I’ve had an extraordinary year so far in terms of meeting some of my biggest idols and role models. I promise I’m not going to run through all of them, though. Only the three most important.
This year I decided to head to Wales to attend the Hay Festival for the first time ever. I met a few inspiring people while I was there, but two in particular are going to feature in this piece; starting with Noel Fitzpatrick.
Those of you who are invested in the world of animal rescue probably know immediately who I’m talking about; the rest of you probably know this wonderful man as The Supervet. He’s working to bridge the gap between medicine for humans and animals by fitting prosthetic limbs to animals and performing surgeries that most veterinarians wouldn’t even consider attempting.
Thinking back on our brief meeting, I’m still overwhelmed with emotion. You have to understand that this man is everything I wanted to be growing up. Life just had other plans. Still, when I saw my opportunity, I ran up to Noel, shook his hand, bathed in his ultra-intense eye-contact, and thanked him.
Whilst I may not be quite so active in the animal kingdom any more, he is still a huge inspiration to me. This is a man who fought the odds and now, at the age of 49, he’s already created a legacy for himself. People won’t be forgetting him in a hurry.
Being able to tell him to his face how much everything he’s doing means to me was a terrific honour, and a memory I’m going to hold close to my heart for the rest of my days.
The second person I want to tell you about is Shane Koyczan.
Shane is a spoken word artist whom I’ve admired immensely ever since seeing him recite his poem To This Day at a TED event. Once again, this is a man who hasn’t had the easiest of lives, but he’s fought and he’s made something of himself.
When I got the opportunity to see him live in Dublin, I scraped together every penny I had to make it work. That is how I came to find myself sat beside this utterly incredible human being, telling him that his poems had helped me come to the decision to accept help in the form of medication.
And he looked at me, and he listened, and he spoke to me as though I was a friend rather than a stranger who’d accidentally stumbled across his work online one day a couple of years ago. This was a man who understood the weight of what I was finally in a position to tell me.
He had played a part in saving me.
Finally, I had the utmost honour of meeting Stephen Fry, also at the Hay Festival. Now, I’m sure that you’ll be as frustrated as I later was when I tell you that I didn’t gush and tell him how big an inspiration he is to me.
This is a man who is in no small part responsible for how open and accepting I am regarding my mental illness these days. I am following the example set by Stephen and those who have come before and after him, and I missed the opportunity to tell him how much that means to me. I won’t give up though – I’ll track you down another time Stephen, and I will tell you how incredible you are!
Now, I’m sure these three experiences don’t mean a whole lot to you. You may be a little envious at most, but the silken thread linking these encounters is one that only I’m aware of as yet.
Allow me to explain.
Noel represents everything I once wanted to be and worked so hard to become. He’s out there saving the animals, and at a guess they are in some way saving him, too, just as they did me on several occasions.
The path I was on changed as my mental illness became more and more severe. Eventually I found myself leaving the world of animal rescue altogether due to a culmination of negativity. It was the only way I would be able to keep my head above water.
Later, I went on to discover Shane’s poetry. It was, and still is, a reminder that I’m not alone, that there are thousands of people out there feeling exactly how I have felt, and still feel on occasion.
“Sometimes being drug free has less to do with addiction, and more to do with sanity.” -Shane Koyczan.
I’d go so far as to say that Shane’s words were the deciding factor for me when it came to asking my doctor if we could talk about the possibility of starting taking anti-depressants. Being able to tell someone that they unwittingly played a role in saving you from your own mind is such a significant experience that I don’t dare even attempt to sum it up. Sometimes words aren’t enough.
And finally there’s Stephen. Once again, I’m finding that words are simply failing me. This is a man who opened up about his mental illness when it was frowned upon more so than it is today. Despite that, he’s still being honest and open, raw and real. That in itself is an admirable act.
People often tell me that what I do is “brave”, in some way. I respectfully disagree. Nobody knows who I am; Stephen is in the public eye. He is the one who is brave; I am not. I have the ability to move on and attain a fresh start should my mental health make it necessary; Stephen Fry and so many other public figures do not have that luxury.
I hope that someday I have the poise, intelligence, and sheer strength that Stephen, and indeed the other two men I’ve mentioned in this piece, possess today.