This week on Talk Learn Connect, Writer Yvonne Reddin asks friend and Mental Health Campaigner, Keith Kelly to share his story on his path to near destruction.  How he took his life back and found a way to help others with his own mental health initiative - Jumpers for Goalposts (J4G)

I wanted to highlight more awareness on men’s mental health. You have overcome a lot of trauma in your life and come out the other end.  Can you share your story?

I suppose looking back, things started to go wrong for me as far back as 2006 when a neighbour began a series of incidents out of the blue that would impact hugely on my mental health.  We had always got on and never had bad words between each other.
Over the next two years he continuously did all manner of strange things to torment me and my family.
I tried many times to mediate with him and his family but it fell on deaf ears. I also made at least 10/12 complaints to the Garda always attempting to go through the appropriate channels to get to the bottom of the problem but to no avail.
Keith Kelly TLC article

"It culminated in Jan 2008 at 5am with him breaking into my home by throwing my garden bench through the front window and entering my house with a knife.  It resulted in me being stabbed numerous times -missing the main artery to my heart by millimetres and puncturing my lungs"

After spending some time in hospital where they were able to patch up my physical wounds, It was my mental health that began to deteriorate.  Over the next five years whilst hiding it as best I could from everyone - my life had become unbearable.
I attended some counselling, but I was unable to absorb anything at all from it; I felt a complete failure.  My internal dialogue and conversations I was having with myself was constantly been put down by my inner critics- my inner demons.
The side effects included my inability to protect my family home, nightmares, flashbacks, carrying shame (which I now know wasn’t mine to carry) anger, rage and revenge.

"I had a huge fear of the dark, I was isolating unable to communicate, afraid to show anyone how vulnerable I had become - I was suffering with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)"

Trauma is a personal thing and when ignored unfortunately those silent screams continue internally, heard only by the one held captive by that trauma.  I always tried to maintain a sense of normality to those around me and looking back now - I was just surviving, not healing.
I was living in a state of fight or flight all the time, with a heightened sense of awareness, always on edge as if awaiting to be attacked at any time.
Gambling, alcohol and drugs became my escape from that pain.  When you are suffering with PTSD you become a huge risk taker because you have lost all respect for life.  I hated myself, it all just wore me down, I felt I was just a burden to others.
In 2013, I tried to end all that pain by overdosing.
Thankfully, I wasn’t successful.  Eventually speaking to my doctor and family, I decided to go back to counselling. My self-esteem and confidence was shattered but I was encouraged to try some voluntary work.  A charity called Suicide or Survive (SOS) gave me the opportunity to start rebuilding myself with the help of some wonderful people.
Over the next few years, I went on many self-development courses, well being workshops, wellness programmes and facilitator training courses.
Going to events, enabled me to meet so many people along the way who have struggled with their mental health and have overcome many challenges but are now able to live very productive lives. My creativity, confidence and self-esteem came back and I was at last able to understand that for me isolation was not where I was gonna heal.
 It was in the community of people that I would begin to thrive.
I went back to education and studied counselling skills in Maynooth University, also completing the Train the Trainer Facilitation course with Mental Health Ireland.  I am now a fully qualified facilitator in delivering WRAP (a mental health programme) in communities, prisons and other services around the country.
Do I still have tough days? The answer to that would be YES but I now have the tools to navigate my way back to a place of wellness much quicker than before.   It’s taken an awful long time to get to where I am in life now and I have found out so much about myself.
We all have mental health but maybe we tend to push it to one side until we’re really struggling.  We need to take great care of our mental health just like we take care of our dental health (we brush our teeth daily so they don’t decay) We need to think of our mental health in the same way.
What I have learned, and I can only speak from my own experience (because there is no one way) is that for me talking really helps, people can and do recover every single day.

 

"J4G gives men an opportunity to leave the ego behind, come together to share a story or two, check in on how life is going on for each other and certainly share some much needed laughter"

How do you think men’s mental health is portrayed in the media and is there enough awareness now compared to ten years ago?

I still think we can do so much more, in the past number of years I have travelled the country going to recovery colleges.  Advanced Recovery Ireland (ARI) is where people from different services come together to share information and stories.  Unfortunately, there is a severe lack of funding in Ireland in the mental health sector.
Yes, there is lots more exposure around awareness and while there has been huge progress over the past ten years - the stigma surrounding mental health still needs to be addressed.
I would love to see schools bring wellness/ mental health programmes in as part of the curriculum at the secondary level.

Your initiative ‘Jumpers for Goalposts' (J4G) has been such a success, it shows how a simple idea can be so effective. Can you tell us more about J4G?

