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'My phone would not stop lighting up. People reached out that were going through an extremely difficult time'

Dublin footballer Shane Carthy wrote a moving blog post about his experience with depression before Christmas.

DUBLIN FOOTBALLER SHANE Carthy hesitated before publishing a blog post about his experience of living with depression.

Shane Carthy Shane Carthy was humbled by the reaction to his blog post about living with depression. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Many people were already familiar with his story given his openness about it from the outset. He made it publicly known when he first began seeking treatment for depression back in 2014, and has continued to remain open and honest about the difficulties in his life since then.

There’s been plenty of interviews and talks in schools. He has nothing to hide.

And yet, he wasn’t quite so sure about sharing this piece before Christmas which carries the title ‘I’m no longer surviving, I’m living.’

He knew he would get plenty of support for what he had to say, but social media can often be a hostile echo chamber and fears about negative responses to the blog post started to enter Carthy’s head.

“I was quite apprehensive,” he tells The42 in the beautiful surroundings of the Portmarnock Hotel. “I was hovering over the publish cursor at the time.”

“For 99 great things, one person will say something bad and you’ll latch onto that.

“I’d be very self-conscious and be very within myself. For me to publish it and make it so public was a massive thing.”

He let the moment of doubt pass over him and opened himself up to the public again, just as he did when he was first admitted to St Patrick’s Mental Health Hospital to conquer his demons.

Carthy was a Dublin U21 player back then who couldn’t make any sense of what was going on in his head.

Of course, he’s in a much clearer head space now at 24, but some things have remained the same over the years.

Mark Collins with Shane Carthy Carthy in action for the Dublin seniors against Cork in the 2015 National League. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

He still feels that it’s better for him to share his story with others. In fact, he believes it’s his duty to do so.

“I’m in a privileged position in that people further afield take note of a lot of what I say or do online,” Carthy explains.

I felt the same at the time when we released the statement [in 2014]. I don’t want anyone else to go through this in their life so I thought it would actually be quite selfish if I kept this to myself.

“I felt I had to get my message out there and let people know that I am struggling.”

Carthy was first struck by the thought to write a blog post last year while completing a thesis in his final year of studying Sports Science. He knew he wanted to take a year out after finishing his degree before looking into a Masters course and was planning out projects for the months ahead. 

He had already been delivering talks about his depression at this point but felt his message was reaching a limited audience. He wanted to create something that allowed people to easily engage with his story whenever they needed to.

He drew inspiration from Conor Cusack. The former Cork hurler previously wrote a blog post about his own mental health battle and Carthy knew he wanted something similar.

The plan was to publish it in January to give people a boost during the dreary month but it was ready for release ahead of schedule and he realised that there was no reason to wait.

Any worries he had about how it would be received quickly faded when the responses started pouring in.

My phone would not stop lighting up and it was a job in itself to get back to people because they had taken time out and respected my piece that I’ve put out there so I felt obliged to get back to them,” says Carthy.

“There were people who reached out that were going through an extremely difficult time, were looking for advice and could relate to it so much and were maybe thinking of taking that step.

It wasn’t nice to read that but it was a nice feeling knowing that someone has taken something from it and are actively going to get help.

“I was putting it out there to get traction and to strike a chord but I couldn’t believe the magnitude of it and how it has struck a chord with young and old, people at 14 or 15 up to people in their mid-80′s. And I’m still getting messages and asked to do numerous talks.

“I couldn’t believe how much it’s blown up in a great way. I’m not complaining in any way, it’s fantastic that it’s gotten so much traction.

Conor McHugh and Shane Carthy celebrate after the game Carthy along with Dublin forward Conor McHugh during a Leinster U21 game in 2015. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

 ”I actually planned to bring it out in January because that’s a naturally a tough time for people but I often get messages from people who are in need or who need advice.

“There’s no real perfect time to bring this out and if I bring it out a few weeks previous to when I did want to bring it out, it might stop a few people from taking the step that I almost inevitably did.”

When it came to putting the piece together, Carthy reached out to a friend from work in Texaco who has a Masters in Creative Writing. He assisted the Portmarnock man with putting a shape on the words but it was agreed that Carthy’s voice needed to be at the heart of the narrative.

