"But there was no need to be ashamed of tears, for tears bore witness that a man had the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer."
– Viktor E Frankl, 'Man's Search for Meaning'
Why is it as boys and men, we have a fear of crying. If we ever do, we tend to cover our faces or bury them in our hands, somehow ashamed of our tears as we scramble with our hands or a cloth to wipe them away as quickly as possible. When my tears arrive, I let them flow naturally and freely, following their own path like a river cascading down the side of a mountain. It's a delightful, sensuous experience as the tears gently caress and stimulate the nerve endings in my face. They set off on their journey from my eyes, trickle down the outer contours of my nose, sweep past the edges of my lips and with the gathering momentum make their way to the tips of my visage.
This final part fascinates me. Why do some of our tears decide to depart your body at this time and make the leap from the cliffs of your jaw whilst others decide to continue their journey onwards? I find the tears that reach the outer part of your throat are captivatingly symbolic. Here they are in the real world for all to see, bravely and strongly persisting on their voyage, yet many people are told to swallow their tears and these never see the light of day.
Are our tears metaphors for ourselves? Are our tears that reach the cliff face and decide to jump similar to the hundreds of people that are sadly taking their own lives each year? Are the tears that we swallow representative of those thousands of people in our country that live silent lives of misery, swallowing their hurt and pain and never allowing their truth to see the light? Are our tears that reach the outer part of our throat akin to those thousands of souls that in the last few days have bravely come forward and faced their fears, admitting their struggles, standing before the brilliant and loving light of reality and allowing their truth to set them free, knowing this courage is initially going to cause them some suffering but determined to continue on their journey and to return home to the beauty and joy of their real selves.
During the lowest point of my experience of depression, the time when I was in the abyss of darkness, a place devoid of light, a place where love and affection and joy and hope are extinguished by the cold and dampness that aggressively occupies every available space, a place that you can't fully or accurately explain to anyone because the necessary vocabulary hasn't been invented to convey its horror and terror, I didn't even feel I was worth the oxygen that was filling my lungs and keeping me alive.
In many ways, it was similar to being on a life support machine. I wasn't consciously alive and something out of my control was making my lungs function. If I could have found the plug, I wouldn't have pulled it, I'd have yanked it out with all my might, cut the top off and hurled it into my darkness where it could never be found.
How can a person go from there to a point in his life where he becomes incredibly comfortable in his own skin, is relatively independent of other people's opinions of him, is fascinated at the wonder of his existence, welcomes the challenges that life throws at him, the good and the bad, learns a new trade, goes to college by night, gets fit, adores being in the company of his family, friends and work colleagues but equally worships his own company and aloneness (all-one-ness), cherishes that time where he can sit and be with himself and be at peace with his stillness, makes mistakes, fucks up, argues and falls out with people, apologises, fails at things, feels good, feels great, feels sad, not always authentic but knows when he is not, enjoys his successes, accepts his failures and moves on.
My therapy was an interesting process. It's not like you think. It's not like going to an electrical engineer and asking him how to design a circuit for controlling a new production line. You ask the engineer, he gives the answers. In my therapy, it was the complete opposite.
The wise therapist knows that each of their clients are their own experts, that nobody knows the answers and solutions to their problems more than their client, that there is incredible wisdom and ingenuity in the defences that their client has created to protect themselves from hurt and that once this ingenuity is acknowledged and that an understanding is found that their client will no longer need to hold on to these defences, can let them go and allow their real person to emerge.
The wise therapist knows that their job is not to give advice but to allow and facilitate and help to foster the environment that enables the above to happen. They know they can do this by unconditionally loving their client, by patiently waiting until eternity and beyond, for their client to fully open up.
They know that if they are not unconditionally loving, their client will spot it straight away and that the trust necessary for the intimate truths to emerge will never occur. They know that if they are, their client will trust them with all his being, knowing that whatever he says is not going to be judged and that for the first time in his life, he can speak about his buried truths and hidden fears.
The wise therapist knows that this is a privileged position to be in, a sacred space and is grateful to their client for allowing them to share that space with them. The results of this are why a man can go from the depths of misery and despair to the highs of joy and living freely.
Psychiatry and medication work for some people. That is excellent. I don't think there is a one-size-fits-all. Everyone has their own path to follow and it is up to each individual to find out what works best for them. Psychiatry and medication didn't work for me. That is my truth.
