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'I wanted to end it all. I thought I was a burden on everyone'

Ireland and Glasgow City star Clare Shine delves deeper into her mental health struggles.

“FOR THE FIRST time in a very long time, the smile on my face is actually real.”

Clare Shine is smiling. It’s Tuesday afternoon in a North Dublin hotel, and it’s the day before the Irish international tells the world something she never thought she would.

claire-shine-feature Ireland and Glasgow City striker Clare Shine. Source: Seb Daly/SPORTSFILE

The Cork star offers a warm greeting, and is full of chat from the off as the rain trickles down outside.

As she settles into her chair and prepares to tell her story once again, each time probably slightly easier than the last, she opens her notebook.

Within is a handwritten letter to her younger self detailing her mental health struggles. There are brainstorm charts, bullet points, and pages ripped out; but the finished product is out in the open now and was published on The Sports Chronicle yesterday.

Ahead of the big day, there were nerves about going public.

But there appeared to be none whatsoever as she opened up verbally, and delved deeper into her story.

“I think I’m in the right place to be able to go back and reflect on what has happened,” the 24-year-old tells The42. “Before now, I wouldn’t have.

“It’s always something that I think about but it’s never something that I would have gained from. I think that’s the difference between my outlook on it now. The reason why I want to come out and speak about it is because I hope that it reaches someone who does need it, because that’s one less person who tries to do something like I did.”

That’s the bottom line. This isn’t for her.

This is for other people.

“I was suffering in silence for so long,” she says. “I know there’s a lot of people who are suffering in silence now, so if they see me or see anybody else coming out and speaking about it then they might feel comfortable to go and get that help that they need.

“It will help me on my journey as well. It’s something that I’m excited about really.”

Thriving at Scottish outfit Glasgow City FC once again, this isn’t an easy thing to do; revisiting her darkest days, and the devil on her shoulder she has lived with for the past five or six years. 

But Shine takes it all in her stride. She knows exactly what she wants to say, and is incredibly honest throughout. Her eyes gloss over at times as she relives certain moments in the depths of despair, but she keeps a brave face on.

She rewinds the clock to her teenage years. To where it all began.

claire-shine-feature Shine has penned a letter to her younger self. Source: Seb Daly/SPORTSFILE

To everyone, Clare Shine looked like she was living the dream. A prodigiously talented footballer, she had the world at her feet. Or so everyone thought.

“It kind of started in 2014,” the Douglas native begins. “It was actually a huge year for me as a footballer. I won U19 Player of the Year, we qualified for the European finals, I got my first senior call-up, I played in the Champions League for the first time.

“But in between all that, I broke my leg. I was coming back from that and it was the first time that I had actually spent time on my own properly. That was when things started to get bad.

“I had my first panic attack in and around all of that. I was playing for Raheny United at the time and I had been really down, which isn’t like me. I’m a happy person. My manager was like, ‘Look, I think you need to go and speak to someone about it.’ That’s when it kicked off.”

Shine was one of the stars of that Ireland U19 side who made history in reaching the European Championship semi-final that summer, but either side of that, suffered with a seemingly career-threatening injury.

She sustained a nasty leg break towards the end of the domestic season in action with Raheny, but battled back to don the beloved green jersey in Norway. Later that summer, she excelled for her Dublin club on the European stage, but then she faced a longer stint on the sidelines. 

To everyone else, it appeared that the return came too quick.

“I just kind of blamed my leg so people wouldn’t… The injury was there but it wasn’t as severe as we made it out to be. I wanted all the attention to be on my leg and not what actually was going on. I didn’t really want anybody to know.

“It just got worse from there. That’s when the suicidal thoughts started first.”

The injury and dealing with the weight of expectations triggered a lot of things, she feels: “I think I have ongoing issues anyway, but obviously I didn’t have football as a release. And when I was injured, I blamed it on the injury more so.”

She’s opened up before about the dark place that that leg break left her in. How it was a low point, and how it began to turn her against football.

But little did most people realise just how bad things were.

“It was a really dark place for me,” she recalls. “Football was always somewhere I went to express myself and I didn’t want to be there anymore. I didn’t want to play, I didn’t want anything to do with football.

clare-shine-and-danique-kerkdijk On the ball at the U19 Euros in 2014. Source: Anders Hoven, Digitalsport

“I just felt like I wanted to be alone. I wanted to be on my own and that just led to the thoughts getting even more severe. That’s when I wanted to end it all. I thought I was a burden on everyone. 

