18/02/12 Depression, Blackhall Gaels & My Black Dog

SATURDAY, 18 FEBRUARY, 2012
Below is a piece I wrote when I lived alone in the mobile. Not sure when I wrote it but it was sometime in 2011: Reflecting on the early days of depression from late 09 to 2010:
I couldn’t tell you an exact date or even year that this ‘’illness’’ called depression (a word I use only for your benefit but a word I don’t like) struck me. Looking back now I would have to say that it was happening to me over a prolonged period of time and I never even realised it. If I had something physical happening to me like a tumour or maybe even something as small as an appendix I would have noticed and got it treated but this evil disease generally creeps in under the radar and affects you as bad if not worse as the aforementioned physical problems. If I was to have a stab at when it all started I would say late 2004, but i’m only really basing that on the fact that up to then I was flying and at the top of my game in the  GAA world with my club Blackhall Gaels.2003 had seen me win the senior championship with them while 04 saw me nominated for a green star award(like the all-stars where the best 15 club players for the year are picked and presented with a plaque and the chance to face the best county players in Meath),so i’m  kind of thinking that someone with depression would not be able to train or compete at such a high level and coincidentally enough I haven’t done since!! In the years between then and now I have always tried to make a return and rekindle that high but to no avail, more often than not returning to training in January with great intentions and quitting by early February or else not training at all and playing in lower levels which usually resulted (more often than not) in a red card…or two, with the most notable one coming in 08 resulting in a forty-eight week ban after supposedly assaulting a referee. I kicked a ball at him and missed and may have used some choice words to describe his physical stature but forty-eight weeks? Surely too much but nonetheless it was totally out of character and these outbursts were not only consigned to the football pitch but it was happening in work and on nights out so anger was an issue, things just weren’t right but of course at the time and all through these years I never put it down to the big ‘’D’’.0 4 also see me lose my best friend John Jennings to SADS(sudden adult death syndrome) and that was put down as a major factor for a few years for my strange behaviour and I along with Linda(my girlfriend of eight years now) and my family all were of the same opinion and thought it would pass. Looking back on it now and haven gone through things and broken them down and talked to various people, yes loosing John in such a sudden manner that it was had a massive effect on my life and surely didn’t help in the development of this disease but I know I grieved for John  a lot and in my own way and I think I have dealt with that issue and though i’ll never forget John for as long as I live, losing him is not the reason I have a story to tell you about my journey through depression, a journey I am not at the end of but I do hope that I have the back well and truly broke on it. So while I cannot pinpoint the exact year in which it all began or how or why it all began, I can tell you about the bad years since, now mind you when I say bad years, I know there are people out there who have had it a lot worse and lost people close to them etc and I have been lucky enough in that respect but you don’t think of these things when you wake up everyday feeling low, to me I was the unlucky one and though good things were happening around me, there were more days when life to me was SHIT and I was the only one with problems so you begin to distance yourself, go into hiding, hide behind the curtains not caring what is going on in the outside world and slowly get weaker and weaker.
                        But I wasn’t always like that, prior to all that I was just your average child who grew into your average teenager, I was never different or even picked on for been different, I was popular enough, had plenty of friends, a perfect family, my mammy and daddy (as I always called them and still do) were and still are the best a child and now adult could hope for growing up and my sister’s Catriona and Louise were always and still are very good to me. So in that respect I was lucky. And I know that some depression sufferers are as a result of some sort of sexual, physical or mental abuse suffered as a child but I can safely disregard all of the above and am very lucky to be able to do so and my heart goes out to anybody who did. People who know me now and read this would find it hard to believe that I was extremely shy as a youngster, especially in school and many of my end of year reports read,’’excellent student, loves English and spelling but is very shy and finds it hard to partake in reading excercises’’. That was me down to a tee, I always and still do love putting things down on paper but I am not the biggest fan of reading them out!! I remember one such example in primary school in 5Th class when upon returning from our school tour to the Ulster American Folk Park we had to write an essay on what it would be like to live in them times etc.. As usual I had no problem putting it down on paper and was actually quiet happy with my work but when it came to reading it out I froze and then…started crying. Looking back now I think it was only a ply to get out of reading the essay but if it was I shouldn’t have done it because the teacher at the time, Mrs Dunne, blew it all out of proportion and rang home to mammy to tell her and of course then it turned into a whole scale ‘’Robert’s been bullied escapade’’. And while I was been called some names during my time in school, most notably BBC (will explain in a minute!!), I would never say I was been badly bullied and to be honest I probably gave as good as I got but my crying sparked the biggest investigation of the year and all the lads in the class were called to the stand. So that was bullying crossed off any list of bad things to happen me as a youngster even though a lot of people at the time probably thought I was been bullied and for any classmate that may have got 500 lines for their so called part in the ‘’COX SCANDAL’’, I am sorry! BBC (Bucky Boy Cox) now there is one for you… See I had prominent front teeth for a whole two years I would say so that is how the name stuck. But it certainly didn’t have any long term effects on me. So no bullying, no abuse and overall good childhood, so I think I can move on from that part of my life so you can wait for my autobiography to learn more on that!!
