Aware Mental Health Blog 2015

About the Aware Mental Health Blog. Each month we will post an article on a range of topics relating in some way to depression, anxiety or bipolar mood disorder. A blog post may be the author’s personal experience, a reaction to public events, or views on how better we can support ourselves and others who experience depression or related mood disorders. Each of our posts will be from an individual viewpoint, this means that some blog posts may not reflect official Aware policy.

We welcome comments on our posts, and value the blog as a forum for conversation. Please be aware that all comments will be approved by a moderator before they will be published. We will not publish any comments that are in breach of our comment policy. Aware respects your right to privacy and complies with the obligations set out under the Data Protection Acts 1988 and 2005. Our Privacy Policy is outlined in full here.





Blog Entry , September 23rd 2015

by Barbara Whelan


Saturday, October 10th is World Mental Health Day. It was started in 1992 by the World Health Organisation and it has been observed on the 10th of October every year since. Each year a theme is chosen with the aim of raising awareness of mental health issues around the world, and to see what more needs to be done to make mental health care a reality for people worldwide.

The theme for 2015 is dignity. ‘Dignity’ – ‘the quality of being worthy of honour’. How apt. Mental ill-health is shattering. Utterly vulnerable, self-esteem on the floor, small acts of kindness and unkindness alike are amplified.

In her book ‘Seven Sacred Pauses’ Benedictine nun Macrina Wiederkehr writes of how each evening a busy therapist visualises her clients for the following day and of how she ends her personal Vespers by laying her hands on her patients’ charts.What a gift it is to be cared for by someone for whom you are a person worthy of honour – a mother, a father, a brother, a sister, a friend. A person with shattered dreams, fears, hurts, and a desperate yearning to be well. Not just a name on a computer screen who appears at six monthly intervals, for a ten minute slot and then,
‘file’, ‘click’,
‘save as’, ‘click’,
‘exit’, ‘click’.

Each year at this time I remember all those who have stood between me and despair – a professional, a husband, dear friends and a Cistercian Community at Glencairn, Co. Waterford – who together and in different ways carried me, supported me and enabled me to come home, to myself and to where I belong.

Barbara will present four additional reflections on ‘A Living Word’ on Radio 1, Monday – Friday at 6.40am  from 28th September – 2th October to tie in with Mental Health Week and World Mental Health Day

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Helpful Tips Image


Blog Entry

June 22, 2015  

by Abrivia Recruitment


10 Tips to Deal with Stress When Looking For a Job

Looking for a job can be a very stressful journey for most of us. It often follows the equally stressful situation of losing a job. Sometimes this stress can be overwhelming and detrimental to our mental health. Below are some useful tips, which deal with anxiety experienced by many candidates when looking for a new position.

Tip 1: Accept that Grief is a Normal Emotion
If you are looking for a new job out of necessity as your previous position no longer exists, it is normally a lot more stressful than looking for a new position out of choice. The feeling of grief that you may feel can be a natural reaction to the loss of your old position. Other natural reactions include hurt, panic, rejection, anger and fear. These emotions are completely normal and are all part of the grieving process.
It should be remembered that many of the most successful people in Ireland have had rollercoasters of careers, from success to failure and success again. They also have experienced these intense emotions at various stages of their careers. The process of overcoming setbacks is critical to job-hunting success, as it makes us stronger and more resilient for the long haul.

Tip 2: Share Your Feelings
A problem shared can be a problem halved. If you are feeling anxious about your job-hunting journey, confide in a friend or a family member and you should notice straight away a significant amount of the burden being lifted off your shoulders. If you notice yourself struggling a lot to cope it can be well worth while to also confide in your GP.

Tip 3: Write about your Emotions
It can be cathartic to write down your feelings and emotions, especially if they relate to a former boss or colleague. This is a much better option than keeping these emotions bottled up inside, simmering in a passive-aggressive way or exploding inappropriately.

Tip 4: Look to the future
This might be easier said than done but try not to dwell on past injustices where you feel that you were clearly wronged. Try to accept the situation you have found yourself in, as once you have reached this stage you will find it much easier to focus on the future with confidence.

Tip 5: Develop an understanding of how your thoughts, beliefs and actions can impact on your feelings
While looking for a job, thoughts such as ‘I hope I get this’, ‘What if I don’t’, ‘I’m too inexperienced/old/qualified’ and ‘Other people will have a better CV’, may trigger feelings such as hopelessness, fear, anxiety and maybe even despair. Other more helpful thoughts such as, ‘I choose to prepare as well as I possibly can’, and ‘There are many aspects of this job that suit me really well’, can trigger a sense of confidence and hope. This approach of acknowledging thoughts and feelings, and focusing on helpful actions you can take, are based on principles of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Aware has two separate Life Skills programmes which are based on CBT and offered free of charge – these can be a great way for people to learn basic cognitive behavioural principles.

Tip 6: Be kind to yourself and work on your resilience
If you send off a number of CV’s and get no response, a voice in your head might say, “I’m useless” or “I don’t deserve any luck”. Begin to recognise that these are unhelpful thoughts rather than the reality, and that you do not actually have to believe them or act on them. We can all be very harsh on ourselves, particularly when things are not going well. However, there is nothing to be achieved by beating yourself up. Self-criticism or self-blame can be very common amongst job hunters so practice being kind towards yourself. Often we underestimate just how resilient we are and challenges such as seeking work can give us opportunities to become more so.

Tip 7: Avail of family support
Most family members will want to assist you in your job hunting journey. Some who may have faced a similar journey in their own lives, dealing with the ups and downs of the job-hunting process, can be invaluable to you at this time.
Keeping your family in the loop can be helpful – it helps them to be there for you if you reach a low ebb and are in need of an encouraging voice.
Let your family know how they can support you in the job hunting process. If they are really keen, you can delegate some tasks to them such as researching job opportunities or in keeping a calendar for you in regards upcoming appointments. Having company and sharing thoughts and ideas with a family member is a great way to keep motivated and maintain a positive mental attitude.

Tip 8: Involve your children
Children often get worried when they hear change is afoot. Therefore it is important to maintain an open dialogue with your children and make them feel that you are contributing to the process by allocating them tasks such as putting stamps on envelopes or simply collecting sheets of paper from the printer. Children also help lighten your anxiety if you involve them in this process.

Children also need reassurance that a new job is for the better in the long run.
If you are job-hunting as a result of your last position being made redundant it is neither their fault nor yours. It is better to explain that you lost your job because of the recession and the downturn in the economy, rather than laying the blame on anyone close to home.

Tip 9: Look after your health
“Healthy body, healthy mind” is the old adage – and with good reason: It is important to take time out for regular exercise as it not only boosts mood but also boosts energy levels.
It is also important to take time out for some fun activities rather than becoming consumed by the whole job-hunting journey. Also ensure that you have time to relax rather than applying for jobs seven days a week. 7-8 hours’ sleep a night is also an essential part of keeping a positive and productive mind set. You might like to learn and practice mindfulness which is a wonderful resource for mind and body.

Tip 10: Keep to a Daily Routine and Complete a Job Search Plan
If you find yourself between jobs, be sure to stick to a daily routine and compile a job search plan. This job search plan is also very important if you are anxious to leave your current position.
Breaking up a plan into small manageable chunks is much more attainable than setting unrealistic and lofty goals. In addition to the benefit of remaining motivated achieving these smaller goals gives you much needed momentum to achieve larger goals, when they come to pass.

Reducing stress in the job hunting process is critical to maintaining positive mental attitude. The tips above can help to lessen some of the stress involved. But do remember that if at any stage you are concerned that anxiety or depression is possibly a factor for you, Aware can help. The organisation has a number of trained volunteers just a phone call or email away who can help you learn how to manage symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Aware and Abrivia Recruitment Specialists are working together to highlight the importance of positive mental health at each stage of the job hunters journey.

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Postnal Depression ImageBlog Entry

10 April 2015

By  Elena Rafferty

This week is a milestone. Here I am – a full year later.

To everyone around me, I had the perfect life. A beautiful house, a wonderful boyfriend, two amazing, healthy, happy little girls. But to me, my life, family and I were crumbling down around me. I was crippled by post-natal-depression. Too ashamed to ask for help. Here I am a full year later, ‘me’ again and telling the story of my struggles and my recovery.

I was in the bliss of family life, a stay at home mother to two gorgeous little girls I was enjoying having a curious, funny, all-go toddler and a precious new born baby girl, and a supportive, loving boyfriend. The family I had always dreamed of. Things quickly went downhill and in all honesty, I have no idea when it all happened. Daily life started to become a struggle and every little task seemed like a mountain to climb. I assumed it was how every busy mother of two kid’s felt – juggling breastfeeds with meal times, cooking, cleaning, laundry, sleepless nights and the constant worry. It was much more than that though, I was struggling on the inside, judging every little decision I made and criticising everything I did. Feeling terrible with a constant guilt, for not being a good enough mother, not being a good enough girlfriend, not being good enough at cooking, cleaning. I wasn’t good enough. I doubted every little thing I did I would be so distraught by my constant self-loathing and negative thoughts. Leaving the house? Well that was just a whole other issue in itself! Never mind trying to get three people fed, dressed, nappies changed and bags packed just to go to the shop. I felt like the walls where coming in on me and something terrible would happen if I walked outside that front door, I just wanted to stay inside our little bubble where we all would be okay.

On the days that I did manage to get everything together to leave the house, I was faced with an uncontrollable feeling (melt-down as I called them), I would go into a panic, I would start to sweat, shake, heart racing and jumping in my throat, couldn’t catch my breath, I would end up in a pile on my kitchen floor in tears. I would eventually get it together and get out of the house, praying that I didn’t bump into anyone I knew only to then rush around and do what needed to be done to get home to our bubble, where we were safe.

These horrible feelings, thoughts and guilt were consuming me, I locked them up inside and hid them away from everybody, even my boyfriend who knew I wasn’t myself. He would always tell me what a great job I was doing with the girls. I shut him out. I couldn’t face the truth – well it wasn’t the truth but it felt like it to me. I felt like I was a terrible person who didn’t deserve all the amazing things I had in life. I felt that my boyfriend and my little girls deserved better, much better. I let these thoughts and feelings take over, I couldn’t see any good in me. The suicidal thoughts and urges quickly became all I could think about. My boyfriend convinced me to go to the doctor.

