6th September 2022
Breathe. August was a mess. A hot, sweaty, uncomfortable mess. Just about everything in my life was tossed into a tornado. And honestly, I was right in there with it, being tossed around just like the rest.
I ended the month in freefall. Lost my job, relationship on the rocks, crashed the car, broke up with friends, was abandoned. Lost and found. My friends and new found family in Austin found me. They caught me. I was in free fall and not a single one of them let me down. I never hit the bottom. Because they were there by my side every step of the way.
Where do I even begin? It was brutal. Months and months of mental health trauma coming to a head. Working my ass off. Getting back into a groove with friendships and colleagues old and new, only to have the rug pulled from underneath me with absolutely no warning.
Fuck. I was just getting going again!! This year, I left Capital Factory in February to focus on myself and I really did spend the spring doing just that. Focusing on myself. I worked so hard, explored depths of myself and my trauma that I had never gone to before. Sexual assault, childhood hurts that I had never acknowledged, the turbulent years everyone goes through as a teenager. L made space and gave me a level of security and permission that allowed me to “go there” for the first time in my life.
It was rough. But it was kind of fun? Like peeling back the layers of an onion. At first your eyes are red and raw, lots of crying. But with each layer you get to a deeper level of understanding. And the whole thing, all of it, gets smaller. You’re dealing with one layer, one hurt at a time. And the outer ones are bigger. But once you’ve shed them that’s it, they’re gone and you can discard them. Having said that, the closer you get to the centre, the more difficult it gets. Because those layers haven’t seen the light of day in a very long time, maybe not ever. The layers are smaller, but they’re just if not more significant.
I’ve been working on the outer layers my entire life, but those smaller layers were fresh. Untouched. Delving into each of them was like having my heart and head wrenched open. It was painful, but it was do-able. The more you practise, the easier it gets. With each one a weight was lifted off my shoulders. Getting lighter and lighter and lighter until July when I really started to feel like Jess again. And then something magical happened. Everything I had been missing, everything I had been hoping and dreaming, started to fall into place. All of these dreams and wishes that I had been working on for so long suddenly found the light of day.
I met the most incredible people and started my dream job. My relationship was evolving. We were on track. I was saving to buy a house - and the timeline looked like it was going to happen sooner rather than later. It was finally possible! A home, a place to call my own. Safe, secure, mine, ours. Home. Wow that sounds so good. It looked so good in my mind. Property prices in Austin are crazy but the market was starting to look a little more sensible, I was going to be able to finally afford it. Rooms - plural. Multiple. My own kitchen. My own fridge. My own paintings on the walls and a bed I could crawl into a feel held by when the day preceding the evening was tough. Friends, oh so many wonderful friends. Hanging out, swimming in the springs. Biohacking, working out and taking care of my body. Cold plunges and saunas. Stem cell supplements. Healing the traumatised parts of my physical body and soul. One day at a time. I kept putting one foot in front of the other. I was open to and receiving so much help. Seeing a trauma masseuse, mentors, working with E who melted away so much of the subconscious pain still being carried by my skin and bones. Career. Making the world a slightly less dangerous place. Working on developing a brand that was going to change the wellness game. Supplements with no fillers, no rubbish, nothing poisonous entering the body. Building out a tech platform to support and enable the behavioural changes that would transform the health of the American population. To begin with, the goals were absolutely international, global. Olympic.
And then the winds started to swirl. One commitment too many. One misunderstanding. Communication wires crossed, until they were ultimately severed. I still don’t really understand what happened. One day I was working my booty off and making incredible progress, the next I was unemployed and out of pocket. I’m lost, hurt, confused and honestly somewhat scared. I have no idea how employment law works in the US. Long story short people are not protected, companies are. I turned to friends and family clutching at straws for explanations. Their advice? “Lawyer up and sue. Go after them. Ruin them.” I was shocked. How could you do that to someone or a team you cared about? That you thought cared about you?
I still don’t really know what to make of it all.
Mostly, I’m upset with myself. I feel as though I got excited and let myself down. I thought I was doing all the right things, but I guess I wasn’t. Or at the very least that someone else thought I wasn’t. By the numbers, I was crushing it.
But life isn’t about numbers. Life isn’t about check boxes. Life is about waking up healthy, surrounded by the people you love and care for. And going to sleep the same way. What happens in between is less important in my opinion.
The past month I’ve cried more than I ever have before. I would have never guessed I was still carrying so much pain. So much weight. Everything that has happened this summer has felt like a test. Since 2018, life has been turbulent. I fell into depression for the first time following my assault and have struggled to get back to a consistent baseline since. Summer 2020, I started my first company and had my first experience with mania. An episode so scary and unsettling that I would never wish it upon anyone, not my worst enemy. I left for Oxford that September and lasted 3 days before the burnout hit me. I had a breakdown and returned home to Ireland where I spent almost 8 months in bed. Recovering.
Coming out of that low, I started writing again. I put together my first book, “What Do I Know?”. A collection of poetry and prose I had written over the previous three years, desperately trying to make sense of the world I found myself navigating.
Summer 2021, I accepted help for the first time. After months of waiting to see a psychiatrist, I was finally seen and tested for every mental illness under the sun. Turns out I had some features of many, but nothing strong enough to be diagnosable. A classic case of some level of ADHD combined with trauma and PTSD. Personality disorders are so common in people like me. Depression runs in my family. It all started to make sense, finally. It was still scary, but I had words to explain my story and I had a support network of family, friends and medics.