                          As I write this I am only on tablets a year to treat my depression and though I know I have suffered for a lot longer than that I only went down the medical route of trying to solve my problem last may after trying many different alternatives before that. I am not quiet sure why I avoided the doctor but I think the main reason was that if I was on medication to treat depression that meant I would have been diagnosed with it and it all would seem very real. I wouldn’t mind both my sister Catriona and my aunt Kathleen are nurses and I ignored their advice for a while, i’m sure I wasn’t an easy person to talk to. Now would be a good time to tell you (having ruled out reasons why this happened to me) that two of my uncles suffered from depression so it’s in the family. Sadly Michael (my father’s brother) took his own life in November 06 and I never knew anything of what he went through, which I have since learned is a bad thing as the more people that know about it the better and I have even told people I thought I would never tell such intimate fact about myself. So what I would say to anyone in my position is talk, talk and talk some more. It really does help and it is surprising how good people can be. So yes we may finally have some reason for why I was to get depression, it is in my family. So after the few years of feeling bad and quitting football and starting to miss work and becoming tired all the time and not wanting to do things with Linda (the list could go on), I finally broke down in bed one night when myself and Linda were lying there and she was about to doze off but I couldn’t sleep, my mind was racing and then I just started crying, it just all came out that night and we went from there but I think if I hadn’t opened up that night I wouldn’t be around today, this disease would have got the better of me, it would have WON. I told her everything, talked for hours and let all my emotions out through my tears, I wasn’t ashamed of crying in front of her, this was helping, it was no time to be acting all macho! None of this came as any surprise to linda though, she knew me better than anybody but she couldn’t help me if I didn’t open up so that night was pivotal in my quest for recovery and happiness. I told her of my problems and how I felt and she reassured me we would get through it together. A weight was lifted off my shoulder’s that night and I slept a bit better than I had done in a long time, it was only the start of a very long road, small step but yet such a large one. Next step would be difficult though…..telling my family.
                    I have just completed a book called ‘A Day Of Hope’ which is the story of the 2fm DJ Garreth O’Callaghan and his battle with depression. I would strongly recommend it to anyone in a similar plight to that of myself and Garreth as it helped me on my journey and I am sure it will help you. So many sections of his book I could relate to and while I don’t think my depression was as severe as his our symptoms for very similar. One thing he talked about and I am also going to talk about and is very common in relation to depression sufferers is OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) and though I was medically never diagnosed with it, it was actually one of the main reason I broke down in front of Linda that night. I just couldn’t stick it anymore, it was giving me headaches and if some things were not perfect, it could get to the stage that my head felt it was going to explode and the veins on the side of my head were going to pop out. Recently the most common place this has affected me has been in the work place but in a contradiction to earlier comments about my ‘’perfect’’ childhood, looking back now there would have been early signs of OCD present in aspects of my younger days. For example if I was to plug out the plug beside my bed at night I would have to check it was unplugged nine times. Nine times? Yes that’s 3×3=9 it’s just the way it had to be or in bed at night if I thought of something bad I would have to touch wood nine times, again 3×3=9. Some reading this may think I was or still am (because I still do that today) a freak but for me it had to be done or something bad would happen. I am not as bad in the present day or as the pro’s say ‘’ At the time of this going to post ’’ but I still have my bad days and particularly in work. For anyone that doesn’t know and pardon me for not mentioning already but I work in Kilcock Motor Factors in Kilcock county Klidare and we sell new car parts to the general public. And not intentionally linking everything back to that pivotal year of 04 but that is when I started working there, in September of 04.Anyway my daily jobs entail serving the customers, answering the phones, checking in orders and doing orders with reps oh and the one job that was making my veins pop, the easiest job of the lot…. Taking items such as 500ml aerosol cans (packed and sealed in cases of 12) from our oil store to the shelf, easy I hear you say, a young lad on his first day could do it and you would be right and it’s not that I couldn’t do it, in fact to look at it when I was done you would be well impressed but what you wouldn’t know or see would be me stressed out, counting the cans to make sure there were twelve there and all the labels were facing out and then count them again and if someone interrupted me mid-stream I would have to start all over again! A simple two minute job lasting five and me stressed from my OCD. Then I was putting more work on myself by checking up on my fellow workers (god not even Paddy my boss was at that). One of them could put an air filter down the back and one minute later down goes yours truly to check they put it in the right place. Or I would take a brake pad off the shelve to sell it and continue to look at empty shelf checking to see was it the last pad or if I was off for a day I would spend the first hour the next day going around straightening books and invoices etc. Hmmm straightening things, a real tell-tale sign of somebody with OCD. It wasn’t confined to work only though, it wasn’t long after I moved into my mobile home(my first home of my own) that the taps needed to be replaced due to over tightening and the door handle followed suit both from over checking. I am sure there are many more examples of this but again it could merit a book of it’s own and it was one of the main reasons as I said that I opened up to Linda. And I have since learned from research how much that OCD And Depression go hand in hand and feed off each other.
