Cork hurler opens up about battle with depression
Getting help is something to be proud of, says Conor Cusack
Stars across Irish sport paid tribute to former Cork hurler Conor Cusack for writing about his battle with depression.
Cusack – younger brother of legendary Cork goalkeeper Donal Og – put up an incredibly forthright piece on his blog entitled “Depression is a friend, not my enemy” in which he reveals how he had once contemplated suicide.
The blog was published on the same day that tragic hurler Niall Donohue, 22 was remembered by his teammates at the Galway Club Hurling Final.
A member of Cloyne GAA club, the former inter-county hurler outlines how he he planned taking about his own life, but the opportunity did not arise when his mother stayed at home from Mass, and instead he went to seek help.
That decision ultimately saw him turn his life around and he encourages people suffering with similar symptoms to do likewise.
“For those people who are currently gripped by depression, either experiencing it or are supporting or living with someone with it, I hope my story helps,” he writes as he reminds people that seeking help should be seen as “an act of courage.”
Cusack’s frank account of this time in his life was widely praised by several sportstars on Twitter.
Former Ireland rugby out-half Ronan O’Gara described it as a “great article” and said it demonstrated that all people “can find a solution” to their problems.
Legendary Cork hurler Diarmuid O’Sullivan urged people to read the piece, while in another tweet, former Sligo Allstar Eamonn O’Hara asked to “please have a ready guys” of Cusack’s piece - praising him for “such honesty”.
Conor, a member of the 2006 Cork hurling team, said he was 19 when he had a breakdown while at work.
"I curled up in the corner of the building. One of the lads working with me came over and he didn't know what to do," he said.
"I asked him to take me home. The GP called to my house and prescribed some sleeping pills and arranged for me to be sent to the hospital for some tests."
After a week of doctors carrying out "every test imaginable" he was diagnosed as suffering from depression, a word he had "never heard of" before.
He was told by a psychiatrist there might be a chemical imbalance in his brain and was prescribed a mixture of anti-depressants, anxiety and sleeping pills.
"He explained that it would take time to get the right cocktail of tablets for my type of depression. I had an uneasy feeling about the whole thing.
"Something deep inside in me told me this wasn't the way forward and this wasn't what I needed."
Writing on his blog, the accomplished sportsman said his depression was so bad that he stayed "all day" in his room for five months, only leaving it to go to the bathroom.
"I didn't want to speak to anybody. The only time I left the house was on a Thursday morning to visit the psychiatrist. When everybody had left to go to work and school, my mother would bring me my breakfast. I cried nearly all the time.
"Sometimes she would sit there and cry with me, other times talk with me and hold my hand, tell me she would do anything to help me get better, other times just sit there quietly whilst I ate the food.”
He said he had suffered numerous painful injuries over the years playing sport, but nothing compared to the "mental torture of depression" which permeates "every part of your being, from your head to your toes."
"It is never ending, waves and waves of utter despair and hopelessness and fear and darkness flood throughout your whole body.
"It destroys your personality, your relationship with your family and friends, your work, your sporting life, it affects them all.
"You want to grab it and smash it, but you can't get hold of it. You go to sleep hoping, praying not to wake up.
"All through it all remains the darkness. It's as if someone placed a veil over your soul and never returned to remove it. This endless, black, never ending tunnel of darkness."
He was taking 18 tablets a day, and while he had almost completely lost his appetite, his weight "ballooned" to nearly 20 stone.
He had now reached his lowest ebb and his "desire for death was much stronger than my desire for living."
A family he had worked for when he was younger then contacted his mother to advise Conor to try 'talking therapy' with a different psychologist.
He described it as a "challenging experience" but within a week he was off all medication.
"I had to face up to memories I had buried from being bullied quite a lot when I was a young kid,” he said.
"Some of it occurred in primary school, others in secondary. It was raw and emotional re-visiting those times but it had to be done."
While his road to full recovery is an "ongoing process", he believes that depression is "not my enemy but my friend."
"I believe depression is a message from a part of your brain to tell you something in your life isn't right and you need to look at it. It forced me to stop and seek within for answers and that is where they are."
His comments come as Galway player Niall Donohue was remembered by teammates today at the Galway County Hurling Final.
A sombre shadow was cast over the event yesterday as hurling players and fans alike remembered their lost teammate and hero.
The match between Portumna and Loughrea had been scheduled for Sunday but was postponed following the tragic death of the Kilbeacanty hurler.
If you would like to talk to someone, the Samaritans are open 24hours a day at 1850 60 90 90.