From Suicidal to Happiness Engineer (Almost) in 3 Months.

Almost is the operative word. The blog title is metaphoric unfortunately due to a job application which was derailed (more about that later..) but herein lies a story of overcoming (work in progress) personal difficulties and loss of self after a massive change of life and finding some new contentment and direction. My 2017 year in review follows.

Spring

So, the beginning of 2017 found me with a wife, three gorgeous kids, a lovely home in Leitrim we owned outright, a nice car we owned outright, no loans or debts and a small but successful design business of my own that paid all bills. I had pretty much everything that most people work for and aim towards in life. At age 41. But in conversation with the imaginary person in my head who regularly asked me “How are you doing Leon?” I always hesitated before saying “I’m fine”. Why the hesitation?

Well, something just wasn’t quite right and hadn’t been quite right for a long time and I couldn’t really put my finger on it. We’d had the same problems a lot of people have in life; money shortage, health issues, the difficulties in raising three young kids, etc.. but it felt like something more than those. There was an uneasy feeling whenever I came home or was around my wife and kids for more than a few hours. I noticed my temper getting shorter, my patience with the kids growing thin very easily and my physical health suffering as I felt more and more stressed with each passing week and month. I had an office outside the house and I longed to be there whenever I wasn’t. Coming home was not something I looked forward to. That’s such a scary feeling. You know something is seriously wrong when you can’t face coming home to your wife and kids, particularly when you know they’d done nothing to make you feel that way and had only the deepest of love for you.

I’d been seriously depressed before a few times, many years previously as well as having a family history of depression and suicide and it felt a little like that again but with lots of anger added for good measure. What was wrong with me? Why wasn’t I happy with everything I had? Why wasn’t I delighted to come home to my wife and kids every day after a hard day in the office? Why did I long for Monday morning on a Friday evening? Unfortunately I was to find out the answers to these questions the hard way and in the process, destroy some of the people that cared most about me, alienate all of my friends, family and in-laws and ultimately let myself down in a way I never thought I would or even could. A normally honest, tidy and intelligent person, full of integrity would turn into a liar, a cheat and a selfish arsehole and make the biggest mess of his life, changing it irrevocably, all in the space of a month or two and all because of a lack of courage, maturity and decisiveness.

Summer

The summer started as any other. Peas were planted, the garden wrestled with on a regular basis and a First Communion party at the house with friends and family present. Two long months of school holidays were contemplated and dreaded. Plans made to go camping, possibly to France. The kids first trip abroad maybe. Behind this seemingly normal family life lay a few oddities, my unhappiness, my wife’s unhappiness, the fact that I’d never really got on with my in-laws, didn’t really have any friends or the fact that my wife and I hadn’t shared a bed for over a year and a half. An odd thing for a married couple but something that was just accepted as normal for some reason? Then it happened. For the first time in a long time another woman gave me some attention. It’s a dilemma faced by many men (and women) I’m sure and like thousands before me I didn’t have the mental strength, honesty and cop on to stop it, instead, flattered by the attention and even needing and wanting it perhaps, I made the worst mistake of my life and had an affair. I enjoyed the thrill while it lasted and even managed to convince myself that it would help my marriage when it was over and give it a new impetus in some way. But that’s not how things turned out of course..

My wife found out about the affair and from the moment she screamed at me that she knew (during a marriage counselling session), I felt my life was over. When I seen how much I’d hurt my wife, a kind, caring person who’d done nothing but love me for 15 years, I just wanted to die. For the next couple of months I lived out of my office, B&B’s and friend’s spare beds, contemplating where my life would go next. One day planning how I’d kill myself, to the point of actually looking for rope, guitar leads, medication or a big enough truck, the next, thinking about my three kids and how they would react to me dying and wondering if I could find some way to live happily and normally again. After a while my wife was gracious enough to tell me she forgave me and even understood why I’d done it and for a while we both entertained the daft notion that we could put it behind us, start again and be stronger together for the experience. We even tried it for a while when I moved back into the family home for a couple of weeks but something had died.

