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  • Writer's pictureDawn Ford

James Arthur - 'Out of Our Minds'

Updated: Jan 14, 2023

"I'm getting quite upset - those guys. I can't believe I'm so affected by this - I never cry. I've been there, it's scary....don't suppress those feelings."

Photo credit - Mitchell Hollander - Unsplash

On Monday evening on BBC I watched the incredibly moving documentary James Arthur -' Out of Our Minds'

There will be very few people who watch Saturday night tv and like popular music who won't have heard of James Arthur a young 24 year old from Redcar who rose to fame by winning the XFactor in 2012 in Middlesbrough.

He was at a really low ebb in his life with no money so he reached out to his mum, he desperately needed £5 for the meter. She said yes, but on the condition that he went down to the Xfactor auditions, and so he did. The rest is history - so to speak.

But behind the scenes you had a very lost soul - a boy who had been placed in foster care at the age 15. James was told by his mum and dad that he couldn't live with either of them. Only those that have lived experience of having to go into care will know how that really feels - I must add that we are all different and all experiences of 'living in care' will be unique but perhaps for James he felt a sense of abandonment, loneliness, confusion, betrayal and maybe felt unlovable too?

As the winner of the XFactor that year James was catapulted in to fame and stardom - and it was all too much. He thought to himself - what will ruin this? And sure enough, he said it will be me... and it was. His mental health spiralled and he turned to drugs and antidepressants to help him 'cope' with or 'distract from' his struggles.

Daily panic attacks, it was all too much - the record company pulled out of the deal and everything seemed to be slipping away. He said he never felt 'deserving' of it, this overnight success. With such extreme anxiety and depression he felt there was no way out. For 3 years he felt his life and career were in ruins.

We met his lovely girlfriend Jess, whose dad tragically died by suicide and we hear how unbearably stressful and acutely worrying it is for her, as she 'carries the pressure of keeping James alive' . In 2016 he pulled himself out of that dark place; he stopped the drugs, partying, alcohol and now loves being outdoors, especially hiking - it gives him a natural 'high' - 'to fight another day.'

As part of this documentary we see James meet up with a great group of guys - as part of a Good Mental Health Campaign. All those guys in the group share a common bond - mental health struggles - and some had either considered or attempted suicide or had lost loved ones to suicide. You could 'feel' the support and genuine compassion in that changing room - these guys had created a mini community/brotherhood and I think this 'community' element is key going forward, especially for men.

James shared with these guys that he suffers with really bad social anxiety - but everyone sees him as the confident performer, not the 'normal', often anxious, guy behind it. One of the guys shared with the group that he had struggled with anxiety & depression - his mum had died and he had 2 brothers who had died by suicide all in the last 4 years. Incomprehensible - so much loss.

Back at James' home he gets upset reflecting upon one guy's story in particular - this guy had attempted suicide a few years back - he went from being happy to being very depressed - with concerns over the family business he felt unable to go on. He tried to take his own life but thankfully his wife found him before it was too late. "I'm getting quite upset - those guys .I can't believe I'm so affected by this - I never cry . I've been there, it's scary....don't suppress those feelings."

Vulnerability is Courage.

James has had therapy and he is aware that he carries resentment for his parents and he wants to go back and have a talk with them - he feels ready to address these traumatic issues. His therapist mentions to him that he may have to accept that there may be no closure, from his perspective. And it's good that she states that - it may not be the closure he's hoping for.

His trauma had roots in his childhood - he felt a disconnect between himself and his dad "I felt I wasn't good enough" His dad replied that he had a lot of regrets - apologised and told him never to question how much he loved him. I found James's reply insightful -"I'm not equipped to ask for help" . Perhaps the extent of James' struggles over the years, was largely down to what he felt was a fundamental inability to reach out and ask for help - he didn't know how to? Which is so heartbreaking, but sadly not unusual with childhood trauma, with childhood disconnect.

Finally he visited his mum " I want acknowledgement, I want a better relationship." Mum explained the reality at that time - that she was divorced, alone with 4 kids.

To be honest I was initially so disappointed for James as there was no accountability, acknowledgement or apology from his mum. James went on to say "I felt no-one had my back. As a man I understand but as a child I didn't feel that." His mum replied that James going into foster care was the biggest heartbreak of her life and I'm guessing that that would have been a hugely significant acknowledgment for James to hear.

It took so much courage but he did it - the unsaid had been said - it's so hard - but sometimes if you wish to strengthen estranged or challenging relationships then you need to talk about the white elephant in the room.. whatever that white elephant may be. And as his therapist said - you must be prepared for the fact that it might not be closure the way you want it to be. As an observer, I think for James there was an amount of genuine healing that took place with these reunions and it was heart-warming to witness.

But I acknowledge that for some people who have experienced childhood trauma reconnecting with parents is not an option - it's too toxic and re-traumatising; they may feel the best thing for them is to keep a distance & protect themselves. Everyone is different. Everyone must make their own choice.

James concludes with: "The more I talk, the better I feel. Community is so important as is healthier lifestyle choices, and family too wherever possible. Talking has helped me enormously."

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