(THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN ON WWW.BRENDANMCDONNELL.COM FOR HERMAN'S HANDS)
Today is a good day.
After 6 months of hard work I am launching Herman’s Hands, my Mental Health Awareness and Suicide Prevention Clothing Brand.
For those of you tuning in just now, I’m Brendan McDonnell and I’ve been working to spread awareness from this blog for the past year.
You’ll have to bear with me, I’ve written this article in one day and one night. It’s by no means polished. It is straight off the dome and it’s a long-ass read. But after all, blogs are supposed to be for sharing thoughts not masterpieces of modern literature… Aren’t they?
Herman’s Hands is the extension of brendanmcdonnell.com. It is the next step on my mission to raise awareness and make real change. I think it’s only fitting that I write about it here. This blog is what gives the clothing brand credibility and hopefully vice-versa (soon).
I’m not moving on from blogging, I’m just expanding. And I guess I’m asking you to expand with me…
In the past year and a bit I’ve written 14 articles and made 5 videos. Each of which I’ve put 100% of myself into. It’s been tough; each post has been super emotionally draining. I’ve done enough to find 25,000 readers and a shit load of positive reinforcement though.
Someone commented on one of my pictures just a few days ago: “When it gets tough you have to stop and realise how far you’ve come and ease up on yourself because sometimes we forget to give ourselves a bit of credit”.
This is something I’ve always struggled with. I think there is some sort of ‘motivation-demon’ inside of me. I work like a mad scientist to complete all these ‘things’ and when they are complete I become restless and search for a new ‘thing’ to obsess over. I’ve come to realise (well at least in theory) that all of these ‘things’ don’t actually bring me happiness. But, at least I can say my ‘things’ are heading in a positive direction.
As I write this I’d like to think that I’m “easing up on myself to give a bit of credit”. But in fact I’m not because I’m writing this article, on Facebook, Instagram and messaging at the same time… Maybe if I write about “easing up” a bit more it will sink in and I’ll “ease up”…
Eight and a half months ago on a bus en-route to Pai in Northern Thailand, while pondering on what I’d do when I returned to Australia – after two years away, I had two ideas. The first was to convert the family shed where my dad took his own life into a “positive space for growth” – in hope of removing the last remaining stigma surrounding his death. I made Brenny’s.
Despite the facts that I will always carry a certain level of sadness and fear because I discovered my dad’s body when I was 15 AND it is near impossible to entirely remove a stigma 100%, Brenny’s is a bloody positive place and the few people who’ve trained or drank coffee with me have grown.
My second idea from the bumpy Thai bus ride was to create a mental health awareness and/or suicide prevention clothing brand. At the time, I felt as though I’d shared all I could in writing via this blog and wanted to extend my work into another avenue for awareness spreading.
My initial vision for the brand was to create something for my eldest brother, who lives with schizoaffective bi-polar disorder, to get out of bed for. My hope was that the brand would act as a support for my brother and family, bringing us closer while creating a bit of a ‘buffer’ through which we could direct my brother’s energy when times are tough. I didn’t take the idea too seriously though to be honest; I thought I’d just print a few tees and have him sell them at the Brighton Car Boot Sale…
Since then, I’ve lost track of this initial goal for the brand to act a support. But, as it evolves, I think I can bring my family in and let it become part of them like it has become part of me.
It is me. Well, me and my dad. I live and breathe this thing. It has been the first thing I’ve thought of every morning and the last thing at night for the past 6 months (sorry Steph <3).
There has been so many times where I’ve lost track of what my motivation actually is. But it always comes back in due time. In short, Mental illness and suicide are heinous things that cause a lot of suffering. This suffering is my motivation.
Through this article I mainly want to articulate and illustrate this motivation.
Since I was 15, there hasn’t been a single time when I’ve returned home and had a little thought cross my mind that I’d find someone else hanging in the shed. I used to get home, make sure no one was looking, shut my eyes, cringe a bit and open the shed to see if my brother or someone else was in there too.
I still live with a level of fear in my life. Fear almost on a subconscious level that other people around me will kill themselves and I’ll find their bodies too. I’ve written about it before. I was unaware of it until my psychologist opened my eyes recently. It’s not like I actively think people around me are going to end their own lives, but if you dig deep into my subconscious and analyse my behaviour (like I have), this is where my fear stems from and why I behave in certain ways.
I still get a little nauseous when I see hangings or suicide related scenes in films or social media… As much as I pretend I don’t (heads up to anyone bereaved through suicide: Game of Thrones Season 6 Episodes 3 has a scene where multiple people are hung, it’s pretty fierce…).
When this fear pokes it stupid, ignorant little head out I am reminded of my motivation… To stop the fear and suffering from reaching others!