As he explains, ‘this is my story, I can’t get it wrong.’

A feeling of being placed on a pedestal is a recurring theme throughout the post. In the opening paragraph, Carthy recounts his primary school days in Portmarnock where it was already becoming apparent that he was a gifted athlete.

But it was pushing him to a place he didn’t want to go to.

He began playing on Dublin teams at the U12 grade and progressed all the way through to U21. He also enjoyed a stint with the Dublin seniors in 2013 at just 18 years of age before he was forced to confront his depression.

His superior talent inevitably attracted applause from others but it also pushed him onto the pedestal, an elevated space that he has never felt comfortable in.

Carthy can cope with that aspect of his life now, but it was only through tackling his depression that he managed to reach that point.

Shane Carthy Carthy didn't feel comfortable when he was put up on a pedestal.

“I think it was a trait that I’ve certainly taken from my Dad who was a successful businessman in his own right. He also played Gaelic football and hurling and he always taught me that anything you do, regardless of whether it’s working down in the garage or doing your school work, you always give 110% and respect the trade you are a part of.

“I would prefer to win what I win and go off into the sunset but that’s not how it works but I’m not gonna shy away that I’m relatively talented at football and people are going to take note of that.

“That’s just something I’ve come to realise and deal with over the last couple of years.

“I’m not going to be able to stop this extra attention so how do I deal with it in a positive light?”

Carthy’s mental health first began to gradually deteriorate in 2012 during fifth year of secondary school. It was also his second year on the Dublin minor team.

It started out as occasional moments of experiencing low moods, something which he misread as hormonal issues at the time. The situation worsened over the subsequent months leading into his Leaving Cert and those moods were becoming more frequent.

He won an All-Ireland minor title that year but there was no feeling of excitement or pride for him in the aftermath. He was almost dispassionate about a sport he loves and a team he has always dreamed of playing for.

“My thoughts were getting worse and basically contemplating suicide,” Carthy explains.

“I just couldn’t go through every day of going to and from training. I was crying, I was going into work with bloodshot eyes and they thought I had been out drinking or celebrating winning the All-Ireland.

 That was my way of covering things up. The cracks began to appear in the family home where Mam and Dad were asking more questions. My thought was that it would all be a lot better if I just ended things right now and that’s a scary thing to even contemplate.

“I was even having conversations of how I would do it and what I would do.

I was putting myself in situations and I shouldn’t have. Little did I know the impact it would have had on everybody else. It would have gone away for me but I physically would not have been there for the impact it would have had on my family.

“I’d get home then and think, ‘what was I thinking about? Why is this coming into my head?’ I didn’t know what was going on in my head, I just knew I wasn’t feeling great and this was becoming more and more of an issue for me.”

The thought of dying didn’t worry him or make him think about his own mortality. It was almost a release from the ongoing pain in his head. 

“I was calm and calculated. It didn’t faze me. It was a conversation I was having in my head and it was like I was talking about the weather. 

“I never thought about this being the end. In a scary way, I was calm and perfectly fine with it.

“That’s how unrealistic your thought process is at that time. It’s like a normal conversation in your head without having any reaction or emotion attached to it.”

These dangerous thoughts prompted him to consider telling his parents everything at the start of 2014 but he couldn’t find the right time.

Two of his grandparents died within weeks of each other and Carthy felt he should push his problems aside while his family grieved for their loss.

He used Gaelic football as a release from the anguish, but it was only a short-term solution. Music provided a sanctuary for him too and he would often plug in the earphones while travelling to matches on the team bus.

He wanted to escape to a different world for a while.

There was no particular setlist for Carthy but he often found himself returning to Coldplay’s ‘Magic,’ a song which has inspired one of the tattoos on his arm.

Carthy writes in his blog post about the morning of a Leinster U21 final with Dublin when the then 19-year-old broke down in front of his mother, and his sister Mairéad was called to bring him to Howth for the day.

But Carthy couldn’t get any relief from the damaging thoughts in his head and even thought about telling manager Dessie Farrell that he wouldn’t be available for the game.

He ate very little food that day and was generally unprepared for a provincial decider.

