Why I’m Opening up About my Mental Health

Martin O'Toole
6 min readSep 20, 2019
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Talking candidly and brutally about my mental health has had a mixed bag of reactions: from the compassionate vibes of “I had no idea”; to “Your writings make me worry about you; is this you asking for help?”; to the contrasting “I’m not keen on you airing dirty linen in public”.

All of these responses are, of course, fair and to be expected, as one bares all in such a visceral fashion. The main point is: my words are creating awareness and discussions about taboo and often hidden mental health issues. I should add that from time to time, in these articles, I make mention of other people. I do so without their prior permission. I do so with no intention of laying blame or shame on anyone else whatsoever and accept co-responsibility for every event in my life. We’re all human and at different levels of consciousness. That’s actually part of the harmonic beauty of it all.

With feedback in mind, I’d like to take a step back and write what I should’ve written in my first blog, i.e. an explanation as to why I’m writing the things I’m writing.

Back to the Beginning

As mentioned in previous articles, I misused alcohol, drugs — and my sexuality — for almost two decades. And I was addicted to attention just as much as I was to anything else. A self-prescribed and most destructive solution designed to fix my mental and emotional issues. I craved and regularly exercised sexual promiscuously as a twisted means of gaining intimacy and control of my emotional environment. I used drink and drugs to side-step my issues, numb my pain, and forge ahead wearing the mask I’d carefully crafted for use during my chaotic interactions.

Just after my mum died, and with the Beagle talking me out of blowing my brains out, I enlisted the help of an unassuming yet amazing man (a therapist I affectionately dubbed ‘Dr Michael’), who helped me begin the long journey towards self-awareness. With Michael’s help, I began to see that all my barmy behaviour could be linked to my childhood. I also realised that it was high time I began accepting co-responsibility, that there was only one common denominator in my countless fallouts, ruined friendships, and personal and professional relationships. As a result of these various traumas, I created an incredibly complex persona built around my survival (‘fight or flight’) instinct. Occasionally sophisticated and equally remedial, this ‘suit’ which I manufactured for myself was a means to protect me from any future emotional harm. With hindsight, it’s really easy to see that these concepts and methodologies I’d adopted were often beyond warped. But to me, it was normal, and as my younger subconscious mind had consumed the experience of growing up in a chaotic and dysfunctional family home, it stands to reason that later on, that same broken mind might create chaos and dysfunction where there was none. Furthermore, where it was most unnecessary and indeed unwelcome.

The distraction of self-harming

So I grew up on a complex design that combined mistrust and emotional inexperience. Where keeping quiet about feelings was encouraged, where shouting the loudest would abruptly end uncomfortable discussions, and where cuddles weren’t exactly ten a penny.

When my “suit” wasn’t protecting me, it was distracting me and numbing my pain by way of simply replacing emotional distress with something physical. Daft as it sounds, the brain doesn’t know the difference in a way. Research shows that self-harming releases natural chemicals such as endorphins and endocannabinoids — the very same euphoric chemicals released and experienced after or during a run (‘runner’s high’).

The self-harming came in many forms, from cut limbs to broken knuckles and then the more brutal approach of literally blacking it out by drinking until I was blind. And then there was the other defence — the ‘self-loving’… This came in the form of me using my sexuality as an entirely perverse way to control my environment or to seek intimacy.

It turns out I was pretty broken.

The Forthright Truth

Last week, someone asked me if I was at all worried whether these public admissions might make people wary of me. I told them that people were likely more wary of me in the days when I blindly refused to accept or acknowledge my issues. And woe betide anyone who might dare to criticise me back then…

I imagine my candour will be seen as disarming to some and disgusting to others. I respect either perspective even though these days I worry not about others’ opinions of me, and I know all too well how quickly we humans judge.

These days if I’m asked a question outright, I can only tell the absolute truth about what made me me– at the same time as providing a few self-critical observations to demonstrate evidence of change and of increasing self-awareness. Here’s the thing, though: I’m not writing these things for pity or absolution.

Creating Compassion

My last article gained some concern from people worried about my current mental state. Cool! Attention garnered: [tick…] But don’t worry about me.

The really cool thing is that these writings are designed to heighten concerns that someone you know might be suffering in silence, and for that reason, I’m happy to have created such a reaction.

To assuage any fears: I’m not suffering, and I’m not being all that silent — come to think of it. I’m OK as it goes. In fact, I’m more than OK. I’d go so far as to say I’m the happiest I’ve been in my whole life — and I’m only 43. How cool is that?! It’s funny how once I realised that happiness was the journey and not the destination, everything changed for me. One simply cannot unlearn four decades of questionable life practices in just a couple of years. Where is the fun in that?! I’m still on my healing journey, and I’m a work in progress — just like you.

The brutal way in which I write about these issues might well raise concerns over my mental well-being. However, these articles are not my cry for help. They are, in fact, a widespread call to arms, at the same time as being an ear to lend. My words are an invitation for you to truly listen to your intuition and to level up your awareness of the people around you whom you feel may be suffering. Take that first step and ask them how they are feeling. And when they brush you off, you ask them again. And again. And again.

I encourage you to view these candid scribblings as a dirty great flag being waved in the air for those who really and truly are suffering in silence.

One simply cannot unlearn four decades of questionable life practices in just a couple of years. Where is the fun in that?!

One of Many

With years of hard work and by counter-intuitively accepting shed-loads of help from others, I’ve made a bloody great dent in the process of forgiving myself. My desire to write about my life experience in such a vulnerable, bone-stripping manner is driven by the most sincere wishes to help others who don’t have the words or the fully constructed concepts to help themselves (yet). Or perhaps they just need to read stories from someone who’s got through some of the more difficult stuff — resulting in a half-decent reinvention at the ripe old age of 43. It is never too late. After all, Carl Jung said: “Life really does begin at forty. Up until then, you are just doing research.” What a legend.

My words are an invitation to truly listen to your intuition and to level up your awareness of the people around you whom you feel may be suffering.

And so, to have the desired effect, these words must be candid, and above all, they must be totally and utterly honest.

If these words can help one person make a positive shift — however small— it will all be worthwhile.

I have this daft and romantic idea that someone in need might read this. Or someone who knows someone in need might share this. And thus, one seemingly ugly, overturned stone might create a beautiful ripple effect towards unity consciousness. Worthy? Yes. True? Fuck, yes.



Martin O'Toole

Psychedelic integration coach and counsellor, How To Die Happy author, podcaster, and mental health advocate writing about healing and the Anatomy of Happy.