I used to question what I’m doing, whether I’m doing it right or if I’m actually helping anyone all the damn time. At the end of the day though, in a country where mental illness and suicide is running rampant, anything at all is better than nothing. The mere existence of my blog and clothing brand helps.
I write and draw pictures of snakes, others talk in front of the camera, to groups, post inspirational quote pictures on Instagram, do charitable events, or simply get behind other people who are doing good things. All of these things help create dialogue, break down stereotypes, and remove stigmas surrounding mental health and suicide. I know that my time will come to speak – In the flesh rather than from behind this keyboard. I’m sure of it. I’m not sure when. But for now, this blog and my clothing brand are the avenues I’m using to spread awareness.
When I was planning to write this article I thought “what do I actually want to communicate here?”
A dark image came to mind…
Recently, while going through my old journals searching for a little note I’d written last year, I remembered that I’d slotted an old photograph under the back cover – that I’d stolen from the family photo albums a long time ago.
I’m not sure why I took this photo and kept it. My mum wanted it destroyed. And I don’t blame her. Something in me knew it had a time and place though, even if it nearly made me weep every time I saw it. The image to me is a bit like the ring to golem… Something I’ve held onto so tightly despite it bringing me suffering.
I didn’t want to share this picture. But, I think now is the time for it to serve its purpose.
Like I said, through this blog post my main intention is to articulate and illustrate my motivation behind Herman’s Hands. To show the reader that mental illness and suicide are fucked. And, like my recent Facebook post/ rant from the day which would have been my dad’s 53rd birthday, to do this properly it has to be on a personal level.
Doing so should show the reader (YOU) why what I’m doing is important.
I don’t know how else to illustrate this point. Most of the time I throw in a swear word or two (‘fucking’ or ‘shit’) to show that I’m deadly serious about what I’m saying. It doesn’t really work though. You have to go further and paint a little picture or literally present a picture to get through to the ‘personal level’ or the reader’s conscience.
This photo is as personal as it gets for me. I feel a deep sadness when I look at it. You probably won’t because you don’t really know the man in the photo. But at the very least you’ve seen this blog and you may have seen or read about the ‘Herman Tee’.
I don’t want to go all dark here but I think I have to if I want this brand to have a real impact.
This is a photo of my dad, not long before he took his own life, lying in a bed at Margaret Tobin Centre in the Flinders Hospital, mid-afternoon. He is not asleep and no, he is not meditating. He is deep in depression. He is in this state despite having some of his family present in the room with him. Around that period of time he’d undergone shock treatment (yeah, that one flew over the cuckoo’s nest shit) and would lay staring blankly at the ceiling, eyes half-open.
I’m sorry to my family who have to see this picture, who may not even know of its existence. But, I think it is powerful. I’m not sure what words to use to explain it. It is my dad. The person I looked up to most on this earth. My guide. Taken by the doom and gloom of mental illness.
This is why I spend most of my days in my journal or working from my computer.
Herman was my dad.
He suffered from depression for many years.
In November of 2007 he took his own life.
I found his body after he died.
I was 15.
He left behind a suicide letter personally addressed to me.
In it he told me that he didn’t wish to “expose me to all the doom and gloom that had taken over his life” so he ended it.
The ‘doom and gloom’ he was referring to is mental illness.
I have made the decision to do all I can to prevent the ‘doom and gloom’ from being exposed to others too.
Herman’s Hands and brendanmcdonnell.com are the products of that decision.
I know that with awareness of the doom and gloom it can be overcome… I am living proof!
Herman’s Hands is a TANGIBLE positive that has been born out of something incredibly negative. It is clothing that helps create dialogue and inspire change.
Mental illness does not discriminate.
It can and will affect anyone!
This black and white portrait of my dad from around 1983 sits prominently on my home page and it personifies an Aussie male stereotype that many can relate to or at least recognise:
Rough, tough, covered in tatts, with a smug confidence and sense of humour.
Alongside this stereotype there often exists an ugly culture that condemns the vulnerable.
Now, everyone knows that removing stigmas lies in the creation of dialogue (getting people to talk).
But, in order to get people talking we need to first break down ugly stereotypes and cultures that not only contribute to, but stand in the way of removing stigmas surrounding mental health and suicide in this country.
Through Herman’s Hands we can break down and remove these stereotypes and cultures.
Herman’s Hands is a Mental Health Awareness and Suicide Prevention Clothing Brand.
It raises awareness and money for mental health and suicide prevention in Australia.
Money from profits is donated directly to organisations supporting mental health and suicide prevention in Australia.
