having a few drinks and beginning to feel tipsy (I don’t know why I said this as I was sitting fully clothed) and I suddenly got a phone-call from my sister-in-law saying that my last message was sent on a group chat and that I should delete it ASAP.
Too late; I received a reply from someone who was not meant to see that message saying ‘TMI’. I deleted my message right there and then but the damage had been done. My sudden concern turned to embarrassment, even though there was nothing to be embarrassed about. Unfortunately this proved to be a perfect storm as not only was I starting to feel intoxicated, I also hadn’t taken my meds the day before nor on this night in question, and my embarrassment quickly turned to anger.
Suddenly, and without hesitation, I sunk my teeth into my left arm and bit myself hard enough to make my teeth ache in my gums. In an instant the alcohol that I was using to lower my guard was now my weapon of choice to further self-harm. I knew I would be sore and there was a possibility that I may have a rough night ahead of me, but I didn’t care and I felt like it was something I deserved as I was such an idiot for not being more careful about where I send my messages.
This is like the time when my dad asked me if I wanted to move to Antrim a few years before he was murdered and I said no. I know the names of the people who murdered him and I know mine is not counted amongst them and never will be.
I know I was not to blame for his death; but survivors guilt leaves its own scars and this is one of them.
I know I am being irrational in that I have nothing to feel guilty about. I know I need to stop punishing myself for every slight I do. I know I need to stop letting others make me feel guilty. I know I need to stop treating myself so badly and I know I need to stop self-harming. I know I am a nice guy with a good heart who is caring and compassionate.
But I also know that I hold myself partly to blame and that as I cannot punish the people who killed him, I CAN punish myself as the nearest substitute.
I also know that after 30+ years I need to stop this destructive behaviour as the only person I am hurting is myself…but I can’t help it. It feels wrong if I don’t punish myself; like I am letting the guilty walk free.
Recent Example No.2
I was driving home one late afternoon and I saw the lights ahead of me turning from green to yellow. I knew in a second or 2 they would be red and I need to make a decision NOW as to what action I need to take. Do I have enough time to stop safely? I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.
I hit the accelerator and saw the lights change from yellow to red just before I reached them. I had just went through a red light.
FUCK! STUPID STUPID BASTARD!!!
My wife had to calm me down because I didn’t cause an accident and I wasn’t caught by the authorities and I was starting to over-react in a big way over something so simple that it may go unnoticed by other people or it is the kind of thing people do all the time.
It’s what I do and whilst I can override these instincts some times…others lead me to some sort of self-harm.
I try, internally, to make them feel better by punishing myself for their wrongs rather than my own. I feel like I take upon my shoulders all the weight and troubles of the world because this is what I have been doing most of my life and, whilst it is entirely illogical, it is something I feel I am compelled to do.
This is a completely natural emotion to feel. It keeps us safe when we feel threatened, increases respiratory rate flooding the blood with oxygen and releasing adrenaline and our bodies natural painkillers; in preparation for either attacking a danger or running away from it – flight or fight.
I have some difficulty with this particular emotion as it conflicts with some of my personality traits in that I am not an aggressive person and I do what I can to avoid conflict and try to deescalate any increasingly hostile situation which life throws at me.
I have seen people get angry and loose their temper with people who are only doing their job or they get so engrossed and passionate about a sport that they easily take offence at anyone who disagrees with their view.
Anger also has its place within our society. Soldiers, martial artists, sports; any sort of situation where we are competing against or in conflict with another person and anger is useful in a controlled way as it improves our performance, increases our pain threshold and enables us to go that little bit further…or in the case of military personnel, helps keep them alive.
For me its different as it conflicts with my personality. I hate being angry. I don’t find it to be a pleasant emotion and it makes it easy to loose control of a situation and react negatively. But then again, that rush of endorphins flooding my body and increasing my confidence can be exhilarating lol.
Sadly my anger often times results in self-harm and emotional pain that’s almost beyond endurance.
I’ve spent years learning to be on the lookout for warning signs that I am starting to get angry and as a result my anger rarely sneaks up on me. There are usually early warning signals. Maybe I am feeling more irritable than normal or I feel that adrenaline starting to be pumped into my blood and my breathing increases. I also use my eyes, ears and mind to assess what is going on in my surroundings to see what the stimulus is that could be impacting negatively on my emotional state.
In the meantime, having had these early warning systems being triggered, I immediately focus on my breathing to try to calm down. Deep breath in… hold… and slowly release. Repeat as often as is needed. I also take myself out of and away from any situation that is causing this level of distress.
Sadly we all have a breaking point. I’ve found myself in situations where I need to have that physical release of energy and I usually end up punching a wall and damaging my knuckles or biting my arm until my teeth hurt all the way to their roots.
This is a controlled, and destructive, release as I will NOT take my anger out on ANYONE as I don’t believe this is productive. And I rarely find myself in situations where my safety is in question. I am always on the lookout for an alternative to a physical confrontation. I pose a danger to myself, but not to others.
But like I said, we all have our limits and even mine can be tested to the extreme…
Many years ago I remember one night when I was supposed to be staying with a friend in their flat. They had a visitor from Scotland over and the 3 of us were supposed to be going to a fancy dress party. I had my dads leather jacket and was going to go as John Travolta from Greese.
The situation that night took an unexpected turn before we even left the flat. My friends visitor had begun drinking and, having been informed somewhat of my past, he began questioning me about my experiences. I wasn’t happy about this and refused to answer. But the questions kept coming and were becoming more aggressive in nature.
I could feel those familiar warning signs being triggered and I was becoming concerned. I began to employ calming breathing techniques. As the minutes went by the questioning changed and this visitor began to ask before demanding to try on my dads jacket. This to me would be the equivalent of trying on his skin and desecrating his memory.
I looked to my friend for help and asked them to help; but my pleas were ignored whilst they laughed.
I had to get out of there before I snapped. I began to pack up and was being told to stay by my friend whilst being called a ‘chicken’ and a ‘little boy’ by this visitor.
Nah, fuck this, if I don’t get out of here I am going to loose my shit!
