Life, The Universe and Nothing..ness

I’ve just been out for a 10,000 step, 7.14km walk. A new route which is a combination/grouping of various old routes I used to walk locally. I bit off a bit more than I could chew to be honest. I arrived home in pain and feeling like a hip transplant. The things I do for serotonin hits.

I went for the walk for these reasons – I didn’t have anything else to do, was feeling down and it was sunny…ish. A familiar story these days, except the sun bit, as work is very quiet and I spend four to five days a week totally alone, desperately looking for constructive things to do and the motivation to do them. On the way back, as I flirted with tractors, trucks and cars on a small stretch of the road with no footpath and listening to the unhelpfully morose but brilliant music of Lana Del Rey, I stepped over two bees in quick succession, crawling along the road, nowhere near any flowers and struggling to survive. I didn’t bother helping them like the cool, caring people always seem to do these days before sharing it on Facebook. Gotta save the bees. I don’t feel too bad about it though as I didn’t have a spoon, sugar or water about my person but I suspect that even if I did, I wouldn’t have bothered. Each to their own really, I can’t be taking on bee’s or the world’s problems. It’s a case of survival of the fittest, which is pretty much how my own life struggle is panning out these days. Surviving seems to be getting more difficult but at least I’m kinda fit. A little more so after my 7km anyway. More on the bees later..

So where am I at these days? I’m 43 and I’ve realised recently (it’s taken this long yes..) that life, mine at least, is a cyclical, repetitive affair. Sometimes shit happens. Sometimes it’s good, others, not so good. Then sometimes, nothing happens at all. Despite your best efforts, nothing seems to go your way and you have no luck, either good or bad. There’s just “nothingness”. Where once, the same effort bore fruit, now it just doesn’t for whatever reason. It’s tempting sometimes to surmise that everything or everyone is against you or that there’s some master of puppets controlling your every minute and ultimately, your destiny. It’s far easier to think like that than face the harsh truth that the buck stops with you and you may need to dig in occasionally and just keep yourself going and that life is just…well, random. This is essentially the driver of depression. Not quite having the resilience to let life’s low points or bad luck wash over you and be patient for better times or blowing small issues out of all proportion. Attending several workshops and completing an online course in life skills over the last two years confirmed the same to me. But even though I know the enemy now, am doing all the right things, keeping myself busy, etc.. I’m still struggling. It’s been a pretty common theme in my life and it’s getting a little tiresome at this stage to be honest.

So my thoughts on the world, society and my place in them are thus. If you have a problem, you can either just surrender to it or you can investigate the cause and find a solution that stops it at source. Upon my self investigations and various visits to counsellors over the years into why I’ve struggled with happiness consistently, there are now a few things I’ve learned about myself that hover at the forefront of my consciousness always:

  • I have Abandonment issues
  • I’m introverted and socially unskilled by nature
  • I’m overly sensitive
  • I’m a perfectionist and overly controlling
  • I’m a hopeless idealist
  • I crack up if I’m on my own too much

Problems like these can be crippling and I HAVE been crippled by them but when you identify problems, that’s the first step to solving them right? In my attempts to solve some of the problems above I’ve learned to try real hard not to overthink, not to try control things I cannot, let go of people that have let go of me, get out and about and try to be more sociable and giving. I’ve been practicing these things for a long time now. I’ve done about 7 courses locally in the last 2 years, I’ve got back into recording music, I’ve moved house to somewhere less isolating, I see my kids a lot, I’m still playing football and going out for walks, etc.. I’ve also attended many workshops on anxiety and depression as I said above. But I’m still falling down again. Why? Best case scenario for me at the minute is that I’m just having a lean, bad luck period that I just need to weather. Worst case scenario is that I’m weary and not meant for this world anymore.

Then there’s the problem of society these days. I feel that the world has become an insanely busy, cold, competitive place. People avoid each other and occupy themselves with “quick fix” activities. I read something recently written by a regular foreign visitor to Ireland over the last 20/30 years. He said he’s noticed a huge difference in the “Ireland of a thousand welcomes” of the distant past to today’s hustle and bustle, essential communications only reality. People are desensitised to the world in general and to each other. No one has the time or inclination to send that “How’s things with you” message to someone they havn’t seen in a while. No news must be good news.

