For their “Mind Yourself” campaign, Independent.ie recently asked me to discuss “my happy place”. At first, I was reluctant. I am one of the lucky ones. One of the few individuals who can say that they have never felt the force of mental illness. Sure, I have experienced bad days – even the kind which make you wish that you could curl up underneath your duvet, never to resurface. I have embarrassed myself more times that I could count. I have spoken out of turn, letting friends down in the process. And, some friends have let me down. I have witnessed the loss of loved ones and the loss of hope. But, I have never quivered with fear at the thought of leaving my own bedroom. I have never been catapulted into a frenzy of anxiety over seemingly mundane tasks. I have never been consumed by the darkness of depression which dims and drowns all light.
So, what authority do I have to speak about mental health? Initially, I believed that I had none . Then, on November 13th 2015, Paris fell victim to a series of terrorist attacks and I sat in awe, horrified by the actions of a small percentage of the human race. I looked on as the safety of humanity skated further along thin ice, with the cracks deepening and expanding under pressure. And, as my brain began to reel in shock, I quickly packed a bag, purchased a bus ticket and sought my happy place.
Aged 10, I was an only child. Slightly selfish, I had complete confidence in my position as “the family favourite”. That was, until my father sat me down and spoke of “a new baby brother or sister”. In that moment, I experienced a crunching apprehension in my stomach – I didn’t appreciate change, and I certainly didn’t want to share my family. Months passed as I battled my child-like jealousy until eventually, I was introduced to my new sibling. A tiny, wrinkled baby who resembled a potato was passed into my arms and I quickly realised that I was no longer the most important person in my own world. I had found my happy place.
Twelve years later, I have four crazy brothers. And, each weekend I travel back from Dublin to our home in the countryside to see them. I especially enjoy these trips in the winter, when we all curl up on the sofa for movie night as an open fire crackles and pops in the background. With chocolate cake on our laps and cups of tea in our hands, we will sit in calm, comfortable silence – at least until one of the two toddlers screech for attention.
I enjoy embarrassing all four of the boys, with the eldest two becoming “too cool” to hang out with their practically ancient sibling. I laugh as their lips curve with a smirk at the sound of their own jokes, much like their sister. I listen to the rambling details of the latest GAA matches, or at least pretend to. I nag them about school, and question their progress. And most importantly, I question their understanding of the concept of morality. In a world full of violence and dread, I wish that these four children need never grow up but, I will settle for them growing up, without bitterness or hatred for people that they don’t even know.
So, as I sit here tonight with a toddler sized baby brother cuddled under each arm – I urge every reader to find their own happy place, and hold on to it. For many, you will find your happiness in family – a never ending source of trust, love and loyalty. Should the darkness come to claim you, fight back, speak out and seek help. Be not afraid – there is always light.