J4G’s success stemmed from a poem I wrote in 2017 called No More Jumpers Thrown Down which went viral and has been viewed over 700,000 times across social media platforms. It’s about me reminiscing about my youth. About how we would leave the house early of a Summers morning, get a ball in a field, throw some jumpers down as goalposts and play for hours on end.
Throughout the day lads would arrive and just join in, that was how we spent our day, often missing dinners and arriving home long after the streetlights had come on.
Following on from the poems success, I received many messages from around the globe from people recalling their own days of playing J4G. From this response, I decided to put out an invitation on Facebook to see if men 18 years and older were interested in an old school game of ball.
There was lots of positivity surrounding my post, so I set a date/time for the following week and over 50 people turned up.  We had a great evening full of laughter, misplaced passes, and plenty of shots off target but it was so simple and those who couldn’t make it asked when the next game was on.
It has now travelled to many different counties and we even played a game at Tallaght stadium in front of 6,500 fans on a European night for Shamrock Rovers. J4G gives men an opportunity to leave the ego behind, come together to share a story or two, check in on how life is going on for each other and certainly share some much needed laughter.
It’s a way to make a real connection with fellow men, start that conversation and if we can signpost anyone who is struggling in the right direction- that’s what we can do.
I have had great support from Michael Nolan, Graham Merrigan and Mark Merrrigan. J4G has been given a platform to talk about men’s mental health on The Ryan Tubridy show and other radio stations, along with many national newspapers.

 

Keith Kelly Photo TLC Article
!970's photo Monkstown kids

"The positivity surrounding J4G has surprised us all but it’s become our tribe, our community"

We have had around 1,600 men out playing J4G under the banner of men’s mental health, raising awareness and funds for charity Suicide or Survive. It has been a great way to bring communities together; it’s totally non-competitive and always ends with the next goal is the winner.
We have a J4G Facebook page and a website with all sorts of brilliant videos from games, interviews with ex professionals.  We also did a Christmas special with legends from the past which can be seen on the website.
The interest has been phenomenal with Irish Internationals Richie Sadlier, Keith Fahy playing with us down the end field.  Additional participants have included Paul Howard, Eoin Mc Devitt, Pat Flynn and many more ex LOI stars turning up and having a game.

How have you managed during the pandemic, in particular the beginning, when restrictions were extreme and how do you think ‘Jumpers for Goalposts’ will survive with all the restrictions still in place?

I’ve managed just fine during the pandemic, there have been days when I might have a sense of frustration and there’s been days when I have felt fed up.  I am lucky to be living beside Killiney beach and Killiney hill so I always get out with my dog for a stroll on a daily basis.
I find sitting in nature great for the head, I read a lot now, listen to some great podcasts and also do lots of journaling. There was a time in my life when I didn’t appreciate nature or just sitting easy.
We had huge plans for J4G that would’ve happened in June and Covid-19 destroyed those plans but there are far more devastating things going on for others, so many lives lost- businesses gone. We are going to see some tough times ahead and we feel J4G will certainly be welcomed back when restrictions are lifted because communities will find great healing in coming together.
Covid-19 has forced us as people to shut down socially and to avoid any real type of social contact we are used to.  I think the longer we feel that sense of disconnection the tougher it can be to reverse that. We need to show a lot of compassion to others and plenty of reassurance that it’ll be ok to step outside.

"J4G can create that safe, fun, environment and we will come back stronger than before - it’s the simple things in life that make such a vast difference in people’s lives"

Meeting up for a chat, laughing together over something silly, kicking a ball about with old mates and not being judged because of the level of ones ability. Sharing an aul tale or two, making a connection on a human level and being part of a tribe were people value you - J4G gives you all of the above and more.

In your opinion, is there more that could be applied around mental health, what would you like to see modified or introduced?

There are always improvements that can be made around mental health.  I believe for me and the J4G community, its about spreading awareness and to share our own experiences.
We need to live in a society where people are comfortable enough to share when they feel vulnerable - without being judged.
Are there enough services available – NO.
How can we change this?
By coming together and becoming community activists, advocating for the changes we want to see at a community level first because that’s were we live.
That’s where our focus should be and if we can do that through J4G and also put a smile on peoples faces - Well everyone’s a winner in my book.
Keith Kelly J4G photo

To find out more information about Jumpers for Goalposts.  Visit the website:

www.jumpersforgoalposts.ie

You can also find Jumpers for Goalposts on Social Media:

Facebook: www.facebook.com/jumpersforgoalposts.ie/
Contact Keith by Email: keithkelly97@gmail.com