It took several trips to remove all of my belonging from the flat, but despite now being outside and away from these idiots, I was barely in control. I was physically shaking with rage.
Sadly, I seem to have somewhat of a delayed reaction in that even when I was finally out of that flat, my anger was actually increasing as the gravity of the situation began to fully catch up with me.
All I wanted to do was to kick a bin, but I didn’t do this in case the neighbours heard and began to ask questions.
I walked to my car, determined to drive away. I also knew that as soon as I got behind the wheel, this would not be safe and I could very likely end up in an accident or hitting someone; but such was the heat of my anger I decided to be selfish and not care about other people. With the distress I was feeling I just didn’t care about myself or others.
I think something must have clicked with my friend because they came out and grabbed the keys from my hand and threw them away before shoving me away from the car. I was so so close to hitting them. I wanted to. I felt justified in throwing that punch.
But the morals my parents instilled in me as a child came to the surface and they were my last line of defence.
I didn’t want to hurt anyone. I just wanted the pain to stop. Emotionally I was in agony and just wanted the pain to go away. And I will admit that had I gotten into the car in this state, suicide was most definitely an option I was actively considering.
Fortunately my friends shove, when combined with my own constant calming techniques, did the trick. I calmed down just enough to regain my desire to not do anything stupid.
After a few minutes my anger had cooled from 100C to 98C. Still far from being safe and calm, but cool enough to regain that valuable control of my mind and actions that I so desired.
I still left. I drove away angry and alone, but now no longer carelessly so. I don’t remember where I went but as I am here writing this today, I clearly got there safely lol.
I HATE having a mental illness! I hate the pain and confusion that it brings. And people can’t see these wounds and relate them to my, at times, unusual behaviour. I hate that people make judgements about my behaviour and that even I have trouble understanding my actions.s
This is one of those battles that happens for no reason and which I cannot explain, even when such reasoning is warranted or expected.
I hate the fact that the person who caused all this continues to wreak havoc on my life without knowing it. It feels like I am being punished over and over and over again.
I feel like the Husky wanting to begin to pull its masters sleigh in the cold snow covered Alaskan wilderness. I want to write but a subject to liberate this urge eludes me. Sudden inspiration hits me. I think “Bingo!” I have on this the first day of February 2004 just created something which may gave vent to these frustrations. I have titled it “Dreams”. From here inspiration grows, a selection of 80s inspired power ballad type music gives energy to my fingers as they whiz about the keyboard hitting keys which my mind only decided on a split second before.
A powerful energy surges forward giving yet more life to my already speedy digits. My mind races forward so fast I have to consciously slow down as I find difficulty finishing one word before the next eagerly emerges. My mind is a frenzy of thought and activity as I type.
I urgently move quickly, for the fear of losing the very fragile idea which my mind has just acquired, is very real. I cannot recall when the last time was that I felt such a thrill. The idea of putting into words an idea which I created and allowing people to read, then witnessing expressions growing and falling from their faces as they become absorbed in my world, is another thrill in itself. I can tell just by the expression on their faces where in my journey they have reached.
This is my gift to the world. I am who and what I am and I wouldn’t change a thing. Slowly I am emerging from myself. A stormy past of thought from many years ago is giving way to this new emergence of me. I am finding myself all the time. I have been a secret to my soul. Hidden in a depth of the mind rarely explored but which always surges out as I sit down to write.
It is not enough for people to read these personal and dear thoughts, but I wish them to read and believe they are their own and it is I that plucked them from their minds. In most cases this is achieved.
The randomness of the words takes you on a journey which you cannot predict. A journey of the mind. A journey without question. Because in dreams we do things and see things that defy logic, but which never seem out of place or questioned. Defying gravity, seeing weird and strange lights which threaten to reveal the secrets of the universe aren’t questioned. Suddenly being rich or having superhero abilities become the norm. logic is turned on its head and once again, as in childhood when being told about Santa Clause or the tooth fairy, we accept this new environment of psychological creation without question.
But, even in this new totally accepted environment, we can create built in triggers to help make the experience all the more enjoyable.
What am I talking about? I’m talking about the ability to program the mind to wake up if you have a nightmare. This is the case for me. If I start to have a dream I don’t like I automatically say to myself “I don’t like this. Time to wake up.” And I do. This happens regardless of whether or not I am aware that I am dreaming. Since I started doing this I have never had a nightmare that I didn’t want. If things get to scary I just simply wake up. Nightmare over. This, as far as I’m concerned, is an extremely powerful ability, but one which I am thankful for. I don’t know when or how I started doing this.
The other thing about dreams is that about 70% of the population remember the last dream they had. Here’s an interesting question to which I do not know the answer. What percent of the population remembers the 2 or more dreams they have during the night.
Dreams occur when we enter into the deepest of sleep known as Random Eye Movement (REM). Personally I have recalled on at least one occasion when I have been dreaming and was aware that I have had 2 other dreams already. Or even more recently I have recalled in some detail 4 dreams which I had on one particular night. Quite surprising. What percentage of the population does this put me into? That is a question I would love to get answered.
The mind is indeed a powerful thing. To create sensations which have never been experienced in life but which turns out to be very accurate. Dreams and the imagination, hope to coax them into the reality of the waking world.
To fly free of this world and escape into the hidden depths of the soul. To experience sensations which would never be contemplated in the world of the real. To conquer fears and live as thy should like to. Explore thyself. Fears become nothing to be feared. Eternal energy flows through the mind.
But the greatest sensation which gives way to the greatest awe is when the reality of the dream is realised. That the world which is before my very eyes is not real. But created entirely by my mind. A sense of disbelieve fills my mind. I walk up to a door; feel the hard wood and grainy surface beneath my fingertips. I look up and see the sun shining down on me, feel the warmth of its golden rays upon my very skin. See the shadows cast by its brightness. The tarmac beneath my feet, the buildings around me. All this is not real. I feel everything I touch but it’s not real. It’s all in my mind. I am literally creating everything I see. The shock of the situation as I realise all this is overwhelming. But then once again the reality of the situation strikes like a thunderbolt. A million thoughts and ideas rush though my mind and as this is happening, an evil grin grows across my face and all sorts of possibilities flood my mind. This is my world. In here I am God!!! I can do anything I want without consequence. I am no mere mortal. I am not bound by the rules of the norm. I am beyond all. I can run faster than I can.