My boyfriend knew I was depressed but had no idea how deep I was in. I was drowning. I really did lock everybody out. I didn’t want to face it. So I reluctantly went to my doctor and I glossed over it. “I’m just not myself and having a bit of a hard time”. My doctor prescribed me an anti-depressant and put me in contact with a psychologist to talk to. I’ll hardly take a panadol so accepting medication was hard for me but my doctor insisted I need to take them and need to take it easy and get some help with day to day life and to talk to the psychologist. I am a stubborn person, and I did not like asking for help with anything, I always took pride in that part of myself, but it really was my biggest down fall, it nearly cost me everything. So I went home made an appointment with the psychologist and started to take the medication. However I was blinded by the fog of my depression and it had got me. I was just waiting ‘to end it’. It was by now the start of March 2014 and I wasn’t going to be here by April.

Hope intervenes…

A few weeks earlier, I had met a girl at a local mammy and toddler group. A bubbly, friendly girl with beautiful kids. She had introduced herself and was very friendly. We had exchanged the usual mommy stories. I thought that I was able to put on a good front and conceal what was really going on, but she was able to see straight through it and knew I wasn’t right after that very first time of meeting her! She had tried to contact me through a mutual friend, as I had missed the toddler group for a week or two, by not being able to leave the house due to my uncontrollable fear, anxiousness and panic-attacks. I met her again at toddler group and she had asked to exchanged numbers, I had thought nothing of it and of course gave her my number. I received a text a few days later asking if everything was ok. “Yes of course” I replied. She didn’t buy it for a second. She opened up to me and shared her own struggle she experienced after her daughter was born. I was relieved in a way, I wasn’t alone.

However that weekend, as I lay in bed waiting for everyone to fall asleep, the demons in my thoughts took over. This is it. I waited for my boyfriend to fall asleep so I could sneak out of bed to do the unthinkable. I was at peace and I could feel the relief. I felt I wouldn’t be a burden on anyone anymore. I had one leg out of the bed and suddenly my youngest daughter woke up screaming. I ran to get her out of her cot which was at the bottom of our bed because she was still only 6 months old. My poor baby was burning up with a fever. Her screaming had also woken my boyfriend. My concern was of course for my little girl as we sat up all night nursing her and tending to her, but I had missed my deadline. My little girl had just saved my life.

My recovery…

Earlier that same weekend, my doctor had put me in touch with a psychiatrist who offered me ‘Homebase’ treatment which meant I could receive treatment at home in my own surroundings with my family and the support of clinical visits. Tuesday morning arrived and two lovely, friendly professionals arrived at my home, to aid me in my recovery. They came into my home and they gave me their hope. I sat at my kitchen table hugging my legs and tears streaming down my face as the two girls asked me simple questions to which I was just able to nod my head to. I was a broken girl. I was just a shell of a person, I had no fight left in me. I was reassured by these girls I would get better and I wouldn’t have to live like this. I did not believe a word they said. At first!

My boyfriend had taken some time off work to be at home with the girls while I got treatment. Mainly because I think he was too scared to leave me alone. But never once did he show it, he was so strong and supportive for me and the girls. I had visits every day from the Homebase team. Facing people every day was such an effort. I still couldn’t open up at this point. I just couldn’t talk about it. I trudged on just existing, not living. I had reached out to a childhood friend, Mandy, my best friend when I was a kid who I could talk to about everything when I was younger. I told her about my depression, but I couldn’t even tell her everything. In true Mandy style, she would show up with chocolate, walk straight in and put on the kettle. I slowly started to confide in Jennifer (from the Homebase team) and open up about my feelings, suicidal urges, and my thoughts. She listened and reassured me that this was all normal, as crazy as it sounds. This was her job, she sees it every day. Jennifer was amazing at her job. I then started to open up to my boyfriend, he was attentive and supportive and patient with me and let me talk in my own time.

As the medication started to take effect and I began to be able to talk to my boyfriend again, slowly my days started to get a little easier. I could go for a walk with Mandy, and take the kids to the park. I could take pleasure in the little things. This was amazing! It wasn’t all good, but there was a glimmer of hope, and I grabbed on to it with everything I had, I wasn’t letting go. The weeks were passing and things really started to get easier. Daily life really wasn’t so bad. I looked forward to visits from my friends and family trips to the shopping centre at the weekends. Yes, grocery shopping became fun, whereas a couple of weeks ago the thought of going to town made me want to vomit, and I would scan the whole shopping centre out of paranoia, and try to avoid anyone I might know.

I was rediscovering myself and I loved it. I could crack a joke and I didn’t take myself so seriously. I was enjoying being a mammy and a girlfriend again. Now, not every day was great but the hard days were getting fewer and far between. The suicidal thoughts and urges started to fade away. I learned how to manage my anxiety and negative thoughts. I was living life again! I never thought it could get better, but it did. I was so clouded by depression, I forgot what all the good things felt like. I was enjoying my family and my friends and being able to hold a conversation, have a good gossip about the Kardashians. Every day I was learning about myself again, all the positive things, that I was a good mother, girlfriend and friend. I was enjoying the journey of recovery and discovery of myself. It was an amazing adventure. I was loving watching my little girls discover that mammy could be fun and not so serious all the time, the sound of their little giggles as I played and messed with them. Such a joy.

A year on from ‘my deadline’, I couldn’t be happier. I didn’t think I would be here and I couldn’t be more thankful that I am. Thankful for my amazing boyfriend and our two beautiful daughters for being so understanding and patient with me. My best friends Mandy and Emma for believing in me. Homebase for their constant support and guidance, always at the end of the phone to listen. I am still learning about my journey with depression and about myself, and I hope that doesn’t stop. It has been one of the hardest things I have had to face in my life. I count myself lucky I got the help I needed when I did.

This week is a milestone for me in so many ways. Not everybody is so lucky. If you are reading this and can relate, please reach out. Do not be ashamed or embarrassed. It is not too late to get help. If you know somebody that might be going through this or something similar, reach out to them. Please don’t let depression be a taboo, it needs to be talked about. You never know who you could help.

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Cropped Quote for Blog Page February 2015

Blog Entry 24th February 2015

by Rosemary Carvill

What makes the Aware Support Group special?

As a Support Group Coordinator with Aware, every week I meet people who are devastated by the depth of their own feelings of depression, yet who have the capacity and generosity of spirit to put their own pain to one side in order to listen to another person and endeavour to find for them a ray of hope – some new thing for that person to try, that might help to alleviate their depression. Their expertise has come about through understanding their own unique experience of depression, anxiety, bipolar and other conditions so what is shared is very moving, real and deeply insightful.

I’ve asked some people who attend our support groups to share their thoughts around what made a helpful difference to them because I often hear that people come as far as the door of a support group many times only to walk away in fear of taking that first step.

Betty wrote ‘In my own experience what put me off in the early days is that I assumed everyone attending would be very sick; that they’d all be heavily medicated; that everyone would be in such a bad way that it might make my own anxiety and depression worse; why go somewhere that you are surrounded by people who feel as bad as you. Instead I was so surprised when I tried the first meeting; surprised at my own misconceptions – I met normal people – people you might meet at the shop. I’ve gained tips and understanding and support that have had a huge impact on my life.’

When people do take that first step, they realise that there’s nothing to fear; they’re so surprised to find this safe, honest space; where they can breathe, where they’re understood; sometimes sitting quietly is enough.

When I was diagnosed with Bi-Polar Disorder my life was turned upside down. I was in shock and frightened and I knew nobody in the same situation as me. I didn’t know how to help myself or to try and move on with my life. I felt so alone and was experiencing so many new and scary feelings that I couldn’t tell anyone about. A close friend had heard about Aware meetings and encouraged me to try them. I kept saying ‘Yah, I’ll go next week’ and then I made excuses not to go. I didn’t know what to expect. It took me one whole year to attend my first meeting.

I remember sitting outside in my car, my stomach churning, fighting a strong urge to drive away. I didn’t. I walked in with my head hung low. I remember one of the Aware volunteers coming straight over to me. Her warm welcome reassured me and it was the first step towards a better life. The other members in the group were dealing with all their feelings too and over time, they helped me with tips and suggestions on how to cope with Bi-Polar Disorder. I continue to go Aware meetings and each one gives me hope. I am no longer alone”. (Linda)

People gain a whole support network without any demands or expectations being put on them.

“You can be who you are, how you are and no-one is judging or hoping you’ll pull yourself together! (Tom)

Linda also shared “there were two tips that really helped me. One was to keep a mood diary, the other was to ask trusted friends and family to act as mood spotters. The mood diary allowed me to monitor changes in my mood, over time. It helped me to see that I had periods of stability which increased my confidence. I brought the mood diary with me when I visited my Psychiatrist which enabled her to prescribe the right medications. Having friends as mood spotters helped me too. I would compare where they thought my mood was at with my mood diary and them playing a role increased my feeling of being supported in my illness.”

Some people just write numbers down if it’s too hard to write a diary – zero is a low mood day and five is good. People feel surprised when they realise that every day isn’t a zero day – it gives a sense of hope. The group share in each others victories against the ‘black dog’. With thousands of visits paid to our support groups every year it’s evident that people are getting something tangible from meeting others who are having similar experiences. It’s a far more optimistic environment than you’d expect from a ‘depression’ support group.

Susan said “I go to bed before 12 every night; I need my 8 hours or I easily slip off my wellness path. I try to make sure I walk early in the day because if I put it off till evening time, I worry about the dark and make excuses to myself. My diet is the other thing I’m watching, I try to eat healthy foods – because my medication is affecting my weight and then that affects my mood again. I’m doing the best I can and trying to live in the moment.”

I try to challenge my thoughts; the ones that fuel my anxiety, filling me with fear about what might happen; the story I make up is often worse than reality. I’ve learned to ground myself in the moment; breathe slowly in and out at least three long breaths; it seems to slow down my anxious thoughts; I touch my face and hands and arms and plant my feet solidly on the ground. And I remember to exhale – and realise I’m ok” (Sean)

Even though it’s a depression support group meeting, people laugh too – this brings relief and is felt profoundly because it brings with it the realisation that it’s still possible and that it might happen again. Some people have been well for a long time; they come back to support others, keeping hope alive, sharing what helped them. Depression is a lonely experience yet I can’t count the number of those attending who say they love their Aware support group meeting; that they enjoy it; sometimes it’s the only place where they have a chance to speak to others for weeks at a time or to express themselves freely as they worry about how their mood affects family members.

Sean continues “Feel the fear”, “take the plunge” or “I can and I will”, are all quotes that come to mind when I think of the fear of going to the first Aware meeting, yes it is a daunting task, at such a low time but that’s the time when you need to take action, it’s the best move you will ever make and you’ll never regret it, as you are empowering yourself. Just do it for yourself and nobody else”.

What makes the Aware Support Group special is that we experience the stripping away of all of the protective layers that people wear to hide behind in the ‘normal’ day – I think when you attend a Support Group – you meet the person – not the outer shell so you come away feeling connected and understood.

