“You know, Claire, it’s not too long ago, where I was, my life, I was convinced, the only way out of the immense emotional pain and suffering I was in, was to take my own life.
I came very close, moments away from it, but thankfully, through various supports, and was able to recover my wellbeing in a sense, and my health. But the situation, for a lot of families around the country, the reality is, around Christmas time, there’ll be a lot of empty chairs at tables, and unnecessarily so.
It doesn’t have to be that way. People don’t want to end their lives, they want to end the pain they’re in. Let’s implement the 24/7 specialist support services, as was said would be done in the Vision for Change, let’s end the omnipresent stigma that still engulfs this very common aspect of the human experience, and prevents so many people from coming forward and getting support.
Let’s create a pioneering education system that nourishes the most important knowledge of all: the knowledge of self, and the relationship with self. Let’s realise that the passing of the Marriage Referendum wasn’t a panacea for all the distress that many LGBT* people experience when coming to terms with their sexuality, and the massive levels of suicide among that group of people, is very concerning.
Finally, let’s finally, put the emotional health and well-being of our people on a par with physical health, in our health service, and in the hearts and minds of our politicians.
As sure as there’s a path into emotional distress and crisis, there’s a way through it and out the other side. And we all need to realise, Claire, that we can all be the lanterns that light that way for others, to support people on their journey back to wellness. Because the wonderful thing as human beings, is that we possess these endless reservoirs of compassion, of kindness, and care.
We can change the story, and the carnage, of suicide on the island of Ireland. We have to change it, and we all share responsibility to ensure that this happens right now.
Hurling veteran and mental health advocate Conor Cusack last night, speaking on RTÉ One’s Claire Byrne Live.
Among those to have died by suicide in the city in recent weeks include an 18-year-old scout from Greenmount, and two of his friends, a 15-year-old girl from Ballyphehane and a 17-year-old girl, a fifth-year student, from Rochestown.
An 18-year-old boy from Mayfield, a 20-year-old man from Togher, and a 44-year-old woman from Ballyphehane are also suspected to have died by suicide in recent days.
The rate of suicides in the city and county is almost twice the national average.
Mr Cusack called for the establishment of a 24/7 “emotional wellbeing centre” in the city to support those at risk of suicide, and said society needs to remove the stigma associated with mental health.
Former Cork hurler Conor Cusack, from Cloyne, spoke to Miriam O’Callaghan last night on RTÉ One’s Prime Time. His appearance came after he wrote an article detailing his battle with depression and how he almost tried to take his own life. He posted the article, entitled ‘Depression is a friend, not my enemy‘, on his blog on Monday.
Miriam O’Callaghan: “Conor, you’re very welcome.”
Conor Cusack: “Miriam, thanks very much for having me here. It’s great to be up here. I suppose, look, I’m not here to paint a picture of myself as being an angel. I’ve a lot of friends down in Cloyne and Cork and they’ll tell you, I’m the furthest thing from being an angel that you can find. I’m not here to bash medication, or bash psychiatry. They have their place within the treatment of depression and there’s a lot of people who get a lot of benefit out of it. But I suppose I’m here to tell my story and I think it’s a story that resonates with an awful lot of people in the country. If it can be a bit of help, a bit of comfort, a bit of hope to some few people and if it can perhaps break the taboo and maybe lessen the stigma that’s attached with it? Well then I’m very glad to tell this story.”
O’Callaghan: “Let’s go back, Conor. When did you first experience depression? When did you know you were suffering from depression?”
