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‘I’m fortunate enough to have another opportunity at life. I will keep fighting’

As Mental Health Awareness Week 2021 comes to a close, Clare Shine opens up further on her ongoing battle.

WANTING TO DIE is something words can’t explain. I couldn’t admit my relapse, I didn’t want anyone to know. I was embarrassed, ashamed.

I spent a year-and-a-half working on myself to be a better person and to learn how to live my life sober and happy, for it to be turned upside down in seconds. I still wore a smile, I still went about my days, but I was hiding the most powerful thoughts inside me again. I was shattered into a million pieces to be put back together a different way.

Please speak out before it’s too late.

WhatsApp Image 2021-05-15 at 19.53.11 (3) Clare Shine.

Clare Shine wants to help other people. That’s the bottom line.

On this, Mental Health Awareness Week 2021, she feels the time is right to open up again.

In January 2020, the Ireland and Glasgow City striker let the world in. On everything. She penned a letter to her younger self detailing her mental health struggles, and delved deeper into her past and present in a series of media interviews.

As we sat together in a North Dublin hotel and the rain trickled down outside, Shine told her story. A story so harrowing at times; from a downward spiral of depression and addiction which began in her teenage years as her relationship with football fractured, to a suicide attempt in October 2018, and the long road that followed.

Though emotional, she kept a brave face and was articulate throughout, content in the knowledge that her courage in opening up could help others. “If it reaches one person who needs it then that’s one less person to worry about,” she said, adding that for the first time in quite a while, the smile on her face was actually real.

16 months later, we reconvened over a video call on a slightly brighter Monday afternoon, Shine joining from her adopted home of Glasgow, again, smiling for the most part through the pixels of FaceTime, though teary at times with glossed-over eyes as she recalled the depths of her most recent despair.

As she has so honestly documented on social media, a lot has happened since last January, her recovery journey not exactly continuing in an upward trajectory. In brief, the opposite happened. But that’s okay.

The important question to start: How are you, Clare? And really, how are you?

“I’m in a really good place at the moment, especially this side of Christmas,” the 25-year-old assures. “I’m starting to feel alive again, I’m starting to feel myself.

“Back playing football, it’s going really well apart from the injury that I picked up a couple of weeks ago. But I’m back on the mend now. I’m back involved and back on the pitch, which is obviously something that I wanted, as well as my mental and physical wellbeing.

“Everything seems to be getting back together. I’m very positive at the moment.”

It’s easy to speak out when things are going well, she stresses, the memories of last January coming flooding back in one moment. And everything which followed.

Again, she’s doing this for others. Others who might not be so positive, or in dark places, like she has so often been in the past.

“It is extremely important to be open and honest, to speak about how you’re feeling, to let people in,” she begins, when given the floor to talk about why she wishes to mark the week that’s in it. “I know I spoke last year about how important it was to speak out and two months later, I found myself back to square one. It was a very difficult time for me.

“I knew it was happening, I knew what was going to happen. I had started drinking again and there was only one way that that was gonna go. The hardest thing for me was, it was my actions that kind of got me there. I did reach out, I did go to the doctor, I did tell people how I was feeling — but I just ran away from it again.

“I didn’t want to cause people any more upset. I didn’t want people to know that I was in a very dark place again. When I was in that really dark place, it was the most difficult thing.

WhatsApp Image 2021-05-15 at 20.09.26 (3) Back on the pitch with Glasgow City recently.

“I know it’s easy for me to speak about it now when I’m in a good place. But I will never forget how hard it was to open up through those difficult times, especially through the first lockdown. Football was taken away from me, my routine, my structure was taken away. It was as if I lost everything and I went back to my old habits, my old routine. I found it very hard to get out of bed, I was drinking again.

“The longer it went on, the harder it was for me to get out of it. My relapse, it just hit me hard and fast. And by the time I tried to speak about it, it was too late.”

Next thing, Shine was in a psychiatric ward in Stobhill Hospital in Glasgow.

There, she thankfully received assistance after concerns were raised by her club, and a missing person appeal was launched. On the long, bright summer days in June, she saw nothing but darkness.

The Cork native spent a month in hospital “kind of out of it after everything that happened,” slowly but surely building back up after finding herself in the darkest place imaginable amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The reality of it is it can hit you at any time, any place, anywhere, it doesn’t matter. When you let your guard down towards something like this, especially for me, knowing that I have these struggles, it can end up like that.

“I know myself what I have to do to keep a positive mental health, positive mindset. And I let that slip. I’m fortunate enough to have another opportunity at football and another opportunity at life.

“But it was a massive eye-opener for me, especially seeing a lot of mentally ill people in hospital and being able to speak to them about their journeys. Them being a lot older than me and and giving me that advice; that I’m young, I’m still able to put it right, I still have a lot of years ahead of me in terms of football, and in terms of life in general. I think that is the most important thing.

“I’ve not given up, I won’t be giving up and I will keep fighting as long as I have to. Of course, there’s going to be good days and bad days. I’m very happy for my good days, and I appreciate my bad days, too, because they make me appreciate my good days as well. It’s been a tough 10 months, as it is now, but it’s been a massive learning curve, and I’m just glad to be happy and to be healthy and to be back on the right path again.”

***

Step by step, day by day, that’s how it’s been right through Shine’s recovery.

She’s most certainly future focused now, but it’s important too to reflect on how far she’s come since letting the doors of Stobhill Hospital close behind her.

“It was very difficult, getting back to kind of real life and there was a lot of obstacles that I had to overcome,” she says. “Looking back, it’s been an amazing journey. It’s been horrendous, but it’s also been very heartwarming. It’s been very rewarding. That’s something that I can kind of look at and see the strength that I can bring.”

She pauses there and then.

WhatsApp Image 2021-05-15 at 19.53.11 (4) Shine is open and honest about her story.

The deeper we get into our conversation, the emotion starts to come through. It hits her that this is the first time she’s spoken about the last year negatively, publicly, and shares her nerves considering what happened last time.

Then, she gathers her thoughts, and picks up where she left off.

“At the start of my recovery, I thought that football was just going to be something I was going to have to let go of. There was a lot of things that were getting in the way. I had lost like 8kg, the fluctuation of my medication, I couldn’t see myself getting back properly fit, mentally and physically.

“Mentally, obviously, it was something that I wanted to work on properly. If that meant football had to be put aside, then so be it, but somehow, someone looking over me helped me through everything and gave me that drive to just push myself to the limit. There was training sessions that I was bawling, crying. I was very disoriented, still to this day.”

Following her back-to-training programme as she took her first steps towards the pitch, Shine remembers not being able to stand on one leg, being light and frail and almost fainting after running a very short distance.

“I’m on very strong medication as well at the moment,” she explains. “I’m not sure many athletes are on this medication. It can make you very drowsy and things like that.

“There were a lot of things that could have held me back and could have stopped me from getting back on the pitch but I didn’t want that. I didn’t want it to overpower everything else that was going on in my life. I just wanted to prove to myself that I could drive forward.

“Once I got back involved with the team, in proper training sessions and kicking a ball, it was a surreal moment, because I didn’t think that I would have had that opportunity again. I don’t think many people did. People just want me to be okay and to be happy. Especially my family, and my friends.”

As she says herself, she’s lived two lives in the last year or so, and her relationship with lockdown has contrasted. At the start, it was “absolutely horrendous,” whilst now she is successfully using it to her advantage.

There’s light at the end of the tunnel and brighter days ahead for everyone. There’s always a light, as she says on numerous occasions.

“I just think it’s important for people like me to open up and actually admit that these things happen. It’s real. Mental health is real, addiction is real, suicidal thoughts are real and suicide attempts are real.

“To be open and to be honest and to let people in is the most important thing. I know how difficult it is to speak out. But once you do make that jump, even if you’ve to write it down to give it to someone, if you can’t get the words out, if you’re just gonna end up crying, at least you’re getting those emotions out and you’re addressing them. The longer you don’t address them, the harder it gets to actually admitting it.

“Because a lot of things can happen as well; you become very distant to people, you pick up bad habits, you can’t get out of bed, it’s hard to even have a shower, you lose your appetite. There’s a lot of things that can come that people don’t actually realise and then your behaviours are more negative than positive.

“Trying to take each day as it comes instead of seeing everything as like a future landscape is what I found really helpful. I’ve been taking every day as it comes: good day or bad day. When I am having a bad day, I sometimes find it very hard to see past it but I just make sure I speak to someone when it does get tough.

“I need to see it as a marathon, not a sprint.”

***

Any time, any place, anywhere. Mental health issues know no boundaries. Same with alcohol addiction. That’s another message Shine is keen to get across, a side of her story she hasn’t delved quite so deep into before.

She spoke about “drowning myself in alcohol” last January, and using it as a coping mechanism for a bit of life and confidence. She thought it was her best friend, that it could ease the endless pain. But no, it was a vicious cycle.

It worsened everything; feeding the devil on her shoulder, highlighting her insecurities and leading her to think, and talk, negatively about herself the day after the night before.

Addiction is so powerful. “It doesn’t matter what age you are, or who you are, what you do with work or whatever, it can hit you at any time in your life,” she nods. “That’s definitely something that I’ve learned over the last few years.

“I never in a million years thought I would ever have a drinking problem because of my sporting background. I’ve played international, and have been playing high level sport my whole life, this is something that I never thought would ever attack me.

“That voice kept speaking to me, being like, ‘Oh, you can have one or two, this time is different,’ and all that. It’s just never the case, I just think it’s something that’s not spoken about often enough. I know a lot of young people who do struggle with it, because it’s kind of the normal thing to do and they’re just going off what everybody else is doing. They’re the ones that end up suffering.”

She’s attending AA meetings now, and finding them very helpful. Even just listening to other people’s stories and backgrounds; many who never had a problem in their younger years, but ‘their life started crashing down on top of them’ in their late 40s and 50s.

Awareness of that is important. As is acceptance.

“I’m not ashamed of it anymore,” Shine stresses. “I used to be, I used to lie about it all the time. But that’s not gonna get me anywhere, either. I know, and I’m comfortable within myself.

“I know the triggers, I know how to kind of handle those cravings and things like that. I’ve turned to ice cream quite a lot! The motto is one day at a time.”

It’s something Shine has documented on social media, sharing her sober streak as she hits various different milestones. She outlines her experiences, the good, the bad and the ugly, and offers advice to others, with a lot of emphasis put on self-love and how you talk to yourself.

“I like to open up on social media recently. Because I’ve been following a few people and their journeys myself that I’ve got a lot of positivity from. I want to kind of be that person that people can turn to and see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

“No matter how many times I’ve fallen, I’ve always managed to get back up. I just want to be that role model for people, especially to do with mental health and to know that no matter how many times you fall, there is definitely ways to get back up.”

“When you’re happy, you tend to forget what it’s like to feel sad,” she later adds. “And then when you’re sad, you forget what it’s like to feel happy. That’s so important; to be able to appreciate your good days, and to be able to appreciate the bad days too because it sets you up. You know what energy, food, exercise you need to keep yourself on the mend. That’s living proof for me now.

“But I will always have in the back of my mind where I was. I can use that as motivation to keep me going. Especially when I feel like things are starting to dip. I’m not gonna say it’s never gonna happen again, because I don’t know what the future holds. You can’t control everything that happens in your life, you can’t control certain events, anything can happen on any given day.

“So it’s just being able to have those measures in place to prepare, or to turn to when things do go wrong or don’t go your way. So you can be ready as best as you can for when those things do come.”

She’s working on recognising negative thoughts, and not letting them creep in and control her. Should she find herself stuttering in that direction in the morning, she’ll take 10 minutes, and then force herself out of bed and into a morning routine, eventually leading to fresh air outside.

Little things can make such a difference. Positive self-talk is massive.

“I think that’s the biggest thing for me at the moment, to just go with how I feel. Just accept how I feel because at the end of the day, I have to live with myself, I have to face the day, it’s me who has to deal with the negative thoughts or the positive thoughts.”

She’s journaling every day, and finds that really beneficial. Writing, in general, is a release, and she’s working on a few projects at the minute to keep herself ticking over, and to help others. Posting on social media has been a massive help, too, leading to positive feedback and communication with others.

“It’s nice to interact with people that are on completely different journeys and who motivate me, as well as me motivate them,” she notes. “Because everybody is different, everybody has different ways to help themselves.”

One of the most helpful things she’s found is reflecting on her journey so far, looking back on how far she has come.

“I’ve been my own motivation this time, and that’s what’s worked for me. And obviously having the right people around me and surrounding myself with people who just want the best for me, that know my triggers and things that don’t work for me — and if I am having a bad day, they know what to say.

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“But it is me who has to get myself out of it. I can only lean on people so long. It does come from you, and it does come from within you. But just knowing that them people are there to speak about it and to cry to whenever I need to is definitely something that I have been working on.”

She can’t speak highly enough of those around her, and mentions them several times throughout our conversation, struggling to find the words to thank them and sum up just how much their support and “tough love,” at times, means.

From her nearest and dearest family and friends, to her adopted home of Glasgow City — with special words uttered for CEO Laura Montgomery and her team-mates, who have never made her feel out of place and helped her to where she is now.

“There has been a lot of up and downs, and hiccups along the way, and they’ve never given up. They’ve just supported me and helped me the whole way through. Without their support, I don’t think I would be in this position again or I would have this opportunity again.

“I’ve put my family and friends through a lot, especially over the last three years. I just can’t thank them enough for never giving up on me, especially, to always supporting me, no matter what life has thrown at me.”

clare-shine Training with Ireland last March. Source: Brian Reilly-Troy/INPHO

The struggle for words comes again.

“Obviously my family, what I’ve put them through… has been… unimaginable for anybody to go through something like that. I know obviously I’m the one in it and it’s tough for me, but it’s tough for everybody else that’s around me as well.

“For all the people who’ve been close to me, it’s been very difficult. And I just can’t explain how appreciative I am towards them. For them to never give up on me is something that I will always have, and can always bring with me.

“I am obviously trying to give back what I can. But I don’t think anything can describe the help and the support that they’ve given me; the daily Facetimes, the daily messages, just checking in to make sure everything’s okay; it has just been amazing.

“It takes a difficult time to know who the closest people are in your life. People come and go, but there’s always that core group of people that will never go anywhere. I just think it’s really shown over the last year and I’ll just forever be grateful for that.”

***

One of the biggest smiles of the day comes when discussing a landmark occasion last October.

As she had done so many times before, she kitted out in the orange of Glasgow City and came off the bench against Celtic. But this time was different. A few short months earlier, she thought she had played her last game of football.

Looking back, it’s hard to find the words.

“I remember going back out onto the pitch for the first 10 or 15 minutes, it was… it was… it was an amazing feeling. It was emotional. It had only been like three months since I got out of hospital.

“I put myself in a position way before I thought I should have been. I don’t know. It’s kind of hard to explain. But now 10 months on, I’m back involved, I’m back playing. I was selected for the international camp, the provisional squad, which was extremely emotional too.”

Injury held her back in the end, but it’s incredible to look at her on-field progress over the past few months.

In November, Shine scored a penalty in the Champions League. She’s made a few other appearances for City off the bench, the most recent coming against Celtic on Wednesday night; “a very big game” which she was excited for at the time of our conversation, and one she reported back from on a high note. “Feeling good,” she tweeted.

All the signs are positive, and a recall to Vera Pauw’s Ireland squad certainly isn’t too far away for the top-class finisher, with the 2023 World Cup qualifiers coming up later this year.

“It’s always an ambition to be part of the squad. I am looking to nail a position in the team. It’s been very up and down for me. I’ve not really had a good run at it, as such, but I definitely think I’ve put myself in a good position. I appreciate the support I’ve received from Vera and hopefully I can impress in the next few weeks and months.

WhatsApp Image 2021-05-15 at 20.09.26 (2) Facing Celtic.

“I’ll just be keeping my head down from now on in and hopefully getting more game time with Glasgow City and looking to drive it on from there. I’ll hopefully play my part if I’m called upon.”

With each and every word uttered about the future — though still taking it day by day in her own head — her excitement shines through. Being happy and healthy is the main thing, and football is an added bonus.

At the end of the day, it is just a game. There’s a lot more to life.

“I’m just looking forward to what life brings and what’s ahead of me. I’m excited for it, really,” she beams in agreement. “I’m working on that.”

With that, comes helping others. And Shine’s closing remarks say it all in a nutshell.

“I just want to help people,” she concludes. “I just want to let people know no matter how hard and how difficult it may seem, there will always be a light. I think I’m living proof of that. I don’t know how many times I have fallen down and I still manage to get up.

“That’s something that I am proud of. I can look back and see the mistakes that I’ve made, but I can also look at the amount of strength and courage and belief that I have shown to pull myself back out of difficult places. It’s something that I am very proud of.

“That’s what I don’t think people give themselves enough credit for. I am really working on self love. I really do appreciate myself and I am starting to love myself properly. I think that’s something that I need to kind of spread around, to kind of build awareness around that. It’s so important. The way you speak to yourself is so important. I’m not ashamed, or I’m not touchy on telling anybody that.”

“I don’t know,” she adds with a laugh as the conversation winds down. “I could go on for days, honestly.”

One foot in front of the other.

Life is worth living, as Clare Shine has learned the hard way.

***************************

If you need to talk, contact:

  • Pieta House 1800 247 247 (suicide, self-harm; 24/7 support)
  • Samaritans 116 123
  • Aware 1800 80 48 48 (depression, anxiety)
  • Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833 634 (for ages 13 to 19)
  • Childline 1800 66 66 66 (for under 18s)

You can also text HELP to 51444 (standard message rates apply).

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About the author:

Emma Duffy

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