The purpose of Aware support groups is to provide a safe space where you can openly share your thoughts and feelings and learn about what you can do to support others and yourself when experiencing depression.* The groups are free, you don’t need to be referred or to book. Please consider joining the many others in your community who are sharing coping skills and information.*Aware support groups are confidential within normal limits. 

My thanks to the people who shared their thoughts here;names have been changed for their privacy. Rosemary.

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John Mooney 6 courtesy of Cricket Eurpoe

Blog Entry December 1st 2014

by John Mooney



John Mooney, Irish cricketer shares a diary entry November 28th with Aware.

It’s 6 am and as most of us who suffer with depression will know it’s not uncommon to be up roaming around in a place that is very hard to describe to another person who does not suffer with this affliction. I’m actually not feeling too bad, the reason I’m up so early is not because I can’t sleep it’s because I was in bed so early.

I’m currently in Dubai on a training camp with 15 other players and a support staff of five who all know about my situation, but at times on this trip I could be here with a million people and it would still make no difference to the loneliness I have felt. I was diagnosed nearly three years ago now and my ability to cope with my feelings and low moods has grown as every day passes. There are many factors behind this and the biggest one is that I’m determined this will not beat me, it will not stop me from doing what I love.

I am so lucky to be in this space where I know I’m low but I also know it will pass. In two hours or so my teammates will be awake and I can use all their positivity and friendship to help me get through another day. The main reason for me being in bed so early is my corrupted mind that for years to deal with, I would shove some kind of substance into my body to help take away the feelings of self-hate and pain that I have suffered with since my dad’s death when I was a boy. To keep myself away from doing something I will regret I need to be in bed early, I need to switch my mind off as early as I can and get away from my corrupted thinking.  In the last few years I have attended many counselling sessions, group sessions, AA meetings and even tried meditation and they have all helped me to get to this point of acceptance that life goes on, life is good and that at times I’m not going to feel great, I can’t imagine there is anyone who feels great all the time.

We travelled out here on the 19th of this month and from the minute we hit the airport I was feeling crap, I had left my two girls and wife at home again and it just wasn’t sitting right with me. I spent the first few days fighting off the usual feelings of just giving up, throwing the towel in as they say, they were followed up with the suicidal thoughts which were then followed up with the drown your sorrows in a heap of alcohol thoughts but life has a way of putting things in perspective for you, and in the last few days the cricket world has been turned upside down due to the tragic death of one of the games top batsmen in Australia, Phil Hughes.  Hit on the head with a cricket ball at 80+ mph. My dad also died playing cricket and the feelings that this has brought back to me are so raw and mixed I don’t know what to think. For twenty odd years I’ve tried to tell myself “ah Dad died doing something he loved”, that might be true but it’s not fair and what has happened to Phil is just not fair.

My mood at some stage today will be low and tomorrow I will go through the same thing but I will hopefully still be here with a great family, with friends, with a job, with a future, a future which has been taken so tragically away from Phil. I will do everything I can to make sure this illness doesn’t take me away from my future.

Anyone who reads this who also suffers with this curse of an illness please don’t act on your plans please remember that life is precious and you are precious to someone, find that someone and let them help you.

My thoughts are with Phil Hughes at the moment, with his family, friends and teammates I know the loss they are suffering is devastating. I’m hoping that in heaven all the cricketers who have gone before us have welcomed him in and are enjoying his company, and that maybe he can teach my dad the cut shot.

Today I will not be acting on any of my thoughts, I will try and enjoy it as much as I can, I will not take one minute for granted and I will try and get as much out of it as I can. I’m going to be positive, I will work hard and I will tell my family that I love them and I will put into practice everything I have learned over the last few years to help me do this.

Go raibh maith agat agus slán go foill

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Don't Give Up v2Jeanne McDonagh was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when she was 25. The symptoms of the illness first manifest when she was aged 15 and in fifth year in school. A full-time Press and PR Manager with the Bar Council of Ireland for the past 16 years, and also a mental health advocate, Jeanne shares her personal thoughts about the importance of mental health education for teenagers.

Blog Entry September 25th by Jeanne McDonagh

I was very lucky up until the point that the illness hit. I was academically good, sporty (captain of the hockey team), had a great set of friends and an active social life. I was very content. When the illness hit, I was suddenly sleeping all the time, even in class. Everything was a huge effort and I had to step back from a lot of activities. I had no idea what was going on or why this was happening.

This would come and go in waves for the next couple of years but became particularly significant after I had finished my Leaving Cert and went to a different college, away from my school friends.

The abiding sense was one of paranoia. I literally thought all my friends were talking about me behind my back, arranging to go out without me, leaving me for another college, making new friends without me. I thought my boyfriend was constantly going off with other women and didn’t want to be with me. All the normal fears and insecurities of youth were amplified many times over. It was a hideous, frightening and tumultuous time.

I gave up sport, crashed academically, found it difficult to make new friends, and considered dropping out. I wasn’t constantly unwell though, and at points when my mood picked up, I would make up for lost time. It was literally a rollercoaster few years. It ended when I dropped out of my MA course due to the illness. I was diagnosed initially with depression but it failed to pinpoint what type, which caused more problems. This all eventually led to my final hospitalisation aged 25 which finally diagnosed the problem and started me on the correct treatment.

As someone who went through a difficult journey as a teenager, I see the real value of educating young people about mental health. It opens up discussions and provides them with correct information. So that if – when – they or someone they know experiences depression, anxiety or a similar challenge, they understand more about it and know how to get help. This dialogue with young people can also feed into home-life and inform the family, which is very important.

I think that if we are taught the correct information it’s a lot easier for people to accept and treat you as someone who just happens to have an illness – not be afraid that they might “catch” it or that you may be violent or any of the other misconceptions that are out there. Even many years after I was diagnosed, “friends” shied away from me as I had a ‘mental illness’.

Earlier diagnosis and treatment in my case might have meant that some of the mistakes and behaviour associated with the illness, which lost me friends and alienated others over those early years, might not have happened. I may have saved myself periods of hospitalisation and suicide attempts which marked my early twenties as I struggled to find out what was wrong. Having a name for the illness gave me clarity and acceptance and allowed me to look into suitable treatments, medication and supports, such as Aware, which enabled me to go about a “normal” life and supported me through rebuilding my life, relationships and work.

There is no doubt that a mental health condition is a tough experience to deal with. What can’t be seen is more easily misunderstood, and when it is viewed through the prism of one person’s unbalanced lens, it is even harder to understand.

To anyone, young or not-so-young, who is going through a tough time, I say remember that the things in your head that you are struggling with are thoughts – not facts. And reach out for the help that is available. The difference for me once the condition was identified and managed was phenomenal – I have gone from wanting to die, to living a full and varied life, working in and maintaining a stressful job, finishing my MA, travelling the world and meeting my husband, and building a happy and healthy relationship with him. I am surrounded by understanding friends, particularly my best friend from that period of my teenage years who stood by me then and throughout all of the illness and remains a loved and adored person in my life.

Some key things to remember if you are struggling:

  • Get informed. There are countless resources out there now for people who are going through a depression, and the more you know, the less scary it will seem.
  • Talk to those who have the illness and learn from them about how they cope, and what problems to look out for and how best to deal with various issues.
  • Get a trusted friend or two to keep watch on your mood and tell you when you are going down (or up) as you are probably not in a position to know yourself yet – they can be more objective. Also don’t be afraid to say the worst thoughts you are having to your doctor or a trusted adult. Other people can help you deal with these and pull you through the worst times.
  • Talking therapy (CBT) helps and deals with a lot of the negative thoughts.
  • Don’t be afraid of the stigma. It’s other peoples’ ignorance, not a reality.
  • Exercise (even though it’s the last thing you want to do), take up meditation (it helps calm racing thoughts), eat healthily, avoid alcohol when you are down, think healthy. The healthier you are, the better able you are to deal with the illness.
  • Medication can work for many people and there is no shame in taking a tablet if you are lacking a certain chemical. If you doctor puts you on medication, take the recommended course. It may take a number of weeks to kick in. Be patient.

There is hope: keep trying and keep learning.

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 Blog Image September 2014 - Large TreeBlog Entry September 10th 2014

 The Language of our Narratives by Barbara Whelan

A friend of mine recently got a diagnosis for his young son. He suffers from a little known syndrome. When my friend asked the consultant for an explanation, the consultant replied that all it describes is a cluster of symptoms and that the next step was to carry out further tests to see what was fuelling his son’s seizures.

What a good description that is of depression too. A cluster of symptoms. Loss of appetite, fatigue, difficulty in sleeping, poor concentration, low self-esteem. You know the list.

I often think that depression is like a variation on a theme of music – very similar but not quite the same. What is fuelling our depression is unique to each one of us. And the narrative for our depression calls for a language and a vocabulary that is helpful in articulating that unique experience.

Take diagnosis for example. Sometimes a diagnosis can be really helpful. It can ease the fear of the unknown, offer practical advice and a path to recovery – provided that it remains just that, a diagnosis and doesn’t become a label. I am not depression.

Or what about the word suffering? I was recently asked would I describe myself as someone who suffers from depression.I thought about it for a while and replied that in the past I had suffered from depression and that the word suffering really did describe what I was experiencing at that time. While I do not know what the future holds, I am now optimistic that I will continue to keep well. But at this moment I’m not suffering from depression.  By contrast, the phrase I have a vulnerability to depression works for me. It acts as a gentle reminder that I need to work at keeping well and it seems to give me permission to take care of myself.

If I could ban one word from the English language it would be the word but as it is used to encourage us to be more positive. You know when you are having a tough day and someone says but the sun is shining, or, but you have just got a wedding invite. But, but, but…it just leaves me feeling that my experience has been denied and guilty that I can’t seem to count my blessings. So I use the word and a lot during difficult times, acknowledging a tough day and expanding the awareness of it to include some tiny pleasure I have also experienced, without any pressure to balance the scales or deny the darkness.

Are you taking things too personally is a question that sends me into a spiral of self-criticism. Like many, since I’ve come through depression things ‘get’ to me a little more easily than they used to and I know that objectively I do tend to take things too personally. So in the classic scenario where an acquaintance walks past without greeting us, when we start thinking that we must have done something to offend or that there is something wrong with us, we are advised to challenge that negative thinking and ask ourselves are we taking things too personally in this situation. But, (good-use-of-the-word-here), even though that all makes sense to me, it just doesn’t seem to help.

Understanding a bit more now about the wounds from which my own depression emanates, I find it more helpful to see the experience as having brushed against an old hurt. It’s just an awakening of an emotional memory from the past. Then I can see the experience for what it is and further, what I need to do. It’s a mindfulness bell and a call to healing.

And if I find that I have lost all space between my thoughts and feelings and that my negative thinking has started to become negative believing, then it’s time to let go of language for a while and slowly do some simple task like watering the plants, sweeping the floor or washing the dishes. Dropping under thinking and doing something slowly and with gentleness, little by little, the mind seems to follow suit.