Autumn

One night during this period my wife and I had a massive argument with physical violence which resulted in me trying to hang myself. The next day my wife drove me straight to our family doctor and from there I was referred to a psychiatric hospital in Sligo where I stayed for a week. On leaving hospital I was provided with anti-depressant and anti-psychotic medication which I’m still on at the time of writing. I basically came out of hospital to a brand new but uncertain life. I managed to find an affordable apartment in Mohill, Leitim which for those who don’t know can seem like a pretty desolate, isolated place and it didn’t help that my first night was spent in darkness with no electricity. I was quite worried about being isolated with no car and being on my own too much but slowly and surely, mostly with the help of my partner, some counselling from both professionals and friends, a local bus service and lots of thinking I managed to get into some kind of routine. One pleasant surprise I had after a few weeks was realising that I didn’t feel too bad being on my own. I’d been on my own plenty of times in the past, sometimes for long periods and with no outlet I’d gone fairly mad a few times. But this time I had work to get back into, a partner that came over nearly every day and ferried me around anywhere I needed to go and on top of those I was very pleasantly surprised to find that there were a few little classes and things I could get involved in in Mohill. I signed up for a Social Singing group, private Singing Lessons, regular local Mental Health talks as well as a local Grow Mental Health group and lastly a Cookery course of all things! I also read a lot and lost a lot of weight eating less and eating healthier.

I’m not really sure where I got the motivation to get involved in any of these, maybe my medication has helped and I’m a little nervous about stopping it as I know I must soon, but with all of that I was kept busy and my mind wasn’t racked with guilt, sadness and depression over what I’d done, how much I’d lost and how much my life had changed. I now had space to think, be myself, indulge in hobbies, do many different things and get my shit together basically. One massive thing that still needed ironing out though was my three children. My ex-wife brought me to court to try limit my access to them as she was fearful of my mental condition. Something which annoyed me a lot at the time but I’ve now realised was probably sensible on her part although I would never have done anything to endanger my kids, no matter how low I was. We reached a compromise with the court and I’m glad to say I see my kids a lot now which is great and I have a great relationship with them. Probably a lot better than before actually. It’s hard to have a decent relationship with anyone when you’re fundamentally unhappy. I also have a much better relationship with my ex-wife despite what I put her through and that’s very important to me. We have to get on, if for no other reason than we are morally obliged to both raise our children the best we can and set good examples to them. But regardless of the kids, I think we need to get on for ourselves too. She’s also met someone else and is happy which is great for both of us. And our kids.

Winter

So along came winter and things were going well. I felt happier than I’d felt in years. I had a spring in my step. I got to thinking about my worse financial situation though and a possible career change to help fix it. I had a constant stream of jobs coming into my inbox every day and I sent CVs off to some of them never to hear anything back. Then one day I spotted a post on Facebook re an opening for a “Happiness Engineer” with a company I knew well, Automattic, the guys behind the awesome software I’ve used to build websites for most of the past ten years, WordPress. Now a position entitled “Happiness Engineer” is the kind of thing that would normally make someone a tad cynical like me puke but something about it caught my imagination. The irony and beauty of me possibly getting a job title like that after having the year I’d had or family history I had was something I just couldn’t pass up. It would have been a fairy tale ending to a difficult year to get the job. But a certain Automattic HR person hadn’t read my script.

