REAL CHATS with Stephen McDonnell

REAL CHATS with Stephen McDonnell

Stephen McDonnell lives in northern England. He has survived mental illness since the age of three. He is now in his 42nd year of his life journey and using his experiences as a way to help others. 

PROJECT 375:Is there a person you admire most?

Stephen McDonnell: The most? hmm… I’d guess I’d have to say no.

I honestly see everyone as an equal regardless of age, gender, race, belief, sexual orientation, intelligence level or “social status” (the most laughable of all in my internal world 🙂 ). We could truly learn so much from each other and advance much faster if we could only shed this medieval idea of “hierarchy” and the fear that comes with ditching such ideas.

Any decent parent will tell you that there are periods in time when their child simply blows their mind with some simplistic yet bluntly truthful awareness of the world around them (before advertising and the media get a grip on them and change their perspective forever). I totally love it when I witness a mini-adult rip the carpet from underneath a pompous and sanctimonious adult with clear cut statements like “but that’s just stupid! why would anyone do/think that?”

Sure back when we ate mud and beat each other over the head with clubs for entertainment and to obtain a partner, we totally needed strong direction; but now? I think the majority of people who try and “guide” or “direct” are deluded and are doing so for selfish and nefarious means and need a jolly good talking to…

but do bear in mind I have a rather deluded view of society thanks to 40+ years of mental “illness” (I don’t see it as an illness personally by the way, I see it as a gift with a few unfortunate side effects, but apparently it’s not the done thing to suggest such things at the minute…bring back the vikings and romans I say – they knew how to treat us :-D)

However, that’s likely trés boring and not very inspiring for the readers, so I’ll try give a slightly more informative answer (hopefully).
By the way – you must excuse my bouts of narcissism – my answer to question 7 will explain why that happens (oofya! see what I did there? That’s called a “macguffin” that is – go on, spend 10 minutes looking that term up on different websites and discover what I mean by my answer to question 2 heh)

So despite not having a single person I admire the most, there is most definitely a classification of person I admire the most!
Now that might evoke images of shakespearian types with floppy hats and ballooned out shorts, or emaciated bods who look like they’ve enjoyed the charms of opium one too many times, but infact it’s quite a broad term. To me a poet is anyone who can produce an item of work that can be interpreted by everyone in a multitude of ways and all of them be absolutely correct for that person.
I suspect I’m going to overstep the mark with some people here, but religious texts like the Bible, the Quran, the Sutras, the Vedas, the Tanach and so on, all superb example of this! I love every single one of them!!! I’m sure my interpretation of each will be waaaay off most other peoples but if you can side step the feelings of invalidation for a second, you will realise that that’s ok – I don’t want to poo-poo your interpretation, I want to champion it despite it being different.

Oh darn, there goes my Borderline stuff again 🙂

Let me throw some modern-ish day names at you and then move on to the next question.

Jack Kerouac
Hunter S. Thompson
Einstein (his life observations are far superior to his maths)
Sophocles (ok so not modern in the slightest but do like to go left field every now and again)

In general, let me pitch a quote at you to end this question:
“Appreciation is a wonderful thing;
it makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well”

Voltaire said that in the 18th Century, clever chap that he was.

PROJECT 375: What is your biggest passion in life?

Stephen McDonnell: Two things that go hand in hand like nervous best friends on the first day of school: Discovery and Learning! By gosh! but I wish more people could realise how fantastic it is to discover something new on your own and learn from it! especially if it’s about yourself – It’s truly untouchable!

● Butterflies taste with their feet – imagine if we had to do that!! trips to fast food joints would be truly horrific!

● Bonobo chimpanzees use sex as a greeting – “job interviews” and “meeting new neighbours”, don’t think I need to say much more on that!

● When the Romans first invaded Britain, they thought the concept of “trousers” was utterly barbaric (as do I when drunk)!!

● When in a stressed state, your body goes into the well known “fight or flight” mode and produces a chemical called “cortisone”. This is akin to the point in Star Trek when Kirk asks Scotty to “put all power to engines!” – in simplistic terms this chemical reduces your body’s immune system and metabolism so you can either scarper like billy-o or dukes up and go mental in a fight… so ironically the best diet and wellbeing tip is to avoid stress (which diet fads and new age life principles actually increase because they are so flippin unnatural!)

● It is thought that Tyrannosaurus Rex had two brains – one in the skull and one in the dinosaur underpant area

● George Washington and Abraham Lincoln both suffered with mental health problems… as did Beethoven, Mozart, Da Vinci, Winston Churchill (who coined the phrase “black dog” for his depression)

● Marilyn Monroe and Lady Diana Princess of Wales both suffered with Borderline Personality Disorder

● The human brain is considered to actually be 3 types of brain – reptilian, mammalian and thinking brain. I’ll cut and paste to avoid diluting it with my own humorous but slightly incorrect version…

Reptilian Brain

Brainstem and cerebellum

Survival instinct

Limbic system

Wrapped around reptilian brain, includes amygdala and hippocampus

Feelings and memory formation


Outside surface, wrapped around limbic system

Language, reasoning, logic and forward planning

and so on… so so much to learn and discover!

PROJECT 375: When you wake up in the morning do you know what kind of day you will have?

Stephen McDonnell: Good grief no! Thanks to Dissociative Identity Disorder, I don’t even know which version of me I’ll initially wake up with, but you know what – I’m really quite glad despite the challenges! I would be soooo so bored if I knew exactly who I would be and what kind of day I would have. What sort of adventure would that be? It’s like going to watch a movie where you know exactly what the plot is and what the ending will be without even having ever seen it – zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz *dribble on to the person sitting next to you while fixed in an embarrassing facial pose*

PROJECT 375: Would you rather go to the theatre or a movie? Why?