Today is the 19th anniversary of my mother’s death by suicide. It’s appropriate so, in a black humour kind of way that we would both have appreciated, that I was in the Doctor’s this morning on the strong advice of several people I know and I’m unhappy to report that I’m now back on happy pills. I always think it’s like admitting defeat at life when you put your trust in medication to get you through the day but it seemed to work last time so here goes again. It’s the mark of a strong person to admit defeat though and to continually rise above their problems and the problems a sick society presents and find happiness on the minimum amount of rations. There’s no better man than I though. I’ve dug deep before on more than one occasion and managed it. Truth be told, I’m happiest when I have a big challenge but it would be nice if more people held a metaphorical sugar and water filled tablespoon out to people who are struggling, just like they do for the bees?

If you need help, there’s some available here:

Aware
Pieta House
The Samaritans

And here:

Online Counselling

Online Counselling?

Few are more internet crazy than me. There’s not much I havn’t done online, from meeting people and running a business to self diagnosis and learning. I’ve also had a few breakdowns in my time and sought both clinical and mental help in the form of real life Doctor and Psychotherapist visits. In recent years I’ve seen ads for online counselling services and my initial temptation was to feel suspicious. Surely counselling is something you need to do face to face so your therapist can read you and get to know you properly? But then I noticed some counsellor friends and clients were starting to offer therapy sessions online via Skype etc.. in an effort to reach more people and become more efficient. So I decided to look into online counselling a little more.

What better way to check out the whole area of online counselling than to sign up for some!? One company/website that seemed to keep popping up for me was “BetterHelp.com“. It’s an online counselling community with over 4,000 registered and qualified therapists and works on the basis of a weekly, monthly or yearly subscription fee in exchange for which you receive one to one counselling via text chat room, instant live messaging, email and video or phone call with your chosen counsellor. Upon sign up the first thing they require is that you answer a series of questions which seem to try ascertain if online counselling is suitable for you. Some things that might make it not suitable are, severe mental illness, currently in psychiatric care, current suicidal thoughts, addiction, your age (you must not be a minor) and poor internet quality. The services they provide are mostly for mild mental illness and life issues such as depression, anxiety, relationships, family issues, breakups, eating & sleeping disorders, LGBT issues, religion and self esteem. It’s fair enough I guess, no one can help you properly if they are on the other side of the planet and you are suicidal. And this website seems to have a mostly American bias. If the questionnaire deems you unfit for online counselling then they refer you to more appropriate local services in your area which is a nice touch.

So once you pass the initial evaluation, you get to specify your preferred counsellor. This is more to do with picking age, sex and specialist areas covered than randomly picking from a list but you will be assigned a counsellor within 24 hours. Or within about an hour in my case. The counsellor than makes contact with you within your shared “chat room” in which all messages between you are saved and which you can drop in and out of at any time. Once you agree to go ahead with your chosen counsellor (or you can choose a different one) you get to pick a payment plan. You can pay via week, month or year with the longer time frames working out cheaper. Prices range from €35 to €60 per week. One cool thing about Better Help is that if the prices are a little too much for you you can apply for their financial aid program which is simply filling out an online form with your gross monthly income (no documentation required) and you get an instant decision. I was awarded a 40% discount on any payment plan which seemed generous and the prices overall are probably up to about 50% cheaper than real life counselling in my experience.

So I didn’t get to sample the actual counselling experience but I think it stands to reason that this could work quite well for certain people who either have financial or social issues and would prefer not to do one to one counselling. Better Help do say that their service is not a substitute for the real life thing however.

I should also say that last year I availed of another excellent online counselling service of sorts which is completely free and Irish based. It’s called “Life Skill’s Online” and it’s run by Aware and based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) principles. I got great benefit from it personally.

Other Irish Mental Health Support agencies include:

Aware
Pieta House
The Samaritans

My Mother, 10 Years Gone Today

On this day, 25th June 2000, my mother Noeleen Quinn, 52 years old, sat down in front of a train at Sandymount Dart station, Dublin and ended her own life. It was a life that had become unbearable in the previous 2 years and was the last in a long string of suicide attempts in that time as she desperately tried to get off the planet and find peace. It was a life that had never really found true happiness and one which, at the end, no person could reasonably be expected to endure for too long and retain any kind of sanity.