Cusack: “Well, look, I suppose I was probably around 15 or 16 when I first started experiencing panic attacks and for anyone who’s experienced panic attacks, it’s an horrific experience. You’re convinced your world is ending, pains in your chest, can’t catch your breadth, you’re convinced you’re going to die. And that was the start of my problems, really, you know. Now, it just progressed along, bit by bit. It wasn’t something that was sudden. Gradually, I started to lose interest in my friends, started to lose interest in school that I loved, started to lose interest in hurling and the worst of all, I started to lose interest in people. I always loved people and loved being in their company but it was a gradual, bit-by-bit thing. And I suppose, I was in work one morning, in [inaudible] down in Midleton, and finally, the image that I had been keeping up along, I didn’t have the strength any more, to keep up that image. And finally I cracked. And, you know sometimes they say that something has to crack for the light to allow in, well that morning I cracked. And I lay down in the corner inside in the building, started balling my eyes out. One of my fellow workers came over, poor man didn’t know what to do, he was looking foolish with me and I said ‘look will you just take me home’. GP came and prescribed a few relaxing tablets and stuff. Went to hospital the following week, had a battery of tests done, had every test imaginable and at the end of it all, a doctor came to my bed at the end of it, and said ‘look, we think you’re suffering from depression’. It was the first time that I’d heard the word and that was the first time that I would have realised that I had something like that wrong with me.”
O’Callaghan: “And, for anyone who hasn’t read the blog, I mean you basically retreated to your bedroom, didn’t you? I mean it was so bad, you almost stayed in your bedroom a lot and hardly ever came out?”
Cusack: “Lived in my bedroom, Miriam, lived in my bedroom. For five months, the metre-by-metre window in front of me, that was my link to the outside world, you know? And there was probably 10mm of glass separating me from there but I was a million miles away from that. That was the real world out there. This was a living hell in here for me. I saw the summer pass, I saw the autumn pass, I saw the winter pass through that window. There was only one person, well two people, my mother and my aunt Marie that I’d allow in to that room, just to bring me food. And, on the Thursday morning, when I’d used to go to see the psychiatrist, that was the only time I’d leave the house. I didn’t want to speak to anyone, I didn’t want to talk to anyone. That room was my sanctuary away from the world. But, in reality, it was a living hell.”
O’Callaghan: “You came to your lowest moment, didn’t you? Tell the story about the day your mother didn’t go to mass.”
Cusack: “Well, I suppose, previous to that, I’d been to a lot of different doctors and psychiatrists and I was on 18 tablets a day at this stage, you know, and I wasn’t getting better. I was sent to another psychiatrist in a place in Cork City, it’s called St. Anne’s and St. Anne’s would probably have, it would be a place that would be associated with a lot of people with mental difficulties. And I went in to see the doctor and the first thing he said to me was ‘oh, your brother is the famous Cork goalkeeper’. And he proceeded to talk for the next ten minutes about hurling. I had zero interest in hurling at that time and my esteem and whatever was on the floor at that stage and here was this guy and he talking to me about hurling and not talking to me about me. And at the end of it all, he suggested this electric shock therapy to me. And intrinsically I don’t know why but something inside of me always told me that medication and something like that was not the path that I needed to follow. And I remember coming out of the hospital and I was utterly distraught. Because this was like my final hope, that I thought that this was the guy that was going to finally help me. And, instead, he was suggesting something that was alien to me. And I…”
O’Callaghan: “Though it could work for other people..”
Cusack: “It could work, exactly, yeah, absolutely..”
O’Callaghan: “But keep going.”
Cusack: “Absolutely, as I say, this is my story, you know, and everyone has their own. But..So I came home and I remember I was utterly distraught and, you know, I decided one night I couldn’t…the desire for death outweighed my desire for living. And I decided I was going to kill myself. And an incredible thing happened. A peace that I hadn’t experienced in years came over my body. It was like as if my body realised no longer is it going to have to suffer this horrific physical and mental pain that I had been going through for the last number of years, no longer was I going to have to suffer these panic attacks, waking up, soaked in sweat every night. And I got a night’s sleep that I hadn’t had in years. And I was very calm about it. There was no anxiety. I knew my dad and my brothers, Victor and Dónal Óg, would be going to a match that Saturday evening and I knew my mam and my sister would be going to mass. And so I had the rope in my room, I was quite calm about it, very matter of fact, I was going to get into my car, drive to my location that I had arranged and hang myself. And for some reason, I don’t know why, but my mother never went to mass. And, ultimately, it was the decision on her part that saved my life.”
O’Callaghan: “It’s amazing, actually.”
O’Callaghan: “But after that, you transformed yourself. You got better. Your story is a happy story at the end, Conor. Explain that path to recovery for you. How that came about?”
