One young man’s experience of depression

‘My life looked perfect , but if anyone had tried to walk in my shoes, it was a different story’

Jack Kirwan, who is now studying arts at University College Dublin. “I am beginning a new chapter in my life,” he says of his struggle with depression. Photograph: David Sleator

Jack Kirwan, who is now studying arts at University College Dublin. “I am beginning a new chapter in my life,” he says of his struggle with depression. Photograph: David Sleator

Tue, Apr 9, 2013, 06:00

The year was 2010. I had just got back from a dream trip to New Zealand. I was on the rugby team at school. I had the perfect family, the perfect friends, the perfect girlfriend and the perfect life. At least that’s what it looked like from the outside. If any of the guys in my year had thought that inside I was lonely and incredibly sad, they would have been shocked.

I was about 15 or 16 when my problems started. I felt like there was something missing from my life or something stopping me from being entirely happy, but I just passed this feeling off as a phase.

As I came into fifth year in Terenure College, I began to feel under pressure from teachers and family. Myself and my girlfriend broke up and my family life had taken a turn for the worse as my mood swings worsened and I caused many rows in the house.

Acting strangely
I fell behind in school, I was acting strangely with my family and friends but nobody knew why except for me. In my head there had been a little version of my own hell developing. I found it increasingly difficult to sleep at all, my appetite left me and I always felt lonely. I lost all my motivation and ambition and nothing seemed to matter any more. I felt like I was losing it, like I was going insane.

Eventually, my principal caught me trying to catch up on homework in class one day. He called me out and asked me to go to his office and as soon as he walked in, I broke down in tears. He calmed me down and we began to talk. This was the first time I had spoken about how I was feeling and it was such a relief to get it out. Finally, someone understood me. My principal helped me tell my parents what was going on and put me in touch with a counsellor.

I was lucky I had a principal so understanding. I dread to think what might have happened if I had not had him. We still meet up every now and then for a chat. He has been a huge influence on me; he’s a very impressive human being.

I started seeing the counsellor but, unfortunately, I did not connect with her style of counselling and I came out of the sessions feeling even worse. I began to miss a lot of school because I couldn’t even get myself out of bed. I used to curl myself up into a ball and cry for hours. I felt like my life was collapsing around me.

As I began sixth year, things started spiralling out of control. There seemed to be no light or hope left in my life, just darkness and negativity. I began to believe that maybe suicide was a good option. At this point, I started to self-harm and to plan my suicide. I was referred to a psychiatrist who told me I needed 24-hour care.

I was terrified going into St Patrick’s hospital. I had barely ever been in hospital before and I thought there were going to be padded cells everywhere but it turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to me. I owe my life to the people who looked after me in that hospital and I will never forget the kindness and understanding that was shown to me there.

Hopeful place
I started on the Young Adult Programme where I was taught how to cope with my depression and shown ways in which I could work towards feeling like myself again for the first time in three years. Most people think hospital must be the worst point, but it was not for me.

I remember it as a very hopeful place. It was a break away from everything and I was able to just focus on my recovery.

That’s when I realised who my friends were. Pretty much every player on the team came to see me in the hospital. My room was always full of people. That gave me a lot of strength to go on. One of the toughest decisions I had to make was not to play in the Leinster Senior Cup with the lads. I had put in so much work, training every day in the dark and freezing cold but I had to tell the rest of the team I could not be there with them.

Before all of this, I fitted the mould of the typical south Dublin rugby player. All I talked about was rugby; I was very judgmental and could be very hard on people. I am glad to have sorted that part of me out, to be able to find the flaws in myself.

I am studying arts in University College Dublin now and I would like to be a teacher. Thanks to the loving support of all my friends and family, I am beginning a new chapter in my life where I can turn my experience into a positive by helping people like me. What can be learned from my story is that there is always hope. If you suffer with depression, you feel like nobody understands what you’re going through but that simply isn’t true.

My advice to any young person struggling with depression is to find the closest person who you trust and tell them how you feel. It’s not possible to get through this on your own.

More often than not people are compassionate and want to help you but even if you get a negative response the first time, keep talking. Stand up and scream if you have to until somebody listens. If I had talked earlier, maybe I could have nipped things in the bud before that got as bad as they did.