Westmeath native Niall Breslin told a major mental health summit of the need to acknowledge their own positives.
Speaking at Ireland’s very first Mental Health and Wellbeing summit which took place in the Aviva Stadium, Dublin, recently, the former Rugby player spoke of the “petrifying internal dialogue” he was tormented by from the age of 13, recounting how he lay in bed at night feeling like a concrete block was sitting on his chest, and how on a school tour he slept on the balcony at night so his roommate would not hear him hyperventilating.
The event on the 14th October, was organised by White Diamonds events and hosted a range of speakers from every aspect of mental health, including doctors, psychologists and nutritionists.
The conference heard how Bressie at age 15, after almost a week without being able to sleep, was so frustrated he broke his own arm and lied to his mother about falling from his bike. While being attended to in hospital he finally summoned the courage to tell the doctor, who replied “it’s only puberty”.
He recalls that this was the most infuriating, disheartening thing he could have heard. It crushed him and made him feel even more alone.
Losing faith in doctors he decided to take control over his own health. Instead of lying in bed unable to breath, he would run. Every night, without fail, a panic attack would start, and he went for a run. When he returned home he slept. The first time he awoke from a full night’s sleep he was in disbelief; it had been so long. Shocked, delighted and surprised, he resolved at that moment that exercise was his road to recovery.
He decided to give his mind a name, Jeffrey, which, he said, afforded him a level of control and helped him detach himself from the negative thoughts.
“I hit rock bottom when I moved to London. I became addicted to sleeping pills. Addiction is another issue handled very badly in this country. After what was possibly the worst day of my life I was offered a job on ‘The Voice’. The first thought that ran through my head was ‘I’m going to have a panic attack on live television’.”
He felt he no longer had the energy to run away, to disguise, to be beaten. He realised that this was what prompted him to speak out, to raise awareness and let others that are suffering know that they are not alone.
He now visits schools, talking to teenagers about mental health and the importance of not isolating yourself. “Concentrating on the youth of today is so important because they are the future. The stigma must be removed.”
His programme, “Teenage Kicks”, provides a musical opportunity for disadvantaged teenagers. He believes it is absolutely essential that we empower teenagers and build their confidence instead of constantly telling them “no”.
I asked him what would he say to his 15 year old self: “I’d say that this is immensely normal. You may feel isolated and alone but more people than you know are going through it too. I’d also say don’t allow anyone to define you, not a parent, teacher, peer. You define yourself.”
When I asked him how he would advise families who are trying to support a teenager who won’t drop their barrier? “Open the door, plant the seed, keep it in a middle ground. If you approached somebody and asked how is your I.B.S they would tell you to bleep off, this is the same. Start with yourself, tell them when you’re not having a good day. Or strike up a conversation about something you heard on the radio or on TV but keep it general. It’s personal and respect that. Open the door and let them walk through it when they are ready”.
“We need to embrace self-congratulating. We are constantly beating ourselves up. As Irish people we can’t even accept compliments from others let alone ourselves, but I started to do it. I gave myself credit when credit was due. It’s so important to acknowledge the positives just as we do the negatives.”