Stephen McDonnell: Oh the theatre darling of course! what else? I love movies, I do – especially sci-fi and psychological thrillers, but going to a cinema really pees me off.

● I don’t want a running commentary from some unwashed anti-social simpleton thank you.

● I don’t want to be distracted by socially-numb people who feel the desperate need to light up their area every 5 minutes to check their phone. I get told off for not believing I exist without doing silly social things, so I don’t see why you “normal” or “stable” people should get away with it.

● I don’t want to be surrounded by people who are simply going because…well you know what, why DO some people go to the cinema? you know the ones I mean – they bitch and moan ALL the way through; for goodness sake bugger off get your money back – it’s really easy to do you know, even if you do have to get carpet burn as you drag your knuckles across the floor before heading off on a caveman quest for fire! I’ve done it loads of times (money back – not the knuckles thing, honest!) but usually because of the people around me and not the movie.

Sometimes the theatre can be just as bad, but at least on the whole it’s filled with people who truly want to see the show and in respectable silence. You just have to put up with the occasional sanctimonious muffin who simply MUST express to the world how knowledgeable they are on the show and how they once “met” (i.e. saw from a distance while they wondered how long they have to loiter in the organic aisle before nobody can see them) one of the stars in their local supermarket and the simply wonderful conversation they had (or rather overheard) with them…
I do apologise, I’m clearly being such a venomous tiger this evening.

PROJECT 375: What is your earliest memory of living with your mental illness?

Stephen McDonnell: Other than my answer to question 6… I guess the self-imposed isolation from toddler onwards, the lack of sleep since forever and the constant feeling of surviving rather than living. Oh that and the stupendous imagination that actually made me honestly believe in my little world of fantasy, but I do hope you can forgive me for such things, since when the world is seen through an amplified mental state, you are s**t-scared and overwhelmingly excited by it all in such measures that “normal” perception will never ever do. Just a shame such things also come with horrible stuff like narcissism, paranoia, delusions, fluctuating ego and general confusion. Me and Alice in Wonderland would have been such good friends.

PROJECT 375: If you could go back what would you tell your younger self about your future self?

Stephen McDonnell: When I was younger, anxiety about what other people would think of my “different way of thinking and seeing the world” was so crippling I developed this curious version of denial and suppression about it all (screen memory) and even intentionally “act dumb” (pseudodementia) to avoid any kind of attention.

Really my message would be – the less you worry about what others think and the more you are as true to yourself as possible, the more people find you interesting and want to be around you…not that I would have paid a ha’penny of notice to that advice of course 😀

PROJECT 375: What is your diagnosis?

Stephen McDonnell:
Of the world? a terminal case of denial I’m afraid – in the words of Ming the Merciless (Flash Gordon if you don’t know what I mean – for goodness sake watch the 80s movie or I’ll come ‘round year house and set about ya), Pathetic Earthlings! Ah not really, I think everyone is doing a jolly good job despite our pre-disposition for self-deprecation and self destruction.

For me, it’s Borderline Personality Disorder with a coping mechanism called Dissociative Identity Disorder.

In a nutshell, the former means:

● I live in a constant state of fight-or-flight thanks to a trauma-induced T-rex sized reptilian brain.

● I experience the world in extreme emotions:

○ Sadness is depression

○ Happiness is euphoria

○ Anger is raging fury

○ Interest is obsession

○ Desire is addiction

you get the idea (if you’re still even reading this!) 🙂

● I have a terrible time with feelings of abandonment – even a text message unanswered within a minute feels like the world has turned it’s back on me and is colluding at that very minute to show me up and oust me from society

● Like a sociopath burns with a desire for power and respect, I burn with a desire for love and affection

The latter means:

● It’s not like Hollywood portrays the ol’ “multiple personality disorder” as such – I’m not Stephen one day wearing a suit and tie and Stephanie the next wearing hot pants and a boob tube. Shame really – that would be fun.

● I have a core personality – the true me that is ever present and has memories of everything… except on the odd occasion and that’s called a “fugue state” – truly horrifying if you ever do experience it (and the majority of you have if you’ve ever smashed back so much booze you wake up in the morning with no recollection of the night before, relying on 3rd party stories of your exploits… except for me it happens without any intoxication – just extreme emotion)

● I have “versions” of my younger self trapped and living in my head as separate “alters”, “personalities” or “identities” – thanks to extreme traumas at that age.

● I have identities that have formed to protect those young versions of me. Much like an NFL team, some are defense, some or offense and some are even special teams (get me on a stage and you’ll see them kick in – I love those ones dearly they really are such fun and I happily take a back seat when they get going!)

● Sometimes though, it’s more like an NHL game – identities/alters switch in and out midway through a play; often without any notice.

● Each identity/alter has it’s own:

○ age
○ gender
○ er… species (yup some are pure animal)
○ intellectual level
○ tastes in all things (clothing, entertainment, food)
○ desires and needs (and yup that includes a spectrum of sexuality)
○ moods and attitudes
○ morals and opinions
○ physical stance and movement (to a degree anyway)
○ …and potentially, although unsubstantiated… mental conditions

All in all… if I’m honest, I have absolutely no association with your typical human being. I think I understand everyone to a certain degree, but my degree is more acute than obtuse (which will mean nothing if you zoned out in trigonometry at school :-D)

Like everything in life, it brings pros and cons.
Relationships – pah! impossible! Even friendships can be difficult toward impossible.
Psychological diagnosis is sadly hilarious bordering (pardon the pun) on pointless – most identities don’t want to be identified as they are protectors, and some are verging on the sociopathic when it comes to those in the medical community.

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