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Barry’s story: Coping with loss and finding himself

Journey through grief and loss which led to self-discovery, music and an annual challenge in memory of Barry’s mum. Now, as an outreach worker, he helps others improve their mental health.

Barry

Barry’s life took a sharp turn when he was just nine years old. The loss of his mother left him grappling with emotions he couldn’t quite comprehend. It wasn’t until years later, during counselling sessions, that he truly confronted the damage he’d unknowingly inflicted upon himself while trying to cope. With the help of friends and loved ones, he found a way to turn the reminder of loss into a growing experience. 

During his early teens, Barry turned to writing as a form of therapy. Unable to articulate his feelings, he poured his innermost thoughts onto paper in the privacy of his bedroom. Reflecting on this period, he recalled:  

“I would let all these demons out and try to piece together why I was thinking these things. It really helped and when I eventually found my voice, those years spent writing my script became pivotal in accurately describing how I felt and how I had been feeling for so many years.”  

Writing was a safe space for Barry, where he could sort through his emotions. He found another outlet in music, particularly drawn to the rough and unfiltered sounds of grunge, punk and hardcore. He found comfort in the chaotic energy of punk shows, where he felt a sense of belonging among others who shared his feelings of pain, anxiousness, loneliness and emptiness. 

“The unique formula of being able to take my writing and make something artistic – something positive out of it – while giving a very physical performance was better than any treatment I could have paid for.

“In amongst all of it, I also found true community, family and a sense of belonging that I had longed for in those years spent lost.”

Over the next two decades, Barry fully immersed himself in the music scene. He found relief in creating art and combining words with melody. However, the journey was not without challenges. Barry faced failed relationships, substance use, financial worries and a lack of prospects for the future. These led him to reassess his direction and priorities. Although he did not have to give up his passion for music, he realised he needed to make changes.  

Since losing his mum, he also experienced the loss of all his grandparents, a good friend in tragic circumstances and his closest aunt (mum’s sister). He realised he still couldn’t cope with grief and every year, on the anniversary of his mum’s death, Barry found himself spiralling. He developed night terrors, causing issues with sleep and heightened anxiety.  With the support and encouragement of his partner (now wife), he sought professional help for the first time.

He began sessions with a bereavement counsellor while also seeing a psychologist. They offered him empathy, understanding and acknowledged his pain. He introduced some CBT tools and meditation breathing techniques.

Determined to turn his pain into something positive, Barry decided to reclaim the anniversary of his mother’s death by organising a charity event in her memory. One such event, a charity fundraiser hike up Ben Nevis, proved to be a turning point for him. On 14th August, the anniversary day, they had a bus full of friends and family and thousands of pounds already raised.

“It was amazing having something completely different to focus on in the weeks and months leading up to the day and being surrounded by friends, all striving for a common goal together on what was traditionally my toughest day of the year.
I loved every minute. 

“We had been off the trail for about 1 minute before someone asked me, ‘Right, what are we doing next year?’

“And so, it began.”

For the next decade, they came up with even tougher challenges for the date and opened the invitation to anyone willing to join. They worked through mass bungee jumping, Tough Mudder, and the Glencoe Marathon, culminating with the first-ever Edinburgh 24 – a 24-hour loop race up and down Arthurs Seat in Edinburgh. 

“Honestly, I’m still not sure which one was the toughest. Each required focus, determination, discipline and the need to follow goals, which seemed unachievable when we set them. That was the most rewarding thing of all: crossing the finish line and realising that you had done something you didn’t think you could achieve.

The series of events was stopped with another unexpected turn, the premature birth of his son, River. Born at only 26 weeks, River’s arrival put Barry through a challenging phase. However, after facing many struggles in life, he knew how to fight hard to be a proud father of a wonderful, funny, charming and kind boy. 

On the anniversary of his mother’s death, Barry finally got to hold his son in his arms for the first time. The day that was once filled with sorrow was now marked with the most profound joy he could have ever imagined. 

After witnessing firsthand the power of support and compassion, Barry felt compelled to pay it forward. He decided to become a lived experience peer supportworker and use his history to help others. Despite facing his own challenges, including the recent loss of his father, Barry remains committed to his journey of recovery and self-discovery.  

“I have every single answer I need already. I just have to remember how to look after myself and that every moment thus far in my life has had its purpose, to shape me for what is still to come. I’m excited and ready to keep moving on my own path and encourage others to find theirs.”

Today, Barry is an Outreach Worker with Change Mental Health’s Resilience service, providing support and guidance to those in need.  

“It has been an incredible privilege to have listened to so many other stories of courage, bravery and determination from people from all walks of life. There is one common theme that binds us all: we all have mental health and we all deserve an individual approach to understanding how we can improve that for ourselves. 

support

If you need support, our Advice and Support Service is open Monday to Friday, 10 am to 4 pm, where advisers can signpost you to local support that most fits your needs, including our own Change Mental Health services. We offer initial advice on money worries and help to deal with emergencies.

Contact 0808 8010 515, email us at advice@changemh.org or fill out the enquiry form on the Advice and Support Service page.

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