I try and test this theory, unsure if it will work. I have a muscle I am not sure how to use. I run! Down a street with no end. I feel my feet in my trainers beating the ground. I feel the wind in my face. The cars pass me easily. I pass a group of guys and hear the shouts of “go on ya boy” and “hurry up or you’ll never make it”, floating on the wind behind me and I think in amusement “just like real life”. But I’m not going fast enough. This is my mind. My rules! I am faster than this. Suddenly the cars appear to slow, the cracks in the pavement become blurred, the wind picks up, I feel a see sensation of speed building in by gut. I hardly notice the absence of the sensation of my feet beating the ground which was once so apparent before just seconds ago. I find a “higher gear” and suddenly lunge forward, the sensation of speed building all the time. The cars seem to be going backwards.
Time stands still.
The power is building. Shifting.
I can feel it sinking down, down deeper, down into my thighs. It’s overwhelming. The sensation of speed is trying to overload my mind.
I can’t stand it any longer. I have to do something. I feel an overpowering desire to jump, and jump I do.
A new sensation overtakes my senses. The sense and freedom of flight. No earthly boundaries. I go higher and higher into the clouds. The world drops away beneath me into the distance. I surge upwards into the heavens. I feel the wet moisture from the clouds against my face as I journey though them. Suddenly yet another overwhelming desire takes hold and urges me to fly. Fly as fast as I can.
I’m off once again. Flying into the wind. Destination not important. I feel my entire body become even lighter than before, the power builds and I increase speed. The world beneath me starts to whiz by. First tall building separated by streets merge like the white lines on the road. Their windows first hard to distinguish, then impossible. The buildings themselves turn into giant black streaks, then fades to grey as I angle upwards into the clouds once again.
The city gives way to countryside of green fields and hedgerows with the occasional farmer in his tractor tending them. Further still and I see rivers give way to mountains of multicoloured rock.
Something in the back of my mind says “faster, faster, faster, you’re faster than this.” Once again I feel the surge and then a tremendous sensation of speed. The landscape below be blurs then melts into itself as I go faster and faster and faster.
The land opens up to sea then ocean. I see the dark blue hues as I race over its rippled surface. From the depths of the ocean up ahead I see a pod of Dolphins break the waters surface. Their slick grey streaked bodies with their arching back fin break the surface. Puffs of dense white water vapour erupt up as they blow out and take another deep breath ready to return to the oceanic depths. Some of them jump clear of their watery home and take flight in a display of un-associated aerial grace.
As I fly past I see dark thunder clouds ahead of me. I approach and see white streaks of angled lighting as it travels within the cloud, followed by an ear-bursting thunderclap. I dodge the lightening easily. Faster and faster I go still increasing speed.
In the distance I see the sun. It spears to stay still as I approach its horizon. I feel yet another surge of speed and the world around me takes on yet another change. All colour fades from sight and I am enveloped in a tunnel of grey. I pass onto land and mountains become dark streaks which flash by so quick I have difficulty in realising what I have just seen.
Boredom takes hold and I once again angle up wards aiming for the blue sky itself. As I go higher and higher, the blue fades, gives way to the dark, cold blackness of space and I see billions and billions of stars. Each winking at me. Daring me to set forth and greet them personally.
Off I go. This time speed becomes irrelevant. The size of the cosmos shrinks and I pull it near as though attached by an invisible chain.
I see an array of dazzling colour and various ballets which have been performing since the dawn of time.
The universe shrinks and closes in on me. I see clouds of dazzling sparkling dust millions of light years across and at the centre is a pinprick of light which is slowly sucking the cloud closer to its ever brightening and expanding centre. This is the birth of a new star just like our own. I ponder what manner of life will evolve on the planets which will orbit it in the millions of years yet to come.
I see the sun. our sun. I feel its heat on my face. Its surface is like a boiling pond of lava. I bare witness as huge arches of fire and plasma millions of miles across reach out and wrap its boiling arm round me. I see its warm glow on my hands and feel its life giving heat on my face.
Closing my eyes I relish its cosy effect.
Journeying further I see a spiral of dust and debris heading towards an invisible black mouth, sucking all that is unfortunate enough to be taken within its reach of gravity. Not even light itself can escape its insatiable and endless unrelenting hunger.
Onwards yet again and I see a spiral disk with 2 huge towering jets of light shooting out from the top and bottom. Each is several light years long and beyond comprehension. They reach far out into space like a giant spear piercing its centre.
I go out farther still and I approach the edges of the universe itself. I reach the limit of the imagination. When I can go no further and explore no more I wake up. I realise with disappointment that my journey was a dream. I feel special. Like I have discovered the secrets of the universe. Physically I feel tired. Happy to be home. I realise that what started off as a realisation of dreaming, turned into the journey of a lifetime. The experiences and sensations I was privileged to explore are beyond praise.
All this happened in my mind. At the beginning of this journey it was important that I realise that I was dreaming and then I got lost in the beauty I was seeing and the feelings I was feeling. The power I was talking about felt like all my love and passion, hope and desire, hatred and anger and all my other emotions were compressed, magnified a million times and then turned into pure energy and released within me. Actually it feels like more than that but the words don’t exist to write what I felt. The only way to understand is to feel it. Almost as if everything in the universe was me and I it. We were one and the same. As if I am the universe and I am just flowing through it.
I would like to make clear that I have felt this way before, not when I was dreaming but when I was awake. I wrote about it before. The story is called Garrison. I won’t to into it because that story has already been written. But essentially the feelings are the same. The only difference being that in Garrison I had to make due with feeling the sensations and acknowledging they are there, in this case I was able to do something more with them and used them to take to places I can only dream about.
In garrison it was just me and what was before my eyes. There was nothing else. No worries, fears, dreams, hopes, people, nothing. Just me and what I was witnessing. Experiences such as those leave a long lasting impact on your life and I found that I don’t want to forget even a single feeling. Part of the reason why I write things down. I want my experiences to become yours.
