This article is part 2 of an article I wrote last year for The Tab. You can find it here: https://thetab.com/uk/leeds/2017/06/03/male-suicide-pandemic-lets-start-talking-32856
So here I am, once again on a train. However instead of a song from The Fray, I’m listening to One More Light by Linkin Park. People often ask why I listen to sad songs, especially after everything that happened with James. It’s quite hard to give a definitive answer, maybe that’s my way of dealing with grief. For me, I am content with the fact that I have found a method, that works for me. I’ve seen it time and time again this year where people have tried to avoid dealing with loss, in the hope it’ll go away.
I used a very negative event to mark a significant shift in my life, which is very often the case. Over this past year I have learnt a lot from people who I admire, people like Stevie Ward and Sharon Burke. I have also learnt a lot from… other people, who I won’t name, but let’s say I’ve learnt what NOT to do.
Having been a university student for 3 years , I have been able to witness people putting on a mask for society, when we both know they aren’t like that behind closed doors. I have seen people avoiding the harsh realities of life, people pretending to care about things they don’t care about, so that their peers will like them. It’s like a massive beauty contest of, how many people can I get to like me all at once. There is nothing wrong with having people like you of course, but for me, I wanted to be true to myself, my values, and try to live everyday on my terms, where if someone I encountered had conflicting values with my own, it was in my best interest to not engage with said person.
Now that I have finished university, I have had time to reflect on the last 3 years. The friendships I have formed that will last a life time, and some that won’t make it past 3 weeks of graduating. The peaks and troughs of mental health as a student and a millennial. The dream that is sold to every naïve 18 year old, who is fresh out of school, promised that university will be the best years of their lives. Whilst possible, it’s not necessarily going to happen. For me, I wish I had been able to read an honest account of what was to come, both good and bad, to better prepare myself for the journey ahead, so that I was able to be content with my life situation rather than chase a dream too good to be true.
With that said, what’s changed? So far I have spoken to quite a few people who have asked for advice with regards to their mental health and while I’m no expert, it was nice to see people at least asking for help. University of Leeds Rugby League has been a significant part of my life, and I am proud to say I have been part of a very engaging mental health campaign this year, ItsOKNotToBeOK. With the help of American Football, we were able to raise money and awareness for mental health on campus, but more on that later. People have approached me in nightclubs (while I’m sober might I add) and said, “are you that guy from rugby league?” Well, I’m A guy from rugby league. “Who has done the mental health stuff?”. It sounds like I am blowing my own trumpet, but what I am trying to say is people know that mental health is a thing, they know suicide rates are on the rise and are thankful someone is talking about it. It’s been part of the driving force to keep me going, and to start this blog. If no one cared, I probably wouldn’t bother.
I have been fortunate enough to go on a retreat with Mantality Magazine, courtesy of Stevie Ward, which opened my eyes to self awareness and mindfulness, which I had dabbled in before hand, but this was a fully immersive experience. With that in mind, with the help of a few others, we created the Mantality Society at university. Now that I have left, I hope it will carry on doing incredible things and open more peoples eyes, particularly Wim Hof breathing.. unbelievable.
The James Burke Foundation (my favourite part) was officially registered in April and aims to provide education in mental health awareness and help combat the stigma behind suicide and depression. I have worked alongside Sharon Burke to be a part of this, and we both know that the student body is a massive market where mental health issues are on the rise, and the available help is on the decline. After her son James committed suicide last year, Sharon has been on a mission to make the Foundation come alive, and has already rolled out its first set of courses, which I was lucky enough to take part in before I head back home. Having identified a gap in the market, The James Burke Foundation will change the game. Watch this space.
In late September, early October I identified that I was drinking a lot (I was a student after all, also Irish) but I started to question why. Was I really enjoying myself, or was I hiding behind a mask that I had created for myself? I knew I drank a lot, but I’d always put that down to being good at it, rather than a more plausible reason. When I took time to really think about my life, and what 3 day sessions were doing to me, it’s no wonder I hated the other 4 days a week. “I feel like shit, I need a drink”… yeah, good idea pal. Made sense to me, probably rings true for a lot of people. Now, I don’t like to do things in half measures (3 day bender, half marathons out of nowhere), so when I decided to take a little break from alcohol, to clear my head and see how it affected me, I thought, go big or go home right? I could stop for a month, but that’s boring, so I decided I would take 1 year off alcohol. 365 days. Game changer. I will be writing about the things I have learnt from this specifically nearer the end. I’m 7 months in and here I am writing a blog post.
Only my second blog post ever, so bear with me on this. Thought I would tie up the last year after my last article and share insights into what’s changed for me, and what I have seen. This is the first thing I have written over 1000 words that I haven’t hated every single word of. Feedback appreciated. Enjoy.
“Who cares if one more light goes out? Well I do” (Linkin Park, 2017)