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'I never thought I'd end up at a funeral at 18 watching everyone in my school break down'

Rachel O’Neill shares the story behind why she’s doing #DIL2018.

Rachel O'Neill

THIS YEAR’S DARKNESS Into Light walk takes place on Saturday May 12th in aid of Pieta House, proudly supported by Electric Ireland. Participants in more than 180 locations, on four continents, will walk the 5km route to raise funds and awareness.

In the weeks leading up to it, people around Ireland will be sharing their own journeys from Darkness Into Light. For the third part of the series, journalist Rachel O’Neill shares her daily struggle with generalised anxiety disorder, coming to terms with a friend’s suicide and why she’s doing Darkness Into Light 2018.

Feeling worthless

My own battle with my mental health hasn’t been an easy one – I was always a worrier. My mum describes me going to playschool and getting upset that I didn’t have any gloves if it got cold. The idea of being unprepared for any situation is something that fills me with dread.

And the dread only got worse as I got older. Whenever it came to exams, I’d push myself much harder than necessary. I’d set myself impossible standards and punish myself when I couldn’t reach them. This took the form of mental punishment where my brain would scream at me for hours or days on end, calling me ‘worthless’ and ‘useless’.

If I didn’t make the grade, I would break down. In fifth year, I failed Higher Level maths and realised I had to drop to Ordinary Level. I cried for hours because it was a confirmation that I was a stupid girl who had been found out. Though I ended up getting 535 points in my Leaving Cert, it didn’t matter because according to my brain, I was still worthless.

My anxiety continued to escalate to the point where I became incredibly depressed. I was doing extremely well in college but I was still unhappy. I was doing a full time science course in UCD, commuting from Kildare, working every weekend and trying to have a social life.

A whirlpool of negativity

I was diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder in 2015. I was prescribed anti-depressants and a therapist. I was in and out of therapy for two years as I battled the anxiety that could take over if everything became too much.

I don’t suffer from panic attacks. Instead, my thoughts become anxious and began to spin around my head, getting faster and faster until eventually I can’t think or move or speak. I just cry uncontrollably and have to be brought back to the present moment.

It’s like your thoughts become a whirlpool of negativity, sucking you in until all you can think is that ‘I will be this anxious forever, there is no escape’. But there is an escape and I have proved time and again that there is.

Right now I’m back on antidepressants for the first time in three years. Sometimes life just gets too much and you need to take the edge off. For me, that’s going on a low-dose antidepressant. That won’t work for everyone but it’s what kept me going over the past few months. My story is very common but I’m not doing Darkness Into Light for me.

A friend’s secret battle

When I was in first year of college in UCD, I lost a friend to suicide. Lisa and I had been friends in secondary school. We bonded over our love of Elizabeth Bishop during Leaving Cert English. She introduced me to James Vincent McMorrow and we called each other by stupid nicknames. We were close enough that I knew she was battling something. I just wasn’t sure what and she never told me.

When we left school, we all kind of split up as tends to happen. We were all getting used to college and hadn’t quite managed to meet up yet. You always mean to message or call someone and check in but people forget and life just happens.

Then in October of first year of college, Lisa took her own life.

The impact of that, even four and half years on has never left me. It was the start of college and we were supposed to be finding ourselves. It was supposed to be drunken nights out, hungover lectures and gossip.

I never thought I’d end up attending a funeral at 18 years old and watching everyone I knew in my school break down. One guy I knew who used to be my image of a ‘tough rugby lad’ sobbed inconsolably throughout the entire funeral. That image has never left me.

Finding hope

I remember scrolling through Facebook one night when I came across a post from my mother. ‘I’ll be doing Darkness Into Light in Maynooth on May 12th. Please sponsor me!’. I was confused. She hadn’t told me she was doing the event so I sent her a Facebook message (very millennial). Within two seconds she’d convinced me to sign up too.

The reason I’m doing Darkness Into Light is because it’s what I can do. I can’t fix the health system nor can I improve mental health services. What I can do is ensure that Pieta House gets the funding it needs so it’s able to help more people who really need it.

When someone takes their own life you always feel that you should have done more, that you could have saved them when in reality, you couldn’t. I couldn’t save Lisa but the more money we raise, the more people it’s possible to reach and help in time.

Our mental services need to be vastly improved but until then we have to do what we can to help support those who need it and marching in Darkness Into Light is the best way I know how.

Source: Electric Ireland/YouTube

Wake up and walk from Darkness Into Light on May 12th at 4.15am in aid of Pieta House, proudly supported by Electric Ireland. Register at darknessintolight.ie or follow the conversation on social media using #DIL2018.

If you need to talk, contact for free:

  • Pieta House 1800 247247 or email mary@pieta.ie – (available 24/7)
  • Samaritans 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org (available 24/7)
  • Aware 1800 804848 (depression, anxiety)
  • Childline 1800 666666 (for under 18s, available 24/7)

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About the author:

Rachel O'Neill

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