The Kerryman (North Kerry) - - NEWS -

AMONG the most re­cent and pop­u­lar in­ter­views to ap­pear on The Ker­ry­man’s pages looked into the story of Clochán’s Adrian O’Con­nor, a young man who sus­tained a brain in­jury in Lon­don 14 years ago and was given lit­tle hope of sur­vival, let alone walk­ing or talk­ing again.

Roll for­ward ten half marathons and one full marathon, it would be the height of un­der­state­ment to say he con­founded med­i­cal pre­dic­tions.

Eoghan Ó Conchúir – af­fec­tion­ately known as ‘Clais’ lo­cally in ref­er­ence to his home town­land in the Feothanach area – wasn’t the first to gain in­spi­ra­tion from the Clochán man, but few felt as em­pow­ered by Adrian’s story as the 30-year-old.

While giv­ing Adrian a lift over the Conor Pass to Dingle, he lis­tened and talked to a man with a story that’s al­most unique.

In the months lead­ing up to this en­counter, Eoghan had bat­tled and taken con­trol of de­pres­sion, an ill­ness which nearly claimed his life. To­day, Eoghan sits in Dingle’s Ben­ners Ho­tel know­ing that tens of thou­sands have lis­tened to his call on Face­book for peo­ple to ig­nore the stigma that some­times goes with de­pres­sion and take steps like those which saved him last sum­mer.

“Adrian wasn’t given much hope by his medics – and he’s done a marathon since, a few half marathons. It’s in­spi­ra­tional,” Eoghan says as he pours some brown su­gar into a “badly wanted” cup of cof­fee. “I have my sec­ond chance, too, and meet­ing Adrian spurred me to do the Face­book video. I’m not do­ing it for my­self but for those afraid to speak out.”

For all the mes­sages out there which show us de­pres­sion isn’t picky when se­lect­ing those it chases down, the last traces of stigma have clung on as stick­ily as the ill­ness it­self. Eoghan is fur­ther liv­ing proof that achieve­ments in work and life don’t pro­vide im­mu­nity from de­pres­sion. Mar­ried to Mary and liv­ing with their 10-month-old son in Bran­don, a gem on the north of the Corca Dhuib­hne penin­sula, Eoghan isn’t short of home com­forts. He also worked as a health­care as­sis­tant and re­cently qual­i­fied as a Spe­cial Needs As­sis­tant, fur­ther ev­i­dence that ‘ the boy’s done good’.

The same could be said of the many men and women Eoghan met fol­low­ing his ad­mis­sion to Uni­ver­sity Hos­pi­tal Kerry (UHK) last sum­mer. Over those three weeks, Eoghan got to know peo­ple of all pro­fes­sions, aged from 18 to 90 – and this is a big part of what he’s try­ing to drill home: de­pres­sion, he feels, is some­thing most peo­ple suf­fer with at some point in their lives.

Ini­tially “a small bit em­bar­rassed”, Eoghan found the courage last June to speak to loved ones and take his first steps to­wards days which are “av­er­age to good, most of the time”. It’s what he needed to do to pin down an ill­ness that had gnawed away at his sleep; left him with con­stant pres­sure headaches; put a shake in his knee that “could have lifted a cav­ity block”; and had him think­ing of leav­ing this world long be­fore his time.

“I take some med­i­ca­tion, but the main dif­fer­ence now is that I keep life sim­ple. It’s hard, some­times, with a 10-month-old baby, Micheál, but I like to have my day planned out,” he says. “I take 20 min­utes for my­self ev­ery day: I put away the phone, go for a walk, take in some fresh air – it cleans my mind.

“But I was lucky be­cause I spoke out. We all know in ev­ery vil­lage, ev­ery town in Kerry, the coun­try, it has af­fected peo­ple. Maybe some peo­ple were afraid to speak out and they’re not around now. The stigma that’s there is caus­ing harm.

“I spoke out, and that was what saved my life; by that June bank hol­i­day week­end, when I broke down with my wife, Mary, and my sis­ter, Ni­amh, I felt it was a case of ei­ther speak­ing out or I was go­ing to con­sider sui­cide. I just thought I could man­age it my­self but, when I look back now, there’s no way I could have done that… What I was did was like putting an egg into a fry­ing pan in De­cem­ber and leav­ing it there un­til June. My brain was cre­mated by sum­mer.”

With that single move, open­ing up to two peo­ple whom he loves and trusts, months of pres­sure be­gan to melt away.

It hadn’t been long since Mary and Eoghan had moved from Dublin, where he had buried him­self in work, of­ten fol­low­ing his day work with night classes as he pur­sued his goal of be­com­ing an SNA.

But ru­ral life isn’t with­out its tests, ei­ther. As the long win­ter had its say, an­i­mals starved on fod­der­less farms na­tion­wide. Eoghan helps out on the fam­ily farm in Feothanach, and while his flock of 120 sheep made it through the cri­sis, he ad­mits the sto­ries and images that dom­i­nated the 2018 farm­ing year shook him.

By the time the frost and snow gave way to the rain­less weeks of last sum­mer, there wasn’t a budge from the grass but sheep prices plunged.

Such events are never wel­come – but with a baby at home, they be­come all the more se­ri­ous.

These stresses were part of what led to a three-week stay in UHK, but aside from the heartache of fac­ing up to vis­its from Mikey, his “lea­sainm” for lit­tle Micheál, Eoghan never doubted he was in the right place to get bet­ter – and any em­bar­rass­ment he once felt over his ill­ness had faded away by the time he took to Face­book in De­cem­ber.

“I said in the video to speak out to some­one you love and some­one you trust, but your doc­tors and good char­i­ties like Pi­eta House or AWARE are also there,” he says. “Along with my fam­ily in Bran­don and Feothanach, I owe a lot to the med­i­cal peo­ple in UHK, too; I can’t thank them enough.

“When I rang SouthDoc on the June bank hol­i­day, there were no beds for me un­til the fol­low­ing Tues­day, but that’s not the medics’ fault, that’s the fel­las in the suits and ties, even though it’s the peo­ple work­ing on the ground that are down with it. It’s a thank­less job, re­ally.

“You never hear a good word about them – but I’m say­ing right now that they were bril­liant to me. I just hope that peo­ple will lis­ten now to my video and try to get the help I got.”

If you’ve been af­fected by the con­tent in this ar­ti­cle, you can con­tact a num­ber of groups, such as AWARE (1800 80 48 48), Pi­eta House (066 716 3660), and Sa­mar­i­tans (116 123).

Photo by De­clan Malone

Eoghan ‘Clais’ Ó Conchúir on the pier at Cuas in west Kerry. Tak­ing time out for a walk and lis­ten­ing to the sea are a big part of his re­cov­ery.

Eoghan Ó Conchúir took to Face­book to ad­dress the stigma around de­pres­sion. Photo by De­clan Malone.

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