Me and My Mate Jeffrey by Bressie
In his new memoir, Niall Breslin speaks openly about living with depression and anxiety, and his crippling journey to finally acknowledging ‘Jeffrey’ – the name he chose for it – years after he took the decision to conceal his growing mental health issues from the world, at age 15.
In this extract from Me and My Mate Jeffrey, Niall talks about the realisation that recovering from his condition would take constant focus and extensive effort.
I have become meticulously observant of how Jeffrey works. At times this focused awareness has made me overanalyse and scrutinise every behaviour, every mistake and every decision I make, so I’ve had to decipher the difference between what in CBT they call internal self-awareness – awareness of ourselves – and external self-awareness – how we believe others perceive us. How others perceive us is hypothetical and shouldn’t matter, it’s how we value ourselves that matters.
Giving my depression a name
Giving a name to my anxiety and depression in Jeffrey, and getting to know him as a friend, promoted my internal self-awareness which led to more astute and positive decisions for my emotional wellbeing. But over-emphasis on my external self-awareness led to unnecessary worry of what other people thought of me – it made me worry about things that I did not control.
For all my disgust at the lazy stereotypes often associated with mental illness, I found myself shocked by some of the people informing me of their mental distress. Friends, peers and colleagues I viewed as living the perfect lives, having amazing jobs, relationships, family and health, told me about how they felt the constant need to disguise their dark days, their sleepless nights and horrific panic attacks.
Goals for 2015
Having versed myself thoroughly on the benefits of the positive psychology movement, I set a number of structured guidelines for myself for 2015.
Firstly, I wanted to limit my exposure to toxic environments. Places where I could not be myself, or felt that others were not being themselves. The entertainment industry is not renowned for promoting authenticity and depth in its personalities. It is an insecure industry, where position hangs on popularity, and that creates insecurity in people. I wanted to actively try to keep away from them. If I walked into a room and heard people ripping someone’s character apart – you would be amused at how often it happens in TV and in music – I decided not to engage with it, or to quite simply walk out.
Self-compassion is key
Secondly, I wanted to continue practising self-compassion, nurturing the ability we all have to show some love for ourselves and pride in ourselves. I wanted to discover at least one thing a day for which I could show self-compassion. In that five minutes just before falling asleep at night, I could quietly congratulate myself for doing something well that day. It did not have to be any profound or noble deed, just something as minimal as making somebody a cup of tea, or going for a run when it was the last thing I wanted to do. By showing self-compassion I was letting my brain shut down slowly on a positive note, ending my day the way in which I wanted to start the next day.
Gratitude and mindfulness
Thirdly, when I woke up, before my eyes even opened, I would say 30 silent ‘Thank yous’. I would show gratitude for all the things I have in my life, from the most simple things like a bed and toothpaste, to the more substantial, like family, friends, a roof over my head.
My next daily goal was to practise 30 mindful moments. Small, short moments throughout the day when I actively became present, allowing a brief break for my overworked mind. You do not have to be in the lotus position in a remote Buddhist sanctuary to practise mindfulness, it can be done at any point in the day.
Finally, I wanted to make an extra-special effort to stop judging others. I came to the realisation that automatically judging other people eventually made me deeply anxious. In the past, if I found myself going on a rant about someone, tearing their character apart for no other reason but to nurture my own insecurities and jealousy, I would get an acid feeling in my stomach and would become anxious and panicked. I wanted to become more aware of this, and seek the best in others, however irredeemably nasty they seemed in a moment in time. It allowed me to concentrate more on myself and less on others, and control what I can control.
By putting these together, and sticking by them routinely, along with the other therapies and practices I chose, I could regulate my mental health in a way that was enjoyable and fulfilling.
Self-awareness is important
There is a science behind all these points too. When we are compassionate, or show gratitude, we emit neurotransmitters that make us feel good, calm, happy. When we judge others, or surround ourselves with toxic people, we emit the stress hormone cortisol, which makes us feel anxious, stressed, or low. For me, being instinctively cynical about treatments and therapies, learning the scientific angle made the word ‘self-aware’ easier to grasp and comprehend.
Do not get me wrong, I still had internal conversations with Jeffrey. But our relationship changed from a combative one to a pleasant one. Jeffrey became more like a good friend who had gone travelling for a while and come back a different man. We touched base every now and then, and when he returned we embraced each other’s foibles and even enjoyed each other’s company. You could say we were not growing apart, we had been through so much together.
Me and My Mate Jeffrey by Niall Breslin is published by Hachette and available in all good bookshops, priced €14.99.