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Dublin: 11 °C Friday 24 October, 2014

Wayne Hutchinson: ‘I must talk. I know I need help. This is a path I can’t walk alone.’

The Waterford GAA player shares his personal experience of living with depression.

Wayne Hutchinson.
Wayne Hutchinson.
Image: INPHO/Cathal Noonan

WATERFORD GAA PLAYER Wayne Hutchinson has gone public today about his battle with depression.

Hutchinson, who has played both senior hurling and football for his county, has published a searingly honest blog post and it is reproduced here with the author’s kind permission.

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Wayne Hutchinson – Depression and Me.

“The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there if you let it. You me, or nobody will hit hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you get hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward.”

- Rocky Balboa

We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.

– Plato

TUESDAY, MARCH 18TH 2014. I wake up to a beautiful morning as the sunshine streams through the blinds in my bedroom.

I’m lying in bed, tears streaming down my cheeks, but I’m not asking myself ‘what’s wrong with me?’ For years, I did just that, thinking I was different, thinking I was the only one in the world with my particular problem. Now I know it’s not just me. I know there are others with that same ‘companion’ in life: depression.

As I walk downstairs, drying the tears on my cheeks, I encounter the most beautiful of smiles, worn by my beautiful two-year-old niece, whose face bears the look of someone without a care in the world, the way all kids should be.

I ask her for a hug and she lovingly obliges. This small hug from a little girl will get me through this day. That hug felt like the best one I’ve ever received. It’s just what I needed. I need to keep moving forward. I can’t go back to where I was 14 months ago.

And part of that forward movement involves me telling my story here this week. I hope that it may help others who can relate to my experiences and in turn help them to move forward, in pursuit of happiness, contentment and peace of mind.

Before I go forward, I’ve got to go back, to a cold wet night in late January of last year. I found myself sitting in my bed, staring at the ceiling, fully convinced that it would all soon be over, that my life was about to end.

I was tired, confused, anxious and scared. I felt that I had reached a point in my life where there was only one way to end it all, to escape this dark place for good. All I wanted was peace and I was willing to do anything to feel that peace.

I hadn’t slept for nights, despite taking sleeping tablets. Instead of sleep, all I had were thoughts, crazy thoughts, running through my head – only then, in that frame of mind, what I considered doing didn’t seem crazy at all.

I didn’t care about anyone. I just cared about myself. I just wanted to be gone out of people’s lives for good. I never understood why depression came to my door; I found myself asking the same questions day in, day out.

Why me? What did I do to deserve this? Am I a bad person, etc? I often sat in front of a mirror for hours asking myself these questions, but there was never a reply. Never.

I needed help and I needed it badly. Physically, I was fit and from that perspective, I looked fine. But nobody could see how unfit I was mentally. Inside, I was all over the place, and there can’t be too many worse places to be.

From the outside looking in, I had absolutely everything going for me. I was in my final year in college; I’d a wonderful family, great friends, good neighbours and an active and pretty successful sporting life. Sure what had I to be griping about?

Wayne Hutchinson 24/2/2010

Wayne Hutchinson in action for Waterford IT in February 2010.

Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

But at that time, all of 13 months ago, I was hurting badly. I’d lost interest in just about everything, even in life itself. I’d had enough. I was doomed. Finished. I couldn’t see any way out.

For me, the worst of all the many downsides I was living through was the loss of interest in sport; the close relationships I’ve had with people through sport were really important to me – still are.

Hurling was my passion as a kid. Growing up, the brothers and I would hurl out on the green for hours on end until Dad would come home and ferry us off to matches on those long summer evenings, the nights you wish would never end.

But now, in January 2013, that passion was gone. I was still playing matches with the club and the college, but my interest and drive was completely gone. I was lost. I just didn’t want to be on a pitch. I’ve often played games of hurling and football and just wished I was somewhere else when that whistle blew, and when opponent and ball hurtled towards me.

One particular moment stands out for me. As a young fella, I’d dreamed of wearing the white and blue jersey of Waterford in the great arenas like Thurles, Pairc Uí Chaoimh and Croke Park. It was my biggest goal, at least in terms of my sporting life.

I remember the week I made my Senior Championship debut against Limerick (it was June 12th 2011, we won by a point, 3-15 to 3-14), I was hurling well for Ballygunner in the lead-up to the game and training was going really well. But I should never have played that match.

Why? In the build-up to the game, I had a really tough time with my depression. Mentally, I was drained, and the last thing any hurler needs to be before a Championship match, let alone your debut at that level, is to feel that way.

I remember travelling to Semple Stadium that morning and all I could think about was not wanting to be in Thurles. I wanted to be anywhere other than on that very sod I’d dreamed about wearing the Déise jersey on as a kid.

The team and the management deserved better from me, but I couldn’t tell them. I didn’t have the balls.