I already knew that Automattic were regarded as a very progressive company to work for and there were many great benefits to working with them and when I read the job spec I got very excited about working for someone else for probably the first time in over 15 years. I sent in my initial application and was delighted to be invited to enter the interview process. I managed to get all the way through to the paid trial contract stage and even sent off the signed contract before some shit hit the fan! Automattic make a big song and dance about allowing employees the flexibility to work around their personal, social and family lives and all of their online literature seems to be very employee-centric. So you can imagine my surprise when out of the blue, with no prior mention they sent me a “Conflict of Interest” legal document and told me I’d have to completely fold my 15 year old freelance business if I was to take a position with them. I panicked a little and questioned their HR person as to why I’d have to do such a drastic thing and she explained it to me. I said I understood (which I did. I’m taking clients off their premium WordPress service technically! Not sure how I didn’t spot that initially..but more importantly, how they didn’t spot it either and allowed me through the various interview stages) and said I’d continue to do the trial and see if I liked it enough and see if the salary was enough to give up my business completely. A little later that same day I was then told they’d changed their mind about advancing me to the trial stage and would be cancelling my application with immediate effect. “Good luck with your future endeavours” etc… To my eternal shame, I replied to that email and basically begged for a second chance and that I had thought it over and came up with a plan to fold my business in favour of working for Automattic but the HR person was having none of it and stuck to her guns, completely ignoring my argument and basically writing me off for finding it hard to swallow the bitter pill of having to kill my baby, my business I’d built up from scratch over 15 years. My efforts in the interview process, my qualifications, my experience with WordPress and my obvious great desire to land the job were all ignored because I queried having to wind up my business. Hows that for employee-centric!?

What’s To Learn?

There’s nothing like learning from your mistakes, so they say. The bigger the mistake, the more you learn. If you’re not killed in the process.  It’s important I think to recognise your mistakes, acknowledge them, apologise for them if necessary/relevant but not let them define you or continue to affect you negatively. Everyone makes mistakes at some stage. Everyone needs to make them and, more importantly, learn from them. I’m not a bad person despite having done bad things, especially this year. I’ve done a lot of good things in my life too. Far more good than bad things actually. I’m also capable of loving other people outside myself as my kids and partner will testify to.

I know many people who know me (and some who don’t I’m sure) will read this and judge me as I’ve been judged since this summer but your judgement can do me no harm because I’ve already judged myself. Mercilessly so. Also, I have the wisdom of experience and self-awareness now. The kind you only get from making spectacular mistakes and from scraping the bottom of the barrel.

To my Ex-wife. You are a beautiful, kind, caring and funny person and a great mother who deserves to be loved, looked after and have every happiness in the universe. You were the best friend I’d ever had and you didn’t deserve to be treated the way I treated you, regardless of the fact that I didn’t love you anymore. I have no excuses. I wish I was man enough to have ended our relationship naturally rather than so very unnaturally. I am so very sorry for what I’ve put you through and hope you can forgive me some day. I also hope you realise in time that our 15 years together created three wonderful little people and made us both a lot wiser, happier and better people..

Leon

PS – If you are feeling low or suicidal, there’s plenty of help available. Try these:

Grow
Pieta House
Aware
Samaritans

My Doors Covers Album!

So around about 2003 I decided to record an album of covers from my favourite band, The Doors. I sold 1 copy online! But it was to a friend of Jim Morrison’s in Paris who collects rare bootleg versions and covers of Doors stuff. I was happy enough to retire on the back of that!

All songs use professional backing tracks which I purchased and all feature my voice as the main vocal. Some are decent, some are not!

Doors-Covers

Alabama Song
Back Door Man
Been Down So Long
Break on Through
Hello I Love You
LA Woman
Light My Fire
Love Her Madly
Love Me Two Times
People Are Strange
Riders on The Storm
Roadhouse Blues
The Crystal Ship
The Unknown Soldier
Touch Me
When The Music’s Over

Download full album (Zip)

Is it time we stopped respecting religious beliefs?

This blog post has been inspired by the murders yesterday in Paris by Muslim fundamentalists at the offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in the name of religion and also by the response of Salman Rushdie who said this:

“Respect for religion has become a code phrase meaning ‘fear of religion.’ Religions, like all other ideas, deserve criticism, satire, and, yes, our fearless disrespect.”

I don’t know much about the Charlie Hebdo magazine. Seemingly a lot of their most religiously controversial stuff is a bit vulgar, smutty and just silly rather than smart satire that makes us think but no matter what they say or print, coming in and murdering some of them, including a fellow Muslim policeman is just fundamentalism gone off the scale.