I experienced all this and yet my mind struggles to accept that the journey didn’t happen. Or did it? You decide. I’ve made my mind up about what happened to me. I leave you to make up yours.
I feel I should also mention that the last memory I have of my dad was at his wake. No-one knew for years that I was there.
I’m actually crying whilst I type this because you just have to read the words that I am typing, but after 30yrs that FINAL memory I have of him, lying peacefully in his coffin, as I stared down at his face, with a cloth over his forehead, hiding the bullet hole I knew was beneath it.
I knew that as a child this would be the last time I ever got to see my daddy. That memory is as fresh in my mind now as it was when it was made all those years ago.
As his murder was sectarian, I always believed that if the other side got hold of me they would kill me. I found out that most of the people there were from the other side. So, at the wake I made a decision to reserve my anger for those who murdered him and not judge or blame a society just because of the actions taken by a minor few who only had murder and hatred in their hearts.
This is one of those complex stories that I am not sure how to fully get across, so I will undoubtedly revisit this topic in the future.
Such is the nature of Mental Health that when I began to write about this I had forgotten just how complex an issue it was. So this is going to be the start of a series of posts on this topic as there is far too much to cover in one post and those reasons aren’t straight-forward.
So, lets start with the simplest of reasons for me doing this – WHY???
Less than 12 months after I witnessed by dad being murdered (don’t forget, I was a young child when this happened), during the year where I have no memories, we moved to a new town, I started a new school and just when I needed the most stability I had the least.
I had to deal with the trauma of dads murder and now I had to deal with starting a whole new life in a new house in a new town and going to a new school and trying to start making new friends.
My mind already felt like it was a scrambled egg and now that scrambled egg was put in the microwave and turned up to the max.
All I knew was that everything I once knew was no more and I realised just how little control I had over my life and my choices.
I don’t blame my mother for this; she was doing the best she could having now been widowed with 3 children all under the age of 10. I can’t imagine that anyone could have done better.
By this stage there were no arrests nor convictions for my dads murder and as I started to form new memories my young mind was in chaos trying to make sense in a senseless world where justice seemed to fail and it just wasn’t fair.
I was angry and that anger was just growing and growing and growing.
But being the quiet reserved kind of child that I was, and still am as an adult, I turned that anger (I will post more on my anger later) inwards until I could not contain it and it exploded outwards. I also felt huge guilt and blamed myself for my dads murder as, when he asked if we should move house several years earlier and I said ‘no’, we never moved and had that move taken place then he would still be alive.
Because I could not target my anger and frustration at the person whom I knew was responsible for my dads murder, I turned my anger towards the next person whom I felt was responsible – me.
So, just to recap, within 12 months of my dads murder:
Witnessed murder of my dad
No memories for first 12 months afterwards
No chance to grieve or come to terms
Moved to new town
Started new school
Had to make new friends
No arrests or convictions for my dads murder
Held myself partly to blame for his murder
I began to self-harm partly to punish myself for my dads murder and also partly to show externally all the pain I was feeling internally. I couldn’t cope. I didn’t know who I was, where I was, what I was supposed to do etc.
In the years that followed, from then to now, I have:
punched walls / floors / doors
carved words and sentences into my arm with a variety of blades
headbutted walls etc
ate too much
ate all the wrong types of food
refrained from drinking any fluids for 34hrs and could have pushed this to at least 36hrs easily
exercised beyond pain
beat myself up mentally for each and every mistake I made
told myself I was ugly, pathetic, I deserved to die, was useless, weak, total scum, better off dead, waste of air, didn’t deserve to live – I HATED MYSELF AND FELT PHYSICALLY SICK WHEN I LOOKED IN A MIRROR
looked up suicide websites for ideas and one idea was called ‘psychological suicide’ where the goal was to ‘kill’ your emotions to the point where you don’t feel anything. You basically become a Zombie
became suicidal and began to make plans for my own death
This was the beginning of my journey into self-harm and anger.
There may be plenty of jobs being advertised but there is also a lot of competition for those jobs. I don’t apply for jobs, I apply for interviews and I interview for jobs.
But despite my best efforts, interviews are few and far between and in the meantime I am wondering what it is that I am doing wrong.
I know I am a good worker, reliable, punctual, skilled, I listen to and follow instructions and I even learn new skills on my own time whether it be my lunch or even when I am at home so that I can be a better worker. Feedback is always welcome and I always take on board what I am being told to do.
I understand employers are busy and cannot respond individually to every application they receive and I understand this completely. But what does annoy me is when I go to all the effort of taking time out to go to an interview and I never hear from the employer again. And the lack of feedback is maddening.
It falls into the definition of insanity being that a person constantly repeats the same actions and yet expects different results.
How can I improve when I don’t know what it is that I am doing wrong?
Then there is the interview itself and whether or not to make the decision to disclose that I have mental health issues. I am always worried that the employer may be marking me highly only to suddenly change their mind if I were to make this disclosure. I have seen and felt potential employers look at me differently once this disclosure is made. Their reaction is so subtle that I cannot pinpoint exactly what it is that has changed, and yet the reaction is so strong that it’s unmissable.
This in turn has an impact on my health as I have been looking for another job for about 3 years and every now and again I feel a tidal-wave of despair washing over me when I either get another rejection after an interview, hear nothing back from the interview or count the large numbers of jobs that I apply for and the months (at 1 point I went 7 months between interviews despite constantly applying throughout this time) that pass without result.
The last job offer I had was the one I accepted to start with my current employer.
All the while I struggle with my current role. I can do my job, there’s never been any doubt about it, but it’s not conductive to my long-term mental health and this is why I have been looking for so long.
I’m just tired of looking, but the same tenacity that has kept me alive means that I cannot give up on my search.
In addition to asking myself why I keep failing, I also turn my gaze, and sometimes fury, towards the heavens and cry out:
“Why are you punishing me!? You know what I need and yet despite my best efforts I am not getting what I need. What wrong have I done that requires this constant punishment? Have I not suffered enough during my life that I am undeserving of such a simple wish.!?“
To date my prayers and cries for help remain unanswered. But…I could be worse because at least I have a job…for now.