“I just felt like me complaining about everything that I was doing in my life was just annoying everybody. I didn’t want to keep it up, so I thought that it was my only option.”

Nineteen at the time, Shine turned to her brother. She told him how she was feeling, and about some of the thoughts she was experiencing. He reached out to Pieta House, the national charity helping people in situations of suicidal distress and self-harm, and Shine was first admitted in January 2015.

This was just a bump in the road, she told herself, something she could overcome. 

Leaving the centre after an intense period of therapy and working on herself for 12 weeks, she felt invincible. Ready to attack the world once again.

Two months later, she was back playing football at the highest level and signed for Glasgow City in May 2015 after impressing on trial.

“It was just something I wasn’t ready for,” she admits in hindsight. “I jumped too far with that. I think it was too soon after all that had happened. I don’t think I was ready for it.

“I got homesick, I suffered with insomnia and I wasn’t sleeping. Trying to perform then with no sleep, it was just… all the panic attacks in and around all that, it just got a bit much for me.”

From the outside looking in, though, Shine was flying it. 

She was scoring goals week in, week out, but in the grand scheme of things, her comeback proved to be a greater fall.

“Six months later, I just found myself back in the same position,” she continues. “That went on then for another year. I went back to Pieta House, I had to leave Glasgow for a couple of weeks to come home. It was actually the mid-season break.

“When I went back in there, all well and good. I came out feeling invincible again. I just didn’t keep up the self-care and self-love that I should have. I wish I knew then what I know now because I went about it a completely different way.

“After the second time, it was all good for the first six months and then I hit rock-bottom completely. I turned to drink as a solution, and it was like that for two or three years; me just drowning myself in alcohol.” 

clare-shine Making her Ireland senior debut against Spain in November 2015. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

In March 2017, she signed for Cork City FC, ending her 18-month playing spell in Scotland.

It must be noted that she made a massive impact at Glasgow the first time around; she scored 36 goals across 2015 and 2016, enjoyed plenty of success and most notably notched a hat-trick in their 3-0 Scottish Cup final win in November 2015.

With everything going on in her head, Shine thought that coming home would help her massively on her road to recovery. But it did the complete opposite.

“I wasn’t really in it,” she concedes of her return to City. “I was making up excuses as to why I couldn’t go. I was a bit of a mess, to be honest.

“I thought being at home would help but I just fell into a very bad lifestyle. I didn’t want to play football, I didn’t want to play sport so I just thought this was going to be my life. I had accepted that I wasn’t going to play any more because of the thoughts that I was having.

“A lot of the girls realised. I was always angry. I had no care for it. It is something that I do regret; not putting the time and effort into it. But obviously, I was going through a tough period in my life.”

Alcohol, she says, was a coping mechanism. It gave her “a bit of life” and “the confidence that I was looking for”.

She thought that it was her best friend, that it could ease the endless pain. But it worsened everything. It fed the devil on her shoulder, told her that she wasn’t good enough and highlighted her insecurities the day after the night before.

“I thought it was kind of an escape really,” she adds. “When I was playing with Cork City, I was kind of drinking all the time. It was ringing alarm bells with a lot of people at the club.

“They had suggested that I went and spoke to someone about my drinking habits. I went, just to get people off my back.” 

Attending those sessions didn’t last too long, however.  

One particular sporting occasion springs to mind: the 2017 Women’s FAI Cup final. That November Sunday, Shine was Cork City’s hero. Her first-half goal proved decisive as the Leesiders were crowned champions for the first time in their history.

The joy on her face at the Aviva made it look like she was the happiest person in the world.

“Yeah,” she nods, with a frown. “And I was very dependent on alcohol at that time. I had actually been drinking the whole year, and three weeks before the cup final, I was like, ‘Right, I need to stop for this three weeks.’

“Obviously afterwards, it was just a party. There was no getting away from it. It just escalated after that, and that’s when it came to a head.”

claire-shine-celebrates-scoring Celebrating her cup final goal in 2017. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

She stepped away from football for a year. She distanced herself from her family and friends in an attempt not to hurt them, but that only resulted in her hurting herself more and more.

“I was drinking five or six nights a week, but I had been lying to all my friends about where I was going, who I was with, what I was doing. I kind of pushed myself away from everybody.

“They knew that I wasn’t really in a good place but they didn’t really know how to… I was kind of aggressive towards it, it was a touchy subject. They didn’t realise the extent either.

