‘Struggling with your mental health is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of'

July 18th, 2018 7:10 AM

By Emma Connolly

Sean O'Regan played football for Carbery Rangers up to minor and under 21 levels as well as u-16 for Cork. (Photo: George Maguire)

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Family and friends never suspected the torment that former footballer Sean O’Regan was suffering while battling depression. But last year, he took time out to tackle his mental health problems. Now he’s a Rose of Tralee escort


A 24 YEAR old Rosscarbery man, and an escort in this year’s Rose of Tralee, has spoken out about his struggle with Anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) so that others won’t suffer in silence like he did. 

The outside world, including his family and friends, never suspected the torment Sean O’Regan from Rosscarbery, suffered, as he masked his feelings so well. He played football for Carbery Rangers up to minor and under 21 levels as well as u-16 for Cork. A keen musician, he was part of an All-Ireland winning Scór Ballad group this year; he’s a qualified primary school teacher and has worked in finance in Dublin. 

Opening up after so many years of turmoil, he admitted, was really difficult as he was afraid that people would ‘think differently’ of him.

‘I have struggled with mental health issues for a number of years now, which might come as a bit of a shock to people that know me. I was very sociable growing up, and from the outside, everything appeared fine. I was always involved in a lot of activities while growing up; football, basketball, music, singing. I was an all-rounder, and I threw my hand at a lot of things. It took me a long time to open up fully about my difficulties. I was afraid that people would think differently of me if I told them how I was really feeling on the inside. And to tell the truth, I didn’t really understand what was going on with me. I didn’t know why I wasn’t feeling that good inside. In truth, I was really struggling throughout secondary school and university,’ he said honestly.

Sean has suffered from OCD since his teens: ‘It is difficult to talk about OCD, because it is not something that is talked about openly, and it is often something that is misunderstood. For example, OCD is often portrayed as when somebody likes to have their possessions nice and neat and tidy. There is so much more to it than that.   

‘My OCD manifests itself around perfectionism, which leads to behaviours like repeated checking, undertaking tasks in a very detailed and precise way, or performing tasks a specific number of times. 

‘This is exhausting and quite overwhelming. In truth, a lot of people have little routines and rituals. But this does not mean they have OCD. Living with OCD leads to long episodes of over-thinking and over-analysing.’

In addition, Sean has Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) which he describes like ‘being on a hamster-wheel of worry, constantly worrying about things that happened in the past, or things that might happen in the future.’

He explains: ‘It leads to extensive periods of rumination and over-thinking, which is very taxing and tiring. When you have an anxiety disorder, you are never in the present moment. You are worrying about something like “What if…” Having OCD and GAD can cause emotional turmoil, and they can have a really negative impact on your life – job, school, college, family relationships etc.’

As Sean entered his 20s, anxiety and OCD tightened their grip on him: ‘My anxiety had shattered my self-esteem and self-belief. I felt very depressed as a result. Anxiety and depression go hand in hand, and they were having a staggering effect on my everyday life.’

However, at the end of last year, he made what he called a ‘difficult decision’ to take some time out to tackle his mental health problems. 

‘Things had really built up over the years, and the small things in life had become a huge struggle for me. I spent some time in hospital in Dublin at the beginning of this year. I met my consultant there, and I did a lot of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) while there. CBT is a very active process and it’s based around behaviour work. I also completed two different anxiety programmes which really helped.’ 

While in hospital, Sean said he realised he was not alone in his struggles.

‘I met so many great people while in hospital; so many normal people like me who were struggling just like I was. And this is what I want to say; it really is OK to not be OK. I am only at the beginning of my journey. What I want to say to other young people who are suffering in silence like I was, is to have the courage to go and talk to your GP, or your parents, or close friends or family. Embrace your struggles and be proud of who you are. Struggling with your mental health is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. Have the courage to talk to your GP, and they will help guide you in the right direction’. 

Sean is really keen to emphasise that he has a ‘long way to go’ in terms of his recovery, which is ‘really hard work.’

‘Make no mistake; I am still nowhere near where I want to be. It is definitely not plain sailing and I most definitely still have days where I do not feel good. It is a huge challenge. It is two steps forward; one step back. I have a lot of work to do, but I have great support around me. I recently started a new type of therapy with a new therapist, and that is going well.’

He is feeling very positive about being involved as an escort in the Rose of Tralee International Festival, with The Celtic Ross Hotel and O’Brien’s Bar, Rosscarbery his main sponsors: ‘Being selected has been amazing for me and has given me a new lease of life. Every year watching the festival, I always said that I would love to do it one day. A few months ago, I saw it advertised on the newspaper. I was feeling quite down at the time, and I really wanted a new experience in my life.  I know I will meet great people there. If there is one thing I love in life, it is meeting really decent, honest, and positive people. And I look forward to being the best escort that I can possibly be.’ 

Looking to the future he says his goal now ‘is to lead a more connected life, and to try and enjoy things to the full.’ He’s had a positive response from all quarters since opening up and says he’d liked to have embraced his problems earlier. 

Mum Sheila is extremely proud of his courage in opening up, as are older sisters Sinéad and Claire, and Dad John. ‘I can’t wait for the festival in August to build further friendships with the escorts, all of the Roses, and the Rose team as a whole. Hopefully I will get them all back to Rosscarbery at some stage.’   

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