                          With the weight slightly off my shoulders in the knowledge of Linda sharing my problems, attentions turned to telling my family as both Linda and I knew if they found out they would push to make sure I got the help I needed. So of course in the good aul modern day way of telling someone your problems or your good news or indeed any news instead of having to tell them to their face, the text message. And then who to text? It was decided that Louise (the younger of my two older sisters) would receive the text and I knew once she got it, it wouldn’t be long before my mammy got it. And to her credit I wasn’t wrong, I explained to her how low I was feeling and anything else I felt the need she should know and within the hour my mother Sarah was out visiting and it all started from there. If I thought that I’d be cured there and then just because people were starting to find out and I would have help from then on, I would have thought wrong because that was a good two years ago and I am still fighting this battle. Again I am sorry if anyone got the impression that because I am writing this I must be better but sadly i’m not fully there, yes I am a long way forward from that night I cried in Linda’s arms but I realise I still have a long way to go. So the ball was rolling and naturally the question’s were been thrown at me. Why? how? when? But I couldn’t give my family the answers they wanted, instead they were met with a blank face. Catriona of course is the nurse and when she found out she juggled between nurse mode and loving sister and was and still is to this day a great help to me. She wanted me to go the medical route straight away, saying I could have a chemical imbalance in my head and that talking and tablets could help. But I was stubborn and probably still am and I apologise to all that tried to help me over the past few years but also thank you for without your persistence I wouldn’t be this far down the road to recovery as I am now. Since my problems first came to light there are many people who have helped me in their own ways so before I continue I would like to thank my aunt Kathleen for all her help and most recently taking my bloods and texting me now and then to see how I am feeling. I would like to thank my immediate family, mammy, daddy (man of few words but when he does speak they are always wise and helpful words), Catriona and Louise (the best sisters a man could have). My uncle Tommy for whom I confided in during the early stages, a man who has been there and wore the t-shirt. Also thanks to Tommy for travelling to Gorey, Wexford with me in September 09 to visit a healer and buying me the punnet of Wexford Strawberries on the way home!! Thanks to Michael and David my brother in-laws for how they both helped in their own ways. Thanks to my friends Nicky, Mickey, liam and mainly Calvin who endured many nights of me texting him telling him how bad I felt and who came on drives with me when I skipped work for weeks on end. Thanks to too Linda’s family who were like a second family and home to me. Breda, Michael, Niamh and especially Sheena who had me trying every tablet under the sun. Her heart was and is in the right place. But of course Linda, my rock you get my biggest thanks and xxxxx. How you are still with me is nothing short of a miracle, many a weaker girlfriend would have long since fled from me. Words cannot say how grateful I am towards you so I can only use the rest of our life together to show you how much I love you. For without you pushing me on I might not be here today. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. And if I have left anyone out I am sorry.. I have, my boss paddy, a man amongst men. Any other boss would have surely lost patience with my numerous no shows, some which lasted weeks if not months so thank you paddy for sticking by me and even giving me that book ‘’ A Day Called Hope’’ to read, it has helped immensely. Thank you again you have to be the best boss in the country, thanks to too my work colleagues Benny And more recently Adam, I am sure I have wrecked many a day off ye were due in the last two years, so sorry and thank you to each and every one of you and to anyone I forgot also a big sorry and thank you.