“Because I had spoken about it before and I went to Pieta House on two other occasions, I felt like if I was to say it again, people would be like, ‘You’re not helping yourself’ kind of a thing.

“I knew I wasn’t because I was turning to drink, but I didn’t think that there was anything else for me to do. It was kind of keeping me alive.

In her letter, she refers to the darkest night of all. How she was “walking aimlessly around Cork city, full of pints and God only knows what else,” thinking, “Nobody will even care… just do it, just do it.”

There were plenty of similar nights in the run up to that one. “Tears rolling down your face over the thought of wanting to end it all there and then,” as she put it.

But there’s one date forever etched in Shine’s memory.

“The 20 October 2018 was when I tried to commit suicide. That was a huge turning point for me. Obviously, I saw the effects that it had on a lot of people in my life.”

She vividly remembers waking up in hospital.

Her best friend, Amanda Budden — a star goalkeeper who has also lined out for Ireland — was there. That was one of the first things she noticed.

Along with that realisation of what she had done.

“Oh God, I knew straight away,” she remembers, tearing up. “There was a nurse outside the door, she was just staring in and I knew… it just made me even more upset. I was like, ‘Oh no, how did I allow myself get like this?’

“On the night it happened, I was by myself but I woke up the next day and Amanda was asleep on the hospital bed. I was bawling crying, she was bawling crying and she was like, ‘Look, come on, we can get through this together.’

“She kind of dragged me through. I probably wouldn’t be here without her, really. I am very grateful for what she did for me. It’s nice to have someone like that, who sticks by you through your darkest days.”

clare-shine An Ireland press briefing in 2015. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

Many stuck by her. “Through everything, my family have been amazing, and it’s just as hard for them as it is for me,” she acclaims. While she wanted to be alone, those who love her rallied around her and reinforced all that is good in this world, and why she is so important.

But it was far from an easy road.

“The week after it happened, it was still in my thoughts,” Shine concedes. “It was still something that I wanted to do. It was more the guilt that I was feeling. No one knew what to do with me, I didn’t even know what to do with myself.”

***

Bit by bit, things improved.

She returned to the drug and alcohol centre, where she continued working with Andrew Fiddow. Slowly but surely, she began to get a lust for life once again through a fitness and well-being programme.

“We went for runs, did a lot of exercise and fitness stuff,” she smiles. “It kind of gave me that bite. He believed in me when nobody else really did.

“It took on from there. I just never looked back really. I tried to change all the negatives in my life to a positive. Slowly but surely, I’ve got there but there’s still things that I do need to work on. It’s something that I will be working on for the rest of my life.

“Now that I don’t drink any more — I haven’t drank in over a year — I can see life from a completely different view. I have other distractions, I do other things to keep myself happy and to keep myself on track.

“I think that’s one thing that I struggled with before. I’ve never kept up the self-care, the self-love that I needed to support myself and to be the happiest person that I can be.

Shine can’t help but smile when she thinks of how far she’s come. 

Even this time last year, football was the last thing on her mind. 

“I set goals at the end of 2018 with Andrew when I was in the centre,” she explains. “I was two or three stone overweight, I wasn’t playing football, I was unhappy, I was just trying to piece my life back together.

“I wrote down goals that I could see myself doing in maybe three or four years, not in a year. When I was called into the [Ireland] squad in November, I ticked off my last goal that I had on my list to achieve. I managed to achieve them all, which was incredible.”

katie-mccabe-and-clare-shine With friend and team-mate Katie McCabe. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Glasgow manager Scott Booth reached out last January and shortly after, she headed across the water on a trial. Training away herself at the time, she reckons she was probably the fittest she’s ever been going over.

Against all odds, Shine impressed.

“I hadn’t been playing football so them signing me was a massive risk for them,” she says. “Obviously I’m so thankful that they did, and so grateful that they took that risk.

“I put myself in a good position and just went from there. Never looked back.”

A senior international call-up followed — her first since 2017, having made her debut in late 2015 — and she travelled with the Girls In Green to Greece in November. Shortly after, she scored a brilliant last-minute winner for her beloved Glasgow in the Scottish Cup final.

She’s thankful for so much; for her family and friends, for Budden, for Fiddow, for Glasgow, and for Cork City’s understanding as they helped her back on her feet and got her the support that she needed. 

