Recognising the Problem
Introduction by John Madden
While we are more and more aware of the mental health issues facing the Traveller Community, we can share information from key organisations from across the country. This can be effective to some degree, but often it is the case that people relate more to a person’s lived experience, but such stories aren’t always that easy to come by. People aren’t always open enough about their lives and experiences, especially in terms of mental wellness, or even illness, but if the situation is ever to change, people need to speak about what is going on in their lives. In our search for such people, we stumbled across the work and words of UK-based Traveller Martin Gallagher. Martin writes for both himself and others about his own life experiences, introducing himself as “a silly man learning how to be a dad. I say silly words about life as an Irish Traveller, and being a stay at home dad with depression.”
This might seem like a humble introduction, but those are his own words. I’d like to introduce him to you as a man who is championing mental health and trying to be an instrument of change for Traveller mental health. His work is available online by visiting www.learningtodadsite.wordpress.com or by accessing his Facebook page “Learning to Dad”. He shares his experiences which will resonate with many people and we hope that his words will mean something to our readers. We hope to publish more from Martin and maintain a focus on mental health issues that affect us all. So, put the kettle on, make yourself a cuppa, sit back and have a read of Martin’s story of happiness, hope, despair, depression and coping as a father while trying to do the very best for his family. Talking is a sign of strength, and maybe if you can’t always find the strength you might find hope in Martin’s writing.
My Journey through Depression
By Martin Gallagher
I didn’t have a clue about what depression was or did, that was until it hit me. Growing up, we always spoke about depression as a cause for a suicide. I didn’t think mental health illnesses were as serious as a physical illness. I don’t think anybody in my family did when I was growing up, and especially in a family of Irish Travellers. Looking back to the lead up to when I found out I had depression, I thought I was just going through a stressful time with trying to finish a mountain of work to get accepted into university, which was a massive pressure I put on myself, then on top of that, planning a wedding abroad, working evenings and just day to day life.
When I woke up paralysed one morning, that is when I realised how much mental health and depression can change a person.
I woke up feeling a bit weird and stayed in bed as my fiancée left for work. What followed was the loudest noise in my head, my brain felt as if it had 10,000 volts running through it, not in a drunk, “LET’S PARTY! WOOO!” way either, but in a loud, sharp static. Paralysis followed this, and I couldn’t move from my neck down for God knows how long, and I did what any real man would do – I had a panic attack and started to cry. I was stuck in bed up until I was physically able to move my hand to ring for an ambulance. Once they got to me and told me that I had a severe panic attack caused by stress or depression, the idiot in me decided to ask how long it takes for stress and depression to go away. They laughed and explained that it doesn’t go away. This is it. From then on, they and the doctors let me know that taking care of my brain was as important as taking care of my body or making sure I have a healthy diet.
Depression isn’t just waking up paralysed, like I did, or becoming reclusive or feeling very low. It is also the little day to day things, like involuntary thoughts that can ruin anything you’re excited about, or paranoia that makes you think you’re being talked about when you don’t hear from someone, (but that could be a result of the social media world we live in).
As we know already, Irish Travellers, as well as Gypsies and Romani people don’t talk about our mental health as much as we should. This was true for me also. I didn’t want to talk to anybody about my depression, only my wife and her family knew, to begin with. Looking back, I didn’t open up because we link depression as the main reason for suicide and I was afraid if I even mentioned it, my mother would be on the phone to a priest down the road and I’d be stuck with someone rubbing my head and throwing holy water all over me. To be fair to my parents, Gypsy, Traveller and Romani men are six times more likely to commit suicide than the general population and women have an even higher number. So, they have to have a good argument why they can be worried.
I didn’t want to be seen as ‘sick’ or ‘weak’. I am still the same person that I always was, but I just don’t have control of when I feel down, lost or fall on dark days. I have a really happy life, but like many things that aren’t fair, we don’t have total control over our mental or physical health. We learn to adapt, move forward and accepting and talking about it was the best way for me to start that process. I highly doubt that I’d be in the good place I am at now if I didn’t speak to people about my mental health. It is something that I have to live with, but it isn’t who I am. Not even close. Even though it does affect me and my family some days, I’m still the same person, who likes sports, games, and cake and it is a lesson that I wouldn’t have learned without talking about it.
Talking about severe changes in how you feel isn’t a sign of weakness. Yeah, it isn’t nice worrying about if people think you’re sick, or if you are having a down day means you’re going to harm yourself, but remember that being open is actually the bravest thing you can do, and in doing so you can inspire others to be brave also.