A hovering presence… always ready to impose – this is Seamus.
Seamus is a minds-eye creation who has been with me for many years. And he has been responsible for some harrowing times. The power he has wielded over me has been numbing.
Who is this creation?
He’s an alter-ego, with a remarkable propensity to appear very real.
When my children were young and had trouble sleeping, I would calm them using made-up on-the-spot stories featuring Seamus as the central character. Seamus was a little bloke who had come with me from Ireland many years ago, a fictional character who was variously a ‘leprechaun’ (Irish fairy) or whatever I made him out to be. The kids loved it and now my grandchildren insist upon ‘Pop’s’ Seamus story if they are staying over. Little do they know how present and destructive the redoubtable Seamus has been in my life.
Struggles resulting from major depression precipitated a change of role for Seamus some years ago. In a never-ending search to find a solution/cure to my depression, I placed Seamus front and centre as being a major contributor to my depression and anxiety! A negative third party, if you like.
Odd? Indeed, it was but somehow shifting my mindset and having a third party to focus on made a profound difference to how I managed my depression. I accused Seamus of infiltrating my head and packing it full of negative thoughts and images… particularly during periods when I was feeling very vulnerable. I decided my ruminating and catastrophising (believing something is worse than it really is,) were very much a product of Seamus’s work. I imagined he delighted in watching me battle with the negative chatter in my head, whilst he was gleefully calling the shots.
Negative in-the-head chatter has a way of morphing into unwanted outcomes and exacerbating anxiety and depression. Controlling it is a seriously effective way of preventing it from running rampant.
Over time, I came to realise that if we allow rubbish to enter our heads, such as fear of failure, loss of self-worth… all we get in return is a deepening feeling of powerlessness. Of course, the challenge is not to let these thoughts infiltrate in the first place. For example, I became very fearful that people would find out about my mental illness and consider me to be weak. In my mind, this could lead to my being socially rejected and/or be sacked from work. Irrational though they were, these negative thoughts seemed very real to me at the time.
I surmised that Seamus was at work again and I recognised that I had an opportunity to move him on. I vented my spleen and told him that I was very aware of his devious ways and that I had the antidote… there was simply no basis for my fears and I was going to prove that to him. Which I did by overriding the negative thoughts with rational, positive affirmations that I was a survivor and despite everything, I would get through. Which is how it turned out.
I had found a solution in the mythical Seamus.
Sometimes life takes a turn and offers insights in a most unexpected way. Some years ago, I had open-heart surgery to replace a defective valve with a mechanical device. I had unknowingly been a walking time bomb without any symptoms, before luckily being diagnosed with a condition that could have meant the end, had there not been timely medical intervention.
During the long recuperation period, I mused about how close to death I had been… a rather sobering thought, given that there had been occasions of darkness during my life when I had considered giving up. After the operation, life became very precious to me.
Even so, it didn’t take Seamus long to make a visit when I was getting physically better. True to form, he got on with the task of pouring rubbish into my head. This time however, I was on the alert, aware of how many years I had already lost fighting anxiety and depression (and Seamus) with little tangible success. Countless partly read self-help books lined my bookcase and numerous visits to psychologists, all pointed to what didn’t work for me. I had to be more strategic. The solution wasn’t going to come from another source. I had to find it within myself. How could I orchestrate a strategy to stay clear of Seamus and his evil ways?
My solution: to walk metaphorically beside my depression. Rather than see it as an uninvited intruder, I would simply acknowledge Seamus’s presence and ensure he remained at arm’s length. This took a lot of practice. But having a separate “being” to focus on in a positive way allowed me to control the rubbish game.
I used to think that sharing the Seamus story would convince those who loved me that I was indeed losing the plot. Not so, it has transpired.
Seamus still gets a run in stories for my grandchildren. Little do they know what a pivotal presence he has had in my life since I invented him… for both good and not so good.
Did he create my challenges? Of course not! Did he exacerbate them… yes! Has he been a vehicle for recovery… yes! Does this mean an end to the struggles for me… who knows? But I am determined to make the best of what I have.
Seamus continues to occupy a position outside my being. I observe him often and remind him that he is not invited in. Sure he tries to enter, but he knows that he is not welcome.
Cop that Seamus!
- David Corduff