But one very special little person has helped more than she will ever know: Shine’s niece, Emily, who came into the world in late 2016 — around the time of her eight-week second stint in Pieta House.

“Emily was actually born when I was going through a really tough time and nobody knew about it,” Shine beams. “She was that happiness that I needed.

“I kind of latched onto her. I was with her every single day. I was minding her for the first two and-a-half years of her life, until I moved back to Glasgow, so we just created an unbreakable bond.

“I’m always FaceTiming her, and she’s coming over to the Champions League quarter-final in March. It’s just nice to be able to have the opportunity to watch her grow as well.

“She is one of the main reasons why I did hold on for a long period of time. I definitely am really happy that she came into my life when she did.

Lots of little things have helped along the way, but talking and working on herself have been the big ones for Shine. 

View this post on Instagram

Enjoyable first half of the season 🎯

A post shared by Clare Shine (@clareshine01) on

She’s learned a lot, and understands now that the person must develop as much as the player does. Younger stars, in particular, often let the footballer tag define them, and she is well aware of certain mistakes she may have made.

“I definitely could never find the balance between a social life and football,” she admits.

“I was always kind of living two different lives and nobody can live two lives for a long period of time, it does catch up on you. It’s something that if I was to do it again, that’s what I would do differently.

“But obviously my experiences, as I said in the letter, have taught me a lot and have helped me for different situations that I’m going to come across. I’ll be able to react in a better way next time.”

She stresses that she does have regrets, but that all shapes her into who she is now. Her past experiences have given her the resilience she needs going forward, too. 

Many hurdles have been crossed, and she’s equipped to jump any more that come her way. She’s still here after all, and that’s one sure sign that she’s winning.

“The darkest days do make you stronger, so a lot of people say,” Shine notes. “It’s just building on them and not allowing yourself to go back to those places.

“That’s definitely something that I hope to be able to pursue. To be happy is probably my main goal for the rest of my life.

“I’m still working on the person off the pitch. I think it will benefit me throughout my football career if I can work on the person that I am off the pitch. The happier you are, the better you’re going to be playing.

“It’s definitely something that I’m still working on, and I will be working on for the future. I’m okay with that, which is something that I never was before. I was always kind of positive but I used to give out to myself for doing certain things. Now, I’m like, ‘Right, that’s cool. This is me. This is who I am, and that’s fine.’

As our conversation winds down and the smile on Shine’s face widens, she’s reminded of just how far she’s come.

And just how surreal it is that after everything she’s been through, she’s playing the football of her life and she’s just hours away from telling the world her story.

“I fully believe in law of attraction in terms of this,” she beams. “The minute I started to kind of better myself, a lot of good things started coming into my life.

“It’s just trying to keep that going, keep all the goodness and all the happiness in my life, basically. It can only get better from here.

glasgow-city-women-v-cheranovo-women-uefa-womens-champions-league-round-of-32-second-leg-petershill-park Celebrating a Champions League goal with Glasgow in September. Source: Jeff Holmes

 For the first time in a very long time, the smile on my face is actually real. I’m looking forward to attacking the day, I’m looking forward to going to training, I love playing for Glasgow City. Things just couldn’t be going better.

Most importantly, it’s time to take a quick look into the future. 

What’s next for Clare Shine? Her happiness is key, of course, but life both on and off the pitch is looking pretty good.

“Being happy is my main priority, and everything else falls into place after that,” she stresses.

“In terms of football, I’m with Glasgow for the rest of the season. We have Champions League now in March, and trying to get the league and the two cups back with us as well. It will be a big year for us as a club and I’m looking forward to tackling that.”

After this, too, she’s keen for as many people as possible to hear her story. And to learn from it.

She’s looking to do different events and talk about her journey in schools — she’s tried her hand at it already and it went well. She just wants to get it out there, and help others. 

As she says over and over, if it touches just one person, she’ll be over the moon.

“If it reaches one person who needs it then that’s one less person to worry about,” she concludes on Tuesday afternoon. There’s that smile again.

And you can almost hear the same one down the phone again on Wednesday evening when she takes a quick call to take stock of the day that’s been.

“There’s been an amazing response to it,” she enthuses, telling of numerous messages, calls and social media shares. “I wasn’t expecting such a good response.

It was a bit overwhelming earlier reading all the messages, I got a bit emotional towards it. But it can only be positive, and the more people that share it, the more people that see it and the more people it might help.

It’s pretty fair to say will, not might.

***

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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