On a warm summer day in Co. Down, the sun shines brightly from its zenith, looking down upon countryside which is being surveyed by a mysterious, figure-less but curious entity, floating in the air.
The surrounding area is made up of a network of country roads and fields, dotted with houses.
Large birds such as Jackdaws, Magpies and Rooks fly swiftly through the air. From somewhere below, hidden in the bushes, their location known only through their high pitched chirping, dozens of Finches and Blue Tits fly quickly from branch to branch as they scan the nearby houses looking for food and trying to avoid the local cats which patrol the area hoping to make a meal of any unsuspecting creature which they can pounce on.
As I grow accustomed to my few form, I become aware of its mass, its thoughts and memories. I suddenly know all that he knows. I am all that he is. At last I become aware of his senses.
Through helmet-clad ears, a slight breeze carries upon it the sounds of nearby birds, still chirping happily, unaware that soon the calmness of the countryside will be shattered by the roar of a motorcycle.
A breeze picks up and blows through an open visor, cooling a face whose striking blue eyes peer out through a dark visor and survey all that is before him. The road stretching away into the countryside; the white road markings; the cats eyes road reflectors; the birds in the air; the trees and bushes and fields on either side of me.
I listen intently to the wind and scan it for sounds of possible traffic ahead and to the rear of me.
I can feel the adrenaline as it begins to build and course through my veins in response to thoughts signalling what I am about to do.
I start to take deep breaths, trying to get as much oxygen to my muscles, preparing them to act swiftly when I call upon them within seconds of starting off.
In a few bends time I will see, 2 signs stand as guards signalling the beginning of the 60 mile per hour speed limit and the ending of the 30mph village limit.
Adrenaline comes in waves and makes me feel giddy. I feel alive and everything seems to be in slow motion. I know I have entered into the Holy Grail of the mind – I have entered “the Zone”. This is where you are so focused on what you’re doing that the only thing that matters is what is happening this very second.
Ahead of me the road disappears to the left. As I approach I move to the right of my lane, eyes scanning for each last bit of information: the white lines of the road lengthen signalling the approaching bend is going to tighten.
I slide to the left of the bike and put my knee out to shift my centre of gravity. My eyes seek out the vanishing point where the 2 curbs appear to merge and become as one.
I start to scan with my peripheral vision, looking out for anyone or any animal that might suddenly get suicidal and want to step out in front of me.
I have reached the point where the road starts to turn. With a steady throttle I lean off the bike, using my body-weight to pull it down into a tighter line, whilst keeping my head looking up and ahead and pushing down onto the foot peg with my right foot in preparation of the corner opening out.
I feel the tires grip and as I lean in further. I can feel the wind hitting my chest in a gently and welcome breeze.
Suddenly the corner starts to move away from me signalling I can accelerate should I wish to do so. I start to sit the bike up and move over to the left of my lane as the second bend approaches. I do everything as before only in the opposite direction and then I lean and turn left once again.
This whole time I feel alive. My heart pounds with such force that I fear it wants to burst free of my rib-cage.
Ahead of me are the 2 signs guarding the entrance to the national speed limited roads.
I pull over and stop, turning the engine off and hearing it ping as it starts to cool. I can smell the petrol and oil as it wafts up inside my helmet, carried by the heat coming of the engine.
I want to savour this.
I sit and think about what I have just done and feel endorphins, pleasure hormones, surging though my body. A thought enters my head; “this is better than sex.”
With my eyes closed I start to think of what I am about to do and a stray smile grows on my face.
Take a deep breath…hold it…hold it…hold it…and slowly let it out. I take another and hold it, let it out and open my eyes.
I see the trees; hedges and fences forming a corridor through which the tarmac follows with all the weaves and curves that this type of plane brings.
Inside my helmet I can hear the quick, rhythmic, thump thump thumping of my heart as blood is pushed round my body with ever increasing ferocity, in familiar response to the anticipation of what I am about to do.
With a hand, clad in a leather glove and reinforced with various pieces of Kevlar armour, I reach forward and turn the ignition, seeing the familiar green neutral light coming to life.
With my right hand I reach forward, grasp the throttle and push in the ignition button with my thumb, whilst simultaneously pulling in the throttle lever with my left hand and balancing the bike with my right foot, I bring the side-stand up with my left foot.
The bike rumbles into life. A quick twist with my right hand sends the tacho needle upwards, at the same time unleashing a whine from the engine. This is just a taste of what is to come.
With the clutch in, I press downwards on the gear lever with my left foot and ½ feel ½ hear the click as first gear is selected.
Placing my left foot on the ground, I balance the bike between my legs as I pull my black tinted visor down with my right hand, completing a typical biker look and sending me into anonymity from the rest of the world and softening the sound of the engine…but not for long.
I have ridden this road before. I know where it goes. It’s one of the tightest and twistyiest roads I have ever found in Northern Ireland.
But this time is different. This time I want to ride it harder and faster than I have ever done before.
I settle back into “The Zone”; a state of awareness so high that everything seems to slow down. I become aware of everything in front me, on the edges of my peripheral vision I start to scan the road for any suicidal creatures looking to spoil my fun by trying to dive under my front wheel. I also become aware of my mirrors and start to constantly scan them more than ever, with the fear that blue flashing lights and a squealing siren brings to my fragile licence.
With everything set, I slowly twist the throttle hearing the revs build and begin to feed out the clutch.
As the bike creeps forward, I quickly bring my feet up to rest on the foot pegs, balancing the balls of my feet on their edges.
Onwards I go and when I reach 20mph and with the clutch fully out, I violently open the throttle.
I need to get up to speed quickly.
I feel my entire body slide back into the seat as the bike surges forward in response to my actions on the throttle. The front wheel grows light as the front end lifts up in a slight wheelie, and then comes back down.
I grip the handle bars tighter and use my feet to push forward in an attempt to brace myself against the violent forces I am about to subject myself to.
