Saturday 17 November 2018

'A weight lifted off me' - All-Ireland football star who beat depression to become a champion

Dublin Ladies GAA star Nicole Owens. Photo: Doug O'Connor
Dublin Ladies GAA star Nicole Owens. Photo: Doug O'Connor

Ryan Nugent

DUBLIN Ladies GAA star Nicole Owens has admitted she was gripped by such a deep depression during the summer that she would go to sleep wishing she wouldn't wake up.

At the end of September, wing forward Nicole was part of the Dublin Ladies side which overcame Mayo at Croke Park to claim their first All-Ireland final since 2010, after three back-to-back defeats at the hands of Cork.

Just months earlier, as Mick Bohan's charges rolled into gear in early summer, the footballer's mental health had deteriorated to such an extent she felt the need to pull away entirely from both football and her job.

Thoughts as dark as taking her own life had entered her mind, although she says it's not something she could have gone through with.

The only reason it didn't get to that stage was because she couldn't do it to her mother.

Speaking exclusively to the Herald, Owens, from Malahide, says that by May this year, the idea of even speaking with people became unbearable and living that way was not sustainable.

"It was a relief to finally fall asleep at night and then you wake up in the morning wishing you hadn't woken up and that goes on for weeks," she said.

"I spoke to Mick when I realised I needed a break. The support he gave was unbelievable. He was incredibly understanding of the situation because, to be fair, I don't think he quite anticipated it.

"I ended up leaving him an incredibly emotional, sobbing voicemail at one point.

"He checked in on me every day to see how I was. There was no pressure in terms of coming back to football, it was kind of take as long as you need. That was a weight lifted off of me.

"A lot of the pressures are work and football, two massive parts of my life. When you're in a really bad place you're trying to keep both of those going and you're really, really struggling."

Owens became teary when briefly speaking about depression during the fly-on-the-wall documentary Blues Sisters, which covered the Jackies' All-Ireland winning season.

It had been an issue that dogged the 24-year-old, who works in marketing, throughout the past four years representing the Dubs and, since making changes in her life, she's now comfortable enough to speak about.

"It's just feeling sad all the time and not knowing why, and not being able to get out of that," she said.

"I suppose you get to the point where you've been feeling so low for so long, the prospect of not feeling like that is so strong. Unfortunately people get to a point where there's only one way to stop feeling like that and I completely empathise with that and I certainly have experienced suicidal thoughts, you could say, in my life, and never considered it.

"Maybe the only reason I never considered it was because I always thought I couldn't do that to my mum. That shouldn't be my reason, my reason should be that that's not the answer, I shouldn't do it to myself."

Once Owens had let some of her team-mates know about her battle, support flooded in, even in subtle ways.

So when she found herself struggling at training, there were team-mates there to pull her aside and have a chat.

"A few of them would have been aware of it from previous years - three years back probably - but this time people could see that I was off and occasionally, if I was having a really bad day, I'd end up crying," she said.

"I got a lot of hugs and a lot of texts from people I wouldn't necessarily be close to, but just like checking in saying, 'I hope you're all right' and, 'great to see you today' - not even massive shows of support but just those little things that made all the difference.

"This would have been April or May. Since then I've made a lot of changes in my life, but had I not, had I tried to just deal with it myself, I wouldn't have been able to and that's why it's so important to talk about.

"People don't have to go through this by themselves at all.

"I'm lucky that my mum - she's the best support in my life - I'm lucky that she knows me well enough to know that me pushing her away was trying to put up a guard, because there's a lot of things I didn't want to talk about."

As Owens explained in Blues Sisters, she's in a good place now, and it's about sustaining this as she looks forward to the year ahead.

The St Sylvester's forward has spoken in depth because she sees a stigma around depression and anti-depression medication.

She says that those suffering need to be more open about how they're feeling.

"I feel really, really good and I'm proud, proud of myself, because four years ago I'd never have seen myself being in this position to talk about how I was feeling and I hope that it has a positive impact on people," she said.

"I've certainly got messages from people since the documentary, saying thanks or opening up in return.

"I'm excited about life again which is great, because you kind of get to a point where you can't envision feeling happy or anything good happening.

"I'm a lot more in tune with my mood and how I am and I'm making sure I keep on top of all my things and the strategies I've learned," she added.

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