And when all else fails I read again and again some wise words written by the Australian poet Les Murray:

“Everything except language
knows the meaning of existence.
Trees, planets, rivers, time
know nothing else. They express it
moment by moment as the universe.

Even this fool of a body
lives it in part, and would
have full dignity within it
but for the ignorant freedom
of my talking mind.”
and I smile…..

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April Blog Image - Diagnosis

Blog Entry May 1st 2014

by J.M

Being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and coping with the
that accompanies diagnosis.

Being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis has simply been the worst time of my life. Not necessarily because of the diagnosis itself but the process of
being diagnosed. It took several months of testing for my MS to be confirmed and by the time I was confirmed as having MS, I was oddly relieved. I cannot describe what waiting for a diagnosis is like. Put quite simply, the ‘middle ground’ feels like a suspended state. It is like being trapped in limbo. Every day felt like Ground Hog day. The uncertainty of any diagnosis is almost worse than the diagnosis itself. By that stage I knew that I had developed MS. My father was diagnosed with MS thirty three years ago and I had always felt in myself, even from childhood that my body was never quite right. I have grown up familiar with the symptoms of MS and I just wanted the doctor to confirm it so that I could begin to accept it and move on with my life. The process of being diagnosed is metaphorically like standing in the middle of a road and looking at a bus about to hit you in slow motion. You are powerless to move yet you just want the diagnosis, to be ‘run over’ by the bus.

Amidst all this, I was plagued with worries for my future. I had been depressed for months before this, constantly lying awake at night beating myself up over the fact that I had not got my foot on a career path yet. I already felt utterly lost and did not have the slightest clue as to where to start to improve my situation. I slept with my television on because the silence was deafening. I had to distract myself in order to go to sleep. Moreover, instead of spurring me into action, my worry was actually stopping me from doing anything. I seemed to think that the time was now and everyday that passed that I did nothing was a day I could not get back.

The suspended state, on top of how I already felt, made me feel as though I could not feel any lower. One worry was thrown on top of the other and I could not cope with the pressure. Further still, my parents took my diagnosis extremely badly and my family and I just seemed to drift apart in totally different directions. I was still living at home and even though we were living under the same roof, we were miles apart. The only real source of support I received was from my friends and my sister but I still dreaded going home to my parents. I knew I had to seek help when I typed in ‘ways to commit suicide’ into my phone. I just shuddered when I woke up every morning, I couldn’t bear waking up and seeing sunlight. In some sick way, I actually began to hope they would confirm I have developed MS because then it would provide me with an excuse to never get out of bed again. I completely lost my appetite and had a knot in my stomach knowing that the time was coming closer to confirmation. I was plagued with the image of myself sitting in the neurology clinic waiting for my name to be called.

Eventually, on the 18th March this year, my mum and sister and I sat together as my MS was confirmed. My mum and sister cried and yet I didn’t. I was deflated of course, but also relieved that I could finally move on from the suspended state. I now had certainty and could begin my treatment straight away.

A few weeks have passed and the initial shock is beginning to pass for all of us. The dust is beginning to settle and it finally feels as though the storm is beginning to pass. It is still early days as I am still in the early stages of treatment but it is as though my family and I have finally found our way back together again. I am still not feeling fully myself again but I do not dread waking up in the morning as much as I did. Our emotions as a family felt like they had been shook up, like in a snow globe, and the only thing to do was wait for them to settle again. The one thing I tried to remember throughout my diagnosis was simply this: All things will pass. Unfortunately in life, there are times when we can do nothing other than hang in there but, even in my darkest hour, I knew the light would come through again eventually. We still have our dark days, individually and as a family, but finally there is more of the light present than the darkness.

For anyone going through the process of being diagnosed, I know how you are feeling. There’s the not knowing, the anger, the feeling that your hands are tied, the jumping between the feelings of ‘everything will be OK’ and fear. The most trying part was having to carry on as normal and go to work whilst feeling locked inside my own head. For anyone in a similar position, I would offer a few suggestions. It is so important to engage in some social intercourse. Depression can often involve all-consuming, repetitive thought patterns and any socialising, even just a trip to the cinema, will instantly disrupt them. As hard as it is to wake up in the morning, you have to lift your body out of bed and get out into the daylight, even if your head is telling you there is nothing to get out of bed for. This may feel as though you are about to climb Mount Everest but lying in bed really will do nothing other than allow repetitive thoughts to dominate your thinking. I am certainly not advocating alcohol related socialising. Indeed, I am an extremely infrequent drinker anyway and throwing alcohol on the situation will only exacerbate emotions. You will only feel good momentarily but may do or say things which you will later regret. But no man is an island and we as humans are relational and social beings. I had countless trips to the cinema, sessions in the gym, walks with friends, cups of coffee in cafes etc. In a bizarre way, although this was no doubt the darkest time of my life, I seemed to live my life more than I had ever done.

The second  suggestion is to please seek help the moment you find yourself contemplating suicide. I contacted my friend via text message simply typing the words ‘I just researched ways to commit suicide’. I think part of me did this just because I needed to see it written down. Again, seeing your experiences written down makes you see them in a completely different light. Monsters really do live in the dark and exposing them to the light of day somehow dismantles them. Suicidal thoughts really do feed off themselves and again, you have to reach out to someone you feel comfortable with to interrupt the repetitive thoughts.

The final suggestion I would offer anyone going through a diagnosis is to be kind to yourself. I have always dealt with depression having taken anti-depressants for several years. I managed to come off them when I was 26. Whilst this was a great achievement, my thoughts have still been plagued with my lack of career direction. For the past two years this has frustrated me hugely and the feelings of failure have crept in. It’s only now that the intensity of the situation has subsided a bit that I see how needlessly harsh I was on myself. I am not a failure; I just have not found the right career path yet. Instead of being consumed by my feelings of failure, I have decided to visit a career advisor. Instead of sympathising with myself, all I did was get angry. I never once gave myself any praise for even going through the process of being diagnosed. All of my bravery was forgotten in an instant because the self-loathing was easier to tell myself. There are so many experiences and scenarios in life which we do not give ourselves credit for. Maybe we need to write our experiences down in order to fully appreciate what we accomplish or simply get on with. It may sound odd, but any time I feel myself slipping back into self loathing, I look at a photograph of myself from my childhood and I say to myself to be kind to her. It really gives me some perspective.

I will conclude my blog post here by saying that I am someone who is on a journey. The depression which accompanies any diagnosis is hugely overwhelming and writing this post has allowed me to process some of that. I am three weeks into treatment and it is now becoming part of the norm. It’s amazing the mind’s ability to create a new norm and framework. I have also been fortunate enough to have attended a fantastic counsellor. She has taught me the importance of getting out of bed in the morning and feeling the ground beneath my feet. She has become a human sounding board for me, our sessions almost like verbal journaling. Verbalising my emotions and fears disempowered my repetitive thoughts. Counsellors will not claim to solve all of your problems but they will reflect your thinking and allow you to gain some perspective.

For anyone reading this that has either been diagnosed or is in the process of being diagnosed please remember that whilst you may have an illness, it does NOT have you.

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Blog Image_hillwalkers_ March 2014

Blog Entry March 19th, 2014

by Barbara Whelan

Mentors and Mountains

I love the works of Mary Oliver. They are like portraits of a mentor. Do you know her poem “Heavy”? Written after a time of deep grief Oliver reveals that her laughter, “as the poet said, was nowhere to be found”. But quoting her friend Daniel she writes,


“It’s not the weight you carry
but how you carry it-
books, bricks, grief-
it’s all in the way
you embrace it, balance it, carry it
when you cannot, and would not put it down”

After that she tells of how she went practising before asking us,

“Have you noticed?
Have you heard the laughter
that comes, now and again,
out of my startled mouth?
How I linger
to admire, admire, admire
the things of this world that are kind, and maybe
also troubled”

I remember the first time that poem reached me. But it was too soon and I broke down. Gently I put it away again.

I remember those joyless, colourless days. I knew at that stage that somehow I would live in the sense that I would exist, but live in the sense of being alive? “How?” I thought. As the months went by I used to get up in the morning and go about my daily chores carrying that dull ache with me as I did so. Sometimes it was just that, a dull ache. At other times it felt like a searing pain.

Walking helped. Its physical rhythm acted like a lullaby and provided some relief. I learnt a lot in those days just by walking. I remember one evening being out on the hills stopping to take in the view. It was exquisite – the mountain looming majestically, the evening sun illuminating its beauty but being aware too of that dull ache inside. Six months later in the dead of winter, we retraced our steps and redid that walk. The contrast couldn’t have been sharper. The mountain was shrouded in a gloomy mist and looked distinctly uninviting. And yet that dull ache had eased a little. It’s funny how our inner lives and the outer world of nature sometimes converge, sometimes diverge and yet the mountains remain the same – just there, just being.

Around that time we started going away together for a week’s walking. I was really nervous the first time I went. I didn’t know if I could manage the anxiety far from home. On the last night of the week the tradition grew that anyone who wants to does a ‘party piece’. I have so many memories of those evenings – a recorder duet, the simplicity of a Scottish dance, card games and one memorable moment provided by a Belgian walker. She had entitled her piece “A Surprise”. She spoke a little about her country and then did surprise us by handing around a basket full of Belgian chocolates to taste, with an invitation to visit her country sometime. I sang that night for the first time in public.

We meet all sorts of people on our travels, some of whom have become annual friends. I remember one trip in particular though. Towards the end of our last evening a quiet middle-aged couple got up to dance. The music started and then: cheek-to-cheek-hip-to-hip-arms-outstretched – they danced……the Tango. Before our eyes she was transformed into a lithe dancer of seamless movements, her partner towering above her. They were like two concentric circles intersecting and separating with an ease that comes from years of knowing another. Our jaws dropped. Our eyes opened wide in astonishment. The music came to an end and we broke into wild and enthusiastic applause.

Then they invited us up to try our hand – or rather our feet – at the Tango. There wasn’t enough room for all of us, so some of us settled back and watched our friends’ attempts with amusement.

A few minutes later, I suddenly got a fright. You know the sort where you nearly jump out of your skin? Well that sort. “What was that?” I thought and looked around. And then I realised what it was. I had been laughing. Not just laughing, but really laughing, the laugh-out-loud sort of laughing. I had forgotten what it felt like. Words from that Mary Oliver poem came flooding back:

“Have you heard
the laughter
that comes, now and again,
out of my startled mouth?”

Tears welled up in my eyes. Tears, not of grief, but of joy and relief as I realised what had happened. I had just gone practising –

and in practising I had found my way of living in the world.

