Saturday 24 February 2018

In their own words - GAA stars on their battles with depression

Waterford hurler Maurice Shanahan
Waterford hurler Maurice Shanahan Newsdesk Newsdesk

Respected within their communities and role models right across the country, high-profile hurlers and footballers have spoken on their mental health issues in an effort to help others battle against depression.

Here, in their own words, are the heart-breaking, courageous and ultimately inspiring experiences of Maurice Shanahan, Wayne Hutchinson, Shane Carthy, Alan O'Mara and Conor Cusack.

Maurice Shanahan

I got really bad: I tried to attempt suicide. That’s not an easy thing to say, it’s just something that came over me that I wanted to end my life. I’m glad today that I didn’t.

I don’t remember much about doing it. I did think about it for a long time. I thought about it for a week or two before I attempted it. I got home one Sunday evening and I took an overdose.

I texted my sister after taking it, around an hour later. I texted her because I thought, by the time she came that I would have been gone. I didn't want my parents walking in to find me me dead in the bed. I wanted her to come in and see it first.

One evening I went out for a walk and the whole of Lismore were out looking for me and they found me in time.

26 July 2015; Maurice Shanahan, Waterford, celebrates after scoring his side's second goal. GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship, Quarter-Final, Dublin v Waterford. Semple Stadium, Thurles, Co. Tipperary. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

My father had battled through cancer at the time and it was really hard on him. I could see him, and (I thought) that was down to me because of the worry I’d put in to him.”

Dan, being my brother, locked me into the shed at home. He said stuff that really hit home. He said that if I did what I was attempting to do, ‘you’re not just going to kill yourself, you’re going to kill your parents, you’re going to kill me’.

That really hit home that evening. It wasn’t hearing that from your own brother and the tears flowing down his eyes.

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Shane Carthy

It was building up so much for years previous to that and unfortunately the five or six months before that, my thoughts were of ending my life really

That really didn't help with going to school or football, I just had this constant dark shadow in my way.

Inside when I had a few moments to myself, I was really crumbling and breaking down.

Shane Carthy

I don't know how I went through it for a couple of years but it got harder and harder as the thoughts got worse.

I'm glad I spoke up and dealt with it and to be honest now I wish I had done it earlier because I'm along the recovery path and am nearly out the other side.

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Wayne Hutchinson

I'd planned what I was going to do well in advance, right down to date, time and place. I was going to end it all.

I waited for everyone else to go to bed. And when they did, the blackest of darknesses consumed me as I lay there, as I so often have, staring at the ceiling. I quietly made my way downstairs, but all the while I was shaking. I was intent on going to the back of the house and into a forested area nearby.

Just as I'm about to make my way outside to end it all, I hear a noise upstairs, followed by footsteps, gingerly making their way downstairs.

I leave the door slightly ajar to see who it is. It's Mam, and she's getting a glass of water.

Wayne Hutchinson describes his battle with depression on an online blog

Unknowingly, she has intervened again to make a difference in my life; those footsteps, to me, were a sign from God: I need to keep fighting. I owe it to Mam

The following day, when the house was empty, I return to the spot where I'd planned to end it all. I pick up my stuff and am filled with shame and embarrassment.

I place the stuff in a bag, drive to Shannon Cliff in Dunmore East, take the rope out of my bag and throw it off the cliff and into the sea below.

The rope is gone. I'm still here.

For years I was thinking I was different, thinking I was the only one in the world with my particular problem.

Now I know it's not just me. I know there are others with that same 'companion' in life: depression.

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Alan O’ Mara

There is nothing to catch my attention on this road; nothing to distract my brain.

It's just me in the car, me and the voice that has become more and more prominent lately. It is getting louder. It gets to the point where it muffles out the radio. I keep driving. I keep thinking, questioning and wondering.

How have I got to this point? The point where there is even a thought of swerving my car into the concrete wall on the side of the motorway.

I feel trapped; it's just me and that voice in the fast lane of a motorway. Deep down, somewhere, I'm aware that is not a good mix.

Alan O'Mara, Cavan. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

The concrete wall to my right looks so appealing. How easy it would be just to swerve into it and finish it all. The voice whispers in my ear: ‘Will anybody even care if I do it?' The visualisation of my parents at my funeral rescues me from this horrible train of thought. I wind the window down and let the crisp air hit my face.

Eventually I get home and I want to switch off. I'm tired, I'm cranky and I've had a realisation that I am depressed.

The key thing for anyone who is feeling depressed is to always remember there is light at the end of the tunnel.

If you ever get to a point where you are struggling to see it, like I did, then that is the moment to reach out for help. Opening the vault that had become my head was crucial in lifting my depression.

Read more here:

Conor Cusack

I still remember the moment well. It was a wet, cold, grey Friday morning. I rose out of bed having had no sleep the night before. Panic attacks are horrific experiences by day, by night they are even worse.

My desire for death was now much stronger than my desire for living so I made a decision.

I had the rope hidden in my room. I knew there was a game on a Saturday evening and that my father and the lads would be gone to that. After my Mother and sister would be gone to Mass, I would drive to the location and hang myself. I didn’t feel any anxiety about it. It would solve everything, I thought.

For some reason my Mother never went to Mass. I don’t know why but she didn’t go. It was a decision on her part that saved my life.

Depression is difficult to explain to people. If you have experienced it there is no need, if you haven’t, I don’t think there are words adequate to describe its horror.

Conor Cusack - found space to express his emotions in psychotherapy

It 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.  You crave for peace but even sleep doesn’t afford that. It wrecks your dreams and turns your days into a living nightmare.

It destroys your personality, your relationship with your family and friends, your work, your sporting life, it affects them all. Your ability to give and receive affection is gone. You tear at your skin and your hair with frustration. You cut yourself to give some form of physical expression to the incredible pain you feel.

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.  There is no situation that is without hope, there is no person that can’t overcome their present difficulties.

For those that are suffering silently, there is help out there and you are definitely not alone.

Your journey in will unearth buried truths and unspoken fears.  A new strength will emerge to help you to head into the choppy waters of your painful past. Eventually you will discover a place of peace within yourself, a place that encourages you to head out into the world and live your life fully.  The world will no longer be a frightening place to live in for you.

The most important thing is to take the first step. Please take it.      

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