Then I decided to go to London and had another episode. This one was incredibly short lived compared to the first, but I ended up in an ambulance outside the Irish embassy and came home to go to hospital. I had never been in hospital before for anything other than routine surgery - wisdom teeth and the like. I’ve never even broken a bone and hospitals scare me. That summer, I lost the will to live.
Why me? Why was it my fault? Why now? Why just as things are looking up? Why does this annual cycle of many many dark months keep happening and why do things look up in the summer until something snaps and I go off the charts? Why the extremes? If the medics are telling me I don’t have bipolar than what the fuck is this and how can I make it stop? Will I have to live like this for the rest of my life? Because that life is not worth living to me. That life is so numb. So damaging. So heartbreaking for everyone involved. A life of creation and destruction.
So that was it. I took myself to my local police station because I had convinced myself that I was a danger to myself and they took me to hospital. The detective was nothing short of incredible. She made me feel so safe, and less alone. I’ve never looked at a law enforcement officer the same way since. Most of them are heroes in my eyes. The doctors were fine, the hospital was scary and didn’t want to be there. But I didn’t want to be anywhere, and they helped me.
I was stable enough to go home that I returned to our family home and sat patiently for weeks as we waited for a bed for me in the psychiatric unit. During those weeks, I resolved that dying wasn’t really an option. Even if it was the only way out, it was the weak way out, and I wasn’t strong enough to actually follow through. Instead of coming up with 13 reasons to die, I worked on coming up with 13 reasons to live. I spent days toying with reasons in my mind. Writing them out, erasing them, coming up with new ones. I played the piano, walked the dogs and swam in the Ocean. I saw some friends again for the first time in a very long time. I apologised. I can never take back the pain and angst I caused them, but I was able to say sorry, and mean it. I still do.
By the time the bed was ready for me, I was exhausted, but had found my “why” again. And so I didn’t spend more than a long weekend in the hospital. There were others waiting on a bed that needed it much more than I did. We came up with an emergency plan should my mental health start to slip again and they sent me on my merry way. But I was far from merry. I wanted to start again. I wanted to start from scratch. I wanted to draw a line in the sand and move forward. I was broken, exhausted, hurting, but ready to mend.
That’s when I met L. He listened, he understood, he was there for me, and didn’t care about what I had been through. He cared about where I was now and where I was headed.
Three months later, I moved to Austin.
And this past week, I left Austin.
What happened in between is a story for another day. A story of love, of growth, of putting someone else first. Of symbiosis, of hurt, of suffering for the people you love. Of learning how to heal and grow. Austin was the first place I’ve ever lived in that afforded me both the space and freedom to focus on myself. To let go of the Type A aggressively ambitious Jess and lean into the things that are really important in life. L showed me how to be kind to myself. And I learned. Slowly. So slowly. But I learned. This past year has been transformative and I will never be the broken version of Jess that found herself back home in her childhood bedroom in the autumn of 2020 ever again. Because I’ve learned how to take care of myself. I’ve learned how to stand up for myself, and I’ve learned that I’m absolutely useless to everyone else if I’m not useful, loving, attentive and kind to myself.
What’s next? Great question. At this stage it’s anyone’s guess. I think it’s time to draw a line in the sand. To put the summer of 2022 to rest and test the waters once more. Because it is a test, one I feel very cautious about taking. I’m exhausted, and hurting. But I think I’m finally ready for the next chapter. I’m finally ready to close the door. Blue was the theme of my first book. The letters made up the chapters, and the chapters corresponded to stages of grief, stages of trauma. B L U E. Bury, let go, understand, emerge. I’ve been through the same cycle for four years now. And each time I emerged, I was certain that that would be the last time. This time, however, feels different. I’ve been hurt since I felt better, and I have dealt with the new hurt differently. I’ve made space for it. I’ve honoured it. I’ve sat with it. It sucks and is far from fun, but I’m not burying things any more. I’m not running away. I’ve done some running away physically, but not emotionally. You can’t run away from your problems. They come with you.
I’ve been being chased by mine my entire life. The escape artist. The runaway. “Jess catches flights not feelings”... my friends always used to tease me. But I’ve started to fall in love with those feelings. The good ones and the bad ones. Because I’ve realised that we’re all made up of parts. Good ones and bad ones. And both are equally important. Because all of the parts add up to you. They are the essence of your being. My bad parts are still part of me. I can choose to hate them and shut them down. But why would you ever choose to hate yourself? To give out to yourself? Gosh the world is a difficult place to thrive in as it is. Do me a favour and promise me you’ll be your own best friend, will you? Then you’ll always have at least one ally, even when the going gets tough.
I have me. I have Jessica Sinéad O’Leary. And Jessica is more than enough.
I’ve been burned, torched, most recently alive at the stake. But I still have me. And the challenges will come and go but I’ll always stay. Burned to the ground. But staying. That's where I’m at right now. And the best thing about ashes? They’re made of carbon. Just like us people. Almost 8 billion of us. Made of carbon, water and not much else. Stardust. Birth and death. Opposite sides of the same coin. I’ve died. So many goddamn times. I’m finally ready to be born again. To rise from the ashes. Everything has been blue. But now it’s red.