Sunday 15 December 2019

'I felt confused, hurt, angry, dirty and ashamed' - Volunteer allegedly abused as child turned life around after multiple suicide attempts

Bernard O'Hehir
Bernard O'Hehir

Bernard O'Hehir

A man who claims he was abused by a serial paedophile at a Co Sligo school has revealed that he has tried to take his own life dozens of times. Bernard O'Hehir (34) said he has struggled with mental health and suicidal thoughts after he was allegedly abused by teacher Patrick Curran at St John's National School. Now he is attempting to turn his life around and has dedicated his life to helping others. Here is his story.

Looking back I guess I deserved an Oscar for pretending everything was OK when it wasn't.

It's hard to comprehend all that has happened, how I felt about it, how I feel about it now and how I may feel about it in the future.

I've had mixed emotions as of late, trying to piece together the bits of information trying to make sense as to why I was so eager to take my life. My desire to cease living, outweighed my desire to live.

Where did it all start? Well, when I was around 10 years of age something life changing happened. I was groomed and abused by a then school teacher who I thought of as a friend who cared and listened, or so I thought.

The abuse happened at St John's National School in Sligo.

At such a young age I felt confused, hurt, angry, dirty and ashamed. I started with self-harm, hurting and trying to purposely cause damage to myself by breaking and trying to break bones. I would punch things I knew would hurt me.

I would experiment with ties or rope around my neck. I cried so many times that I wasn't able to take my life. In my distressed state I felt useless that I couldn't do it. I guess I knew that if I really wanted, I could have carried it out.

By the time I turned 16, I had already felt like I'd lived many more years than my age, certainly more than I had originally planned.

I was a wild teenager, constantly in trouble. I threw away my education in that I got kicked of two secondary schools and a youthreach. I was popular enough with the lads. I had some really close friends and family but I couldn't tell them how low I was feeling. How could I?

I started drinking cans at the weekends and had just started experimenting with hash. I was never afraid to fight, I would allow myself to get caught up in fights that had nothing to do with me, little did I know how that would progress.

But also little did anyone realise that, in fact, I was hoping somebody else would do me the favour that I so wished for.

I was more than a handful for my loving family. I was blaming everyone but me because they couldn't guess what was wrong with me.

I didn't mind talking as such to people, but when somebody asked me 'tell me how you're feeling?' I'd laugh. How can I tell you or anyone how I'm feeling when I don't understand it myself? I thought they were taking the p**s.

From my teens to my early 20s, I threw away a lot of great opportunities. Inside, the depression would slowly creep up on me from time to time. Suicidal thoughts would often occur if I felt picked on or wronged. Hypocrisy really because I was anything but an angel.

People would say: "Ahh Bernie he's mad or he's a psycho." At the time I craved attention and wanted it so much that I played up to it making it look like I didn't give a f**k.

But I'm not ashamed to admit. As often as I would flip-out, more often than not I'd find somewhere quiet, so that I could cry with embarrassment at what I had done.

But, like so many other things in my life, I kept making the same mistakes, almost Groundhog Day. Consistent dark memories would leave me fearing failure, and leave me feeling fear itself.

I've attended so many different counsellors over the years but I just felt determined somehow to end it. It all came back to the embarrassment at the way I was treated in school.

Throwing away my education, wasting lifetime employment opportunities. I just couldn't find the courage to just break down to somebody, anybody really, to tell them I'm far from okay.

So in 2010 when I was 28, things really started to take a turn for the worse. I was losing all control of everything I was doing, I just didn't care. Drugs and alcohol had made a real connection with me, to the point they would play such a pivotal role in what I was trying achieve.

My mind was decimated, my heart was broken and as much as I tried my soul just couldn't be woken.

Imagine at 28, I was crying myself to sleep just hoping I wouldn't have to wake up to face another day. I decided to sign up for a religious-run rehab centre in Italy but while I was waiting for my passport to arrive I decided that I'd had enough.

I was under so much pressure that I thought I'd be better off dying, I was such a burden.

That night I sat on the corner of my bed saying my last goodbyes in my head to my family. I took what I thought was enough pills at the time.

As I was falling asleep I was comfortable I felt it was over. But to my disappointment I woke up. I stumbled to get up as I cried. I opened my bedroom door and there was my passport in the hall, three days later I was gone and six years later I still haven't been home.

In that time I felt so lonely even though I had friends.

I started volunteering in Cork Penny Dinners after I received their help myself. It really made me believe again. It gave me such hope that I really wanted to stop trying to die and to start living.

It was really life changing in that after my experience. It really showed me what true suffering was. I get all the homeless people, all the people who are or have been in hostels. I get people with mental health and suicidal thoughts.

I get them because I'm them, I was there. It actually really makes me happy that I'm able to now speak about it and to share my story with people. And if it turns out to help somebody in need, then I'm glad and happy.

But I truly feel that enough is not being done for other young people suffering with depression. The government need to give proper support to those in need now.

Anyone affected by this article can contact the Samaritans on 116123.

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