In November 2012 I had a mental health hospital admission, followed by multiple traumatic life events which set into motion a chain of events where I would become unrecognisable from the person I was previously. Previous to this I was riddled with self-doubt, lacked self-confidence and battled with depression, anxiety and OCD for 5 years. Immediately prior to my admission I was going through a difficult break up; my partner and I were clinging to a dead relationship, even though we were mutually destructive influences on one another. This, paired with my already compromised coping skills due to my depression, led to me becoming suicidal and I voluntarily went to hospital because my compulsive behaviour and disregard for my own safety terrified me.

During this admission to hospital I attempted to kill myself by ligature. Subsequently, I began to display symptoms of what I now know is Tourette’s syndrome, a neurological disorder which for me meant I could no longer control my movements or speech. Even at the time of writing this I still have uncontrollable movements and vocalisations which sometimes appear to be coordinated and intended, leading to all sorts of misconceptions about me.

I was eventually discharged from hospital when my level of risk to myself had decreased and I was no longer contemplating suicide. I found a great deal of support in my family and friends who helped me gain acceptance of my transformation. Gaining understanding and respect from people who already respect and love you is easy though, my next challenge was society; I still had to persevere and try to lead as normal a life I could. Facebook was great for letting my wider circle of friends and acquaintances know about my apparent odd behaviour, but still I was experiencing less than favourable treatment from society. In September 2014, my brother Patrick died suddenly from sepsis and the old me died with him; that’s when my inner activist and campaigner took control and I wanted to dedicate living my life to my brother, who couldn’t. I wanted to do more. I knew with my own experiences I could help people not feel alone and I could also inspire people who were at rock bottom to start building on that solid foundation.

I reached out to local newspapers, wanting to tell my story, wanting to help others with Tourette’s to not feel so ostracised. The Derry Journal took notice and published my story; through that I was contacted by The Nolan Show and featured in a half hour segment about my experiences called ‘Story of a Lifetime’. At this time, I was applying to university to do mental health nursing because I know my Tourette’s, my depression, my anxiety and OCD do not inhibit my ability to care – they enhance it. Other TV shows began to show interest, one notably being The Undateables. Although my love-life post Tourette’s wasn’t filled with romantic experiences, I definitely didn’t consider myself un-dateable. Life didn’t stop, and I went to university and I’m approaching my last hurdle – twitching through my dissertation.

The campaigner in me was still very much alive and growing bored of Grindr and Scruff. I decided to go out on a limb and try to kill two birds with one stone. Last year, this culminated in an attempt to find the Robin to my Batman, and I applied for the TV show First Dates. firstdatesI went on a phenomenal date, with a phenomenal man. Kai and I spoke about everything on our date and had a great laugh throughout. We touched on a variety of subjects including drag race, Britney Spears and mental health. Unfortunately, we had to go our separate ways; having commitments of our own, our short-lived relationship became the victim of circumstance. We do still talk though and hold each other in very high regard.

Following on from First Dates and the overwhelming support both Kai and I received for talking about mental illness as men who identify as LGBTQ+, my friend Davey had a proposal. After coming through the tunnel that is mental illness and seeing the light, he wanted to give something back. There was no time to lose and the quicker we got started, the quicker we would be able to help people. Cut to the birth of MenTalkHealth, a podcast produced and edited by our friend Heloise which dares to take a look at men’s mental health with both humour and brutal honesty. Our aim is to show men that mental health doesn’t have to be a scary topic to bring up, and by having genuine and honest chat about mental illness we can save lives. We’ve recorded 6 episodes at this stage and will be working with Gay Times to help promote LGBTQ+ wellbeing during mental health week 8th-14th May. Our podcast can be found on itunes and all good podcast apps by searching for MenTalkHealth UK or by searching for us on Soundcloud. You can follow @MenTalkHealthUK on twitter and find us on Facebook, or even find us via our website

My relationship status is an irrelevance at the moment and I’m hoping to avoid such distractions until after I finish my degree. My own mental health takes priority and achieving something worthwhile will help. Becoming a mental health nurse is one of the ways I feel a sense of achievement and purpose, it reminds me every day of the importance of loving yourself first.




Damian Friel, 26, from Derry, lives in Brighton and is studying to be a mental health nurse.
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