                        While it’s great that I am moving forward and getting better and thanking people, I would like to take it back to 09 again and when it really began to affect my everyday life and take a hold. A year previous to that I had moved out of the family home for the first time, well I moved like a whole fifty metres out the back into a mobile home I had purchased from Louise and her fiance Michael, who had just bought a house in Maynooth following the birth of my little nephew Sean. Now it doesn’t sound much, it’s not as if I moved down the country but it was still a big step, my first home I could call my own and with it all the responsibilities and challenges of fending for yourself so I was excited at the prospect but when I look back now with it came a lot of nights when I was on my own so for someone about to face into a battle with depression this wasn’t good. I can’t blame Linda she was and still is going through college so I couldn’t expect her to commit full time and share any expenses though she is great in the way she stays over so much and has been since the day I moved in here. Not long after settling in, we got our first little dog, Cisse, having had bad experiences of dogs in my home when I was younger I knew my parents would never let me get another on while under their roof so this was the perfect opportunity and though Cisse is no longer with me due to a tragic accident in the summer of 2010, he was great company in my early days in my new home and we will never forget the little guy. He was with me through a lot of the dark days and never left my side on days when I couldn’t bring myself to even get out of bed. So things were looking up in late 08, a new home, a new puppy, working away, a trip to Euro Disney, fast forward a year and it will bring you to late 09 and the start of a downward spiral. Looking back on it now I was probably getting worse over the course of that year, bad things were happening mainly down to me and I wouldn’t have blamed Linda had she up and left me but once again I thank her for reciliance and though she packed her bags on numerous occasions and stormed out of the mobile, threatening never to return, she would always come back and stick by me. One such example was on the May bank holiday of that year, when after entertaining our families with a BBQ on the decking of the mobile on a warm summers day, a few of us ended the night in Murphy’s pub in Kilcock but of course as usual I drank too much (never knew when to stop) and ended up in a fight in the Chinese restaurant Mr. Wu’s after annoying the girl that works their another customer took it upon himself to interfere and the two of us spiralled out onto the street, it was handbags really but Louise and Linda were there so I had made a show of myself and would have to deal with the consequences the next morning. Physically I was grand, nothing but a fat lip to dent my pride and a rather nasty hangover to boot! But I felt shit I had let both myself and Linda down and I don’t blame her for her reactions. I woke to her shouting and screaming, calling me every name under the sun. And one line sticks with me to this day, ‘’why can’t you be more like David Murray’’? David is Catriona’s husband, a man with his head well screwed on, something I wasn’t at that moment and time. So needless to say Linda left for few days and though she didn’t live here full time anyway, her absence was felt. That was the first real bad thing to happen and was totally out of character so bad things were creeping into my system and it would be another two years before I could start getting them out.
                 I remember the first day I didn’t go to work because of the way I was starting to feel, it was September 09 and we had just come back from a week’s holiday in Portugal with some members of Linda’s family. I know it’s quiet common for people to struggle to go to work after a holiday and people often use the expression ‘’God i’m depressed after that holiday, I can’t face work’’, well that was me only I actually was depressed (even though I hadn’t yet been diagnosed yet) and having come home on the Saturday night and had Sunday and Monday to recover, I was all set for work on the Tuesday morning but when I woke that morning I felt like I had never felt before. Linda was beside me that morning in the bed as she had stayed the previous night but she was asleep so I didn’t want to disturb her but right from the minute I woke I knew something was up and there was no way I was going into work. I can’t remember clearly I this was before or after I had told Linda of my problems that night in bed but i’m pretty sure it was after. Either way I didn’t want to be bothering her at 9am in the morning so I got up as usual and planned to just get into the car and drive, that way she would think I had gone to work. To this day I still shiver at the thought of me driving that morning as I was safety risk to myself and other road users. I was in a daze from what I can remember, just driving and driving, going nowhere in particular, my phone turned off so I couldn’t be contacted by Linda, my family or Paddy, my boss If I had crashed that morning, nobody would have known where I was, all the time they thought I was in work. Of all the places I could have gone, I ended up in Blanchardstown Shopping Centre, again just walking around in a daze, not shopping, just walking. This morning was the first of many, many shit days ahead over the next two years. I sat eating a roll in BB’S Cafe and to any passer-by I was just another shopper, stopping for their ten o clock break!! But I wasn’t I was troubled man, hiding from the real world, suffering. Again the drive home was a blur, well it wasn’t even the drive home it was a drive around the country until six o clock came when I could return home with everybody thinking I had done a day’s work. Them days were the hardest because nobody knew and I had to hide it during the day so it came as welcome relief when I did finally tell people and I urge anybody reading this with similar problems, the key to recovery is to talk, talk and then talk some more. I drove to some places in them early day’s that I would never usually venture too, I drove to Blessington and the Dublin mountains amongst others but most of the time I just drove to random places to pass the day. The hardest part is to admit you have a problem and to start accepting help and I am glad I did just that for if I hadn’t I think this awful disease would have got the better of me and I fear I wouldn’t be here today. I am so glad I didn’t do anything stupid as it would have killed my parents, my family and Linda and it is a selfish act on the part of the person that decides to take their own life, as the loved ones left behind are the ones who will suffer. I know that is easy to say now as I continue to improve but back then I wasn’t really thinking that and I am sure that people who do take their own life don’t think of these things but I would urge them to stop and think of their loved ones first. I am glad I did and though I would have many more dark days ahead, letting Linda and my family know how I felt meant I could start getting help.