Shane Carthy receives his Cadbury's hero of the match award Receiving the man-of-the-match award but not really enjoying the achievement. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

But after managing to come through those gruelling few hours, Carthy found some peace on the football pitch and even produced a man-of-the-match display.

“I was so engrossed in the match, it was what I had been longing for. No-one could touch me and I couldn’t hurt myself. All I could do was concentrate on the football.

“I remember there was a passing comment from one of the selectors that I was covering a huge amount of ground and I didn’t feel tired. I just felt that I was running away from my problems and I didn’t want the game to end.

 ”I was like a kid out there and the game came and went very quickly.

As soon as I was awarded man-of-the-match, I was back up on the pedestal again and everything was going off.

“It was as if I’d crossed the white line and everything in my reality of what I was facing in my life came back to me straight away. The euphoria I had been feeling for the previous 60 minutes had all subsided.

“Very few words were spoken again and I put on the headphones to try and get away from the noise going on in my head.”

By now, Carthy’s family knew about his depression and they were putting plans in place to get professional help for him. Dessie Farrell was instrumental in all of this too, given his previous experience of working as a psychiatric nurse.

But as it turned out, Carthy wouldn’t get the chance to seek treatment on his own terms. He suffered a panic attack after a training session leading up to an All-Ireland U21 semi-final and woke up in St Patrick’s Hospital the following day.

Dessie Farrell Dessie Farrell became a very important person for Carthy in dealing with his depression. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

He writes about the incident in detail in his blog post, and it marked the beginning of his journey to addressing his depression.

“The first two or three weeks, I didn’t want to accept it and didn’t want to hear what the doctors, nurses and psychologists had to say.

“I wanted to get out because I had the Dublin U21 and was still so tunnel visioned at that time. I was asking Mick Galvin [Dublin U21 coach] ‘when am I getting out?’

“The little messages I was picking up from people and the little conversations I was having, I started to have that acceptance that it is what it is. It isn’t nice to hear but then I began to come around.

“It was hugely taxing. I would see a psychologist every two or three days and you’d be so drained because you’re trying to unravel something that you’ve kept inside for so many years.

It’s like a jigsaw and you have pieces coming out here and there but you don’t really know. Then after a while you start to see it take shape.

“It wasn’t a nice thing to face up to but I knew every time I went in that this was the challenge of trying to be the best I could possibly be.”

Carthy stayed in St Patrick’s for 11 weeks before he was discharged. He parked his football commitments during that time and unfortunately couldn’t line out for his county as they went on to win the All-Ireland U21 crown later that year.

But he returned to the sport shortly after leaving the hospital and has been in and out of Jim Gavin’s senior panel since the 2013 season. He hasn’t been invited into the panel so far in 2019, but he’s not giving up hope yet.

Jim Gavin with Shane Carthy Jim Gavin and Shane Carthy at an O'Byrne Cup game in 2013. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

He’ll keep his eye on the phone for any calls to rejoin the fold, but won’t allow himself to get too low if it doesn’t materialise. He’ll simply reset and wait for his chance again next year.

He continues to see his psychologist, although the sessions are a spaced a bit further apart now as he edges closer to being solely independent.

Depression isn’t something you defeat, Carthy says; it’s something he must live with and manage.

He still encounters days when he doesn’t want to face his issues but whenever he feels that sense of reluctance, he reminds himself how far he has progressed from the days when he couldn’t see a future for himself in this life.

“I was tunnel vision in that all I knew was football and [it's not] that I didn’t love my family but I never really considered how they were [feeling] and what kind of things they were up to in their life. I was solely focused on one thing and subconsciously neglected all of those [things].

But when I went to St Pat’s, it sort of turned my thinking and made me more appreciative. When everything is nearly taken away from you, you start to appreciate [things] a lot more when you build yourself back up.

“The beautiful surroundings and the family and friends that I’m lucky to have. Obviously sport is still a massive thing in my life but it’s not the only thing.”

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If you have been affected by any of the issues in this article, please contact one of the following helplines:

  • Samaritans 116123 or email jo@samaritans.org
  • Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833 634
  • Aware 01 661 7211
  • Pieta House
  • Childline 1800 66 66 66

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