I had some time to kill at the airport before catching my flight back to England after the Christmas break nearly three weeks ago, and I wanted to buy something to read on the plane to distract myself from my fear of flying and also to keep me company on what would be a long journey back to my student house in Cumbria. I don't have any interest in celebrity gossip magazines (I could not care less about what Kimmy K is doing, celebrity culture doesn't interest me in the slightest!) and I decided I didn't want to make my post-Christmas blues even worse by reading the offers on the Ryanair magazine. Needless to say I didn't want to whip out my university books on ethics that were stuffed in my bag either! So I ended up buying a book.
This book, Me and My Mate Jeffrey, is by Niall Breslin or 'Bressie'. In Ireland, he would be somewhat of a household name. He was in a band and also gained admirable success as a solo musician, and is a coach on the Irish version of The Voice. He is also a mental health advocate. I have often heard him giving interviews speaking about his own personal experiences with mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression. Just earlier today, he gave a passionate speech to members of the Irish government about what needs to be done regarding mental illness in Ireland. Please do check out his speech HERE.
In Ireland especially, mental health is still not adequetely addressed, and the negative attitudes that surround the issue are quite harsh, despite the fact that one in four people will suffer from a mental illness at any stage of their life. Any sign of a mental illness leads to an individual being labelled as "weak", "crazy", or a typical Irish phrase of "away with the fairies" (that is: crazy). Another issue is this whole mental issue thing will "go away". If someone were diagnosed with a serious physical illness like cancer, would anyone say to them, "it'll go away" and "you're just imagining it" or you "need to cheer up". I think not. Then why are people who are diagonosed with a serious mental illness being told them things? It's something that infuriates me so so much you would not believe. It's these kind of attitudes that only lead to bright, intelligent individuals such as Bressie suffering in silence, and for a population of just over four million, Ireland has the highest female suicides and the second highest male suicides in Europe. Pretty scary statistics when you think about it.
This book provides a more in-depth detailed look at Bressie's own personal experiences with anxiety and depression (Jeffrey is the name he gave to his illness) from his childhood experiences of living in war-torn Lebenon (his father was in the Irish army, whose role is peace-keeping), to his teenage days where he struggled to catch his breath, to his time playing rubgy for his university and his province (Leinster), to his music career in a band, solo and as a judge on the Voice. The book is extremely revealing, making sure you really get to know Bressie as a person throughout the book. It's no Oscar Wilde literary classic, but I think that only adds to its appeal; it is written in a way that makes it easy for all readers to understand, as well as adding some good old Irish humour along the way. He spoke with refreshing honesty of how his mental illness problems had affected his relationships, friendships, career. Honestly, I found myself really not being able to put it down; I read it on the flight to Liverpool and then on the train up to Carlisle, and started reading it again when I arrived in Carlisle, so I finished the 308-page book in just a few hours! Obviously though, given the issue, it's not an easy read and there were a few times while reading it on the train that I welled up.
I feel like in penning this book, Bressie has done more for mental health in Ireland than all the politicians put together, offering some hope to those who are in a dark place in their lives. He even offers some practical solutions on what worked well for his recovery, such as exercising and eating healthily. I had a lot of respect for him previous to reading this book, as like I said I have seen his interviews discussing his problems before, but I have even more respect for him now (if that's even possible). It's never easy to talk about what intense problems you may be facing, we all know that. As it's been a while since I did a book review, and as I felt that the book might help others, I decided to do a quick blog post about it.
Thanks for reading guys x
- For those of you who live in Ireland, this book is widely avaliable in all good bookshops.
- If you live in the UK and are interested in checking this book out, it is avaliable on Amazon.co.uk HERE.