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Feb 2014 Blog Image - Runner

Blog Entry February 27th, 2014 by S.

Me? A marathon? As if!

On my thirty-fourth birthday, a week out of St Pat’s, I ran my second ever half marathon. I was on the run from thoughts of suicidal hopelessness and the prospect of never controlling my own life’s course. I’d left the hospital with a mantra that I’d composed to repeat over and over, in order to fill the mind gaps where the bad thoughts could seep in. “Commend, Admire, Aspire, Plan and Really Imagine” – if thoughts I caught myself having didn’t fit into any of those categories of action, repetition of the mantra would resume to drown them out.

Feeling so much better than I had in months that day, I shared the aspiration with my friends that I might just look into what sort of training October’s Dublin City Marathon would require. I was hooked on the sense of achievement and had, for as long as I could remember, felt a sense of awe and admiration for anyone I’d ever met that had run an actual marathon. In preparation for the half, I had followed a simple plan of three runs a week for twelve weeks that I’d found very easily online.

The plan was reassuring in its simplicity; I knew that all I had to do was to commit to it and I would be convinced on the day of my ability to get around the 13.1 mile course. I was hopeful there would be a similarly reassuring plan that could promise me the ability to complete double that, in return for my unwavering obedience, by the end of October.

“Faith and Effort” is a brightly coloured handwritten notice on the kitchen cupboard above my kettle. It’s been there a couple of years now and I don’t see any reason to take it down anytime soon, but for taking on the marathon it became especially relevant. I had faith in the information that I was reading online about training, I had faith in the little black and white Teach Yourself  book I’d bought. I had faith that if I followed the plan in the book, never skipping a run, that even at my lowest ebb, my mind could not argue that my body wasn’t ready on the day.

Nobody has to do anything wildly demanding, unreasonable, or even mysterious to turn from a non-runner to a marathon runner.  A half-marathon can be yours with just three months of training, and from there another plan-led four months can make a marathon runner out of you, you just have to want it enough. I wanted it enough and enjoyed being the obedient plan-follower along the way. With faith and effort, I knew the plan would get me there and setting out for my increasingly long run every Sunday, tears sometimes came welling in my eyes, out of a wondrous sense of possibility – if I could do this, I could do anything. And on October 28th last year, I did it. It took 4 hours and 48 minutes. Sometimes I was trundling slower than long-legged people walking beside me, but I can forever say that I ran the whole thing.

The most magical, memorable, thrilling surprise came turning into the final strait on to Nassau Street at the Molly Malone, where the crowds on both sides of the street were roaring in support of all of us. Having felt almost as if running through treacle since at least Fosters Avenue, I suddenly had the ability to sprint towards the finish line. Into my earphones throbbed an old house song with a chorus that repeated “Can we live? We must learn to live.”  I get a shiver every time I hear it since.

I’m learning to live; it’s never too late, and anything really is possible.

Exercise isn’t an alternative to medication, but it certainly improves one’s sense of agency, self-respect, physical health and connection to one’s own physicality. Might help clothes fit better too!  I’ll be running the Achill half-marathon on July 5th and the Dublin Marathon again on October 27th .

Finally, I have found that there is no mood, no sadness, no frustration, no anger, no disappointment that cannot be lightened by a run in the fresh air.  I have never gone for a run that I regretted!

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Blog Entry January 14th, 2014  Aware_lifeSkills_btn_2

Life is a game of skill - one young woman explains how Aware’s Life Skills Online programme helped her when things seemed too much to handle.

You know things are bad when five separate friends give you meditation CDs in the space of a year. That was my experience some time ago during a spell of depression and its accomplice, anxiety. A series of events had left me feeling like I was still onstage when the play had ended and the cast had gone home, turning off the lights as they left.

What started as sadness and shock became a sinister sense of detachment from the world and profound hopelessness. I felt weightless, as if my feet didn’t touch the ground when I walked. The illusion that I was fading away – becoming translucent, invisible, haunted me. I wanted to fade away, with the vague hope that my problems would fade with me. A panic attack on Nassau Street forced me to go to the doctor to admit that this was beyond my control.

My mood stabilised over the next few months, with the help of antidepressants. I wasn’t panicking anymore, but I couldn’t concentrate either. A life-long  reader, books were now just attractive ornaments on a shelf. I stared blankly at my computer screen in work, as my to-do list got longer, until I stopped even bothering to make one. Things weren’t getting worse, but they weren’t getting better either.

I found out about the Aware Life Skills Online programme through a good friend. It’s an online program that takes the principles of CBT and walks you through a practical guide to coping with depression and anxiety. Its appeal for me is that it’s up to you what you do with it. You take the course at your own pace, at times that suit you. There are short videos at the start of each section, with clear instructions on how to proceed.  You chart your symptoms and your mood in an anonymous online  journal, and keep a record of your negative thoughts, situations which trigger them and your response. Over a short time you can clearly see how you may be exacerbating the problem and what you can do differently.

The stigma that still exists about depression makes a widespread problem worse. I speak openly about it to my family and friends, but the fear of a future potential employer finding this after a quick Google prevents me from using my full name here.  For an illness in which both the symptoms and the treatment conspire to make you feel powerless, even the concept of there being something practical you can do to help yourself is a huge leap forward.

The Life Skills Online programme does that. I found it a valuable course, which has left me knowing that if I find myself in that place again I have the tools to cope with it. I recommend it to anyone who is on that dark stage at the moment.

Previously published in the Metro Herald December 23, 2013

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Blog Entry Nov 5th by CarlWalking in the snow Nov 2013

Take it slow –  seek advice – be kind – enjoy the journey

Where does one begin when trying to overcome depression? The answer can seem out of reach especially if you are feeling low.  As with most things in life today, we strive to see instant results and if we do not see them then we either give up or decide maybe something else would be better. The wealth of information available can seem overwhelming. So what would be a good way to approach recovery?

Imagine a child going out on a winter’s day to play with his friends. The ground is frozen hard with shimmering patches of ice and a faint cool breeze. His foggy breath is visible under the cool bright sun. A frozen footpath leads to the playground where his friends are.  In his enthusiasm to play he tries to sprint, only to find his feet sliding on the ice, he slips and falls over. Unperturbed and buoyed by his want to play he gets up and again tries to run, which results in another return to the ground with a thud. Determined to get to the other side he puts even more energy and effort into overcoming the obstacle before him. Yet the harder he tries the less progress he seems to make. It begins to seem impossible.

Eventually, he realises he may need some help so he calls to his friends, hoping one will come and drag him to the playground. The more enthusiastic of his friends rush out to help him try only to fall victim to the ice too.  This leaves him feeling disheartened.  He had hoped his friends could do it for him.

Then one friend offers some simple advice from the edge of the ice. She had come across this frozen stretch earlier so she knew from experience what he could do.  She tells him to try and stay calm and begin to move slowly, edging forward. To his surprise this seems to work.  By taking it easy, he begins to find a little grip which had previously seemed elusive. He realises that he had the ability within him to overcome this obstacle all along; all he needed was a little guidance from a knowledgeable source. His friends encourage him towards them and as he enjoys the last few moments of gentle sliding he can’t but think of how much fun this is, now that he is making progress.

The above story reminds me of my journey out of depression. At first it caught me unaware, directing me uncontrollably to places I didn’t want to go. Then in my eagerness to be ‘cured’, I would try things expecting instant results which could never happen or at times I hoped others would do the work for me. I would find myself back in the same dark places as before. This left me feeling frustrated and hopeless.  Getting better seemed impossible! Thankfully though, by talking and reading about other people’s experiences I soon learned that by simply changing how I approached my problems I could move forward.

So remember…

Take it slow
‘All or Nothing’ thinking patterns can be a symptom of depression but this extreme way of thinking can hold recovery back.  If we can let go of this way of thinking then we might begin to see some progress. Remember that time goes quick enough as it is without us trying to force it. So like the child on the ice take a step back and then decide to move forward slowly. Set yourself small achievable goals and follow through with them.

Seek experienced advice
By talking to a friend and heeding experienced advice, the child was able to use this and progress. Depression is similar; by talking to people you may be pleasantly surprised by the advice you get. Obviously though you need to take advice from the right people. It can be useful to use other people’s experience as a stepping stone towards your recovery. You do not need to do it alone. Check out Aware’s online bookshop for starters or the health supplements in your favourite newspapers.

Be kind
Taking a little time out to do something nice for you is an important part of recovery. I cannot emphasise enough how necessary this is. By taking things a little easier and not putting yourself under too much pressure, you allow yourself the freedom to work on getting better.

Enjoy the journey
A common way of thinking about depression is to tell yourself that you will enjoy life once you get beyond depression. However if you can allow yourself to enjoy some moments now or even feel a sense of satisfaction that you are slowly making progress, this will assist your journey out of depression. If you find yourself struggling at any point remember to go easy on yourself and re-evaluate your situation.

Remember, the child made it to the other side, and so can you.

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Move On - image

Blog Entry September 24th by Lara

What to do when faced with a regret that feels so big, it’s crushing you?

At this time of year, as the days shorten and the mornings take on that crisp autumnal bite, it’s natural to feel nostalgic. Holidays have ended, kids are back in school, and people are refocusing on their goals and accomplishments for the year.

The difficulty comes when all you feel is regret, either for mistakes made or opportunities missed. Regret is not in and of itself a bad thing; in small doses and within the right context, it can help you become a better person. But when regret becomes all-encompassing, you stop engaging with the present at the behest of an unchangeable past.

So what to do when faced with a regret that feels so big, it’s crushing you?

1. Grieve, but don’t dwell.
Regret comes from a sense of lost opportunity, and like any loss, deserves to be grieved. This is healthy. But once you start to dwell, regret proves toxic: you feel stressed and sad and find it hard to stay mindful, and this will affect your work, your relationships, and your physical health. By dwelling, you allow the past to have undue influence on the present. Acknowledge your pain, but also acknowledge that it is in your best interest to put it aside. Consider channelling your negative feelings into something creative, like writing or drawing, if those forms of expression help you.

2. Recognise the regret, and learn from it.
Regret is, fundamentally, a learning tool, exposing behaviours we don’t want to repeat, so parlay your regret into a crash course in getting to know yourself: Do you regret something you have done, or something you didn’t do? Even if that specific opportunity has passed, there is a good chance that other circumstances will arise to which you can apply what you have learned, and make your life better for it.

3. Forgive yourself.
Our circumstances can change so much from year to year, that the person you were five years ago can seem like a stranger to the person you’ve become. Life refigures our character as we live it, so it is impossible to apply what you know now to what you knew then. We try to do the best with what we have available to us at the time, and sometimes we make the wrong decisions. This happens to everyone. Forgive yourself. You are your toughest critic, and you need to be your best friend, and let your past enrich you, not hold you back.