I allow a smile to creep across my face as sheer concentration gives away to an emotion. And instant later the smile is gone from my face, once again replaced by sheer concentration.
The dangers involved are not too far from the back of my mind. I know what could happen should I make just a single mistake, no matter how minor it may seem.
The engine pitch gets higher and higher becoming just a scream.
I look down and see the needle of the tacho meter drawing very close to the 10,500rpm red line.
In the same glance I also notice that within less than 2 seconds, I am already at 50mph.
I close the throttle and at the same time I hook the toes of my left boot under the gear lever and pull upwards, short shifting into second gear.
The bike responds by once again by slightly lifting the front wheel.
All around me the hedges, trees and fences merge into one singular blur.
Below me, the white lines in the centre of the road join as one solid line. The cats eyes forming little bumps as they wiz by at ever shortening intervals.
Suddenly! The road reaches upwards very sharply.
I think, “Oh f**k! I forgot about this!”
Too late to do anything about it now.
The front wheel starts to angle upwards, following the road skyward. The handlebars, grown suddenly light in my grip, signal that the front wheel is now airborne.
I brace myself as best as I can as I feel the back wheel rise over the crest of the hump.
For a split second I am flying though the air like an airplane. The wind is whipping at my leathers and helmet; pushing hard against my chest.
Then I feel my stomach heave as the rest of me, bike and all, begins the violent descent towards the road, wheels still spinning in midair.
With my weight already sent rearwards by the acceleration force of the bike, the rear wheel hits the ground hard; a split second later it is joined by the front wheel.
The rear-end begins to squirm and fishtail, as minor undulations on the road surface magnifies the forward motion of the bike, upsetting the handling.
Just as quickly as the bike is unsettled, it straightens out and I regain total control, backing off the throttle just long enough to regain control of all of my senses.
“F**k! That could have been nasty!” go the thoughts, quickly through my head as I luckily get away with what could have been a serious accident. “I’ll remember where that is next time so I don’t hit it at the same speed.”
I look ahead through the darkened visor at the smooth tarmac 50 yards ahead of me, as it turns sharply to the right. The hedgerows and trees giving me early warning of just how sharp the impending turn really is.
I back off the throttle slightly to give myself more control. Racing towards it, I lift myself up just enough to slide ½ an ass-cheek off the seat, put my knee out for better control, and start to lean the bike over, feeling its stiffness as it tries to resist; my eyes totally focused on the point ahead of me where the corners of the sides of the road seem to merge in unison into one – the vanishing point; constantly scanning the sides of the roads with my peripheral vision, alert for any sudden and unexpected dangers.
The bend begins to straighten up. I start to stand the bike up, getting on the throttle at the same time and gathering more and more speed as I bring the bike completely upright.
As suddenly as the last bend is over, the next bend appears.
I read the road and it tells me it’s just as sharp as the last one.
I point the bike towards the middle of the road and start braking…hard! I feel like the bike is trying to throw me over the handlebars, as the suspension compresses and the front end dips. Senses learned from years of brisk road riding tell me that I could brake harder if I wanted to, but I have already slowed to the ideal speed for this corner.
Just as before, I hang ½ off the bike and scan the road and hedges for potential hazards. Midway through the corner when the road begins to open up for me, I am back accelerating hard, short-shifting through 3rd and 4th gears.
The next bend is 100 yards ahead of me and turning right. I look at the edges of the road; the trees growing smaller tell me that the road is angling down.
I scan the fields to either side of me looking for any breaks in the hedge which may signal a hidden entrance to a field. I also look ahead as far as I can, examining the road for any mud or pot holes.
The smooth tarmac is completely clear of any debris.
As I approach the corner, I back off the throttle, brake hard, pull in the clutch and press my left foot down, feeling the click as 4th gear is disengaged and replaced by 3rd. I press down again and engage 2nd. At the same time I have manoeuvred myself over to the left 3rd of the road.
As I approach the bend I see that it is quite open, so I stay in 2nd, lean the bike over, and keep a steady speed through the bend.
A nice, long, sweeping right hander.
Below me, I can feel the tyres gripping the road, telling me there is nothing to worry about.
Suddenly, the road swings back onto itself as the road turns to the left.
I feel a moment of sheer panic and utter fear as I realise that I am going fast. Too fast! I can’t turn at this speed!
My mind races into overtime. Thoughts fly though my head so quick I don’t have time to consciously process them.
I think, “Too fast! Too fast!”
“Sit the bike up…quick!”
I fight the fear of crashing as my eyes become fixed on the edge of the road.
Years of experience honed on the road, come to my subconscious and instinct takes over. I think, “Don’t panic. You can do this! Don’t look where you don’t want to go. Look though the bend! Concentrate! You can do this!”
My brain tells me to brake…hard! Brake now!
“No! Don’t brake yet! Brake now and you will lose the front end! Sit the bike up first, brake hard on the straight and you will make it!”
I can’t move quickly enough. Things are happening too fast!
Somehow I manage to get the bike upright, long enough to scrub off as much speed as I can.
I hang off the left side and just hope I can make it. I hope the tyres don’t loose grip or I’m screwed!
I lean further and further than I have ever leant before.
Heat and red hot pain shoot through my knee and up my leg, like I have just been touched with an electric grinder, as I feel the road through my leathers.
Instinctively I lift my knee up a fraction of an inch. And the pain fades slightly.
Then the road begins to straighten out.
I start to stand the bike up again and back further off the throttle. I allow the engine breaking to take over and as I come fully upright and pull over to the side of the road as relief sweeps through me.
I made it!
As I select neutral, put the side-stand down and turn the engine off. The entire world speeds up as my senses return to normal. I can’t believe that I just made it.
I still feel giddy with the adrenaline in my system and with it comes exhaustion and relief. My body suddenly feels very heavy. My arms and legs feel like lead weights. I feel physically drained. All that panicking really took a lot of effort out of me. I am so glad it is over.
I think, “It was only 5 seconds ago that I was having a great time before nearly being caught out by that bend.” I’m bloody lucky I didn’t crash!
I look down at my knee and see that my leathers are only scuffed. But my knee is aching.
