Sean McKenna's Story - 'Why am I not happy?'

What happens if a child is plunged into a harsh world full of grim and unforgiving scenarios? What happens if a child lacks a wise and mature mentor to guide them through their never-ending stream of sorrows? What happens when a child loses all feeling of happiness, trust and excitement for the world and those in it, and is left to predominately feel fear, stress and anger?

Sean McKenna's Story - 'Why am I not happy?'

How Suffering Becomes Purpose: My Story

What happens if a child is plunged into a harsh world full of grim and unforgiving scenarios? What happens if a child lacks a wise and mature mentor to guide them through their never-ending stream of sorrows? What happens when a child loses all feeling of happiness, trust and excitement for the world and those in it, and is left to predominately feel fear, stress and anger? Either the child will learn how to swim in their now private noxious stream, using anything, harmful or otherwise, to keep them afloat, or they will drown. They will keep themselves afloat for as long as they can, using any method in their arsenal to do so. Our first tactic is to simply avoid thinking or feeling. Block it all out, ignore it, suppress it. We do this so we do not think about what happened in the past or what we think will happen in the future. So that we do not feel the fear, stress and anger that so easily emerge in us. But this does not improve our situation.

Anxiety. This umbrella-term is easy to know, but hard to understand. Anything that is interpreted as a coming threat can set it off. Fight or flight? We feel that surge of adrenaline, our senses heightened, we can’t think. Make the threat leave, or get away from the threat. The threat is all we can focus on. The threat is all we can see, all we can hear, all we can feel. But once the threat leaves, or we escape the threat, we are then left to imagine; what if a similar threat shows itself in the future? In isolation, we visually imagine, and verbally think about the threat. This can go on for minutes or hours, we don’t have a choice anymore, we don’t know how to stop it. Now, in the safety of our own home, the threat is still there, constantly remerging in our private stream that has devolved into an active volcano of negative emotions and sorrow. So easy to set off, but so difficult to calm. Now we can’t fight off the threat, so we must escape it. Avoid it. How do we do that?

The easy-to-access short-term pleasures was the answer. Some excessively overeat. Some excessively cling to love or bad influences. Some turn to physical pain. At 6 years old, I was lucky enough to have access to a thing called “The Internet”. At the time, I never seen any problems with my excess use of it. Any free time I had; I was on it. This cycle of destructive behaviour did not help me with my mental problems. These lingered and got worse. Anytime I was not consuming the warm comforting screen of technology, the anxiety returned with its related private visual events and verbal thinking. This loop of behaviour and related negative emotions led me to consistently feel horrible. I suppressed my emotions to stop the pain. This caused me to lose my ability to feel empathy for others, and I developed an overactive fight or flight system. I had a quick temper, and was very defensive. I constantly seen things as an attack, so I had to fight back. I now know that my trauma conditioned me to be avoidant, and that led me to my escape; the internet and video games. Discretely, technology has become my generation’s pass-time drug. It made me lose interest and joy in the many other positive things life had to offer. As a child, I never developed healthy social skills. I believed that everyone, but my family were out to get me. I never bothered to put any effort into academia. The trauma-induced anxiety, avoidance conditioning and depression stunted my ability to learn and develop as a person. Instead, all I could focus on was getting onto the internet and the bad things that happened, or was going to happen. Everything was negative, even me.

Between 4th-6th year of secondary school, I began to abuse alcohol with my mates from school. We went out at night to drink at different public areas. I won’t mention any cause “Touts out er kiad”, but thinking back, those were some of the best memories of my life. Now I can see clearly though, that is a problem. They shouldn’t be. Yet many others feel the same way about their past. “An owl barrick, battle a vodka n boost, wif a speaker n a crowd is good craic like”. It is the sad reality of poverty. That self-destructive lifestyle is glorified and reinforced, while everything else is either not available, or punished. Additionally, during this period of my life, I was surrounded by people who took a wide variety of drugs. Green/cannabis, ecstasy, speed, cocaine, and legal highs. I was constantly peer pressured to take them. They were just being good mates. They just wanted me to feel good like they did in our dark, depressed and disdained corner of society. We were bad people, everything that happened and was going to happen to us was our fault. “The parasites of society”.

By the time I went to university all my trauma-induced mental illness and associated addictions had took their toll. I had no motivation to put effort into learning the course I was paying £7,000 per year to study. Instead, I found myself glued to the technology that comforted me as child, but was now ruining me as an adult. I was endlessly playing video games, listening to music, watching YouTube or Netflix and browsing social media like a zombie. Anytime I went to socialise with my friends at university it was to excessively drink, smoke or snort our poison of choice. By the end of my second year, I was in a horrible state. I was in a cycle of destructive behaviour with no brakes. I wasn’t even aware there was an issue of how I was spending my time. I was a young man who was raised by poverty, surrounded by negativity, and conditioned by a discretely toxic, aggressive, verbally degrading and demeaning community. I was suffering, and I had received no help from society. I was just another lost soul on their way to fall through the gaps and have a label smacked onto him by people “who know better”.

During my third year of university, I was lucky enough to have been introduced to the science of Applied Behaviour Analysis. I learned what behaviour precisely was, and what caused it. Using this knowledge, I aimed to change my destructive habits and get my life on track by reinforcing constructive habits to achieve self-made goals. Hope. To do this, I developed a unique mental method to positively reshape my behaviour throughout years 3 and 4 of university; “Self-Behaviour Analysis”. Adaptability. Over the next two years, through much suffering and many relapses, I overcame the loop of addiction, depression and anxiety myself, and filled my life with healthy habits that I now enjoy doing. Perseverance. I had cleansed my stream. The volcano was calm. I learned that without the bad we would not have the good. Now my main goal in life is to help others by teaching what cost me 21 years of needless suffering to learn. How you can truly overcome your conditioned bad habits, addictions, and mental illness and move forward. How you can realise your untapped potential and begin working towards your life goals. How you can be happy, and start enjoying the good, and thrive during the bad times.

No matter how bleak it may seem, hold onto your innate traits of hope, adaptability and perseverance. Those things, at their core, are what make us human.

– Sean-Gerard McIlwrath-McKenna

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