Sometimes regrets have to do with the way we have treated others. If this is the case, and you think it would help, seek forgiveness from the person you feel you’ve wronged, too.

4. Solicit outside opinions.
If you are having trouble forgiving yourself, ask for feedback from your friends, family, or therapist. Their distance from the situation that caused your regret will help you see it in a new light, and their support and compassion can offer positive examples of how you should be treating yourself.

5. Move on.
Remember that every day presents us with new opportunities, and very few situations are as dire as they seem to us at the time. Mistakes are missteps on the road to self-discovery.

Own your regret, but don’t let it define you. Instead, live today, knowing where you have come from, and how that informs where you want to go.

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Blog Entry August 23rd by Carl Gratitude  August  2013

Shift your focus – express gratitude –

have a different day!


Depression can feel overwhelming. When you feel depressed it can seem as if so much needs to be dealt with that it may be hard to know where to start. Given the perceived magnitude of the problem little changes can appear pointless. It is natural to over-think, yet all that effort brings little in the way of a
solution. Could making a small change such as ‘shifting your focus’ – which I will expand on further below – really have any effect on this feeling of being overwhelmed?

My own experience tells me that the answer is ‘yes’, even a tiny change can make a difference. When feeling depressed I would continually think about the myriad of problems I felt I had. Eventually I realised I needed to try and stop over-thinking and attempt to shift my focus to something more positive. I chose to focus on two things: ‘taking a step back’ and ‘gratitude’. At the outset, this shift in focus seemed a fairly simple and insignificant thing to do but it changed my life.

To illustrate my point I’ll ask you to imagine a golfer who is playing badly. With his last shot the ball ends up fifty metres away from where he was aiming. Obviously fifty metres is quite a distance so it looks like a lot of work will be required to make up the difference. You can imagine how hopeless he might feel his game is. Now imagine someone telling him that he is only a few millimetres out. What would the golfer’s response be? More than likely he would tell his friend how naïve and misjudged his comment is. However when his friend explains that by changing the angle at which he is aiming by one millimetre the resulting shot could be on target it begins to make sense. A one millimetre change could resolve a fifty metre discrepancy. So maybe a little shift in focus, bringing positive options into view could have a similar effect in all our lives!

It is human nature to focus on the negative results of our problems and they can feel overwhelming. Changing them can seem an impossible task. However if we can take a step back, like the golfer, maybe our problems won’t seem quite as big. By shifting our focus and allowing some space for positive options to come into view then everything around us can begin to change for the better. One small change can results in more positive changes.

With depression the conscious mind may be over-worked either doing a post mortem on past events or worrying about upcoming ones. The problem is that this over-thinking can drown out the unconscious mind. It creates paralysis through over analysis. Richard Weismann in his publication, ‘59 Seconds: Think a little, change a lot.’ (Macmillan, 2009) talks about how our unconscious mind can be a better problem solver than our conscious mind. We may feel that in order to deal with a problem we need to spend a lot of time concentrating on it while actually the opposite can be true. It has been shown that more problems are solved when you leave them alone for a little while, shift your focus and come back to them later. For example, how many times have you tried to remember someone’s name with no luck, only to remember it later when you were doing something completely different? This is because our unconscious mind will continue to work for a solution in the background while we continue with our day to day tasks.

So what can you do?

1. Take a step back and give your mind a break from the current problem you have. This can be done by concentrating instead for a short while on something challenging and enjoyable like a crossword or puzzle. Another way to distract your mind is by meeting a friend for a chat or reading a good book. When you think about the problem a little later, see if your unconscious mind has come up with any solutions?

2. Express gratitude. Begin each day with a feeling of gratitude. I cannot stress enough how powerful this simple technique can be in helping change your outlook for the better. To do this simply start listing anything you have in your life that you are grateful for. As you go through your morning routine spend two minutes (yes! all it takes is two minutes) listing at least three great things in your life. For example my list looks something like this:

I’m so happy and grateful that I’ve a loving family.
I’m so happy and grateful that that I can afford a cup of coffee.
I’m so happy and grateful that I’ve internet access and can read this …

The things you list can be fairly simple. The beauty of this list is that it gives you an appreciation of all the good things you have in your life, which is something we can all too often overlook. In doing this you begin your day by focusing on the positives, and so your day is more likely to continue in this positive light. Basically you’re making sure you get out on the right side of the bed. This process may give you a renewed enthusiasm for the day ahead and help start a process for happier times.

Wishing you all the best, Carl.

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Top Tips ImageBlog Entry July 24 2013 by Lara

How to be proactive when faced with uncertainty.

Losing your job can be a major shock to the system and can plunge even those without a previous history of such into depression. An uncertain future, paired with feelings of insecurity and loss, make this a particularly high-risk situation.

When I moved to Ireland, it took me a full year to find sustained employment. It was tough, but it eventually worked out. Now, my husband is being let go. In this economy, many people are familiar with this particular pain, so remember you are not alone and follow these tips to help keep your spirits up:

1. Develop a new routine.
Without the order imposed by the 9-to-5, it can be a challenge not to sleep all day but it will do you better to resist the temptation by finding other commitments and activities. Head out every morning and stay away from home for a few hours, applying for jobs, networking, and volunteering.

Love your local library. It has all the resources a job hunter will need and can serve as an office by proxy, where you can do your reading, revamp your CV, apply for vacancies, and find out about goings-on in your neighbourhood.

Routine is important because it keeps our days structured and productive, and reminds us that we are capable of getting things done.

2. Take care of yourself.
Don’t let your health go by the wayside. When you are unemployed, you will have more time to shop for healthy, cost-effective foods that can be made into healthy, cost-effective meals. Junk food gives you a quick boost, but your mood and energy will fall off precipitously afterward; instead, stick to whole grains, fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and lots of healthy omega-3 fats, as you find in fish. Some studies have indicated that vitamin D can increase energy and heighten moods, so get some sun if possible.

Your mental health is just as important. Some days will be harder than others. Find a couple of close friends and family members whom you can talk to when feeling low, and know that there are support groups available if you need them, as well.

3. Hang out with your friends.
It’s easy to isolate yourself when you feel down and have a limited budget, but there are ways around this. Pick low- or no-cost outings to the park or the museums, and pack a picnic to make it extra special.

Miss socialising with friends at the pub? Invite them to bring a bottle to your place and enjoy a cosy evening at home. Miss going out to dinners? Arrange a pot luck amongst your friends, where one person hosts and everyone else brings a dish to share. And even if you can’t get together in person, pick up the phone or arrange a Skype date.

4. Learn photography.
Or ceramics. Or French. Or coding. Now is the time to pick up new skills—not only the ones that will prepare you for a new career, but those that will soothe your soul and enrich your character. You know those activities that you have considered but always said, “I wish I had the time to do that”? Now is your chance. And money spent on education is never wasted.

5. Take some time out.
It is natural to feel down right now, but there are upsides to your situation, as well. The working world isn’t called the rat race for nothing: It can be stressful, frustrating, even demoralising. Consider this an opportunity to rejuvenate and reevaluate what really matters to you.

Above all, try not to compare yourself to others, while keeping in mind that thousands of people are working through similar difficulties. Remember your coping strategies from previous hard times, and remember to take each day as it comes.

There is a graphic going around on Facebook that says to view unexpected life events as plot twists and go from there. If you take a step back from the immediate negative experience, you’ll recognise that this is a turning point, which empowers you with options. Take this blank page and fill it as you see fit.

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The Power of Words - image

Blog Entry June 24,2013

by Carl

The Power of Words


Words form the most basic part of our everyday communication. The importance of words in our lives cannot be overestimated. However have you ever stopped to think of how powerful they are? Have you ever thought of the role they might play in depression?

Everyone has heard the saying ‘Sticks and stones can break my bones but names can never hurt me’ but have you ever questioned how true it is? Anyone who has been on the wrong side of a bully can testify to its inaccuracy. Words when used to hurt can be potent. While physical wounds heal in time, damaging words and comments can stay with us for life, eating away at our very being and reducing us to shadows of who we once were.

Taking bullying as an example, the words an aggressor uses towards their target can be as damaging, if not more so than physical abuse. Imagine there was a person who followed you around continually telling you that you were no good! Imagine if this person continually doubted your abilities and was determined to make sure you knew it. Imagine the struggle life would become. Everyday life would surely be close to unbearable and as this torment continued you would probably start to believe such criticisms.

If subjected to such an ordeal you would quickly lose confidence and eventually learn that the only way to stop this bullying would be through avoidance. This avoidance would lessen the chance of those perceived failures being highlighted yet would result in increased loneliness and anxiety. Each day would be approached with fear and restlessness. But such symptoms are comparable to those of depression so maybe there is a connection. Perhaps with depression we need to look at the words we label ourselves with.

As someone who spent many years battling depression I can testify to the power of words. Part of my recovery from depression came through being aware of what language I used to describe myself. During my low times this self-talk was predominantly negative, highlighting my flaws through comparisons with those who I assumed were better than me. I would use words like ‘should’ a lot thus setting up unrealistic expectations for myself.

With depression negative self-talk and self-blame are things we do constantly, most of the time without even realising it. It becomes very dangerous when this type of thinking becomes the natural thing to do. With bullies there may be a chance of avoiding or running away from them. With thoughts this can seem a little harder to do.

So what role do words play in depression? Self-talk is something we continually do. It is something that we are so well versed in that it can seem almost automatic. The majority of us will have internal dialogues about things that are happening around us. More often than not these dialogues will be evaluations of how we function in society and with depression these evaluations are most likely to be scathing. The language we use to describe ourselves plays a big part in how we feel and in turn how we interact with the world.

In order to beat depression we need to understand how powerful words can be and the role they play in how we feel. It has been proven that just seeing a list of negative words for a few seconds will make a highly anxious or depressed person feel worse. This is because this list resonates with their beliefs about themselves. So have you ever thought about the words you use to describe yourself?

If you are suffering from depression I’m sure a lot of these words would be negative. To illustrate the power words possess please repeat the following list; dwell on each word for a few seconds, slowly repeating each 3 times. Go through the list and notice how it makes you feel:

• Weak
• Dismayed
• Dejected
• Pointless
• Hopeless
• Stupid
• Ugly

How did focusing on them make you feel? This list has connotations of emptiness and coldness so the feelings it brings up may be similar. Now do the same with the following words and see if you notice a difference:

• Energetic
• Fulfilled
• Abundant
• Ecstatic
• Beautiful
• Exhilarating
• Inspirational

The difference in how you felt after saying both sets of words should be noticeable and will hopefully highlight how damaging continual negative self-talk can be. If you are continually using words like those from the first list then you cannot but feel depressed and anxious. Negative words and feelings are really only useful when there is an immediate danger to your well-being. So you need to ask yourself if your current negative cycle is in response to an immediate threat. If not then it’s imperative that you try and interrupt it.

