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Conor Cusack on his own battle with depression and the importance of taking the first step to receive help Photo by: RTE

Dealing with depression starts with the first step, talking and reaching out for help

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Conor Cusack on his own battle with depression and the importance of taking the first step to receive help Photo by: RTE

I had been five months in my room now. I had watched the summer turn into the autumn and then to Winter through my bedroom window. One of the most difficult things was watching my teammates parade through the town after winning the U21 championship through it. That was the real world out there. In here in my room was a living hell. I was now on about 18 tablets a day and not getting better but worse. I was eating very little but the medication was ballooning my weight to nearly twenty stone. I was sent to see another psychiatrist and another doctor who suggested electric shock therapy which I flatly refused. It was obvious to me I was never going to get better. My desire for death was now much stronger than my desire for living so I made a decision.

I had been contemplating suicide for a while now and when I finally decided and planned it out, a strange thing happened. A peace that I hadn’t experienced for a long time entered my mind and body. For the first time in years, I could get a good night’s sleep. It was as if my body realized that this pain it was going through was about to end and it went into relax mode. 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. No more pain, both for me and my family. They were suffering as well as I was and I felt with me gone, it would make life easier for them. How wrong I would have been. I have seen the effects and damage suicide has on families. It is far, far greater than anything endured while living and helping a person with depression.

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.

The following week, a family that I had worked for when I was younger heard about me being unwell. They rang my mother and told them that they knew a clinical psychologist working in a private practice that they felt could help me. I had built up my hopes too many times over the last number of months that a new doctor, a new tablet, a new treatment was going to help and had them dashed when he or it failed to help me. I wasn’t going through it again. My mother pleaded to give him a try and eventually I agreed. It was a decision on my part that would save my life.

After meeting Tony, I instantly knew this was what I had been searching for. It was the complete opposite of what I felt when I was being prescribed tablets and electric shock therapy. We sat opposite each other in a converted cottage at the side of his house with a fire lighting in the corner. He looked at me with his warm eyes and said ‘I hear you haven’t been too well. How are you feeling’. It wasn’t even the question, it was the way he asked it. I looked at him for about a minute or so and I began to cry. When the tears stopped, I talked and he listened intently. Driving home with my mother that night, I cried again but it wasn’t tears of sadness, it was tears of joy. I knew that evening I was going to better. There was finally a chink of light in the darkness.

 Therapy is a challenging experience. It’s not easy baring your soul. When you sit in front of another human being and discuss things you have never discussed with anyone, it can be quite scary. Paulo Coelho says in one of his books that ‘A man is at his strongest when he is willing to be vulnerable’. Sadly, society conditions men to be the opposite and views vulnerability as a weakness. For therapy to work, a person has to be willing to be vulnerable.  Within a week, I was off all medication. For me, medication was never the answer.  My path back to health was one of making progress, then slipping and making progress again. It was far from straightforward.

 I had to face up to memories I had buried from being bullied quite a lot when I was a young kid. 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.

 A lot of my identity was tied up with hurling and it was an unhealthy relationship. The ironic thing is that as I began to live my life more from the inside out and appreciate and value myself for being me and not needing hurling for my self esteem, I loved the game more than ever. I got myself super fit and my weight down to 13 and a half stone. I made the Cloyne Senior team and went on to play with the Cork Senior hurling team, making a cameo appearance in the final of 2006. It is still one of the biggest joys of my life playing hurling with Cloyne, despite losing three County finals and an All-Ireland with Cork. Being involved with the Cloyne team was a huge aid in my recovery and my teammates gave me great support during that time. 

I went back to serve my time as an electrician. I went to college by night and re-discovered my joy of learning. I work for a great company and have a good life now. I finished therapy in 2004. I have not had a panic attack in that time and have not missed a day’s work because of depression since then.   

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