“If you always do what you always did, you'll always get what you always got.” A powerful statement, at least in the eyes of former Irish international rugby player David Corkery.
The 41-year-old beefy Co. Cork native has recently gone public in Ireland with his long battle with depression. As we know from last week’s interview in the Irish Voice with Conor Cusack (who will be speaking this coming Friday in the Aisling Centre in Yonkers) Corkery is one of many elite sports stars that have struggles with mental health in the 32 counties.
The former rugby star, who has 27 caps with Ireland and also played with Munster, recently spoke with the Irish Voice about how depression sucked him lifeless, especially after his father took his own life and how he has now pulled through with a lot of help from nothing but an acquaintance at the time.
Corkery, who is married with two kids, decided it was time to share his story. “I guess since my father’s passing and knowing a lot of other guys in sports also suffer from depression I thought whatever presence I have it might do some good in helping people,” he shared.
Corkery’s professional career with Ireland came to an abrupt end in 2000 after he ruptured two Achilles tendons within six months of each other but this wasn’t the start of his depression- it just catapulted it further. His dark days and lonely nights started years before this, at the height of his career.
Corkery was a hero on the rugby pitch. He was the man every young fella wanted to be. He was the man every woman wanted to date. He had it all- good looks, great charm, a wonderful personality, and above all else he was an international sports star. What more could he want. Corkery just wished for peace of mind. He longed to feel happy again. While everyone was looking up to him, he was looking up to everyone else. He feared his future while others got excited about theirs. He dreaded being alone, while his team mates only longed for some down time. His thoughts, one negative thought after another, were trapping him. He wanted out. Out of his head, out of his miserable life yet those around him saw a successful jock who had it all – a stunning girlfriend (later to become his wife), a fantastic career and fame along with all that. Everyone’s dream of a great life. Not Corkery yet he continued on this journey in the hope that it would all change for the better. He would have to start feeling ‘normal’ again. This couldn’t go on. Well it did. The more times he played for Ireland, the more recognition he received, the deeper and darker his thoughts got.
“It was a lot of things mainly associated with my thoughts,” he shared. “I had the constant worry (every day) that I’d lose my contract. What was I going to do? I could only play rugby; I didn’t have a plan B. I didn’t have the education I would need for another career behind me. It was an enormous fear of mine. I was actually digging myself into a bigger hole. Looking back I almost wished myself that injury; my worst fear came to be.”
Corkery is quick to point out that we all make judgements about people and their lives. But, he warns, “no one knows what goes on behind closed doors or inside someone’s mind.”
“I’d be lying awake at night and I couldn't sleep and then one problem led to another problem and then the night sweats came it just got worse and worse and worse.
“Professional sports can be very very lonely. You live in hotels and that hotel can become a prison. You go from hotel to hotel to hotel. It sounds lovely but it was so hard.”
But Corkery knew how to solve his depression. “I needed to win the lotto,” he said knowing how stupid that sounds now. “I truly believed that if I won the lotto I’d get out of the hole I was in. I’d be able to provide for my children, have a good life and everything would be fine,” he said.
He later in life laughs at the silliness of his obsession with winning the lotto. “Even if I had all the money in the world I’d still be unhappy. What I needed, that I later discovered, was a purpose. “
Corkery, who hails from Glanmire, Co. Cork, admits that purpose finally came, albeit in a very indirect way. A man he now credits for turning his life around and possibly saving it is Cork native Hugh O’Donovan, a life coach.
Corkery and O’Donovan were acquaintances through their love of sports.
“He came talking to me (at a game) and he obviously thought because of my body language and my facial expression something was up. I guess he's trained in that field but a lot of people might shy away from it and say nothing but Hugh did the opposite,” said Corkery, who was Ireland’s Player of the Tournament at the 1995 Rugby World Cup.
It was a few weeks later before Corkery answered a call out of the blue from O’Donovan. This was the most important call Corkery was ever to take and to this day he is eternally grateful to his friend and confidant.
The pair spent a number of hours shortly after the call talking about everything. Corkery completely opened up to this stranger about his battles and there in O’Donovan’s house this rugby player began to turn a corner. A light shone inside him that was quenched many years ago. Corkery admits it wasn’t an overnight quick fix. It took time, and a lot of work on himself to change his way of thinking but he now feels confident he is on the right path in life and can finally see a bright future full of excitement and plans.
“Everything is positive now. I mean it truly does work if you think positive. Even simple things from getting up in the morning with something positive on my mind starts my day off great,” he admits.
When asked did his family pick up on his low self-esteem and dark moods he said families aren’t always the best people to confide in. “It might be best sometimes to avoid people who are closest and nearest. They often have the attitude to just “Cop on to yourself. Get up out of bed and get on with it.”
Corkery, who sells sports medical equipment, admits he still has a dark day or two but “as long as I know how to cope with it” he can manage a very happy and content life for himself.
Corkery can’t emphasise enough how important it is to reach out to someone whom you think may be suffering from depression. He said they may not open up the first time but with a little time and possibly perseverance making that contact and having that conversation can pull a person out of a very dark hole.
“Getting the message across, that there are people out there who can help, it might be just what someone needs. I was lucky… the phone call was made for me to me.”
Corkery, based on his own personal experience, claims someone with depression can come out of it in a short space of time. He did.
“You will be able to change. It might be so hard right now but you will be able to turn things around. It’s just a case of being able to know what do to and how to deal with the situation and challenge it.
“Expecting yourself to run a mile in five minutes, six minutes, that's a challenge, the first time you might not do it, and after a month you might not do it, but eventually you will do it and the reward at the end of the line will change your whole life.
For more information on the mental health awareness event at the Aisling Centre on April 25 call 914-237-5121 or visit www.aislingcenter.org.