I recommend readers, that you make it your priority to become aware of what words you are thinking and if you find yourself going down a negative route to try and interrupt it. One method would be that once you become aware of this negative internal monologue to say the word ‘stop’ in your mind. Then clench your right or left hand tightly while taking a deep breath. Count to four and then breath out slowly while unclenching your hand, as if letting go of the negative thoughts. Repeat until you feel a little calmer and then replace the thought with something that makes you happy or that you are grateful for. Using words similar to those in the second list will be helpful in this. With a bit of practice this will become a lot easier to do and you will quickly notice the benefits.

So try to start seeing yourself in a positive light and more importantly remember to be kind to yourself.

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Blog Entry May 22, 2013 by Lara

Finding Your Power

Living with chronic depression and anxiety can mean a constant low-level negotiation between your body and your mind, for which will determine how you feel. Too often, the troubled mind wins.

For years I worked in the book business: at a bookstore, at a literary agency, and as a freelancer. The day-to-day work suited me, as I found solace in working with words and thought it was a career path especially tolerant of—shall we say—personality quirks. Still, I could not get comfortable in that centerpiece of literary promotional events, the author reading.

At readings, the weaknesses I worked hard to hide risked exposure at the voicing of a well-phrased line or an incisive observation. A good writer knows how to call me out, without having intended my distress. There was never enough free wine to quell my unease, to quiet my mind and still my pulse from the inevitable panic attack that results from experiencing the private moment of reading in a wrongly public sphere.

Still, as sometimes happens, a confluence of circumstances led me to Kathleen MacMahon’s reading at Hodges Figgis last year. I sat in the aisle seat of the back row (in case I had to make a quick escape) and listened to her read from her novel, This is How It Ends. In a passage describing the character Addie, she read that Addie didn’t believe the adage, whatever doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger, as she felt “everything that has ever happened to her has made her weaker, like someone has been kicking away at the scaffolding that was holding her up.”

At that, the old familiar panic bore down on me; I have felt trapped by a kicked scaffold for almost as long as I can remember. People say life is short; to me, it often feels long and strange. I have been in Zumba class, following the choreography, and burst into tears at the fundamental absurdity of it all, my wrists bouncing behind fake reins, Gangnam Style.

Needless to say, I stopped going to Zumba. But in other rooms of the gym I have found refuge, for there, unlike almost everywhere else, I feel strong. I have learned much from my hours at the gym, and I try to apply those lessons to my daily life.

A 2010 article published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicines supports what I have experienced regarding the benefits of strength and resistance training on mental health. Participants in the studies reported reductions in anxiety and depression, as well as greater self-esteem and better sleep. But I’ll leave the science to the professionals and stick to what I know, and that is how working out with weights makes me feel, and the parallel gains I have noticed in my body and my mind.

One of the first things you learn about weight training is that you start with a little and build your way up. You cannot rush this, or go about it with improper form, or you could hurt yourself. The same can be said about with living with depression and anxiety: Take small steps toward feeling better, and build upon those only when you feel ready. If the book party makes you hyperventilate, you don’t have to go.

But as in the daily struggle with depression, consistency in training is key, and as you continue to work with the weights, day by day, week by week, the load that felt impossible a few months ago will be manageable, then comfortable, even easy. You’ll take pride in finding that you can handle much more than you had thought possible, which is perhaps the gym’s most powerful lesson for those of us worn from being buffeted by the black dog. This is to say nothing of the physical health benefits you’ll experience, but when your body is strong and healthy, it is easier to feel more positive about life, generally.

Progress will not be constant. Sometimes getting to the gym is itself the accomplishment. Even at those times, keep at it, for focusing on the body gets you out of your head, which is half the battle. Those of us inclined toward depression and anxiety can get lost in the warren of our thoughts, so it can be good to focus that energy on repetitive, physical motions.

I would encourage anyone who is finding life difficult to see a trainer in addition to a therapist. A good trainer understands the connection between the mind and the body and will make sure you make the most of your time in the gym. A good trainer will also help keep you on track. Having a schedule helps give our days order, and we all need good people looking out for us.

Living with depression is not easy; but in doing so, we draw upon a well of strength so private and profound (and so hidden, even to us) that we don’t recognise its depths. So give it a shot: Pick up some weights, push out some reps, and get to know your power.

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Blog Entry April 22, 2013

by Carl O’Reilly

Treat yourself to something nice – you deserve it.

When was the last time you treated yourself to something nice? If you experience depression you’ll probably have to go way back to find such a moment. As someone who has spent many years battling with the darkness depression brings I can understand how hard it can be to find the motivation to give yourself a little treat, mainly because when in that place it’s hard to see that you deserve something nice. I can tell you now that you do, and will explain the importance of being nice to yourself.

As I said, for years I lived with depression, or should I say existed with it, as every day seemed to be a battle just to survive. Getting up in the mornings was a real struggle, and once up I was met with the everyday challenges which at times filled me with dread. I wasn’t in a happy place. I remember a friend advising me to do something nice for myself every so often, and while I could understand where he was coming from, I could only see it as pointless.

The thought of giving myself a treat seemed like a foreign and selfish thing to be doing. Who was I to be doing something nice for myself when I had so many problems to deal with? It seemed too trivial. Eventually I’d convince myself that it was a pointless exercise and needless to say nothing changed in my life. After a bit of persistence from my friend I did promise that I would do something nice, but only after I got myself better.

However getting better seemed impossible and this clause I attached to doing something nice was really just an excuse for me not to do anything. I felt I didn’t deserve it, and at the time having been depressed for so long I had no idea what it was that I’d like to do. Nothing excited me anymore, I had learned that a state of numbness was best for me, with the attitude that if I didn’t try then at least I couldn’t fail. Even going out into society scared me, as I assumed people would be looking at me and judging me, seeing me for the failure I was. I really wanted not to care what people thought of me, yet it was something I couldn’t get my mind away from.

The problem was that I was so emotionally caught up in my state, that I couldn’t see things in perspective. It was only after a lot of research that I started to understand the importance of being nice to oneself. When depressed it is natural for your self-esteem to plummet, and as a result your self-image to deteriorate. I realised that my self-hatred was only harming me even though I believed at the time that it was appropriate. So I began to try and change this, to try and see myself in a positive light. I knew it would be hard, but nothing compared with the loneliness and despair of my situation at the time.

I decided to start working on improving my self-esteem with the first step being to treat myself nicely. It was amazing how such a simple action could change how I felt about myself. Obviously it was challenging at first. I had moments where I really had to push myself and still had a lot more to learn on my journey to recovery, but the more I practiced it the better I began to feel. Problems suddenly became easier to deal with and I even began to worry less about what others thought of me. It was a reversal of the vicious cycle I had been in for years. And it started with that one simple step.

The premise for this is that our reality is made up of our own unique perception of what is around us, and when we’re feeling bad we tend to notice all the negativity out there, while at the same time dismissing any positives. The mind can be blinkered like this. So in order to start seeing the positives life has to offer it is vital to see oneself in a good light. This can take time to turn around, but as they say every journey starts with a single step, no matter how small it is.
From experience I can tell you that the benefit of treating yourself to nice things is twofold. Firstly it will make you feel happier. This is very important in everyone’s life. Secondly, in the long term, by repeating this small step you are showing yourself that you deserve nice things, and that little action of self appreciation is very important when it comes to building up your self-image and self-esteem again.

This treat doesn’t need to be anything big. It can be healthy and positive like doing something creative which challenges your mind and gives you a feeling of accomplishment, or as simple as meeting a friend for a coffee and a chat, taking your dog for a walk, or going to the cinema to see the latest blockbuster. It can be anything you choose to do, and should give you at least a brief moment of feeling happier inside. What’s important is that whatever experience you decide to undertake is your choice, as it is partly about taking back control of your life.

So where to start? I’d recommend putting some time aside over the next few days where you can do something just for you. Ask yourself what things interest or excite you in life, things that you used to love doing but maybe because of circumstances you have may have forgotten about. Start trying to dream again and then pick one thing and do it.

Best of luck!

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Blog Entry March 27, 2013

by Darragh McCausland

Depression & Alcohol

The link between alcohol and depression is so well documented that I imagine many people with depression are exhausted hearing about it. They might know from their own experience, too, how dangerously an excess of alcohol interacts with their illness. And yet, a significant portion of those will still take a drink. I certainly did. In the depths of my depression, I drank heavily. This, in spite of all the indicators, all the screaming alarms around what it was doing to my mental health. In this blog post, I’ll look back to establish how alcohol exacerbated my depression, but first I’ll explore why I (like many others) continued to drink in the face of the damage it so clearly wrought.

A few years ago I worked with people with disabilities in south Dublin and lived near my work. Every evening after work, I’d walk home to the house I shared with a man who was hardly ever there and who I didn’t know. I effectively lived alone, and this was how I liked it. I was isolating myself, retreating into my room every evening, where I’d lose myself in my laptop’s glow, surrounded by the cans of cider I bought on the way home from work.

I never planned to buy cider. I’d get through the working day telling myself that particular day would be different, that I’d go home and drink a smoothie, eat something healthy, get back on track. But walking home from work something would always give. I’d feel like I was dragging my problems, heavy as a sack of stones, along the road with me, and I’d compound them by repeating little habitual mantras to myself, toxic sentences of pure negative energy, such as “you’re going around in circles” or “you’re a hot mess.” These thoughts were never slow. They were accelerated, looping, and borderline obsessional – moving through my mind like lurching, flashing rides in a chaotic funfair. At that time in my life, I had very little tools for dealing with them. However, I knew there was a temporary release from them, a tried and tested way out and, because my walk home took me past a large supermarket, it was always waiting conveniently for me to buy it. The temporary release was alcohol.

When you are depressed you tend towards the irrational. You’ll go for the quick fix rather than sensible long term plan. Alcohol provides the ultimate quick fix, and in the short term it works. Of course it does; otherwise I wouldn’t have reached for it. I’d settle into my bed with my laptop and drink that first can of cider, feeling a rising warmth dissolve my problems, make them seem frivolous, distant, someone else’s. By the time I’d pull the ring on my third or fourth can (pathetically smothering the hiss with a sock so my housemate wouldn’t hear it in the room next door) I’d feel positively buzzing, a million miles away from my illness.

By the fifth or sixth can, though, I’d start to experience dread. My thoughts would turn to the next day at work. I’d realize, panicking, that I would not be able to sleep properly because of the alcohol in my system. Sometimes I’d decide to go back to the supermarket to buy more booze to stave off the sadness and fear. Other times, I’d curl under the sheet and pray that sleep would take me before I sobered up.

