Monday 17 June 2019

“I didn’t want to die.” A Pieta House user talks about suicide, hope and finding help

Irene Hehir
Irene Hehir

Suicide is a silent killer in towns and communities across Ireland that can affect people of any age and from any demographic. One of the hardest things for friends or families is that they’re often unaware of what their loved one is going through until it’s too late.

Darkness Into Light, proudly supported by Electric Ireland, raises much-needed funds for Pieta House to help people who are struggling with suicidal thoughts, engaging in self harm or who have been bereaved by suicide. It also inspires hope by telling people that help is freely available and that you can get help, even in your darkest moments.

For Irene Hehir, Pieta House provided more than just a lifeline in her darkest hour. It also provided her with the tools to start living life again after she almost succumbed to suicidal thoughts at the age of 41.

Struggling with suicidal thoughts

Irene had experienced systematic bullying in her school days that had scarred her for over two decades.

“I guess it was just a case that I didn’t really deal with it at the time,” she recalls. “Over the years, I literally had depression and didn’t deal with it and didn’t feel that I could talk to anyone about it.

“By the time I hit my forties, I was at a very bad place. For a few years before that, I had been contemplating suicide as well. I suppose that’s where I ended up in serious trouble.”

The first time that Irene considered suicide was when she was being bullied in her school days. In the intervening years, the Clare native continued to struggle with depression and a crippling lack of confidence.

Often, she would struggle to get out of bed in the morning. At times, she would experience a total lack of energy that was exasperated by an inability to think clearly or to handle pressure at work or in her private life. She would get irritable with people close to her and then feel guilty about making the people in her life feel bad.

Although she had admitted to some close friends that she would sometimes feel down, she kept the full extent of her inner turmoil secret.

“I kept the really bad stuff from everyone I knew, like the fact that I suffered from depression and the fact that I was contemplating suicide,” Irene says.

“I felt ashamed of wanting to do it, to be honest with you. I didn’t want anyone at the time to try to talk me out of it because I did think that it was probably the best option.

“For me, there were times when I just wanted to be swallowed up. It was a real feeling of darkness, a real heavy cloud hanging over me the whole time.”

Things came to a head two years ago, when she finally reached a crisis point. 

“It had come to the point where I couldn’t face any more of it and I felt I was a burden to my family, my friends and the people who loved me. I had made a decision that I was going to take my own life and I had made a plan. I had arranged most things around me and one day, as I was heading out the door, I decided that that was going to be it.”

"Maybe there is a bit of hope for me"

When Irene was just about to leave the house, she experienced a moment of clarity that stopped her from stepping over the threshold.

“When I opened the door, would you believe, a ray of sunshine hit me in the face. It was almost like it was a cold smack.

“I thought ‘Hold on a minute, you’re just after doing the Darkness Into Light walk a couple of weeks ago and people were talking about hope and about talking and all that… Maybe there is a bit of hope for me if I was honest just once.’

“I just had a feeling of real nervousness in my stomach and I said ‘You know what, OK, let’s see if I can just talk to someone.’”

Luckily, a family member was in the house at the time and immediately called Pieta House when Irene asked for help.

“I just said I can’t deal with it anymore and I completely broke down.”

Finding help

Two days after she experienced the breakdown, she was talking to a counsellor in Pieta House and taking the first steps towards getting the help that she needed. In Pieta House, she started to break down the barriers that she had built around herself over the years and to finally open up. They also set about giving her the tools to start living her life.

“The biggest thing Pieta House did for me was give me the tools – learning to deal with my depression, learning to deal with what went on with me, learning to cope with it and learning to make peace with it.”

“I probably never believed I was a good person. I would have found it very hard to believe someone when they told me that they thought much of me or loved me. Things like that would have been very hard for me to believe.”

Irene points out that people who are struggling with suicidal thoughts are never “looking for an easy way out.”

“That’s very far from the truth. They’re looking for a way to get away from the darkness. It’s eating them alive.”

It can sometimes seem impossible for someone in that situation to see any way out.

“We don’t want to die. I didn’t want to die. But I wanted the darkness to end. I wanted that feeling to end and I didn’t feel that there was any other way that I could do that.”

She urges anyone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts to talk to someone. For anyone who thinks that a friend or family member may be contemplating suicide, Irene advises them to ask the question.

“For me, asking them if they are suicidal doesn’t encourage them to be suicidal. It just brings it out in the open and it maybe encourages them to talk about it.”

Supporting Darkness Into Light

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Irene is now on the committee of her local Darkness Into Light committee and she urges people to take part at their nearest Darkness Into Light location on Saturday, May 11. It is the flagship fundraiser for Pieta House and walks will take place at 168 locations across the country at 4.15am.

“For me, I was able to go to Pieta House and get help. I know that there are a lot of people struggling at the moment and these services are few and far between. That’s why Darkness Into Light is so important. Pieta House needs these funds to help people like me and the people who have gone through their doors and who are looking to go through their doors. If they’re not there, where do they go?”

Electric Ireland has sponsored Darkness into Light since 2013 as part of their mission to create a brighter future for all customers, staff and communities. Electric Ireland’s support has seen the event grow from 20 venues in 2013 to almost 200 this year, making a huge difference to countless lives along the way.

Pieta House was there when Irene needed them most and she’s found a new lease of life with their help.

“I’m loving life,” she says. “I’m actually loving it!

“Every day, I work hard to stay good and keep my mind healthy. It’s not a click of a switch where you’re cured. Pieta House has given me the tools to keep in good shape and keep my mind healthy and I use those every single day to try to keep on top of it the whole time. If there’s a day when I get up and don’t feel too good, I will tell someone.

“Depression doesn’t go away. It doesn’t disappear but it’s something that can be managed and helped.”

Electric Ireland are powering hope throughout the country, encouraging people to experience “The Power of Hope” at Darkness Into Light at 4.15am on Saturday, May 11. Register to walk across venues nationwide on the Darkness Into Light website.

If you need help, Pieta are there.

Call the 24/7 freephone helpline on 1800 247 247.

Text the word ‘Help’ to 51444 (standard text rates apply).

Sponsored by: EI

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