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Mental Health Matters

Mental Health Matters

To mark World Mental Health Day, our events guru John Hayes has written an emotional but inspiring blog on events in his life and how he has overcome them. Please be warned, the blog covers issues of suicide and grief.

Mental Health Awareness is something that I am very passionate about. This is largely down to my own experiences of issues surrounding Mental Health. I lost my Mother, Rosemary, at the age of eleven. She took her own life. This experience changed my life, and it has made me the person I am today. I hope, by sharing my story I can demonstrate that whatever battle you are going through, you will get through it, and you will be stronger for it. I know I am.

Losing my Mum at such a young age, inevitably changed me as a person. Having had 11 years to deal with the trauma and experience of this event I have been able to reflect on the that time and try to understand how it changed me. My Mum passed away in the February before I started Secondary School, for many this is the first time you enter new surroundings and form relationships with people you have never met before. Losing someone so close, I think, made me scared of new relationships and letting people in. I became quite insular as a person, something my Dad has mentioned to me since. He has said I was a happy, loud child. However, after the loss of my Mum he noticed a change, I became quieter. I shut myself off from people. I believe this was a coping mechanism. In my mind, if I don’t let people in and get close to them, then I can’t get hurt like I did when Mum passed away.

I think the experience of losing my Mother damaged my ability to form relationships with women. I never had a girlfriend until the age of 21. Not only that, but I never had any girls that I was especially close with growing up. I struggled with my weight growing up and started getting overweight around the age of 15/16 when boys usually first start taking an interest in the opposite sex or the same sex as the case may be. This is something I have discussed with a counsellor in the last year. We discussed whether this was a subconscious attempt to make myself unattractive to girls, a protective layer, so that I didn’t have to deal with any kind of closeness with a woman in a romantic sense. In my mind, this makes a great deal of sense.

In my teenage years I spent a lot of my time at home. I remember my friends would be playing out and having fun as young teenagers, as you should. Now, I am not saying I never played out and had fun as teenager, because I did. But there were many times where I would choose to stay at home. Some of my friends even knocked for me to get me to come out, I refused. As a 23 year old man, I can begin to understand why I did this. When I left home for school on 26th February 2010, I never saw my Mum again. As a result, home (in my teenage mind), became a safe haven where nothing bad would happen so if I stayed at a home rather than playing out then I could avoid something bad happening again.

February 26th 2020 marked the ten year anniversary of my Mother’s passing. In the months beforehand, I was acutely aware that this date was approaching and I could tell something wasn’t quite right within myself. For some reason, this time, it felt significant. I suppose ten years is quite a significant anniversary, regardless of the event. I also think the timing of a multitude of things caused this date to be even more significant than it otherwise would have been. I was now 21 years old and I hadn’t had my Mum throughout the last 10 years between the ages of 11 and 21. This is a significant time for any person, you join a new school, you might join a new college and you might go to university, start your first job, have you first romance etc. The list goes on, but you do an awful lot of growing up in those years and I had to grow up fast when my Mum passed away. At the time, I was reaching the final months of my University degree and my Dissertation was looming. The next chapter of my life was on the horizon but I had this trauma in the back of my mind that I knew I need to deal with. Anyway, the day came and I tried to go to the library to study. I did that classic boy thing, stiff upper lip and all that crap. Put it to the back the back of your mind, stay strong and crack on. I just couldn’t do it, I was overwhelmed with emotion and must have gone to the toilet half a dozen times to burst into tears. I decided to call it a day and went back home after an hour. I was not okay.

We then had the small matter of COVID-19 and the first lockdown. With less stuff going on in my life, stuck inside all day, I couldn’t take my mind off things with activities I took for granted like going to the pub after a lecture, playing 5 a side footie every week, going to a nightclub etc. This only made my mental health worse. I won’t go into too much detail about lockdown because I am sure everyone had their own struggles during that time, however big or small.

I finished University and moved back home and knew now was the time to seek some help. I approached my GP and explained some of the above and how I was feeling at that time and that I thought I needed some form of counselling. There was obviously a big waiting list, and they put me forward to the bereavement charity, Grief Encounter. Whilst I was waiting, I started some private therapy sessions, because I felt I needed some form of help as soon as possible. I think I had four in total, and they were very helpful. Eventually I made it through the waiting list and had my first session on the 16th September 2020, my last one was on the 7th July 2021. Alongside this, they ran some group therapy sessions with other bereaved young people. These were amazing to be a part of and it was amazing to meet people that have been through something similar to myself. Doing this wasn’t easy but it is the best decision I have made, it helped enormously. Along with losing up to 6 stone in the last two years and the experience of going through counselling, I am now the happiest I have ever been. I am in my first proper office job here with ELBP having joined CWG as in intern this July, welcoming every opportunity to learn and grow as I build a career for myself. I don’t where I will be in the next 10 years but I know the experience of the previous 10 can only stand me in good stead for what is ahead.

I hope by reading this you can take away the overall aim of this piece. Which is, it is okay not to be okay and any struggles you are currently going through, you will get through. Trust me, I have been there and I am stronger for it. Thank you for reading.