The next morning, I’d always feel worse than the day before. I’d feel haunted, experiencing vague guilt, black worries, self-criticism, nausea, and overwhelming, poisonous fear; all magnified to extreme levels by the depressive effects of the booze on my brain’s circuitry. Most days, I’d manage to make it to work, where I’d work under a cloud, trying to wish the fear away. Other days, I’d ring in sick and lie in bed with my ghosts until the curtains darkened and some irrational thought would make me go – in spite of everything, all the advice, all the evidence – back to the supermarket for drink, allowing the dreadful, illogical loop to occur once more.

This story could easily, so easily, have ended there, with me stuck in an unbroken loop of deteriorating mental health exacerbated by problem drinking. I mentioned earlier in the piece that, at the time, I did not have the tools to cope with my situation. I do now, but what helped me back then was the simple act of reaching out to the people, the friends and loved ones, that I had kept at arms length and who, I was grateful to discover, had not given up on me. They were willing to help me find the small steps leading out of my situation, towards the point where I was able to find certain tools I needed to cope (in my case, medicine and cognitive behavioural workbooks). Needless to say, the booze had to go. It is depression’s true partner in crime.

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Blog Entry January 29, 2013

by Mr. James McGrath, Deputy Principal, Castlepollard Community College

James McGrath Dep Principal Castlepollard - Eoin Larkin wins toss

All-Ireland Senior Hurling Final Replay 2012: Captains Fergal Moore, Galway & Eoin Larkin, Kilkenny are pictured with referee James McGrath, Westmeath.

Participation in sports can provide a very necessary outlet for the tension and stress experienced by many teenagers today…

These days teenagers have busy lives. Between a packed academic schedule with the race for college places and a hectic social life, teenagers might find it difficult to squeeze in additional activities that are designed to benefit both their mental and physical health. Teenagers who play sports are able to combine responsibility and time spent with friends to create a level of fun and challenge that delivers psychological as well as physical improvement.

Teenagers spend much of their time feeling the pressure and responsibility of academia. Tests, studies and educational peer pressure, combined with other life challenges, can all cause a teenager to feel stressed and in some cases can lead to depression. Playing sports eases tension, gives a healthy outlet for stress and offers a distraction against the strain of school life. While not all teens are natural athletes, teachers/coaches try to encourage them to find something that stimulates them mentally and physically. Sports give teens something to focus on, teaches them discipline, sportsmanship and gives them feelings of personal accomplishment. We are indebted to our teachers for their invaluable role in this regard. Pointing out that failure is essential to success is also important. It sounds trite, but it’s absolutely true. Coach Vince Lombardi, who knew incredible victories both on the field and off, once said, “It’s not whether you get knocked down… it’s whether you get back up.” He understood the value of the effort it takes to stay in the game even when you’d like nothing more than to sit it out. In many ways, this is comparable to self confidence, positive attitude and positive mental health.

The calibre of students playing sport at a high level of intensity correlates with the number who actually attain high points for a college place as I have evidenced with students playing in Leinster Colleges Senior ‘A’ Gaelic Football. However, while playing sports is overwhelmingly positive for a teenager’s mental and physical development, there are some negative aspects to consider. Playing too much sport can lead to a burned out and overtired teenager, which can affect their school work and social life. The pressure one might feel within their team or from the coach could cause them to display signs of aggression or frustration in other areas of his life. A teenager who appropriately balances sports with his other areas of interest and obligations will benefit more from sports – it’s all about getting the balance right!

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Blog Entry December 20, 2012 by Dr. Claire Hayes

Some Thoughts

Not too long ago a diagnosis of cancer struck terror into patients and their families. Few questioned the inevitability of an imminent and difficult death. Thankfully things have changed. Developments in a range of therapies have resulted in much better prognoses and quality of life for people with cancer as well as a marked shift in assumptions and expectations. When will we make the break-through with depression? It is well known that thoughts such as ‘I’d be better off dead’, ‘Everyone else would be better off if I wasn’t here’ and ‘I have had enough’ are actually very common thoughts that people who have depression may have from time to time. What seems to becoming an accepted ‘fact’ however is that having such thoughts means that the person is suicidal. An even more distressing assumption is the view that the person will inevitably die by suicide. This is not the case and need not be the case. We know what happens if someone in a crowded cinema yells ‘fire’ and then screams ‘don’t panic’. My sense is that we as a nation are panicking as more and more people take their own lives and that our panic is making things worse. What is becoming even more distressing is that children, young children, are now aware of suicide and some, tragically, see it as the only option.

We need to calmly separate out thoughts, feelings and actions and question underlying beliefs such as people with depression will take their own lives. Many, many people have coped well with severe depression. Many, many people are coping well today with severe depression. They might not feel great, but despite that they focus on doing something every single day which is helpful – getting up, washing, dressing, eating, going for a walk … They learn to treat themselves a little less harshly and by focusing on one thing each day that has gone well they can retrain themselves to see themselves, the world and the future a little more hopefully.

Please support people who have depression by helping them acknowledge their feelings, identify their thoughts as ‘helpful’ or unhelpful’ and focus on helpful action. There is hope – there is always hope.

Wishing you a peaceful Christmas and New Year, Claire.

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Blog Entry November 26th, 2012 by Dr. Moya O’Brien

The stories we tell…

The word resilience comes from the Latin word ‘resilio’ to jump back. We are familiar with the idea that resilience is about the ability to bounce back from adversity, to meet life’s challenges and adapt. But it is more than this – recent thinking has expanded our definition of resilience to include not only the ability to bounce back but also the ability to bounce forward or take on new opportunities. Resilience allows us to be open to the world, to see and grasp opportunities, to look to the future, to try new things, to be adventurous and achieve goals. And the stories we shape about our lives have a key role to play in determining our resilience.

We all have a personal story, an internal narrative we create to weave together the strands of our lives and make sense and meaning of events. We can identify the key elements of our personal narratives in the language we use. Some people portray themselves as the victim rather than the survivor, others portray themselves as being successful and competent or alternatively at being a failure at trying new things. It is important to become aware of your own personal narrative.

Do you tend to generalise or see the nuances in a situation? Is your script flexible and inclusive or static and closed? Is the language optimistic or fatalistic? Are relationships sought and cultivated or seen as threats? And what of opportunities for change, are these welcomed or resisted? Do you see yourself as being able to influence the plotline or merely as a bystander?
Researchers have found that the narratives of teenagers who are able to process difficult experiences, and reach out to take on new challenges tend to be richer and smoother (Hauser, Allen and Golden, 2008*). They learn from the storms of adolescence, gain new understandings of relationships, learn how to handle their feelings and shape their environments. Stories in all forms, myths, folktales, fiction and theatre have immense psychological power; they help to bring order and meaning to our experiences, they transform our thinking, introduce new themes, and help us broaden our perspectives. Healthy stories tend to be complex, coherent and flexible, they can adapt to change and help us negotiate challenges in our lives.

The good news is that you can choose to change the shape and thrust of your story. If it is negative, you can begin to rewrite the script- move on from seeing yourself as victim to recognising the survivor in yourself. We need to turn our attention to the strengths that brought us through the difficult times and allow us to grow and thrive despite adversity. And as we make changes in our stories, these trigger new perspectives, new thoughts and emotions about different aspects of our lives that free us up to respond differently and make more constructive choices. This ongoing process of sense-making, of crafting our personal narratives can boost resilience and become a source of renewal and growth.

*Hauser, S., Allen, J.P., and Golden, E. (2008). Out of the Woods: Tales of Resilient Teens. Boston: Harvard University Press.

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Blog Entry October 24, 2012 by Dr.Claire Hayes

When is enough enough?

This is the title of a book I bought years ago and despite reading it and probably thousands of books since I still don’t know the answer. A few months ago I bought another book called ‘Enough’. I like that title. It doesn’t ask the question, it answers it. I like the book too. It is written by John Naish and has the subtitle ‘breaking free from the world of more’. Reading it, I was struck by how bombarded we all are that more is the key to happiness. Yet is it really? If we already have enough, more and more food leads directly to obesity which leads to major health problems and guaranteed unhappiness. If we already have enough ‘stuff’ more and more leads to clutter, disorder, things getting lost and problems with security. What about information? Surely we can never have too much information? I think we can. Am I the only person who feels a qualm of ‘ignorance’ when someone mentions something that is happening in a remote part of the world? I beat myself up and decide to watch more news, to read more newspapers, to be more informed …Why? Why are we constantly pushing ourselves to do more, to be more, to have more?

I found the answer to that question in the pages of a magazine in my hairdressers! There I was, quietly browsing through pages of information (and more information!) on people I did not know, before coming to an article which was about me! It described a condition that up until then I did not know that I suffered from: FOMO – Fear of Missing Out. Seemingly this condition affects other people, not just me. It explains why people say ‘yes’ to all sorts of requests, even if they do not want to. Not everyone suffers from this though. Recently two young Australian women visited Ireland. They stayed in my home for a night before going on a week-long trip which took in Kilkenny, Cork, Killarney, Dingle, the Aran Islands, Galway, Belfast, Giant’s Causeway and several stops in between. They then returned to spend a day with me before leaving for the next stage on their ‘do Europe’ trip. I was concerned though that they hadn’t seen Dublin. They hadn’t been to Trinity, they hadn’t seen the Book of Kells, they hadn’t gone to the Guinness Factory, they hadn’t … My plan was for them to ‘see’ Dublin in their last afternoon and I was stunned when they both told me that they really wanted to ‘hang out’ in the house and read and nap. When I read the article about FOMO I realised that the sick feeling in my stomach was my fear that THEY WOULD MISS OUT! When I voiced this, one of them said, ‘you know Claire I am so tired that if I went into Dublin now, I would miss it anyway’. How is it that I didn’t know that when I was her age?

Imagine how it would be if we each knew, really knew, when enough is enough. Enough complaining, enough fighting, enough striving. If we knew and appreciated that we have enough – enough to eat, enough to wear, enough to read. For me though the biggest question I have been pondering is this: ‘How would it be if each of us really did know, appreciate and value, that we are each enough?’

One of my favourite lines in a book or a film is this one said by Mark Darcy to Bridget Jones: “I like you very much. Just as you are” (Helen Fielding, Bridget Jones Diary). If you saw the film though you remember the amazement of her friends – how could he possibly like her, very much, just as she was? The rate of depression is increasing at a very rapid pace and is affecting young and old. It is rare to meet someone who likes themselves – very much – just as they are. Do you think that you are enough – for yourself and for others? If thinking that you are enough – and have enough – is too much, what about this for a thought for today: ‘Maybe I am enough today – maybe I have enough today’.

Please let me know how that goes for you! Go raibh maith agaibh, Claire.

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