I’ve had a lucky escape. “Think I will take it easy on the way home…then again, maybe not.”
Calmness washes over me. I start to feel his body relaxing. The near miss on the bend, which happened just seconds ago, begins to fade into blackness as it becomes a distant memory and the rider, feeling somewhat confused, remembers nothing of what has just happened.
As we separate, the land and the rider begin to fall away as I rise higher and higher above the countryside.
Through senses beyond human comprehension I look down upon the being with who I was as one just seconds ago. I watch as he shakes his head and ponders how he arrived at his current location without remembering how he got there.
Unknown thoughts and assumptions fill his mind just long enough to make him hesitate for a split second before deciding to continue on his journey.
He starts the bike up, retracts the side-stand and selecting 1st gear. Quickly opening the throttle and releasing the clutch at the same time which has the desired effect of hoisting the front wheel several feet above the ground as he speeds off down the road.
As the bike and the rider disappear into the distance and the sound of the engine slowly fades into nothingness, the only sound remaining is that of the soft breeze as it blows through the branches of the trees, rustling their leaves. Then the birds’ return, their chirping once again filling the air…until the next time.
As for me? I carry on drifting though the air and into the distance, leaving behind Co. Down, but retaining all the pleasurable experiences I gained whilst being a biker for a fleeting few minutes.
Feeling unsteady, I ride off slowly, still trying to calm down. Still trying to fully realise what I had just been through, only one thought lingers in the back of my head as a wicked grin slowly grows upon my face. “The next time I come round here I’m going to nail that bend!”
If I was to walk down the street with a bandage or a limb in a plaster cast or even in a wheelchair, I doubt very much that I would have taken as much verbal abuse as I have and I think any physical attacks would have been avoided in their entirety, though I am sure I would receive some sort of verbal attack.
I also seriously doubt that anyone that has ever attacked me in ****** would have done so had I had an arm in a plaster cast.
But with a mental disability, such as PTSD, no-one sees it. No-one sees, nor do I believe they would even care, the impact their words can have on me.
I keep telling myself it’s their opinion and I don’t have to listen to it…but it comes down to the following:
Are their words stronger than my own ability to ignore them? Sadly the answer is sometimes ‘yes’.
I fight to ignore them, but I’m also fighting not to self-harm as a result. I don’t want them to have that kind of power over me. But when I am in a vulnerable mood then my resolve is not strong enough and each word uttered strikes me as though it were a physical blow.
One of the things I have to remember is that my Disability is a hidden one. It is not on show for the public, nor most people, to see. For me it is a private issue as it involves disclosing a lot about my past.
However, I have learned that there are ways to disclose enough so that the listener has a good idea of my past, whilst withholding anything I do not wish them to know e.g. the extent of my self-harm or the emotional turmoil I live with daily.
Physical disabilities are understood by the public. They are, at times, easy to spot, and a Blue Badge is something they can instantly understand.
Mental disabilities can be hidden and, unless they are disclosed, are not easily spotted. Even if they are made known, I do not believe there is the awareness out there for people to understand the scope and weight and impact these disabilities can have on peoples’ lives.
What is it like to live with my Mental Disability?
It’s hard work…would be the simple answer. I’ve spent years working hard to keep my symptoms under control…trying to hone my thoughts so that I am completely aware of my emotions, especially my annoyance, frustration and anger*; which are 2 separate emotions.
I am ALWAYS 100% aware 24/7/365 of my anger. I am reflexively on the lookout for any warning signs that I am getting annoyed, frustrated or angry. I’ve maintained this heightened awareness for 20+ years now. It rarely takes me off guard. Though it can surprise me just how quickly I can get angry at times and I always catch it in time so that I remove myself from that situation before I do something I would enjoy at the time but later regret once the flames have died down.
On a normal day I can function quite normally. You would never know I have Mental Health issues. I would say I am quite an intelligent. I have a good heart and my intentions are always honourable.
My mood can swing quite dramatically from one day to the next. One day I can be highly functional where nothing can bother me no matter how much abuse or threats I get from the public.
Then the next I am living on a ‘hair trigger’, where it would take just a simple comment to send me on a downward spiral.
I feel I need to talk about this. If I were to give it a name; a form; I would describe it as a Dragon.
My Journey began
So many years ago
Where it will end
I do not know
The scars I have
You cannot see
They are not on my skin
But hidden inside me
The rage that was bottled
Has now begun to crack
Once it shatters
There’s no going back
The fight is on
The dragon has awoken
Now its container
Has finally broken
I will beat this anger
And I will thrive
I am now stronger
And I will survive
You will not kill me
That much is true
You’ve done your worst
And I say ‘Fuck off’ to you!
Whilst my Dragon slumbers there is peace in my heart and all is right with the world. But once he awakens…he just wants to watch the world burn. He is fire and fury at all the injustice I have ever experienced. He doesn’t care for others or their emotions. His pain, our pain, is too numb for the empathy of others.
My Dragon feels like raw power. I feel agony when he is fully awake. My body aches all over from holding back the pain and emotion I am feeling. I feel my legs give out from underneath me and I fall to the ground. And yet the fire doesn’t go out.
I cry. Fuck I cry. I let my dragons’ full fury out and feel him unleashed upon the universe. I cry silent tears and scream my loudest…silent scream. Not making a sound is my last and only remaining strand of control. A silent protest to my Dragon, telling him he has not bested me completely.
I HATE him and he hates me.
What is a bad day like?
On Monday 19th February 2018 I experienced, what I would describe as, ‘an episode’. This is what I call the results of a small events leading to a mental breakdown where all my defences fail and I am in a state of visible distress.
I think I slept OK the night before. I woke up several times during the night (this is normal) and didn’t feel tired. I think my cats wanted fed at 0400 and 0500 when they don’t get fed until around 0600.
I made a minor mistake this morning and it put me in a bad mood. But I was trying to keep it under control and was looking forward to a day working in ***** on my own so I can blow off some steam by going for a walk and pounding the pavement.
My mood worsened when I saw my colleague walking into my office. I was annoyed my solo day was ruined. I began my shift 10mins early and I kept my head down and my eyes looking only a few feet ahead of where I was walking. Actually I nearly bumped into a few people.
