On returning to Ireland, I would love to write that I unpacked my bags, took my medication and lived happily ever after…but that wouldn’t be true to real life. What actually happened was a little different, as I found myself back at the home that I had left to go to Carlow IT in 1999. Now, aged 33, I was back. Back in Lemaculla Cross, the village of Ballinode, the parish of Tydavnet and Monaghan town (up it). After almost 14 years of living elsewhere (Carlow, Bradford, NZ) I was home. Did it feel good? No. I suppose I always thought that I would return with a massive bank balance, a BMW, enough money to buy a house and a CV to get the best rugby job in Ireland. Instead, I returned to live at home with my parents, a shell of the self confident man that bought a one way ticket to Napier in 2007.
Its strange when you get to this stage of feeling better, those difficult days of the past get more and more difficult to recall. In essence, as I previously mentioned, I felt like I was a problem that needed to be fixed. My brain was focused on the task of turning itself inwards to analyse every thought and emotion that I had every minute of every day. I enjoyed a few minutes of ‘peace’ in the morning time before anxiety would start, then spent the day trying to get that feeling of calm back again. Months passed with varying degrees of panic. And after the battle I had in NZ, I kinda felt that I deserved a break. I was willing to try just about anything to stop the incessant noise in my head, the nervousness in my stomach, the general feeling of unease and the regular panic attacks. Throughout this time, I tried to reacquaint myself with friends from my past, Carlow and Bradford. One of these friends of mine, Fergal Nangle, I could relate to a great deal. He had his struggles in the past and had found himself a lot more content. I admired him greatly (and still do) and it was Fergal that suggested a 3 day mindfulness retreat in Kerdiffstown House in Naas. I put my name down as Fergal was planning to go and I felt it wouldn’t be so daunting if someone I knew was there. A few weeks later I drove down to meet 120 smiling, bowing, and mindful people accompanied by a bunch of shaved headed, brown robe wearing, smiling monks! What in God’s name had I let myself in for??
Well, what ensued was one of the toughest but also most rewarding 36 hours of my life. Tough because I couldn’t run from my emotions / thoughts anymore. In the previous few months I had tried, in vain, to avoid anything that resembled sitting with my true emotions of fear / anxiety / grief / sadness. So, what ensued at the retreat was a massive outpouring of emotion, emotions that I tried really hard not to show anyone. I thought that if people saw me in that state, then they would know that something was going on. Something was ‘wrong’ with me. And, in actual fact, my true suffering was the difference between what was actually happening and the façade that I was trying to maintain. Once the seed of emotion had the opportunity to come up, with the environment of mindfulness, it no longer had the same strength as it did when I did not let it come up at all. I found out that all those emotions that I had been trying to avoid, had a shelf life. They would come up, be heard, then go back down again a little less stronger than before. After a day and a half of eating, walking, talking, drinking, listening and most importantly breathing mindfully, a welcome visitor then came to stay for the next day and a half. And his name was peace. Peace of mind, peace from my thoughts, and peace from my emotions. It was then that I could see real light at the end of the tunnel – and that light was hope.
I then began practicing mindfulness every night at 11pm. I think my parents thought that I was becoming a monk, as my room would be filled with the sound of my mindfulness bell every night! During that time I was still suffering with anxiety and panic attacks, but they had become less frequent and I now knew that anxiety was future based worry, and the future is nothing more than the present moment but in a different time. Before this I would be wracked with anxiety over what might happen, but now I knew I would be ok in the present moment, future based worry seemed to have less of a hold over me. I began to focus on the present moment for as much of the day I could. I even wrote myself a timetable to fill up my day. Meditation twice per day, guitar playing and singing, walking in Rossmore Park, wood carving and the gym filled up most of my week. I gradually found that I was able to forget that I was a problem for a few minutes of every day. Once, while out in the garage carving wood, I forgot for a whole 4 hours! This sounds so odd when I write it down now, but, at the time, this was a major break through. I thought ‘I’m onto something here’. There’s something in this forgetting about myself for a while business and that’s what I focused on. As Ghandi said ‘Be the change you want to become’.
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