Talking about Mental Health

I wrote this in September of 2016, it was very freeing to open up about My Mental Health Struggles.

Dear Shane of 3 years ago. Well done.

You are where you wanted to be and it’s awesome. Your brave steps were worth it. Thank you for having faith and believing in yourself. You were right.

I’m sitting in the gallery space of my current solo exhibition “Home: My Realisation” in Galway Ireland and reflecting on a conversation I just had about mental health with someone who popped in to see my show. It reminded me how far I have come over the last few years.

Back in 2009 I suffered a drug induced psychotic episode while traveling in Australia. A truly frightening thing to experience but now I take positives from it. I understand now that the little brave steps I took in the aftermath of it has lead me to a life so amazing and positive that my past mindset seems confusing to me now. To share what I experienced to my family back then riddled me with fear. Insecurities crippled me but I talked to them. I couldn’t accept my situation. A need drove me to be understood and accepted. My family became my rock. When I talked openly with friends the same thing happened. I was getting closer to something.

I shared many interesting conversations with friends and family about my mental health and life, only to realise in time that we are all mad in some way, a life lesson I learned from my dad. After my first experience of mental health, I turned to art as a way to express myself but I controlled how much I shared. Fearful, keeping sketchbooks full of drawings away from the world. I spray painted dark characters in abandoned places. Visual expressions of how I felt. I carried what felt like a heavy weight on my shoulders, a burden I wanted to share but couldn’t pass on. Appearing vulnerable seemed like such a weak position to me.

I turned to escapism as way to get relief. Alcohol, food, movies and music were simple solutions. Bad decisions led me back to my mental health. I suffered from smaller bouts of mental health over the next few years, taking medication to help me, learning more about myself each time in happened, growing but always making the same mistakes.

Sometimes in life you get moments of clarity. Mine was simply I don’t want to keep living that way. So I reached out to family and friends and got perspective on my behaviour. I started seeing a councillor. Things began to move. What living meant became an interesting concept. I’m not sure I really understood what that meant. I had to make what seemed like sacrifices to get where I needed to be. Happy. I found comfort in the melancholy but I had to change that mind set. Working out in my mate Nathy’s gym Limitless Health aided in breaking down barriers.

I started sharing my art. A huge step was my first solo exhibition in 2014. “Madness VS Reality ” motivated by my friend Finbar247 to be more open. It became an honest conversation about what mental health was like for me. It was a hard thing to be vulnerable and show my weaknesses publicly but something a councillor said to me once rings true now. “What would you tell young Shane now looking back?” What did I need to hear all those years ago? I created an exhibition based on that idea. I wanted give people an insight into mental health. Teach younger people and myself to better understand my mistakes.

I realised that what I longed for was within me. I accept myself more. Less than 2 years later thanks to a suggestion by Finbar. I was contacted by damn fine print to be part of a mural project in St Patrick’s mental health hospital in Dublin. The mural I created was called “Finding the positives”, 365 yellow dots on a wall, each representing a day, the yellow symbolising a positive found in each day. I Look for the happy faces in the crowd.

I wanted to share what helped and worked for me. Simple brave steps and small changes may seem not that fruitful but they add up. I have to remind myself not to waste energy looking backward focusing on negatives or looking to the future lost, in fear based projected realities that may never happen.

I used to think everyone thought like me but maybe it’s that everyone just needs to connect and relate. I teach myself daily to be less hard on myself. I don’t fit in to a stereotype which frustrated me for years but now it gives me comfort.

Awareness, perspective and the good things. I’m actually very lucky. To live in Ireland. For my family. My friends. I’m grateful that I found myself through my art. I’m happy. On behalf of Shane 3 years ago, make a change, we both think it’s worth it.

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