It is estimated that at least one in five of us will experience mental health problems in our lifetime. This interview series aims to open the discussion around mental health and to encourage people to share their stories in the hopes of helping others. It’s #timetotalkIreland.
Jonathan is a 30 year old promoter and DJ from Dublin. This is his story.
The way I was born was interesting. My ma never told her parents she was pregnant. She was a bigger girl so she got away with it. Basically she went into labour at home on her own and gave birth to me in the bath. The next door neighbour had to come in and cut the cord; he was a fireman. I suppose after that I was never going to have a normal life.
We stayed at my grandparent’s house for a few years before my mam got her own place with my step-da. I didn’t know my father but I was lucky because I had my grandfather. He was my father figure. I idolised him. The stability I had in my life was because of him. I think I have like twenty-five previous addresses and I was changing schools. I was never able to develop those friendships that you need when you’re a kid and now I’m a little bit of a loner.
During the time I was growing up in Dublin there was a massive problem with heroin. My ma and stepfather both developed an addiction to heroin while I was living with them. We lost everything then. We were thrown out of the flat that we lived in. We were out on the streets, homeless and not homeless where you were living in hostels, proper homeless. My stepfather got arrested and put into prison for a while. I was nine or ten but I was always older than my years so I knew what was going on.
My ma was ashamed to tell my grandparents but they found out eventually. They offered to take me and let me live with them. I ended up living with them for maybe nine months. I went back to my old school then; I hadn’t been really in school for a while. I was good in school but I would lose interest. I think my attention span wasn’t great because of the way I was brought up.
I got into a good routine again but I was devastated because I loved my ma and I would only see her one day a week then. I would come home to a nice house and I didn’t have to worry except for worrying about my ma. She was on the streets on her own. Soon after that my Grandad got diagnosed with cancer. He wouldn’t tell anyone how he was; he was such a proud person. One day I was sitting in the sitting room and he was in his chair. He took a stroke in front of me. I was ten. I didn’t know what was happening. He passed away five days later. Up until that point I was a good young fella.
After that my ma became determined to get off drugs. She got into the methadone clinic on Pearse Street. At the same time my stepda was after getting out of prison determined to sort himself out. I moved back in with them. We got a one room bedsit in Summerhill. Up until my Granda passed away I was a skinny, fit lad but then I started staying in all the time, eating and playing PlayStation. I was getting bullied at that time too. The local kids were a bit malicious and vindictive. I was the new lad. I had a little bit of weight on me; I was an easy target. I would walk outside and get jumped on by a bunch of lads. That went on for a couple of years and it affected me badly.
By the time I was in second year I was drinking and smoking hash. Doing a leaving cert wasn’t an option for me. I left school after my Junior Cert and did an apprenticeship at FÁS but I got bored of it. I got a job in Burger King in the Ilac Centre. I wanted to make money at the time. Not just for myself. My ma was clean at this stage and she was pregnant with my little brother.
It was then that I started to experiment with harder drugs, not like heroin or crack, but I used to do pills and stuff. The first time I ever did it was to try and impress a girl. Before I knew it I was doing silly amounts. I don’t know how I didn’t die. It created a lot of tension in my home so I moved out and that was the second time I was homeless.
I used to just sleep in internet cafes or get the homeless bus which goes around at night time bringing you to random places where they had beds. You could be sleeping with a rapist in your room or a murderer in your room. There are not a lot of homeless people who you would class as a person who has their stuff together. Everybody has their issues. Some people have addiction, some people have mental issues.
Eventually I got a bed in Iveagh Trust on Patrick Street. I walked in one day and said whatever it takes to get a room I will do it. They got me an emergency bed which was basically a fold out bed in a big, open room. After a while I got my own room. It was safer than other hostels, put it that way. I stayed at another hostel one night and you sleep with your runners under your pillow. You couldn’t put any of your clothes down on the ground because they’d get robbed. I put my phone charger down beside my bed and that got robbed.
I got a job as a bouncer out in Finglas in the Drake Inn but it closed down because there was too much trouble. I had a serious cocaine habit then just from the life of a doorman being so antisocial. It became so bad that I would be doing it on my own even on weekdays. It got to a point where I lost everything, my family, my respectability, my morals, even my will to live. I was admitted to hospital one time because it had gotten so bad and I just reached a point where I had had enough.
Someone told me about Coolmine, a treatment centre. At that stage it wasn’t even the drugs it was more the psychological issues and the emotional issues I had. I knew if I continued on that way that I would never ever be able to sort myself out. I got accepted into residential treatment in Coolmine Therapeutic Community and I was there for maybe nine months. It was intense therapy. The programme was designed for Vietnam veterans who came home from Vietnam addicted to opium so it was an addiction therapy programme. You had to have a rap, which was a chat, three times a day with people in the house. You would have two professional therapy sessions a week and then all your chats. There was these things called time outs that I was put on; this is how it links in with the music.
