The power of reconnection

Niall Breslin
By Niall Breslin
A retired professional rugby and inter county football player, a multi-platinum selling song writer and music producer, public speaker and documentary maker who comes from the midlands town of Mullingar in Co. Westmeath. Co-Founder of A Lust For Life
Niall Breslin with Eoin Kelly

When I heard that my childhood friend’s Dad had passed away it ignited a confusing fusion of hazy nostalgic sentiment, unsettling legacies and customary sympathy, an unusual emotional response to what is unfortunately a verified part of life, death. However, there were complexities to our shared past that contributed to such emotive internal reverberation. I grew up with Eoin, he lived just around the corner from my home and he like the rest of our group of friends sculpted my personality, my character, my passions.

During our teenage years I spent much of my time drowning in a sea of constant, unrelenting, vicious anxiety and it was my friends, like Eoin, and my family that acted as my life jacket without even knowing it. At times I utterly isolated myself from my friends, petrified that they may sense the wall of panic I seemed to face on a daily basis. At other times I needed them so much, just to give me glimpses and gifts of normality. I also sensed perhaps that they all faced their own demons, masking them behind trivial conversations around football, shifting young ones, fighting and which was the best flavoured Woodies. It felt at times our relationships were forged because there was always a secret that was never revealed, a pain never addressed and this mentality stuck with me throughout many of my future relationships.

Eoin no doubt had his own demons, a story which is not mine to tell, but like so many young people of my generation we were actively promoted and nurtured to repress emotion and cloak pain, which if I am being honest had devastating effects on myself and many of my peers. When you repress something it will find its way out somehow and when it does the element of control around how it is expressed is often lost. The response is often in relative terms, vastly more monstrous than the initial issue.

This I suppose is one reason I am so passionate about the mental health and emotional wellbeing of our current youth generation and all of us ultimately. I truly believe we can collectively break this vicious circle that ran riot through my generation, leaving many of us with little or no emotional intelligence, resilience or capacity to cope.

Myself and Eoin went on our own journeys and began to drift apart as the reality was that the true transparency, honesty and emotional connection required for a sustainable friendship wasn’t there. Our own demons and the stigma never let us break those barriers down to create the type of friendship no doubt both us unequivocally required. Over the next few years our paths could not have become more different, so polarised. I hid behind my own fears, masking them by achievement and career while Eoin fell into a chaotic world of chronic addiction and explosively precarious behaviour. I isolated myself from him further, because as uncomfortable as I was with my own pain, I was far more uncomfortable with other people’s pain.

I would hear a constant trickling of horror stories from home about situations Eoin was getting into. While others found them humorous and comedic, I found it upsetting and soul robbing. Eoin was always the joker, an immensely funny, witty and powerfully charismatic man but combined with the issues he faced, this slowly lost its entertainment and value while others egged him on, using him to allow themselves feel like less of a car crash and it was utter bollix.

Till the day I die, I will never forget being told that Eoin had cancer and his chances of surviving weren’t good. If I am being honest I felt a concrete laden guilt. It was misguided, of course it wasn’t my fault or anything but I felt I had let him down in a way. Yet, how could I be a friend when I struggled to be a friend to myself? I threatened to pick up the phone for days but couldn’t. I simply texted him and said how sorry I was, while he replied “I am going to be ok Bres”. I didn’t believe him but fuck me did he start to fight.

I suppose it’s often at times like this in your life when you realise how truly fucking tough we can be, that years of struggling are never lost years. These times build something within you, a resilience and strength that is almost renaissance like – it resets you, can awaken something within you and offer you true perspective that wasn’t shoved down your face by some Oprah Winfrey quote but by your own internal drive to overcome whatever obstacle was placed in your way.

Eoin had dealt with a mixed cocktail of complete chaos all his life and how he responded to it makes me respect him far more than any judgement I would have ever passed towards him in the years gone by. He quite simply turned his life around. He recognised what was truly important to him and who was truly important to him. He recognised that discovering self-compassion for himself has allowed him focus on what was going to allow him happiness, something we all deserve. He addressed his addictions, he addressed his mind, he like myself began to rebuild the many bridges he tore down throughout the past, and he faced his cancer. He overcame his potentially life robbing physical illness while by default developed an approach to better let him deal with his mental demons. He didn’t stop here as he went onto to become a yoga master and set up his own school in our hometown of Mullingar, against every odd that you could place.

As I sat in his sister’s sitting room after Eoin’s dad’s funeral I can honestly say I had one of the most empowering and healing conversations I had in many years. Myself and Eoin talked for hours about things I sincerely wish I had spoken to him about as a teenager. That connection that would have bonded our friendship twenty odd years previously perhaps would have allowed us stay on the same path together. We could have embraced and supported each other’s pain rather than run from it. The influence that could have had on both our lives can never be assumed, but I am guessing it could have helped.

Peer to peer support is critical if we are to co-create a society that becomes emotionally stronger and more resilient, more accepting, more empathetic. As the rhetoric of hated and fear fills our media columns, our online platforms, our news stations, remember that you have no control over this. What you do have control over is how you respond to it.

For me, reconnecting with an old friend who went through hell, came out and went back again many times offered me much more clarity to my own journey. Reconnecting allowed me comprehend the true importance of what friendship should be but often at times isn’t able to be.

You can find out more about Eoin’s Yoga for Hardy Bucks here which takes place in Mojos Nightclub in Mullingar. Disco yoga at 7pm every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.