I wanted my first day’s Championship hurling with Waterford to be my last, and that ripped the heart out of me. The dream I’d held for years and worked so hard to achieve had been taken away from me because of mental illness.

All I wanted was a bit of peace. For years I’d been suffering, this depression of mine didn’t materialise out of the blue. I was lonely and wanted a way out. And in January 2013, that all came to a head.

Richie McCarthy and Wayne Hutchinson 12/6/2011

Wayne Hutchinson in action for Waterford against Limerick in 2011.

Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

****

I remember the day I was diagnosed with depression. The days and weeks before that hospital visit had been terrible. I’d cried for days on end in my bedroom from which I dared not emerge to face anyone. I even starved myself at times.

All this time, I kept asking why me, what had I done to end up feeling like this, a diminished human being. I locked my door. I shut the blinds. The only time I ventured beyond the door was to use the toilet – most of the time I didn’t even want to leave my room just to answer nature’s call.

I was 18 years old, an age when life should be full of fun, thoughts about what adult life, just around the corner, would bring for me. But that wasn’t my reality, and I knew that wasn’t right. I needed help.

I called my Mother for help – she’d been in and out my room to me for days, trying to help, but I was too scared to even speak to her. Really f**king scared.

Eventually I found my voice in her company. She listened to what I had to say and we both cried together. It was tough, so tough, but she promised she’d do all she could to help me. Mothers are great that way.

So she brought me in on the bus to Waterford Regional Hospital – I was in a daze but she kept strong for me. So there I was, in A&E, waiting to be seen by a Doctor. This was it.

In I went, along with Mam, sat down in front of him and felt like a lost child, as I told him everything, and all the while the tears were rolling down my cheeks.

I was referred to a psychiatrist and she diagnosed me with the D word. Depression. I was prescribed anti-depressants, along with anxiety and sleeping tablets. Despite still feeling alone and isolated, part of me felt so much better from having spoken to the psychiatrist. It was like someone removing the lead casing from my boots.

I was still lost, alone, isolated but did feel about 50 stone lighter from talking to that psychiatrist. I was on the path to recovery. Eleven years have passed since that hospital visit with Mam. Did it help? Yes. Has it cured me? No it hasn’t. And that’s the reality.

A lot has happened since then. I’ve been in and out of my GP’s practice for help, along with counselling, but I have to say that I find my GP excellent. He listens, but most importantly I talk. Not many people know that I suffered in silence except for one or two close friends.

I have been on and off medication for years. Now don’t get me wrong, medication certainly helped me, but deep down I felt it wasn’t the answer for me, and people have to realise that people with depression have a whole array of different coping mechanisms. But those mechanisms had fallen by the wayside come late January 2013.

Wayne Hutchinson 16/10/2011

Wayne playing for his club Ballygunner.

Source: James Crombie

*****

The decision I’d reached wasn’t a spur of the moment thing. I’d planned what I was going to do well in advance, right down to date, time and place. I was going to end it all.

By now the depression was bad. Brutal even. That night, I sat on my bed, head buried into my knees. I prayed to God, something I’d never done before, but for some reason I felt compelled to pray.

I waited for everyone else to go to bed. And when they did, the blackest of darknesses consumed me as I lay there, as I so often have, staring at the ceiling. My mind was running at 1000 miles per hour. I was sh**ting it, but I was ready to do what I felt needed to be done. I needed my peace.

I quietly made my way downstairs, but all the while I was shaking. I was intent on going to the back of the house and into a forested area nearby; earlier that day; I’d left all the stuff I needed for it down there. I was ready. It was time. But I’m still shaking. I’m sitting on the sofa we have in our kitchen and the tears have come again. Nobody should feel like I felt that night. Nobody.

Just as I’m about to make my way outside to end it all, I hear a noise upstairs, followed by footsteps, gingerly making their way downstairs. Like all cowards, I dart into the downstairs toilet to hide. Only I don’t feel like a coward – after all I know what I want to do and I know what I want: peace.

I leave the door slightly ajar to see who it is. It’s Mam, and she’s getting a glass of water. Unknowingly, she has intervened again to make a difference in my life; those footsteps, to me, were a sign from God: I need to keep fighting. I owe it to Mam.

She walks back out of the kitchen, switches the light off and heads back upstairs. I gasp for breath, sweating, shaking and numb by it all. No words can adequately capture my feelings on that awful night.

I return quietly to my bed, and curl up in a ball, crying myself to sleep. The following day, when the house was empty, I return to the spot where I’d planned to end it all. I pick up my stuff and am filled with shame and embarrassment.

I place the stuff in a bag, drive to Shannoon Cliff in Dunmore East, take the rope out of my bag and throw it off the cliff and into the sea below. The rope is gone. I’m still here.

Depression is very difficult to explain to anyone that’s not had it. If you’ve not had it, I really feel there aren’t sufficient words to describe its horror.

