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Mind over matter

Blizzards frontman Bressie told David Hennessy about bringing his live podcast show to the UK, how he hit ‘rock bottom’ with his own mental health and when he was very close to going in midfield for Neasden Gaels.

Mullingar’s Niall Breslin, or Bressie as he is better known, has worn many hats in his time.

He’s been known as lead singer of the Blizzards and a solo performer.

He’s also been a coach on The Voice of Ireland and acted in Chris O’Dowd’s Moone Boy.

Not to forget his sporting accomplishments. Niall played rugby alongside the likes of Brian O’Driscoll at Leinster as well as playing for Ireland in the Under-21 World Cup.

Bressie has also played underage Gaelic football for Westmeath, winning an Under- 21 provincial title with them.

Previously based in London for four years, he also very nearly played for Neasden Gaels but we’ll get to that later.

But perhaps more important to him than any of these, Bressie is a mental health activist and podcaster.

He has been open about his own struggles and it was in 2019 that Bressie launched the Where is My Mind? podcast to focus on mental health issues.

He followed this by last year launching a series focusing on mental wellbeing and meditation called Wake Up/Wind Down.

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Bressie brings Where is My Mind? live show to the UK next year.

Bressie told The Irish World that podcasting is the best of both worlds for him: “I feel most comfortable combining my two favourite things in the world, which is performing and broadcasting.

“And in a live podcast scenario, I get to do that.

“And the show won’t just be me sitting on a couch talking shite for an hour and a half. You’ve got to bring something to these shows.

“I think live podcasting needs to up it’s game a little bit.

“There will be interviews with some incredible people, it’ll be very irreverent, it’ll be quite funny. The mind is hilarious.

“Some of the topics that we deal with in the podcast are heavy. But we have to deal with those things and not be afraid to talk about this stuff.

“The whole thing for me is when people leave that live podcast, I need to have given them something to take away that they can actually apply.

“It’s basically telling the story of the mind and my mind, essentially. And how utterly f**ked up it was for so long and why it was so dysfunctional and how I started to untangle it a little bit and figure it all out.”

Bressie has spoken openly about the anxiety that plagued him through his youth. It is the subject of his book, Me and My Mate Jeffrey.

“From 13 years of age, it was a cocktail of different things and maybe post-traumatic stress- Deep, deep, deep anxiety disorder, panic disorder, panic attacks, insomnia- all through my teenage years utterly not knowing what it was.

“I remember Kurt Cobain died when I was 14, and asking the Christian Brother what happened and he punched my desk and called him a coward.

“This is what we were exposed to in the 80s and 90s.

“I used to think if I ever talked about it, that I’d end up in the psychiatric hospital in Mullingar called St. Loman’s. This was going on internally all the time.

“And that continued through my professional rugby career, until I was about 30 years of age, and I just utterly broke down.”

When he experienced a severe panic attack on a live show taping during the first season of The Voice of Ireland, Bressie sought professional help.

“When you hit rock bottom, you have two options: Either you stay there, or you find a way out.

“And that is ultimately what I had to do. And I’m still on that journey.

“That led me back to academia, it led me back into years of therapy, years of detangling myself, years of exploring information and education.

“I don’t want to be cured. I just want to feel happy, I just want to feel connected to the world.

“I want to feel that I don’t go through each day completely clouded.

“And I can happily say, ‘I’m there’. But I’m not there all the time.

“Because being a human is f**king hard sometimes.”

Bressie got his Master’s degree in mindfulness-based interventions from UCD’s school of psychology. He’s also planning on doing a PhD on the neuroscience of the developing brain.

Bressie had no one to talk to when he struggling in his youth.

Through his charity, A Lust for Life, he is working with schools in Ireland to give children the tools to address mental health problems when they arise.

“In Ireland, I know what’s not going to fix it. Our health system isn’t going to fix it. I know that.

“Our health system just isn’t good enough, especially in the area of mental health.

“But I know what we have in Ireland is an incredible education system and incredible teachers.

“So I said, ‘That’s the way we got to take this’.

“So I set up A Lust for Life. We’re in 450 primary schools across Ireland now.

“We aim to be in every primary school in Ireland in the next two years.

“We will teach that generation emotional intelligence, emotional literacy, connection, all this stuff.

Bressie with A Lust for Life Co- Founde and acting CEO Paula McLoughlin.

“And my dream is that it then gets built into the curriculum at that level.

“I don’t want to just be someone who theorizes on this stuff and commentates on it.

“I’ve always wanted to figure out what can I do to use my platform to drive a change and a shift in how we talk about this stuff.”

There’s greater sensitivity around the subject of mental health than ever before due to figures like Bressie speaking up on the subject.

Does he feel that the Irish are getting better at talking about these things when in the past we may have bottled it up?

“Yeah, but I think we need to understand why we did bottle it up before we move forward at any kind of rate of knots.

“If you look at things like colonialization, Catholicism- We as people never really had our own values. We were always told what to be and what to feel.

“The Catholic Church in Ireland abused their power at a pretty gargantuan level and that confused a lot of us, I think.

“In Ireland, we’ve never been particularly good at expressing ourselves and the reason we’re not is because I think people are really uncomfortable with other people’s pain.

“We forced them to internalize it, to quieten it down, to push it inwards and with that generally comes things like addiction.