In a country where mental illness and suicide run rampant, we can all sit behind our computers and smart-phones, staring at these problems. I can sit here behind my keyboard writing deeply personal shit about mental health and my experiences. But where does it get us? I’m so proud of what this blog has done for a lot of people, but I know we can do more. Collectively. I am only one man. To inspire real change we have to work together.
Like I’ve said before, I don’t want what I’ve shared here to fade away in to the digital ether and be forgotten. It’s time to attach this message to a more tangible and identifiable vehicle for awareness spreading. To put a face to it. To put it out into the world in a real way. To make people notice. To CREATE DIALOGUE and to INSPIRE CHANGE. If you’ll join me in spreading this message, in wearing your heart on your sleeve, then grab one of my t-shirts. Wear it proudly. Let it start the conversation. You can be a vehicle for change too. Shit, you might just reach the one person who really needed to know… “I’m not alone? I can talk about this.”
By using clothing as a vehicle for awareness spreading we can create dialogue and inspire change.
It doesn’t have to be like this!
My dad, Herman, had a big, old school cobra tattoo on the centre of his chest.
He got it in around 1979 at age 15.
I believe the tattoo concreted his spot within the rough, tough stereotype and culture that condemns the vulnerable. As they say, in them days, ‘only the hardest wore their tattoos with pride’.
You could say the tattoo served as the front for the stereotype and culture.
In Herman's Hands first line, entitled OVERCOME, I've used the snake to represent the stereotypes and cultures that not only contribute to, but stand in the way of removing the stigmas surrounding mental health and suicide in Australia.
Snakes are stigmatized in a very similar way to mental illness and suicide.
I know that with the creation of dialogue and in turn awareness, the stereotypes and cultures can be broken down and the stigmas surrounding mental health and suicide can be removed. The doom and gloom that consumed my dad and devastated my family can be overcome!
Remove the snake and we can remove the stigmas.
Create dialogue (or overcome the snake) – inspire change.
Herman’s Hands first line is a small collection of branded items.
It uses snake symbols inspired by Herman’s tattoo from the early 80’s to represent the stereotypes and cultures that not only contribute to, but stand in the way of removing stigmas surrounding mental health and suicide.
It does not represent brutality, aggression or anger.
It represents assertion.
Enough tip-toeing around.
Those afraid of change fear the snake.
We do not.
I want this brand to connect with and appeal to a wider audience. More than just those who are active in raising awareness for mental health and suicide prevention. The creatives are the people we look up to. By creative I don’t necessarily mean designers (Note here that the definition of creative is: “relating to or involving the use of the imagination or original ideas to create something”). People who create. They have the greatest power to make change for the future and generally they are also the most stylish.
In order to connect with the creative and stylish people (those with great power to make change for the future) you need to present a creative and stylish aesthetic. One that transcends ego the ugly stereotypes and cultures I already mentioned about 14 times.
I have attempted to create a subtle yet stylish aesthetic that could easily sit alongside existing streetwear brands (or similar) that available on the market today and yet still clearly stand for a cause. I’ve also tried to make it familiar and relatable. Through all the photos in this article and in the lookbook on the Herman’s Hands website, if you are Australian you’ll be able to understand my attempt at this.
This type of clothing brand does not yet exist in Australia.
My graphic concept/ idea may not be the bees knees but it is creative. It is experimental and innovative. Born out of a need to raise awareness about terrible problems, the brand allows that need to be presented in an interesting and subtle way.
Not everyone wants to be a ‘vehicle for awareness spreading’, let’s face it. But everyone wants to wear a fresh pair of Adidas Yeezy Boosts… Unknowingly becoming a vehicle for spreading Kanye’s crap.
Like my sister-in-law put it, we buy t-shirts (or Yeezy Boosts) everyday. Why not buy one that serves a purpose or for a cause?
The clothing itself and in turn people who wear the clothing become vehicles for awareness spreading – sometimes subtly or even unknowingly.
I think creativity and being assertive yet subtly are the keys here.
How can we expect to connect with the ‘real-life-change-makers’ if our concepts, design and delivery aren’t “on-point”?
Herman’s Hands is more than just a few letters on a t-shirt. It is conscious clothing. It is symbolic streetwear for a cause. It is a vehicle for awareness spreading and a symbol for change.
To sum up: (probably repeating what I’ve previously said for the 8th time) buy a t-shirt. Wear it proudly. Talk to your mates about it. Tell them where it came from. Tell them my story and maybe they’ll tell you theirs. Let it start the conversation.
If we all start talking we just might help stop one more father, mother, brother, sister, son or daughter from becoming another statistic…
Herman is my dad and this brand acts as his hands from wherever he is now.
Create Dialogue – Inspire Change.