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'There’s a hope in me that nobody else will have to go through this'

‘The reality is I know people are going through this every day.’

Running through Wicklow on Quest Glendalough adventure race 2017.
Running through Wicklow on Quest Glendalough adventure race 2017.
Image: CLEARSKIESAHEAD.COM

‘THE BOOKS I’VE written were because I’ve gone through something really hard in life,’ Moire O’Sullivan says with an exhale.

She is fresh from a 70-minute run on the Mourne Way and the even more welcome school run with her two young sons.

Her previous books were on the trials, hurdles and tribulations presented by those very subjects. And, indeed, her efforts to combine them.

Yet ‘really hard’ doesn’t quite seem to do the latest experience committed to print any justice whatsoever. Shortly after Christmas 2018, her husband Pete took his own life after suffering with depression. A Quarter Glass of Milk is O’Sullivan’s account of how she went about picking up the pieces.

The Derrywoman is a proven elite adventure racer and mountain runner and those either familiar with her endurance exploits or her previous books Mud, Sweat and Tears or Bump, Bike and Baby will know her as an unflinchingly honest storyteller. Such an absence of sugar coating in writing about her husband’s death conveys the heartbreak all the more acutely.

“There’s a hope in me that nobody else will have to go through this,” O’Sullivan tells The42, “but the reality is I know people are going through this every day. I know suicide rates are frightening. And I’m only aware of this now because it’s happened within our own family.

“The book is really about what helped me. By writing, I came to the conclusion that what helped me is: one, doing something I loved, being in the mountains.

“Two, being around people who loved and supported me, which ended up being the mountain community.”

The point about the book being what has worked for O’Sullivan herself is key. Each individual case, person and relationship will experience the effects of grief, particularly grief caused by depression and suicide, differently. There is an array of one-size-fits-all advice that is easily found, but what O’Sullivan has managed to do present not a tutorial, but a map to show there is a route through all the pitfalls.

“People often say around depression that running is the panacea to fix it,” she says wryly.

“Previously, running has been my salvation so many times.  When I turned 30 and came back to Ireland, running and mountain running just got me settled and helped me find  new friends and new things to do and maybe travel around Ireland. It was a great entrance into having a life.

“(After having children) it was that thing of me having an hour away from the kids. ‘Me time’. But then running wasn’t there for me when Pete was sick, suffering from depression.

“I’d go for a run and my head would just go – the floodgates would open up and all the emotions I was suppressing at home would come out. When he passed away, the last thing I could do was go for a run, so I ended up walking.”

A walk in this case, is no meandering stroll, though O’Sullivan does struggle with the slower pace of a hike as she embarked on Mountain Leader training having been accustomed to traversing difficult terrain on the gallop. With that qualification in hand, she now runs Happy Out Adventures, offering guidance and training on how to find your way around the mountains to hardy runners and day-hikers alike.

 

AQuarterGlassofMilk Published by O'Brien Press.

Setting up her new business is ultimately the goal O’Sullivan is chasing during A Quarter Glass of Milk, but the value in the work is how she deals with the grief for her husband along the way.

It is worth repeating that this is a tale of O’Sullivan’s own experience, not a step-by-step guide for others to follow. Yet if there is one lesson that the book continually returns to, it’s the simple message that it’s good to talk.

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Particularly in the early stages of her grief there are numerous accounts of how people approach her to offer condolences. Sorry for your loss. Nobody really knows what the right thing to say is. Some remain awkward and some release an outpouring that turns out to be connected to their own grief of a suicide that hit close to home. An experience they had not been moved to disclose until seeing a person going through the same tumult they had.

“I’ve squared up against these people on (race start) lines, gone out training with them, met them in pubs for pints afterwards and never knew they had gone through anything like that in their lives. That was a total eye opener. I felt sorry we were in a society where we feel we can’t share that.

“I lived in Kenya 20 years ago and HIV was everywhere and people didn’t want to talk about it. Now we have pills that can allow people to live healthy lives. I hope we’re at the point now with suicide and mental health that it’s starting to be talked about. Maybe in 20 years time we’ll go, ‘God, remember people’s parents or partners actually felt guilty that they couldn’t do more for somebody’.

“With any illness, we need the conversation to start openly. Then treatments can become better and people’s lives can be saved.

“Hopefully this book will date. Hopefully somebody reads this in 20 years time and goes ‘I can’t believe it used to be this way’.

“Please God. But to get there we need to start having those conversations.”

Need help? Support is available:

  • Aware – 1800 80 48 48 (depression, anxiety)
  • Samaritans – 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.ie
  • Pieta House – 1800 247 247 or email mary@pieta.ie (suicide, self-harm)
  • Teen-Line Ireland – 1800 833 634 (for ages 13 to 18)
  • Childline – 1800 66 66 66 (for under 18s)

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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