Cusack: “Well, look, I worked for Darina Allen since I was eight years of age, I worked there for eight or nine years in her gardens and in her kitchen and, you know, Darina is an incredible woman, she never forgets anybody who’s ever worked for her. Still to this day she’ll send in if there’s something happened to the family, a death or something, a table full of food would come into the house. And my aunt Marie has worked with Darina for years. And Darina asked one day ‘How’s Conor doing? Is he in school or what is he doing?’ And my aunt told her, you know, that I was in a bad way. So Darina suggested a person that she knew, that she felt could have been of benefit to me. And, now I’d been to loads of, loads of doctors at this stage. I’d given up all hope. But my mother pleaded with me, just to go one more time. And, that was the decision on my part, that ultimately saved my life. I went to see this clinical psychologist and from the moment I met him, I don’t know what it was but from the moment I met him I knew ‘This was it. I’m going to get better with this person. He is the man that I’ve been seeking all along’. And it was an incredible thing. I remember coming home with my mother, driving home, with my mother in the car that evening, and I was crying but it was tears of joy, it was absolute tears of joy because I knew this was the thing that I’d been waiting for all along. And it was an incredible moment in my life. And it was the moment that transformed the whole lot for me, you know?”
O’Callaghan: “And you’re well now. And I know the reason, you said to me earlier, you wrote the blog and what you want mostly to say tonight is to give hope to other people, don’t you Conor?”
Cusack: “Absolutely, Miriam. Look there’s people at the moment out there that are going through depression or anxiety and they’re getting treatment and I just want to say to them, I want to encourage them to stay on the path. It’s not an easy, it’s not an easy journey, it’s very difficult and I salute their courage for doing that. And the rewards at the end of it are great. There’s another group of people out there that are living with and helping, supporting friends and loved-ones that are ill with depression or anxiety, or whatever, I know the powerlessness that they feel, looking at their loved-ones and that it’s not like a cut in your leg that you can fix or anything. It’s a difficult place for them. But the person themselves might not say it but, inside in them, they very much appreciate your support and your comfort. I remember mother saying to me one time: ‘I will patiently wait til eternity and beyond for my son to get better’, so keep giving your love and support.
To those people out there that are living a life of silent misery, and are afraid to take that step, you’re not alone, there’s a load of people in your same situation. You know, there’s a certain comfort and safety in remaining hidden but it’s a terrible tragedy if you can’t be found. And, you know, there’s an incredible amount of help and support out there for those people. It’s an act of courage and strength, not weakness, to admit that you’re struggling. It’s an act of courage to say that I need help but you need to take the first step, you need to take the first step, and I plead with those people to please take that first step. And, finally, to those people out there tonight, Miriam, that are perhaps contemplating suicide. I know the terrible torture and pain that you’re going through, I know the horrific thing that your day-to-day living and existence is, I know that you think that this world and your family and friends and community will be a better place without you in it.But I guarantee you it won’t, it’s not. The destruction and the pain that’s left in families with someone that’s committed suicide is incredible and the distress they’re going through now is nothing compared to what it would be, without you in the world. As human beings, you know, we’re a once-off phenomenon in this universe. Of all the billions of people that have ever lived or all the billions of people that are going to come after us, there’ll never again be another Miriam O’Callaghan, there’ll never again be another Conor Cusack. We’re totally unique and the world needs us, the world needs all the people that we have in our communities. So, you know, I promise those people that are in that terrible place, there’s a place within them, it’s a place of peace, it’s a place of joy, it’s a place of love, it’s a place of hope and it’s waiting for them to rediscover it. It’s waiting for them to rediscover it. And it’s within their grasp, it’s within their grasp. They’ve all the skills and all the abilities to be able to get there. And the thing about it Miriam is these people, they’ll emerge stronger people. They’ll emerge people that are living their life from the inside out, independent of other people’s opinions, they’re living their life fully and freely. They’re gonna not be frightened of this world any more, they’re going to be embraced by it. They’re going to look at challenges and difficulties and take them all on. And somewhere along the way, I’ll get to meet those souls, souls on the road less travelled, and I’ll look forward to that. Embrace the journey, start the journey.”
O’Callaghan: “Conor, thank you so much for coming in tonight.”