Opening Up by John Connell
Shortly before I began to write my first novel, I found out I had depression. I say found out but actually I woke up one day crying and could not stop and did not stop for a whole day.
At first I did like any young man of 24 would do l: I pretended I was ok, I lied to my local GP, said it was nothing and that I would be fine.
I had returned to Ireland to write my book but in reality I had fled to Ireland after my life had collapsed in Australia. I once had a lovely girlfriend, business, an apartment, a charity, did some lecturing on the side and had even found time to import Irish whiskey to Australia (word to the wise – not worth your time!) and was even talking about opening a restaurant.
As the work seemed to increase, so did the stress and when things started to go a bit odd, I started to go a bit odd. In the space of a few weeks the life I had spent four years building in Australia fell apart and I brought my wounded frame home to Ireland filled with an anger I hadn’t ever known before.
I thought going home would fix things but when the problem is yourself, no place, no praying, no farming will make that right. The crack had indeed come in and a life ended there, my old life.
Like every young man, I refused to believe there was anything wrong with me. I drank, I exercised, I didn’t need tablets and yet the crying didn’t stop.
The void took me in and kept me there. My family were the ones who saved me then, bringing me to see a counsellor after a few weeks of adamant no’s from me, convincing me to take medication after a few weeks of adamant no’s and urging me to try write my book.
That novel was for the best part of a year and the only reason I got out of bed. The book, The Ghost Estate, is set in Longford about a young electrician was my own story in many ways; a young man who had it all and lost it and the black dog had gripped him and pulled him down lower and lower as the Celtic tiger spluttered and died and took the country with it.
What amazed me then as I wrote the book local men of the county began to open up, perhaps because I was one of them but also a writer. We were living in a community of silence where as Irish people we said everything and also said nothing and where every family had their own story and were afraid to say it.
The black dog
Time moved forward the book was completed and gradually the dark cloud lifted. I wasn’t sure how, but slowly I thought I was coming back to me. I moved countries and felt the power of myself once more and I met the girl of my dreams and her amazing family. I was finally living out some of my life goals, but slowly the black dog crept back for another visit and this time he meant business.
He has meant business for the last eight months of my life, at first it was only a low growl but once again I was waking up in an anxious state, once again I was growing angry and stressed, fighting for no reason.
The dog had struck for the jugular and I was back in the hole and my new life and wedding were gone in a confusing flash. My fiancée had no idea I had been feeling the way I was because, like any man, I kept it all to myself until finally weeks after the wedding was cancelled I admitted I was not ok. In fact I was in the hole again unable to talk, to eat, to share or feel happiness.
This time the battle was fierce, it was a fight that had not been finished and it nearly took my life on a wet January day when the rain and the hopelessness just seemed too much anymore and a hayshed was no longer a barn and a rope no longer a tool, but a place to solve this problem once and for all.
I was told once that coincidence is God moving in hidden ways. For surely it was God that day that made me go onto Facebook and see that another friend had taken his life and had been suddenly reduced to a post on my newsfeed, a whole life reduced to a few hundred words, someone’s son, someone’s grandchild, someone’s friend, someone’s lover gone forever. There in that moment I realised there was another way.
The prison of depression, particularly for men, is just that. It takes away your sense of fun, your drive, your compassion, your want and need for social contact. As much as it hurts you, it hurts those around you more because when you lose control they do not know what to do and have to watch their brother, their sister, their aunt, their uncle, their mother, their father slip away from them, day by day to be replaced by a stranger.
Depression affects one in four of us – it is something that we as humans will come across at one time. To those on the journey of healing, do not suffer in silence, there is help out there.
For those thinking of suicide, I know the pain and anguish you have felt and I know when the future is so blank that you cannot see a way through. However, the world is a better place with you in it, there will never be another me or you or him or her for the rest of time. And though you think that you may have ended your problems, you’ve only created a new set of irreparable ones for those you leave behind.
For those caring for a loved one suffering with depression, do not give up, for though that person has changed, deep inside they need you, they need your support, your calls, or simply for you to sit there and say nothing.
Every journey through depression is different, every battle with mental health is different, but there is always hope. Though the days may become an endless cycle of groundhog day moments, this will not be forever. It will not define you. There comes a moment when you begin to make the journey inside yourself and find out what really makes you tick.
This may come through many forms, therapy, medication, meditation, talking with a friend or loved one. But when you start to live your life from the inside out, you will find a powerful person that you never knew before.
This is just my story and there are many others but I hope by sharing, I might just reach someone who really needs to read this. For men reading; it’s ok not to be ok.
You need to talk before it’s all too late, before you’ve broken hearts or most importantly broken yourself. It takes real courage to speak out, but it’s the bravest thing you will ever do.
(c) John Connell
John Connell is an author, producer and journalist. Born in county Longford he comes from a farming family. The Ghost Estate is his debut novel and is a modern tragedy about the boom and bust of Celtic Tiger Ireland as told through the rise and fall of ordinary man Gerard McQuaid an electrician. Follow John on Twitter @Jconnelj2
Gerard McQuaid has been waiting for his start in life: his house, his girl, his land. And with rural Ireland being swept up by the Celtic Tiger and villages becoming towns, the electrician’s moment has finally arrived.
With the chance to run a big job, McQuaid finds himself on Birchview Manor, a decrepit estate where the dreams of modern Ireland crash up against the weight of history. As McQuaid gets further into the restoration, he falls deeper into the story of the estate’s previous owner, Lord Henry Lefoyle, whose fate begins to loom ghost-like over McQuaid’s own.
In this electrifying debut from a bold new Irish voice, John Connell deftly treads the footsteps of one ordinary man’s rise and fall through the boom and bust of contemporary Ireland, weaving past and present together in a beautiful and devastating journey.