My mother was a deep, thoughtful, intelligent, creative, artistic, well-travelled, nature-loving, strong-minded person with a quick wit and who didn’t take any shit from anyone. In many ways, the last person you would think who might commit suicide. In fact not long before she got depressed and while she and I were looking at a tv program about depression, she mentioned that she could never understand how anyone could kill themselves.

She had found some kind of normality in the years leading up to her final bout of depression, successfully gaining a Degree in English and the History of Art from UCD in 1998 as a mature student. A great achievment for an early school leaver especially as she was caring for my similarly mentally unwell grandmother during studies.

She graduated just months before a serious cancer scare which turned out to be the final straw that sucked the will to live from her. Despite successful surgery and getting the all clear, the post cancer treatment took its toll and she had a nervous breakdown. For the next 2 years she done everything she could to die, multiple drug overdoses, jumping in rivers, drinking and even burning. I also suspect based on marks I seen on her that during her stays at various different mental hospitals, she tried other common methods too.

I lived with my mother through these years, just the 2 of us in a 2 up 2 down in Dublin and I still don’t have words to describe how horrible it was to see a normally strong minded and strong willed person completely lose their mind and will to live. The pressure and stress in trying to keep my mother alive and deal with her attempts were the hardest thing I’ve ever or possibly will ever have to endure and I’m not sure how I made it through. It seemed that every time I woke up or came home there was some dreadful situation to deal with. I think the only thing that got me through that period and prevented me from becoming another sad suicide statistic myself was my ability to shut off mentally and pretend I was somewhere else.

They say that 2 of the hardest things to deal with in life are bereavement by suicide and the death of a child. My mother’s death was different. Strange as it sounds, the relief I felt when the guards came to the door on Sunday night June 25th 2000, was immense and still stays with me today. There comes a time when life becomes so hard that death seems like a better state and that’s how it was. Depression is a horrible living nightmare for all concerned and connected but none more so than for the person suffering it. You retain your intellect but are paralysed and weighed down by an unexplainable grief and apathy. The psychotic self-harming tendencies that can result from unsuccesfully treated and long term depression are very, very scary and nightmarish to deal with and I’ll never, ever forget what it was like to see my mother desperate to die and even begging me to kill her on occasions when she herself had failed. Killing yourself, as my mother found out is really not that easy.

I’d known long before she died that the mother I knew and loved and that raised me had gone for good and I was left with a hideous, evil creature, possessed by a devilish disease of the mind. It was obvious to me that after so many different treatments had failed to cure my mother and after any friends and family she had had been scared off, that it was only a matter of time before she died. She really had little to live for. The only shocking aspect was the manner in which it happened. She mirrored the death of my Aunt Helen, my mother’s closest sister who also took her life on a train track in the 70’s and I think, something which my mother never got over fully.

In the weeks and months that followed her death I had no option but to get on with my life. Bills had to be paid so I had to go out and get my first proper job and basically go out into the world and find/re-find myself. I had a little scare a year or 2 afterwards when I felt lonely and down and for a while I thought I was next in the family tradition to lose the plot but somehow, perhaps due to what I’d witnessed with my mother, I avoided that and managed my way eventually.

I am proud of my mother for what she achieved in life and perhaps controversially I am proud of her for being brave enough to end her own life. In some ways I see what she done as a kind of sacrifice for my benefit as well as her own. I knew that she knew how badly her behaviour was affecting me and how much I was at breaking point. Her death allowed me to live and I haven’t look back since. She of course was the biggest benefactor of her actions and in this case the so called selfishness of suicide was fully justified and allowable in my opinion.

I would like to take this opportunity ‘ma’, wherever you are, to thank you for all that you’ve done for me and for giving me the tools to succeed in life and to find the happiness you never did. I will keep you with me always and remember happier times and I will tell everyone who is interested, the many ways in which you were great. I will raise your beautiful grandchildren as you raised me, with an emphasis on learning, creativity, individuality, integrity, honesty, laughter and strength of character with a healthy dose of your cynicism thrown in too.

Love,
Your only Son and Child,

Leon (Nooney Moon)

Contact Aware for more info and support for Depression.

Some photos of my Mother, Noeleen: