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'The big thing for me was to show it's not just depression and anxiety. There's loads of mental health issues'

Roscommon footballer Amanda McLoone reached out to the WGPA counselling service last year when she began to feel overwhelmed in her life.

ROSCOMMON FOOTBALLER AMANDA McLoone knew something was wrong when she couldn’t feel positive about anything anymore last year.

Antrim v Roscommon - TESCO Ladies National Football League Division 4 Final Amanda McLoone turned to the WGPA when she needed help last year. Source: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE

Between her work, sporting commitments, and home life, she had a busy timetable. Too busy.

She has always felt comfortable leading a hectic life and would hate the idea of ever being idle for too long. But her schedule had reached saturation point in 2018.

The list of things to be done seemed never-ending. One task would be completed only for several more to immediately flood in and smother her.

Her constant battle with the workload gradually led to burnout and she was quick to identify that she needed to do something about it.

Nobody suggested to her that she should seek professional help or counselling, but many of her friends nodded in agreement when she revealed to them that she was going to talk to someone.

“I hate saying I felt depressed because it’s not fair to, I didn’t feel depressed,” she tells The42 in a café in Athlone on what happens to be her 28th birthday.

I don’t know what depression feels like. I didn’t really feel down and out in myself but I did feel like I couldn’t handle this anymore. [I was] totally overwhelmed and thinking how can I keep this up?

“I’ve always loved having a busy lifestyle, and that’s a choice. But everything got on top of me and I knew I needed some help.”

Amanda’s year started with her granny becoming sick. There were fears that she might not survive the illness but she managed to pull through.

Her recovery brought relief to Amanda and her family, but the difficulties continued for the then-27-year-old throughout the rest of 2018.

The Roscommon defender manages the Fullbody Workhouse gym in Roscommon, a job which she has loved for the last two years. She’s also a qualified nutritionist, which, coupled with her involvement in Gaelic football, has resulted in several clubs looking to employ her services.

Teams of different age grades offered her work last year, which she accepted. And it didn’t take long for the workload to gobble up her time.

Niamh Fiona O'Neill with Amanda McLoone McLoone in action for Roscommon against Meath last year. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Along with lining out for the Roscommon ladies who reached the All-Ireland intermediate semi-final last year, Amanda also transferred clubs during the season. The switch saw her move from her home club St Faithleach’s in Roscommon to Westmeath side Garrycastle.

In short, she had a lot going on.

“I did way too much last year,” she says after rattling off the exhausting list of clubs she worked with in 2018.

See, my problem is I can’t say no to things. And I’ve already had to say no to so many things this year which is such a good thing on my behalf.

Home life has been difficult for Amanda in recent years.

She lost her father Denis to pancreatic cancer in 2015, a special person in her life who was responsible for her taking an interest in sport when she was young.

She wasn’t exactly a natural when she first started out but she persevered, and her father’s encouragement ultimately helped her develop into an inter-county talent.

He was her biggest supporter and the one she called after every game to analyse her performance, a ritual which she misses.

“Not being able to pick up the phone is a big thing,” she told The42 last year.

“Confidence was something I really struggled with playing football because I wasn’t good. It was always something that I needed off people, if you know what I mean. He was really good for doing it for me.”

Ladies Football All-Ireland Junior Club Sevens McLoone: 'It was just a really tough time, the toughest time. I would say tougher than my Dad dying.' Source: Sam Barnes/SPORTSFILE

Her mother Carmel has suffered from mental health problems and following her father’s passing, Amanda stepped in to help.

Her sister Laura played a big part too, but with her now living abroad, Amanda found herself shouldering much of the responsibility on her own.

The nature of her mother’s condition means that she is often admitted to hospital for treatment and Amanda helps to bring her in and out. But with several other commitments already in her life, she struggled to manage everything.

She was surrounded by a solid support network, including her boyfriend Owen and her friends, but she couldn’t escape the overwhelming feeling.

It was really hard. The biggest thing for me was ‘how is this ever going to change? Is this going to be a constant thing of her going in and out of hospital? Are they going to do anything to help that?’

“I can’t constantly look after her, I’m not qualified to do that. It was just a really tough time, the toughest time. I would say tougher than my Dad dying. And it wasn’t that I didn’t have support.

“Owen was brilliant, Laura was great. My friends were so good but there’s still only so much they can do. That was the hardest part. I suppose I ended up burning out, thinking I can’t keep doing everything for everybody. That’s what I was doing and I was doing nothing for myself.”

During the time when she couldn’t cope, Amanda frequently experienced low moods and was struggling to sleep properly.

She was trying to function and work through the growing list of tasks but her low energy levels couldn’t sustain her. Unsurprisingly, her performances on the pitch suffered as a result.

“In fairness, I explained everything that was going on to the county manager because it was having an effect on my performance. People would say to you, ‘Oh just forget about it on the pitch.’ You can’t do that.

That idea is in the back of your mind all the time and no matter how much you try and just get over it, you can’t. It takes a lot more than just getting over it.”

Amanda was proactive about confronting her mental health issues, and she took a decision to seek help as soon as she felt it was deteriorating beyond her control.

Leinster v Connacht - Ladies Football Interprovincial semi-final McLoone discovered the WGPA counselling service through a life coach. Source: David Fitzgerald/SPORTSFILE

A conversation with a life coach brought up the WGPA’s counselling services and Amanda was immediately intrigued.

She knew former Tyrone footballer Gemma Begley, who is also a member of the WGPA executive, and was drawn to the idea of reaching out to them straight away.

It was the best thing I’ve ever done. It helped me deal with things outside of my control because you do have choices, but I felt like I had no choice.

“I had to play football, I had to do work, I had to look after my mother. But at the same time it was a choice. And I let everything else get before me whereas I could have taken a step back to look after myself.

“It was just like a feeling of total overwhelming. It was as if there were bricks on top of you and they were just pushing you further and further down. I’d tick something off the list and I’d have a million other things to do on that list.

I’d never felt that way before in my life and I’m always such a positive person. When I was feeling that I could no longer be positive about any situation, I was like, ‘There’s something wrong, I have to see somebody.’

“That’s where counselling really helped me realise that I have to put myself first because I can’t look after everybody else if I’m not looking after myself.”

Amanda attended six sessions of therapy and finished up in much better health just before Christmas.

The counselor empowered her with some coping mechanisms which Amanda has relied upon in some life situations since then. She instantly felt better equipped to deal with the circumstances and has restored some balance in her life.

And if her mental health was to ever suffer in the future, she wouldn’t hesitate to contact the WGPA’s service again.

“I would talk to anyone about these issues, I’m so comfortable talking about things. I’m a pretty open book and talking is my way of dealing with things. I think it’s nearly easier to tell a stranger, I had no problem at all talking about it.

I wasn’t always open but the last few years I really have and I just feel it’s much easier to be able to talk than trying to hide things.”

After engaging with their services, Amanda also did an interview with the WGPA about her journey to improving the condition of her mental health.

She was thrilled with the positive public response, and several readers who experienced something similar contacted Amanda to say she had inspired them to speak to a professional too.

Amanda wanted to inform people about the existence of mental health issues outside of depression, and the messages in her inbox proved she had achieved that.

“It was showing people that it’s ok to be overwhelmed and to say you need help about something.

“And that it’s not necessarily that you’re depressed, there can be other issues around mental health that aren’t just depression and anxiety. Being overwhelmed and being too stressed out are all mental health issues as well. 

Vikki Wall with Amanda McLone Roscommon's All-Ireland journey ended at the semi-final stage last year. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“Especially with the likes of an inter-county player, sometimes they can get overwhelmed and there is a big ask of them. They have a job and then they have their inter-county career which is like a second job.

“People can become overwhelmed and stressed, and that’s not even taking into account what’s going on outside of their lives.”

Amanda presumed her inter-county career was over after Roscommon’s heavy defeat to Meath in the All-Ireland semi-final last year, and she subsequently began making plans to return to education in 2019.

That didn’t work out however, and with some free time on her hands again, she decided to give it one final spin with the Rossies. 

The prospect of breaking through the barrier to finally reach an All-Ireland decider was too tempting to walk away from.

“This is the last year,” she laughs. “Everyone’s heard that from me at this stage but I just can’t do it again.”

The reigning intermediate Connacht champions are two wins from two in Division 3 of the Lidl National League and will renew their rivalry with Meath in Round 3 this weekend.

Amanda has been running a blog called ‘Clean And Lean Sporty Girl’ for the last few years, which is still thriving with over 3,000 followers on Instagram at the time of publication.

She doesn’t put herself under pressure to commit to any schedule for posting material, and the nature of her messages has changed over time.

The focus now is about promoting the importance of “looking after yourself”.

She had to discover the truth about taking care of her mental health the hard way, but she’s relieved to know that speaking about her experience has motivated others to do the same.

“If it helped one person…

The big thing for me was to show that it’s not just necessarily depression and anxiety. There’s loads of other mental health issues and sometimes it’s being affected by someone with a mental health issue that can affect you.

“It’s not as clear cut as people make it out to be sometimes.”

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