I’ve had a lot of injuries playing sport down through the years – a broken wrist, two hip operations, two groin operations and a broken nose.

However none of those physical ailments come close to the mental torture of depression. It destroys every part of you, from your feet to your head, creating never-ending waves of utter despair and hopelessness and fear, flooding your soul with darkness.

Conor Cusack’s recent commentary on his depression really struck a chord with me.

“You crave for peace but even sleep doesn’t afford that, it destroys your dreams and turns your days into a living nightmare.

It destroys your personality, relationship with family and friends, your work, your sporting life. It affects them all.

You want to grab depression and smash it, but you can’t get a hold of it. You go to sleep hoping, praying not to wake up.

“You again look at the person in the mirror to rack your brain to see if there is something that you have done in your life that justifies this suffering and pain. It’s just an endless, black, never ending tunnel of darkness.”

I stated earlier in this piece that I never knew why I suffered from depression. To be honest I still don’t know why.

I think I will be searching for answers forever, but I’m tired of searching. I accept that depression is no longer an enemy; I accept it as a friend now.

Don’t get me wrong. I still have bad days, but as I wrote this piece, so that I could share my situation with others, I felt some small modicum of peace.

I still look in that mirror and I can answer the questions that need answering. Why me? It’s God’s plan for me.

What did I do to deserve this? What did any of us do to deserve this? Those of us with depression are not bad people, but we need to talk about it and we need to do whatever it takes to restore some happiness into our own lives and the lives of those around us.

The past year has been pretty good. Sure, there have been good days and bad days but that’s the way it’s always been for me and I expect it to stay that way.

Today, Tuesday March 18th has been the worst day since that night 14 months ago. Really bad. I feel all those emotions within me but I’m not willing to go back there again. What I am willing to do is to fight it, to talk about it and to share my experience.

I’m willing to help others out there who may relate to this in some way. I don’t want to hear those footsteps coming down the stairs again, I don’t want to plan the unthinkable again and I don’t want anyone to experience what I experienced.

I’m going to keep moving forward, and as part of that I’ve got to accept depression as my friend. I’ve just got to keep moving forward. And I believe I will.

Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

*****

I’ve made a big first step in revealing my story this week. However that’s only part of the process in making things better going forward for me.

So why did I do it?

As a GAA player, the sudden death of Galway hurler Niall O’Donoghue last October struck a deep nerve with me and on us all, so on behalf of myself, all of us in Waterford and the wider GAA community, I wish to offer our deepest sympathies to Niall’s family.

I’d also wish to dedicate this piece to Niall’s family and that small Kilbeacanty community in Galway.

Since Monday, March 18th, I’ve been stuck in a rut, as low as I’ve ever felt, with lots of emotion running through every vein in my body.

Again the sleepless nights, lots of wondering, talking and thinking going on; this is all with myself, not a nice place indeed.

I must talk. I know I need help. A savage amount. This is a path I can’t walk alone, and those words often ring loudly in my head since I’m a Liverpool fan.

None of us can walk alone – anyone that says they can is either lying or in denial. So for me, communicating about depression in this way represents a great leap for me, but a positive development. Positivity will win the day for me. It has to.

Visiting a GP with depressive symptoms was, for me, just like training in the depths of winter with the thoughts of a Munster or County Final the following year driving you on.

Those 200-metre repetition runs, those hard drills, that extra sprint, the gym work, all this has to be chalked off if you want to succeed. A cut corner puts you a step closer to failure, just like the consequence of me not going to the GP.

You talk, he listens. You feel a level of relief in the face of all that pain you’ve been through: the sleepless nights, the tears, the empty soul, the darkness that surrounds your world.

Medicine, along with other treatments, can help us get to the next round or win that title. And when that happens, what I’ve dubbed as the negative ferret on my shoulders skips off into the distance. I’ve won. The ferret’s lost. I’ve acknowledged my depression, but it shall not define me.

I don’t feel the need to hide my depression any longer, like so many have done before and still do. I want to do my bit to make as many people cognisant of mental health, and the lack thereof for so many Irish people today.

I hope that in telling my story it will inspire others to tell theirs in whatever way they feel appropriate for them; I’ve an unbelievable sense of pride in bringing this issue front and centre this week.

I always have and always will try and develop myself as a person in, and through this piece, I believe I’ve taken a step in the right direction.

I wish to bury the dark episodes of my past and move on to a successful and happier life, personally, professionally and through my sport.

Wayne Hutchinson – 2014.

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If you have been affected by any of the issues in this article, please contact one of the following helplines:

  • Samaritans 116123 or email jo@samaritans.org
  • Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833 634
  • Console 1800 201 890
  • Aware 1890 303 302
  • Pieta House 01 601 0000 or email mary@pieta.ie
  • Childline 1800 66 66 66

Column: I thought I was just trying to beat depression in a one-off fight

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