Salman’s quote above sums up how I’ve been feeling about religion in general for a few years now. Having been an atheist most of my life, skipping baptism, communion, confirmation etc, no easy feat in Ireland in the late 70’s/early 80’s, I’ve never really had time for any religion. To me it’s been plain to see for a long, long time that it has no place in a modern, secular and scientifically enlightened civilisation. But still it lingers like a disease infecting, sickening and killing people. Religion is still all around us, from events like yesterdays in Paris, to imposing churches around every corner, to pressure from grandparents to christen our kids, to baptismal certificate requirements when starting school and religion being such a big part of the education system.

In this age of political correctness we are all told to respect other people’s beliefs and leave them to them. We all have immense fear of insulting one religion or another. It’s become a taboo almost just to dare to question any aspect of any religion publicly. Should we continue to respect people’s beliefs or even the people who hold those beliefs no matter how ridiculous they are or what people do in the name of those religions such as murdering, abuse and torture? Is it time we stopped living in fear of religion and stopped respecting it?

The only thing that gives me hope is that most younger generations seem to be giving religion less if any place in their lives and when the current older generations are gone maybe we will be free from religion once and for all. I’m talking about Catholicism in Ireland mostly of course. Religions such as Muslim, Islam etc may not die away as quick unfortunately. Perhaps what we need to do is stop attaching such significance and importance to religion by constantly talking about it, practicing it and making it part of our lives in some way.

Maybe Charlie Hebdo should have found something else more relevant to write/joke about than “a mediaeval form of unreason”, not because of the fear of retaliation but more to help bury religion to a distant memory?

I’m even fearful writing this damn post..

Fuck you religion…fuck you.

Charlie Hebdo
Illustration by Dave Brown for The Independent

Do I Have an Autism Spectrum Disorder!?

First off I need to say that I’m not writing this in the spirit of jumping on the Autism or Aspergers bandwagon, looking for sympathy, support or anything like that. I’m merely feeling a sense of curiosity, relief and the desire to tell the world that there might just be a long overdue “label” or explanation for all the weirdness that has been ME for the last 39 years!

I’ve always felt a bit different to everyone else and found things others seem to find simple a real challenge. Things like making friends, social events, school, large crowds, maintaining eye contact etc.. I’ve also shown signs of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). My family and friends regularly joke about me constantly tidying and organising stuff! I also seem to have mysterious talents doing things I’ve never trained for or studied, like running an IT business for the last 9 years! I’ve often been called aloof, arrogant and cold too but I’m not really. For the whole of primary school for example, I stood on my own in the same spot at lunch time. Every day for the best part of 8 years. I would have done the same in secondary school but preferred to cycle home instead. The school was damn far away and I only got a few mins at home to actually have lunch but it was better than staying among people. All these things are allegedly symptomatic of Asperger’s Syndrome or “Arse Burgers” syndrome as I like to call it. I’ve wondered over the years, although never in any great dept, if I might have some kind of mild mental deficiency. It would have explained a lot.

lalala

So I seen a link on Facebook a few months ago that got me wondering even more! It was a link to a generally well respected online Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ) test, devised by Simon Baron-Cohen. I took the test a few times then and again just last weekend too prompted by some autism awareness training that I had to do as part of working with local kids. Stuff mentioned in the training sounded uncomfortably familiar to me. Anyway, having done the test a load of times now, answering as honestly as I possibly could, more honestly each time, I score around the 30 point mark give or take a point or 2 either way. A mark in that range is supposedly indicative of a “borderline autism spectrum disorder and possibly Asperger’s Syndrome.

It was initially a little shocking to think that maybe I might have a recognised mental “disorder” but I’ve since relaxed into a sense of relief that I might now know what has caused a lot of stress in my life and generally made my life difficult. After all, knowing the source of a problem is the first step to fixing or dealing with it in some way. People who score in my range are advised to go to a local GP and request a referral to a proper consultant who can diagnose officially. I may or may not do that. I havn’t decided. I am aware that self diagnosis, especially involving the internet is not 100% wise but I feel that if it’s an explanation that works for me, then fine. Also, who is anyone to say that being different in this way is a “disorder”? Maybe all the normal people without these so called disorders are they ones who have the real disorder!?