“And that is exactly what happened to me.

“In Ireland, we’re definitely progressing but we still have systematic stigmas here. We still have huge issues.

“I was going for a mortgage recently and I was asked all these questions about my mental health and very little about my heart and my organs.

“There’s loads of stigmas that actually exist at a systematic level.

“We need to remove them before we really shift the societal ones.

“We are moving forward and in Ireland there has been a huge, huge, huge growth in how we speak and address it but our system has regressed.

“Our system is still really poor. We only spend 6% of our entire health budget on mental health.

“So we need to be far more holistic about how we look at mental health, I think.

“And it’s not just medical, it has to be psychosocial and needs to be all those different elements.

“We need to understand trauma at a deeper level because in Ireland we have collective and individual trauma.

“We’re moving forward but we have to be careful. We can’t fast forward this stuff. It’s gonna take time.”

It has been said since very early on that mental health is one of the indirect casualties of the crisis.

“Like everybody, I found those moments of apathy and languishing where you just felt a little bit low, but we had to expect that.

“That’s a normal, rational human response.

“What I try to say to people is: If you were overwhelmed, if you were distressed, if you were randomly going screaming at birds, if you hated your kids for 20 seconds- These are okay, these are normal.

“This is a pandemic, this is as tough as it gets.

“You’ll see people out there talking about things like resilience or needing more resilience- We don’t, the very definition of resilience is what we’ve all just gone through.

“The point is saying to people, ‘Maybe you’re a little tougher than you actually gave yourself credit for because if someone told you that you would have had to deal with all this a few years ago, you would have gone, ‘I couldn’t do that’. But you did do it.”

Bressie came to prominence as the frontman of The Blizzards in 2005. The band became known for songs like Fantasy, War of Words and Trust Me, I’m A Doctor.

Their debut album A Public Display of Affection went to number four in the Irish album charts in 2006.

The 2008 follow-up Domino Effect went to number two.

The band would then take a hiatus from 2010 until they announced their reunion in 2015.

During that period, Bressie would have solo success with the albums Colourblind Stereo and Rage and Romance, both making the top ten in Ireland with the latter making it to number one.

They have since released a string of singles like Drop Down the Anchor and Perfect on Paper and played stages like Electric Picnic.

“We always remained very close friends,” he says of reforming with the band which includes his partner Louize Carroll as bassist.

“The reasoning was very, very honest and transparent.

“We never ever had felt like we broke up, we just kind of walked away from it for a while. So getting back wasn’t a problem.”

Bressie remembers the time the band got to support the Australian stadium rockers AC/DC as a moment that stands out.

“Supporting AC/DC was the pinnacle of our journey.

“Standing on that stage in front of 70,000 AC/DC fans is the most terrifying things you’ll ever do in your life.

“But we did it and I was thinking, ‘That drummer used to play drums in my head in school. Can you do believe we’re doing this?’

“Sometimes those moments pass you by.

“And sometimes you really revel in them.

“And I’m just glad that I was able to revel in a few of them.

“I think there’s a new element of, I suppose, motivation in what we’re doing.

“We’re not doing it for a living. We do it because we love it, because it’s a release, because it’s an important aspect to our friendships and our lives. That’s the approach we took.

“The last time we were way too intense.

“We were so hellbent on success that we didn’t even enjoy the actual process of it, so we’re not doing that this time.”

However, it was success as a sportsman that came to Bressie first with his rugby career.

Picked up by Leinster, he played 14 senior games for the province alongside the likes of Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy.

He also played for Ireland in the Under-21 World Cup.

But he was plagued by injuries and decided to give the sport up.

But he does credit being in that environment for so long as teaching him what was required to make it to the top in anything.

“I look back and I only wish I was in a space to have enjoyed it more because it was a huge privilege and opportunity for me to do that stuff and to play with those types of players and to see the level that they bring to everything they do.

“It really taught me that discipline for everything I do in life, that if you’re going to succeed in anything, it does require huge levels of work and focus. That is what it taught me.

“But I miss it. I miss Gaelic more than I miss rugby.

“I just find the game of Gaelic a little bit more pure and a little bit more simple.

“Rugby is very, very complicated and lots of rules that I barely understood.

“Gaelic, there’s a beauty to its purity when it’s played right.

“And I miss that.”

Bressie was once very close to playing with Neasden Gaels only to shy away from it because of the injury problems. He had also yet to start wrestling with his demons.

“It was on the cards, but the amount of injuries that I’ve had I was just saying, ‘Will I go back? No, I just can’t. I’ve punished my body too much’.

“I was gonna do it for social reasons.

“In London I was in a weird place and space, and I just shied away from it, I suppose.

“I didn’t trust my body essentially. So I didn’t do it. But I was very close to signing up and going in midfield for them.”

Bressie’s Where is My Mind? tour comes to Galway Town Hall on Tuesday 1 February, Waterford Theatre Royal on Wednesday 2 February, Dublin Olympia on Thursday 3 February, Killarney INEC on Friday 4 February, Lime Tree in Limerick on Saturday 5 February,  Oran Mor in Glasgow on Friday 11 February, The Anthony Burgess Foundation in Manchester on Saturday 12 February and Colours in London on Sunday 13 February.

For more information, click here.

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