All throughout my life what got me through was listening to music. When I was in Coolmine I had already done one or two gigs as a promoter. I got offered the opportunity through a friend to do a gig in Radio City but I was in a treatment centre like. So I got out for the weekend and decided to do it but they (Coolmine) found out about it and put me on a time out. You’re not allowed talk to anyone at all. You have to ask permission to sit down, to eat your food, to do anything. The reason that they do it is to make you sit with your feelings and all you can do is think about what lead you to do what you’ve done.
When I went into Coolmine I was after ballooning and I was depressed out of my head but Coolmine built me back up. I haven’t touched a drug since I was twenty one, before I went in there. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done but I graduated from Coolmine.
I went onto to do Music Management and Production in Ballyfermot. Then I decided to that I wanted to do Youth and Community Studies because I thought that I’ve been through things and that I can help people. I got accepted into the course and I was on the road to getting distinctions. The teacher said I was a natural. I was four or five months into my course and everything was going well but I couldn’t sleep. I just felt empty. This was the first experience I have ever had with depression.
I didn’t feel anything. I would sit up maybe until about three o’clock at the start and then before I knew it, it was five o’clock, six o’clock, seven, half seven. It was just a pure feeling of sadness. I had no motivation. I didn’t want to do anything. I was getting like palpations and feelings like I was almost going to have a heart attack. That was the anxiety part of it but I didn’t know that at the time. This went on for a couple of months. I said it to my tutor like everything was going great in my life but I just couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t clear my head. I was arguing with my mam and with friends all the time. I wasn’t myself. My tutor just said to me that it sounded like I was depressed. She told me to go and see a doctor about it.
The doctor diagnosed me as clinically depressed. My ma had been diagnosed as depressed in the past and the doctor explained to me that it can be hereditary. My way to react at the time was to come out fighting. Again, my weight had ballooned up but I started to get more active. I had completely isolated myself for a while from my friends. The doctor sent me to a psychiatrist who wanted me to go on tablets but I didn’t want to do that. I just started to go and play football and forced myself to go out with my friends and it worked. It was very hard to do but it helped.
Depression is not one of those things that is going to go away. It will always be with you. Still I had days where I got up and I felt like what is the point, my life doesn’t mean anything. I felt worthless. You have to realise that unless you reach out to people they’re not going to know how you’re feeling. That was the key thing for me, speaking to people. I’m not perfect. I can sink back into it and I keep things to myself but I just keep fighting through it.
I started to do more and more gigs as a promoter. I met my girlfriend who I am with three years now. The gigs started to be taken more seriously and people started asking me to DJ. So I eventually started to DJ and it just took off. I love it now. It’s a pure escape. I made a conscious decision to take DJing more seriously. I moved into town and my whole life became DJing and promoting. I neglected my real friends, football, everything. I was so committed and I put pressure on myself and I never gave myself a minute. I felt guilty for not seeing my friends and again it got too much for me. I had to take a step back. I remember I was down in Cork and my girlfriend was with me. It was the first time I’d ever played in Cork. I didn’t know what was going on at the time but looking back it was anxiety, really bad anxiety. My whole face broke out in red blotches and I felt like I was going to collapse but I refused to cancel the gig because I didn’t want to let anybody down
I think that stubbornness meant that I just let all those feelings build up to a point where over the last couple of months I’ve been really miserable. I had always put pressure on myself with the gigs. I felt like I had to always be there and be DJing because it was my name that was attached to the events. My social skills had completely dropped. My confidence was shattered. I didn’t want to be around people.
Eventually I realised that I had to be honest and that the depression had come back. Like I would sit in and just be in tears by myself. I had shut down as a person. I put a post out on Facebook because I just needed to be honest. I committed to taking a break from the DJing and take a step back from the clubs. I explained that it was something I needed to do for myself.
Since I admitted that the last few months have been good. I have put my energy into other things rather than just the clubs. I’ve met up with friends and apologised for not being in touch. I get out more now. I go to the gym, I eat healthier. I am trying to get my body right. I am trying my best to get back to a positive place in my life and I feel like I’m getting there. I have good days and bad days but that’s life. That’s the thing about depression; it’s never going to completely go. You just need to know how to manage it. Someone said this to me before and it’s the perfect metaphor. It’s like a wheelie bin, you can keep stuffing stuff into it and pushing it down and you can even hop in and stand on it but eventually it’s going to overflow. If you keep all that stuff to yourself eventually you’re going to burst. It’s better to just bit by bit take bits out and deal with them and that’s what I am trying to do now.
If you or someone you know is going through a tough time here is a list of organisations that can help: Pieta House, Aware, Samaritans, Console, Your Mental Health, Reach Out, SpunOut are just some of the sources that can help. If you would like to share your story please contact firstname.lastname@example.org