Popular Pennsylvania-based Irish musician Seamus K has earned fans and praise on both sides of the Atlantic, but his success meant nothing when depression came calling. Here, he details his ongoing battle against depression, hopeful that others who are also suffering will learn from his story.
A little over two months ago, I admitted myself to Horsham Clinic in Pennsylvania suffering from chronic anxiety and depression.
In the weeks leading up to my admission, I was sleeping less than two hours a day, could barely eat, could not focus on the job and was losing weight at an alarming rate. I was constantly sad, and it took everything to get out of bed in the morning to get on the Septa train and head down to my work in Philadelphia.
The warning signs were everywhere. I felt a sense of desperation unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I was suffering from chronic anxiety and depression.
After talking with my wife, my sister who was visiting from Ireland and some close friends, I came to the conclusion that I needed immediate help. My wife and I went to the crisis center at the Doylestown Hospital emergency room in Pennsylvania.
After a brief consultation, they arranged for me get into Horsham that evening. It was a tough decision to make, but my wife and I knew it was the right one.
Before going to hospital, I went home and sat down with my four young children, one by one and explained what was happening. I did it in as calm a way as possible so as not to alarm them. Later that night, my oldest son told my wife he knew I was not doing well when I stopped playing guitar about a month earlier.
After a week of intensive treatment, therapy and the right medication, I was released from the hospital well on the road to recovery. The clinic has a wonderful staff that work together as a team to make sure each patient is on the right course of treatment.
Since leaving Horsham, I have continued to attend weekly therapy sessions and in the process learned a lot about my illness and how I ended up in such a bad state.
It’s almost impossible to describe what depression feels like unless you are going through it. Some of the more common forms of depression are reactive, recurrent, endogenous and manic. Most all share the common feelings of hopelessness, despair, fear, anxiety, shame and the inability to enjoy life.
It is believed that most depressions involve a chemical imbalance in the brain. There is less known about what exactly triggers depression. It’s the whole nature versus nurture argument.
Depression is often but not always accompanied by anxiety. Anxiety is also difficult to describe, but it’s basically a feeling of anxiousness about simple tasks such as getting out of bed or going to work or even something as simple as answering the phone.
We all experience some form of anxiety in our daily routines, but as long as we are mentally fit we are able to manage it, and it can be a positive factor in our lives. It’s when anxiety is combined with depression, that’s when everything gets exaggerated and reality gets distorted.
I share my story today because I believe depression, anxiety and other illnesses that come under the general heading of mental illness often have a stigma attached to them. As a result, thousands of people cover up their illness, suffer in silence, and never receive the treatment they desperately need for fear of shame, embarrassment, losing a job, and often the fear of losing their loved one.
The families of people with this type of illness also suffer while watching someone they care deeply about in distress and not knowing where to turn for help.
MY BATTLE with depression goes back to the early 1970s. I started playing music professionally at age 14. Within a year I gained popularity around Galway because of my flamboyant rock guitar playing and my stage theatrics. As a 15-year-old I was living the dream, opening up for major bands including the amazing Thin Lizzy.
By the summer of 1974, I was playing with a band called Rock & Roll Circus. The band performed all over Ireland and we were tipped to be the next big thing.
In the midst of the launch of the band, my mother passed away suddenly at age 54. She was a saintly lady and we were very close. Without doubt, she was my biggest fan.
I practiced guitar at least eight hours a day, only breaking for tea and brown bread with Mam as we called her. We talked about everything during those tea breaks. It was the best part of my day.
Even before Mam passed away, I was having a hard time dealing with everyday life. I was sad most of the time and I found it difficult getting out of bed each day. I had withdrawn from my friends and family and felt lonely and lost.
Two months after Mam died it all came to a head. Rock & Roll Circus did a show in Wexford. I knew something was wrong as I had a hard time concentrating on the music.
After the show we went back to our hotel. I couldn’t fall asleep and got very agitated. It was a terrifying experience. I walked the deserted streets of Wexford for hours in an effort to calm down.
In the morning, I told the bandleader I was in bad shape. He immediately got me to a local doctor who sedated me and told the bandleader to get me back to Galway right away.
Our local doctor in Galway couldn’t figure out what was wrong. My dad recognized the seriousness of my situation and said that there were a few options.
I could go to the Regional hospital in Galway or I could go to St. Patrick’s psychiatric hospital in Dublin. He insisted it be my choice.
He always called me Jim when things got serious. He said, “Jim, I think you should consider St. Pat’s. There is something wrong with your nerves and this has been going on for a good while. St. Pat’s is the best with that kind of thing.”
I think I surprised Dad saying, “Dad, if I don’t get help right away, I don’t thing I’ll be around for much longer.” A day later, we got in the car and headed to St. Patrick’s.
It must have been very hard for my dad to see his only son in such a state of despair, especially since he had just lost the love of his life a few months earlier. My dad was old school Irish with just a few years of high school education but he was an enlightened kind and quiet man, years ahead of his time.
My four sisters were also worried sick. We have always been and continue to be very close.
I was in St. Patrick’s for a total of five weeks. Much like my first two days at Horsham, the first few weeks in St. Patrick’s were a blur as I slept most of the time. I was psychically and emotionally exhausted.
After about three weeks my depression began to lift, first for a few hours each day and eventually to the point where I felt “normal” again for long periods of the day.
My psychiatrist told me that I was suffering from reactive depression most likely triggered by the passing of my mother.
As a result of the treatment I got at St. Patrick’s, I remained free from depression for almost 40 years and have lived a fully productive life until this past April.
Because of my 40-year music career and the jobs I’ve held over the years in marketing and communications, I have spent much of my life in the public eye. Some might question the wisdom of sharing something this personal in such a public forum.
I’m not ashamed that I have had to get help twice in my life for depression and anxiety. I could have done without it, but it’s a card I have been dealt and on the larger scale of things, it’s not that big a burden. In many ways it has given me a deep insight into how the mind works that I otherwise may not have had.
It’s my hope that someone reading this who is suffering in silence will realize there is no shame in reaching out for help. Depression and anxiety should be looked at as just other forms of illness or sickness that can be taken care of with the right treatment. It’s just a matter of taking the first step.
You can also help those around you who may be suffering in silence by paying attention to the warning signs such as lack of motivation, sadness, continuous crying, excessive drinking or narcotics use, and lack of involvement in family activity.
As I noted earlier, mental illness impacts not just the person who is going through it. It can also have a devastating impact on their family and friends.
The more suppressed it is, the more dangerous it is to all involved. The support of family and friends is critical in the diagnosis of the illness and in the recovery process.
TODAY I am once again ready to take on the world. I have a beautiful wife and four wonderful children. I believe my recent experience has brought us all closer together.
I know it was hard for the children, especially for that first few days when I was in hospital. I could see the relief on their little faces when they came to visit me after a few days and they saw that I was getting back to my old self with my silly jokes and comments.
My wife was a rock through the experience, although I know it was difficult for her on many levels. She had to take care of the kids and make sure they were okay, put in a full day at work and then come visit me at the hospital each evening and put on a brave face.
I’m spending a lot more time now with my wife and with the kids. I’m more involved with the children than I have been at any time in the past. I want to be around to see them grow up and be there for them in good and challenging times.
I also have a lot of guitar licks that still need to be heard and plenty of silly jokes waiting to be told. I wake up every morning thankful that I can enjoy another day and as the song goes, I take it, “One Day at a Time.”
Below are a list of resources that can be of help for those dealing with depression and anxiety. In this day and age, there is no need for them to suffer in silence.