              The more people that started to find out how I was the better as that meant I had more people on board to help, one of those was Linda’s sister Sheena and she made an appointment for me to see a hypnosis energy healer named Gerard in Kildare town, whom her boyfriend Shane had visited to talk to following the death of his brother Jason in a car crash. They said it could only help me and Shane said it had helped him to talk and even brought out his emotions he wouldn’t normally share with people. I was a bit apprehensive about this but decided to give it a go and nervously headed off on a dark Tuesday night in September. Gerard was lovely to talk to and while I don’t doubt his ability to help people he couldn’t help me and at least he was honest enough to tell me so and didn’t charge me either so that was very honest and decent of him and I thank him for that. He did however recommend another person in a similar field that might be able to help me so he gave me the name of a woman in Gorey, Co.Wexford, her name now evades me but I visited her twice and in fairness to her she brought me so far, had me take herbal vitamins and talked to me and did some reiki and energy healing with me but in the end I felt I needed more help than this and never went back after the second time. She did give me some good tips and relaxing methods and every day I woke I would say ‘’I am strong, I am healed, I am whole’’. Things like this helped but it could only bring me so far. It was during this time that I first came in contact with the herbal remedy for anxiety and depression St John’s Wort, which at the time I thought was helping me but in the long run looking back now it could have been doing me more damage. Some people had tried to warn me against it but I wasn’t going to listen, as far as I was concerned I was taking a tablet and this was going to help me. What is this St. John’s Wort I hear you ask?  St. John’s wort is most commonly used for depression and conditions that sometimes go along with depression such as anxiety, tiredness, loss of appetite and trouble sleeping. There is some strong scientific evidence that it is effective for mild to moderate depressionn’s . So with my trip to Kildare town and two trips to Gorey coming within a month of each other and my course of tablets started, you would expect some sort of improvement but there wasn’t really, i’d say in from the first day I didn’t turn in for work it was a good two months before I went back but after a few day’s into my sabbatical I did write a letter to Paddy explaining everything and put it through his letter box in the shop. I found it easier this way than coming face to face with him as I most likely felt ashamed for letting him down. He was and still is great to me over the whole thing and can’t continue to thank him enough. At this stage money was becoming to become a bit thin and I had to raid my savings to pay the bills and to just basically survive but my family were great on that front. Linda was in college so my days were spent mainly in bed most the morning, not seeing much point for getting up, my sleep and eating patterns were all over the place so that wouldn’t have been helping me. When I would get up it would be to bring Cisse out for the toilet and more often than not I would scurry back in before I would be seen. I was paranoid what people would think, wondering why isn’t that lazy so and so not working and saying fellas would give their left arm to have a job in the current economic climate. But the current climate didn’t bother me, I didn’t care what was happening in the outside world. So with Cisse sorted, it was back inside for the day, the curtains closed and the door locked and there were many day’s when a knock came to the door, I wouldn’t answer it. It’s not easy hiding in a mobile but I guess under the bed was as good a place as any eh? Some dark thoughts were in my head those few months but thankfully I didn’t act on them. December brought with it a bit of hope and I returned to work three days a week and was happy to be back in a routine and also I needed the money for Christmas and for some home heating oil as we were about to endure the harshest winter in my lifetime anyway and again when ya live in a mobile home in -11, you need heat to say the least. Linda thinks I have certain times of the year when I am depressed and when I am feeling good. She reckons march, may and October are bad months and strangely enough December and January in the depths of the winter are my good months. Maybe she is right maybe she is wrong, I don’t know but I do know I was happy to be back to a routine, was I getting better? It was probably just a bad patch, sure I probably wasn’t even depressed? Either way I was back in the game, onwards and upwards…or so I thought. My knowledge of depression was raw back then so I was foolish to think it had gone away, it hadn’t, it may have eased for a few months but right when you think everything is OK you can be brought straight back down to earth unexpectedly at anytime, as I was about to find out.
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