86. Eoghan McDermott
RTÉ 2fm/ Ambassador Pieta House
It is not uncommon knowledge that I went through a period of emotional and mental turmoil in my mid-to-late twenties, which led me to self-harm as a coping mechanism. I have long since reconciled that period of my life, and I use the experience to springboard conversations about mental health in schools and at events around the country.
I don’t love recalling it and, if it didn’t serve a purpose,
I’d happily consign it to the dustbin of history, happy in the knowledge that I conquered it and learned from it. The purpose it serves is to highlight two things.
First: the aggressive disregard depression has for your circumstances, family life, financial stability or prosperity outside of the source of angst. For me, life was offensively rosy at the time I experienced a relationship breakup. I had no other source of turmoil – and so had trouble identifying, understanding and finally accepting that when I did find myself suddenly unable to cope, it was a problem that needed outside help and support.
I also use it to impress on young people the difference between mental health and mental illness. Mental illness is a psychiatric disorder, an illness that can be diagnosed by a doctor – like schizophrenia, dementia, bipolar etc. It can be a life-long condition that will need constant clinical evaluation and perhaps medication.
Mental health, however, is simply how you react to the challenges that life invariably throws at you, your psychological wellbeing day to day. I had never been emotionally tested to the level I was when I lost my way. People experience break-ups all the time and are fine, so I couldn’t reconcile how I was feeling with my general circumstances. I was embarrassed that what seemed like a trivial matter on paper, and something everyone goes through, was causing me such anguish.
It was that combination of anguish, embarrassment, shame and inability to rationalise my way back to stability that led to me one day picking up a scissors and scraping it over my skin. I still have some tell-tale battle scars to remind me of that time.
When I eventually did realise the situation needed some external intervention, I plucked up the courage to talk to someone. As quickly as the clouds descended, they began to lift. I learned how to handle destructive or negative emotions and have become an ambassador for Pieta House.
Throughout that time, I managed to hide cuts and scars from practically everyone, save maybe two people. So bear in mind, you really have no idea what’s going on behind closed doors. Be kind to people and educate yourself on how to look after yourself – and should the occasion ever call for it, on how to look after others.