Former Glengarriff footballer Conor Galvin thought his depression was caused by his sexuality. But when the suicidal ideation continued after he came out, he realised it was something he would just have to learn to always live with, he tells Emma Connolly
A YOUNG West Cork man has given an honest and moving account of living a high-achieving and functioning life, while also struggling with a depression that terrifies him.
Conor Galvin from the Kenmare Road in Glengarriff has struggled with his mental health since starting secondary school in Bantry.
But things worsened throughout his teens, and he frequently contemplated suicide.
In a series of posts on Twitter last week, Conor opened up about his depression, hoping to reach out to a greater audience and maybe touch others struggling with the same feelings.
He said that at his worst ‘depression was winning. I wanted to die, I had so much I wanted to do, but I wanted the pain to stop.’
The 22-year-old spoke to The Southern Star from Sydney, Australia where he’s on a placement from his studies in UCD. He said he decided to go public to try and explain the deceptive nature of his internal struggle.
‘I decided to tweet as this is my reality – but it’s a reality that I had not heard anyone else speak about, and I wanted to show its petrifiying nature in an honest way.’
Stressing he wasn’t looking for sympathy or giving advice, Conor said he just wanted ‘to give an honest account of the brutality of my experience’.
It started when he moved from a small primary school to a secondary school of over 500 pupils.
He didn’t have a name for how he felt then, but said: ‘I just knew I couldn’t relate to people.’
Conor is gay, but he wasn’t fully aware of his sexuality at the time. He was called ‘gay’ and ‘faggot’, which led to him feeling very isolated and down.
‘I wasn’t seeing things in colour when everyone around me was saying how colourful everything was. I’d spend lunch time in the bathroom. Once home, I’d rush straight to my room. I’d cry a lot and take a lot of days off.’
At the age of 14, feelings of suicidal ideation began to creep in, and continued on and off during his school years.
Academically very capable, he decided the solution was to focus on his studies and he hoped that ‘getting away’ to college would bring an end to how he felt.
‘That was my motivation and the light at the end of my tunnel. I got Medicine in Trinity and, at the age of 17, I was the second youngest in my class. But within a day or two, it hit me like a tonne of bricks – all my insecurities had followed me and my dream was shattered.’
Leaving the course within a month, he funded himself to remain in Dublin, but things didn’t improve.
‘I had an exhaustion that sleep would not fix, and a strong ideation returned. At that stage I was aware of my sexuality and thought perhaps that was the cause of my feelings. I moved home and got a job at home for six months and played football with Glengarriff. I took up a place to study Actuary and Finance in UCD, and the day before I was to start, I woke up at 4am and decided to come out.
‘I woke my mum and told her – at that stage she probably would have been aware already and all my family were very supportive.’
What followed was elation, but that was soon followed by another massive comedown, with depression and anxiety taking over once more.
‘I thought I’d feel liberated, but instead I felt full of fear and self-conflict. I had given myself a new platform, but I didn’t know what to do with it. It was a new start but the old feelings hadn’t gone away.’
He left his actuary course after two weeks, as even the prospect of ‘tomorrow’ seemed too terrifying.
What followed were periods of confidence, interspersed with bewilderment and terror, including a bout which hit him while volunteering in India.
It led up to a sharp decline in his mental health in March 2017, and last week he tweeted about this episode: ‘For the first time I was truly worried I was going to harm myself. It’s just inside me and I can’t defeat it.’
He called his mother in the middle of the night and she drove to Dublin and after professional help, he began taking antidepressants.
‘They did help – for me it was the last lifeline.’
Currently in third year of Business and Law in UCD, he’s in a relationship for the past two years, and says life is good. He describes it as a ‘dysfunctional functional’.
Conor is on still antidepressants, but he knows his depression isn’t something he can ‘fix’ or run from, and he has accepted it will
always be there.
Thanking people for their support since he tweeted, he said: ‘I’m still not back to my personality of when I was healthy, but I’ve no more ideation and my anxiety is nowhere near as bad as it was.’
He does, though, still fear that one day ‘it’ will win. Tweeting about his feelings was a bit ‘like coming out again’, he says, but being honest was important.
‘If I have any potential to help, it’s by just being honest.’