- 07 Oct 19
A visual artist and ex-punk who eventually ended up in prison - when it comes to positive mental health, Brian O’Rourke is a huge advocate of contact with the natural world.
The importance of that distant hill…
Knowing of my background with rivers, I was asked to be a bailiff and a fly-fishing tutor at a well-fished lake outside North London, by two of the founding members of The Windsor Chapter Hells Angels. An important event for a young punk. Although I had little understanding of the psychological effect of open spaces at the time, this event brought me to realise that I was in fact in a dark place – and I had unknowingly found my cure.
I had spent the previous couple of years immersed in city life, working as a roadie for a London-based punk/hip-hop outfit. I hadn’t seen much daylight during that time, let alone countryside. These behavioural patterns were a tad alien to a Catholic-reared, rural Irish boy.
Leaving Hackney, East London that morning and setting off to the lakes at Hoddesdon, beyond Epping Forest, an unlikely trio of outlaws buzzed with excitement for the day ahead. The emotional upheaval to come was both unexpected and unprecedented on a personal level.
As soon as the beautiful summer morning’s rural vista unfolded before us, so too began the flow of tears from my eyeballs! What the fuck must the two seasoned Angels be thinking? What kind of basketcase had they taken on here? I had no immediate answers, only embarrassment.
We brushed it off and got on with the day, a day where I got to meet The Who’s Roger Daltery and Arsenal’s goalkeeper of the time, David Seaman, both avid fly-fishermen. We caught trout, and showed young British anglers the Irish methodologies and appreciation of the water. A good memorable experience, barring of course the overlooked and unmentioned mental breakdown on the way.
Analysing the experience over the next few days, more out of mortification than anything else, I came to the realisation that I hadn’t seen the natural horizon line in over three years. Being both a visual artist – albeit an untrained and uninformed one at that stage – and an earthy Irish lad, I came to understand the importance of the natural environment on our psyche.
The green green grass of home…
Fast forward a few years, and that young punk has evolved into an ageing outlaw, who finds himself incarcerated within the Irish prison system for crimes against morality – primarily the distribution of cannabis. Which was to be expected, although not to the extent of the four-year sentence handed down at Limerick Circuit Court. Ho hum pigs bum, take it on the chin, head down and get on with it.
Two years into my expected three years, I found myself in the prison laundry, as was a common occurrence, having volunteered to work there when not taking classes in the prison education department. This particular morning a strong smell had magnetically drawn me into the corner of the laundry, adjacent to the grounds of the psychiatric hospital next door. The smell was so overwhelming, it evoked the same reaction a few years earlier in London. Head melted, tears flowed, but why so? The simple smell of freshly cut grass coming through the vents on a spring morning was so pure and sweet and again, on a personal level, that it compounded the importance of the natural order, and our place within it. But this time, I understood and had found that within myself; I had developed the necessary coping skills.
My humble prescription/remedies? Touch the earth, climb a hill, see the sea, sit in a town or city park. Better again, go to the dog-pound and share comfort with a dog. For these actions have the possibility to be far more beneficial than any psychotropic medications our trained doctors deem to be the solutions.
These personal experiences come from somebody who has continuously challenged the status quo, and who has lived his own life balanced on that tight-wire between what’s deemed normal vs alleged counterproductive behavioural patterns. My own self-medication these days consists of the love and support of my family, our four cats, our dog Pablo and the moderate use of THC, in conjunction with healthy outdoor activity. But it is vital to find what works for YOU to help keep YOUR balance on an even keel…