'Training with McGregor's coach has brought me back from the bottom'- Irish man (27) opens up about Bipolar diagnosis
Published 22/04/2016 | 06:00
An Irish man has opened up about the circumstances that lead to a manic breakdown and a bipolar diagnosis and said that Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) has been instrumental in rebuilding his life.
Éanna Walsh (27) was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2013 when his friends and parents staged an intervention because they had become concerned about his manic behaviour.
Éanna admitted that the years prior to his diagnosis were very difficult for him on a personal level as he was coping with the breakdown of his parents’ marriage and was struggling to fit in at college, when at school it had been so easy.
“I feel like things began to change for me in college. In secondary school I was always well liked and I got on well socially but I found when I went on to DIT it was a little harder.
“During my first year of college, everything came to a head at home. My parents were arguing all the time and it was difficult to live with that. From an early age I always had a fear that they would split up. Every day when I came home from college, it would be the same arguments over and over again. It came to a place where I had to sit them both down and ask the questions you don’t want to ask, and the questions you really don’t want to know the answers to.
“During that conversation, my dad admitted that he didn’t want to live with my mum anymore, and that he had fallen out of love with her. To be extremely frank, it was a s***e situation, but I had spent 18 years as a bystander and I had to intervene.
“It was one of the worst times of my life. It took a further nine months for my dad to find a place of his own and move out and that was a weird time,” he said.
Éanna later dropped out of DIT but managed to forge a successful career in radio and marketing, which saw him travel to London and Bali in Indonesia. Upon returning to Ireland in 2013, Éanna revealed that his mental health began to take a downward spiral and “things began to go wrong”. His best friend Peter was given a terminal cancer diagnosis after years of battling with the disease and Éanna revealed that his manic behaviour began to manifest in the months after he returned home from abroad.
“It was when I returned home after Bali that everything began to change for me. I was trying to stay positive for Peter but I wasn’t feeling that way myself.
“A distance had been created between myself and my friends, or at least it felt that way for me. I felt like they all thought I had changed after being abroad in London and Bali, and I felt like we weren’t on the same level anymore.
“When you start to go manic, you don’t realise it. For me, that manic behaviour began to manifest itself around work.
“I was spending money I didn’t have on the maddest things. I was working for myself, and was renting an office for €250 at the time, and I remember I became obsessed by the idea of a bigger, grander office which I really didn’t need.
“One Thursday night I went out and spent more than €800 when I didn’t have much more than that in the bank, buying drinks for people who I didn’t know well. I put my card behind the bar,” said Éanna.
Éanna revealed that his manic behaviour developed into an “incredibly inflated” self-belief and he began to take on work that he’d never be able to complete.
“I had an incredibly inflated self-belief and I was taking on work that I would never have the ability to complete within tight deadlines because I believed I was capable of so much more than I was.
"I was experiencing delusions of grandeur and I began to call my friends at all hours of the night and talk about how great everything was going when in reality, it was a mess,” he said.
The situation came to a head when Éanna’s friends arranged an intervention, as they believed he needed to seek help.
“It came to a point where I told a friend that an investor had pumped €1m in my company. I don’t know why I said it but it hadn’t happened of course. Suddenly I began arranging a party for the occasion in the Shelbourne on my dad’s credit card and that was the day I basically went mad.
“My friends managed to convince me that the party would be better at home in Naas, but they had arranged an intervention of sorts. When I walked into that room I basically went to the corner and made myself small. Everyone began to talk about why they thought I needed help, and it felt like me versus them. I agreed to be admitted to Naas hospital and then I was moved to Portlaoise,” said Éanna.
Eanna spent three months in and out of hospital but said it was difficult to cope with people’s lack of trust in him and also felt that “everyone in town believed I was mad”.
His best friend Peter passed away while Éanna was in hospital, which he said made the situation so much more difficult to cope with.
“Over the next three months I was in and out of hospital and I found it to be quite a dehumanising experience. Throughout that time, my friend Peter passed away and that was so tough. I felt guilty that I hadn’t been there for him.
“When I got out of hospital I felt like people’s attitudes had changed. I felt like nobody took my opinion on my own health seriously, and I felt as though my family and friends didn’t trust me. I began to try and build my life back up but I felt like everyone in Naas thought I was mad and I found that isolating,” he said.
In the two years following his diagnosis, Éanna attempted to rebuild his life and landed a job in a media company but he soon discovered he wasn’t ready.
“I got a job in a Dublin media agency but almost immediately my anxiety began to pop up. I feared that everyone would find out about what I had been through and I would lose my job. I felt like I was one Facebook friend away from everyone in work knowing my secret.
“I wasn’t able for the work because I wasn’t in a good place and one of my bosses asked me for a chat. I just told her everything I had been through and I’ve never felt so relieved. Luckily she was a great support to me and was so understanding and let me know that they were behind me no matter what,” he said.
Making the decision to leave his job was the right one, as it gave Éanna the chance to tackle his mental health in a different way and he has developed Bare Knuckling Bipolar, a campaign which uses exercise as a way to battle against mental illness.
“I knew I had to address my self esteem. I had gained quite a lot of weight over the years and I was comfort eating as an escape.
“When I left my job, I just began eating better, and making an effort with my diet and I joined the gym with the view to lose a few pounds.
“From that then I’ve established Bare Knuckling Bipolar which is really just my way of pushing back on my diagnosis through exercise.
“MMA is so popular right now and after what I had been through over the past few years I did have a desire to just get into a ring and fight,” he said.
Éanna is now training with Conor McGregor’s coach John Kavanagh and will compete in his first fight in August.
"After spending the summer training at the Performance & Fitness Academy in Naas, I got in touch with John Kavanagh, who trains Conor McGregor, and asked could I join the now world famous SBG with a view to fight.”
“They had lost a coach to suicide and he said if I was committed he would train me as an amateur.
“I’ve been training to compete since September and I’ve started from scratch. It’s helped lift a weight off my shoulders. My confidence has improved and I feel like my campaign is helping people understand mental health more. While its aim is to fight mental illness with exercise it’s also about conversation and communication” said Éanna.
“I just want to get the message out there that there is a way back from the bottom and Bare Knuckling Bipolar is growing into something that is changing my life, and people’s perceptions of mental health every day,” he said.