I reckon a lot of people in our modern society might score highly on the AQ test so I’m aware this could all be nonsense and I may be nothing more than a bit different or a bit shy and to be honest it’s something I feel I may have under control anyway considering I’ve found some kind of moderate success in life. I’m married, I have children, I run a business, I own my own home and car etc.. so I can’t say it’s been a real issue of late but there’s still days when I feel overwhelmed and feel like I just can’t function.

Maybe the best thing that can happen as a result of all this is that the people who know me best might think twice about me now and be less offended by my weirdness.

That is the reason for this blog post I guess.

Leon

Mary Agnes Hewson Quinn

In 2010 I wrote about  my Mother on the 10 year anniversary of her death. Today I’d like to mark 10 years since the death at 90 years old of another great woman in my life, my Granny, Mary Quinn. I lived with her, my Grandfather and my Mother in the same house for about 29 years pretty much from birth and she was the last of my immediate family to die when she passed away peacefully in Tallaght Hospital, June 4th 2004. I never met my father but I like to say I had two mothers instead.

I remember not feeling very sad on hearing of her death. That came later. Rather I felt ‘cast adrift’ or abandoned in some way now that all of my immediate family had gone. And even though I had a partner at the time, I felt properly alone for the first time ever when she died. Almost like I’d lost another part of me. She spent the last 7 or 8 years of her life in Sally Park nursing home, Firhouse, where she had been given a special place after suffering long term depression for years before hand. She like my mother made many attempts on her own life including one infamous occasion where she was just about stopped from jumping out a hospital window a few stories up. I was also there the day we visited her to tell her the news of my mothers death and she looked straight at me. Into me. With deep sympathy and worry. It must have been awful for her at that stage of her life after what she’d been through herself with depression to be told a second daughter had died before her but she seemed to take it well.

She found a little peace in her latter years in Sally park under their close supervision and I’m sorry I never got to visit her much there, especially after we moved to Leitrim. I found it very hard to visit her for all kinds of reasons that I don’t need to go into here, some silly and others important. Unfortunately, she was the only member of my immediate family that my wife ever got to meet and in granny’s customary style, she managed to insult her on our brief visit to the nursing home! It was a nasty habit she had.

I’ve heard it said from other family members that knew her longer than me that she was a very cold, hard woman and showed very little affection to her own children as they grew up. Whether that was a symptom of the times or just her way I don’t really know but I remember her being affectionate to me and being much fun on many occasions such as the time she let me and my cousin tie her up with scarves and tights! We had many nice holidays away especially in Tramore, just me, her and my mother. I’ve been told she had a soft spot for me. Maybe I was like the son she never had or something having had only 5 daughters. I also remember she was great at giving advice and snippets of wisdom as only most older people can. One in particular was that you should “go out and tend to the garden” whenever you feel down. It really works. She would never have had much time for depressed people. She’d be the type to not tolerate it around her and tell you to pull yourself together and like my mother, it was some surprise that she succumbed so spectacularly to the disease herself although it didn’t totally get the better of her in the end.

Like my mother and myself, my granny had a wicked sense of humor and a very dry wit that bordered on being insulting and annoying sometimes. She was a bit too honest too! I guess she handed down these traits to my mother and I. If there’s any wisdom or old fashioned values to be seen in me (and there are if my wife’s opinion of how I’m raising my kids is anything to go by!) then it’s my grandparents, in particular my granny that must get the ‘credit’.

It’s also because of my Granny that we were able to setup in Leitrim and buy a house here. Who would have thought that old dump of a house in Crumlin we all spent so many unhappy years festering in would have bought such a nice house in which to raise my own happy family?

As I wrote in your condolence book on the day of your funeral, “Thank you Granny”. For everything.

Leon

Mary Quinn