I felt very annoyed and recognised the warning signs and began to consciously do breathing exercises to calm my mood down. I knew I was in danger of having ‘an episode’.
I was OK at first; I was busy concentrating on my breathing and keeping a lid on my anger and listening to my music on a black earphone, which was helping immensely with my mood as it was giving me something else to focus on.
As I walked past the male he tried to get my attention. I thought nothing of it and continued on. Then I heard him again. I turned around and saw him giving me the finger and smiling.
That was it. That’s all it took. I felt my Dragon waking up. I knew now that I was in deep trouble. I could feel those angry flames rising and the tears threatening to spill out of my eyes.
Regardless, I fought those flames with every ounce of strength and will power I had. But it was too late. My Dragon had awoken and I knew I needed to return to my sanctuary.
Once I was there, I took a break; though I still didn’t feel safe to let loose in the way that I needed to as I knew my colleague could walk in at any moment.
Seeing me during a full blown ‘episode’ is every distressing. I don’t release all of my shackles; I never do as I am too scared to turn my Dragon loose. He just wants to destroy the world and see everything burn.
I finally began to cry as I felt the full might of the pain and fury I was trying to hold back. But I fight to stop every time a tear finds freedom. I went outside and grabbed the metal railings and just shook it hard. It swayed dangerously enough that I realised I was in danger of damaging more property.
I stood at the door and cursed the universe for giving me all this pain when I don’t deserve it. I feel my anger crystallise towards my dad and I feel furious with him for leaving me when I was 8 years old. I feel huge unimaginable guilt at feeling this emotion and my anger doubles and so does the pain.
I had terrible and distressing thoughts going through my head…feeding the fire I was trying so desperately to quench.
15mins later I rang ***** and explained what had happened. I rang again 15mins after that and following a conversation, during which time my previous fears were realised when my colleague came in and stood near me and heard more of my conversation than I wanted him to, it was decided that I was going home sick. I said I was throwing up and explained what he needed to do.
On the way home my anger was still strong. Those distressing thoughts, now made worse by the guilt I was feeling at having them, drove me to tears once again.
The drive home was dangerous. I was fighting a war; and sometimes winning, sometimes losing the battle that was raging within my own mind. A silent fight which only I was aware off. At times I was physically shaking with rage…whilst the entire time I was telling myself to calm down; focus on my breathing. Keep my mind clear and don’t think about anything.
When I finally got home I felt some relief to be somewhere safe and where I can fully express all the complex emotions and pain that were going through my head and manifesting physically through my body.
I made it into the kitchen and I just felt exhausted. I the strength I was using to keep my emotions in check was finally depleted. My legs gave out and I collapsed onto the kitchen floor.
Then the pain came…there was no holding it back. Emotional pain made physical. I felt like my entire body was in agony and I was screaming and crying as hard as my lungs would allow, but only a whisper escaped my lips as I did not want to alert anyone to my private torture.
Eventually the pain subsided enough for me to stand and compose myself; though it took several days for my anger to fully subside.
Sadly I know that this will happen again. It’s only a matter of time. It hasn’t been the first time this has happened and I know it will most definitely not be the last. It’s only a question of when…?
Note: Names and dates of this incident have been altered to protect identities, but that does not change the fact that this murder took place and nor does it diminish the everlasting affects it has had on me and my family in the years that have since past.
We each have an origin story. A series of events that have taken us from one location and have led us to where we are now.
In my short intro I state:
“I am someone who has spent the last 30yrs living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of being a Victim/Survivor of ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland. My PTSD has driven me to the brink of suicide more than once.”
The question you are probably wondering is…how did I get here?
It was the late 1980’s and ‘The Troubles’ were still going on. The news frequently mentioned punishment beatings, bombings, shootings and murders.
My mum had just left with my baby sister to go to a local Chinese to get some dinner and my dad was standing at the end of the driveway have a beer with a few of the neighbours.
Late one warm, dry summer night as I was playing on the pavement outside my house with my younger brothers toy car, I noticed a pair of car lights coming up my street.
The car stopped outside my house and as soon as I saw the men wearing masks I knew there was going to be a murder.
I ran for the house and when I was mid-flight I turned and saw the sparks coming out of the barrel of the gun and my dad falling to the ground. I knew he was dead.
I later found out that he had been shot between 5-7 times, including twice on the ground, and any one of those bullets would have been fatal.
Subsequent police investigations discovered that this was a purely sectarian murder of an innocent family man, who left behind a widow and 3 young children…one of whom witnessed his murder.
Our lives were forever turned upside down that night and we have been living with the consequences ever since.
But as this is my journey, and I cannot speak for the other witnesses or family members, I can tell you that I cannot remember the 12 months following this murder. For that year my mind was, and still is, a complete blank.
The ripples of that night are still flowing today as the blood flows in my veins. In the years that past I have developed PTSD and its affects are life-changing and impact on every aspect of my life. The older I get the more I can see just how complex and destructive it is.
I have been through more counselling than I ever believed possible (I lost count after seeing my 15th or 16th counsellor/psychologist. I have spent the last 30yrs (and I will expand on this, and other issues raised in this post, in a separate post) trying every coping strategy I can think off, whilst avoiding illegal drugs and alcohol abuse.
I have battled suicidal impulses, self-harm, depression and much more. But sharing these behaviours is the point of this blog.
At the time of writing this I am older now than my dad ever will be…and brings its own problems.
To date, despite knowing the identities of the gunmen, no-one has been brought to justice and due to the forensic counter-measures taken at the time, it is unlikely anyone will ever spend even so much as a single day in jail for this horrible crime.
And to make matters worse, I was told that even in the extreme unlikelyhood of someone actually going to jail for murdering my dad, under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement 1998, the maximum the person(s) would be sentenced to is 4yrs and they would be freed in 2yrs or less. I wouldn’t call 4yrs for intentional and premeditated murder is not justice; but these killers have given myself and my family, through their actions, a life-sentence.
My dads death is, and always will be, an unsolved murder…