I felt psychiatry was trying to put me in a box, get a label on me and consign me to medication for the rest of my life. How can a label be attached to something as diverse and complex as a human, a living, evolving being that has lived a truly unique journey? There will never be another Conor Cusack in the world (some might say that is a good thing!), there will never be another Brendan O'Connor in the world (some might say that is a great thing!).Of all the billions of people in our planet, not one other person matches the exact same qualities we each have. How unbelievably amazing, mind-blowing, and awesome is that.
We are priceless, beyond value. Yet somehow, somebody thinks we can both be put in a similar box if we end up feeling depressed. The journey and reasons for Brendan, if he experienced depression, will be unique to him and so will mine be unique to me. The solutions for Brendan's recovery and the solutions for my recovery will be completely different.
I worked as an electrician one time. I know what it's like to get an electric shock. It ain't pretty and I never felt good after one. I'll leave it at that.
The response to my story last week doesn't surprise me. There is an epidemic in this country and beyond. I have had requests and feedback from media outlets, support groups and people in Germany, Australia, America and many more. We need to smash the taboo and stigma in Ireland that is attached to mental health difficulties.
Let's be fucking honest with ourselves, the country is awash with people in difficulty. From the tip of Mizen Head to the top of Malin Head and everywhere in between, there are an incredible amount of people struggling. That's not foolish talk, it's a fact. Let's accept this and get on with the work that needs to be done to address these challenges.
We know only too well in this country, sadly, what silence achieves. The truth outs eventually but for some of our people, it has been and will be too late if we can't somehow get the message across that there is no weakness in having a mental health difficulty.
The suicide figures, just one is one too many, don't tell the whole story though. A lot of people that are depressed never contemplate suicide. Not everyone experiences a depression as deep as the one I did. There are varying degrees of intensities, from the very mild to the very manic and this is a universal issue that affects sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, mother and fathers, uncles and aunts, grandparents and grandmothers, cousins, friends, work colleagues, professional sportsmen, amateur sportsmen, wealthy and poor people, working and out of work people, doctors, electricians, solicitors, builders, journalists, nurses, engineers, psychiatrists, psychologists, politicians, priests, professors, celebrities.
I'm convinced the GAA can play a major role in the breaking of the taboo and stigma of mental health difficulties. Its membership spans all the age groups and all areas and communities. I don't know our President Liam O'Neill, but he gives me a nice feeling when I listen to him speak. He does so with a quiet conviction but with a wonderful warmth in his voice. I think he has a great feel for the issues of our members at all levels and that he values the importance of the welfare of our members.
We have a duty and a responsibility in the GAA to be not only interested in what our members can give to us, but in what we can give to them. My club, Cloyne, and my teammates played a huge role in my recovery. When I returned to training, I was 19st 13lbs. Pre-season in that time was just laps of the field. I was being lapped every couple of minutes but I was never made to feel inadequate.
Killian Cronin would pass and say 'Drive on Bear, you are doing great', Deckie Motherway would just rush by and comment 'You are flying Bear, you'll be fit again in no time'. Mossy Cahill would pass and place his hand on my shoulder, no need for words, it was a symbol of solidarity and an acknowledgement of my presence. All of those little things were nourishment to a fragile soul. In all my years, I have never had any teammate or opposition player pass comment on the mental health issues I once had.
The modern GAA player is an incredible human being. Driven, disciplined, committed, loyal, supportive, broad-minded. They go out on a field and for 60 minutes play a warrior's sport with a warrior's heart, full of ferocity, passion and fire. When the game is over, I don't believe the current generation of players leaves their warrior spirit on the field until the next game. They carry the mantle with them into their dressing rooms, training fields, homes, workplaces and communities.
I firmly believe that they are evolving into warriors of the soul and spirit, a new generation of 'warriors of the light'. They are determined that the issues that are affecting them and their teammates are not allowed to be hidden and silenced and not spoken about like times of old.
They are passionate about showing solidarity with their teammates and are willing to stand shoulder to shoulder with each other, whether it be on issues like addiction, sexuality or mental health difficulties. The country needs to tap into this glorious band of brothers to help lessen the stigma and taboo that attaches itself to depression and other mental health issues.
And men, don't be ashamed of your tears!
The fee for this article has been donated to the Let's Get Together Foundation, Midleton, Co Cork.
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