Mastenbroek: A JOE journalist's thoughts on the struggle for good mental health 7 years ago

Mastenbroek: A JOE journalist's thoughts on the struggle for good mental health


As far I know, which is not very far at all, there's no word in either English or Irish for the feeling that one will never be happy.


Mastenbroek, a word which looks Dutch because it is Dutch, is not a word for this feeling either. It is a polder in Zwolle. That is, a piece of land that the Dutch have gallantly retrieved from the greedy clutches of Poseidon. That is, Mastenbroek is a place that used to be submerged in water and now it's not. Now it's back on top of the world.

Today I decided that Mastenbroek is a Dutch word which means 'hope for the return of something seemingly lost.'

There were no Dutch people around to stop me from deciding it, so I decided it and so it was done. Mastenbroek.

There is, as far as I know, no word in Dutch for the feeling that one will never be happy. But! There is a word in Dutch for the very opposite of that feeling. That word is Mastenbroek.



The feeling that I will never be happy is one with which I am now, at 22 years of age, well-acquainted. We've slept on each other's couches, we've been skinny-dipping together, we're obliged to show our faces at each other's birthdays and elsewise special occasions. I don't remember when we first met so I just tell people that we go way back.

This summer, we got to know each other a lot better. Got drunk together, went home together, fooled around in the back of my dad's car up at Make Out Point. As is so often the case, it took that intimacy for me to realise that I just couldn't be around the feeling anymore. It wasn't for me.

But you know what happens when you tell a sad boy 'no', don't you? The ladies in the room know what I'm talking about. Do boys humbly accept your break-up spiel and stride proudly into the sunset, silhouetted chest puffed out against the horizon, ready to move on to whatever life has planned for them? Or do they bang on your door at four in the morning, begging to be let back into your bed and your life, pining for your love like barnacles sucking themselves tight to the bottom of a boat?


That is what happened with me and this feeling, this feeling that I won't ever be happy, a feeling that doesn't deserve a word in Irish or English or Dutch or any language at all. It stalked me. Into my home. Into my bedroom. Into my office. Into the shower. Into my relationships. Stalked me into my own skull and settled somewhere in there, sitting down in the part of the brain that conjures fear and dread and started pushing buttons like a kid in a lift.

So what happened? Well, I suppose this is where the simple part of the story ends. In early August, I became inconsolably convinced that I was suffering from cancer. In a disturbing dose of hypochondriactuality, I began to exhibit all the symptoms I needed to ruin my whole life for a month with the fear that I was harbouring at least one tumour which had already metastasised to my liver and lungs. I didn't just believe that I would never be happy. I believed that I was dying the same way that you 'believe' that you are reading these words.

My back started to hurt, my chest started to hurt, my digestive system is still just about as useful as a fire extinguisher filled with gasoline and I lost in-and-around eight kilos. I visited three doctors, including one specialist, none of whom thought there was anything wrong with me besides my diet.

Do I have cancer? Probably not to the power of a few hundred thousand. Am I still afraid?


Turns out it doesn't matter, because last week this same feeling, this Lord Voldemort of a feeling that must not be named, convinced me that somebody I may have upset online would wait for me outside of my office and murder me in cold blood. With a gun he procured. In Ireland.

Again, I need to stress that I believed this man was going to murder me just like that fat guy in glasses believed Catcher In The Rye was telling him to kill John Lennon. And that's where I drew the line.

I had never thought of myself as mentally ill until this summer. I finished college with really pleasing results and swanned into the kind of job that everybody tells you that you can't just walk into. All my worries of the past four or five years fell from my shoulders and turned to dust before they even hit the ground.

What I hate the most about this Phantom-of-the-Opera prick of a feeling is that it saddled me with worries so much worse than the real ones I had in college. The good worries about my fitness, my future, and so and on and so and forth. This feeling bestowed unto me brand new worries that don't even have any basis in reality, but have hurt me more than, say, failing my degree would have. That's what I hate the most.

I could be outside beating the concrete until my fingers are smashed to silt, punching the pavement in sheer disbelief that my life is somehow, now, the worst it has ever been. That I am further from happiness than I have ever been after working the hardest I have ever worked. Now that every short-lived stabbing pain in my side is the echo of a death knell and I can actually convince myself that people who don't even care I exist are out to kill me, I have to accept that there's just something not quite right. There is at least one carriage in my train of thought packed with drunk, disorderly dickheads.


It took six weeks for me to shake the certainty that I was dying of an almost-symptomless stage IV colon cancer. The passage of time accompanied by me not dying even a little bit was a dead giveaway on that one. As for my would be killer, I noticed him tweeting good-natured things this weekend, using no fewer than three Crying Laughing emojis. Those are not the emojis of a man who is plotting a murder.

While in the midst of crises like these, I tell myself that when they go away my life will be incredible. I will be reborn. I'll date all those girls I'd been too scared to ask out, I'll write like a combination of Kanye West and Sylvia Plath. I will conquer the world.

This time was different.This time I knew that even when I inevitably discovered that nobody was out to get me, the fear would remain. The sword of Damocles had already given me a short back and sides and it was still swinging over my head. Smiling down at me, knowing it'll nick an artery next time.

Between August and October 2015, I accepted that the feeling that I will never be happy isn't going anywhere. That, in and of itself, as much as anything can ever be in or of itself, has been a very painful lesson.

The only coping mechanism I have ever known has been to take everybody down with me. Today, I discovered a second one. Mastenbroek. The belief that not even the sea can keep us from reclaiming something that we want badly enough. I have set out to reclaim the innocent inner-peace that we all need to accept our place in the universe and make the very most of our finite time around one another.

They say Rome wasn't built in a day, and Rome was above sea-level when they started building - so God knows how long it's going to take for me to feel better. The purpose of this diary is simply to document the small steps I take forward on this mission, the setbacks I suffer and everything in between.

Carl Kinsella can be contacted on Twitter @TVsCarlKinsella.