Shanahan shows how sharing your problems is empowering
By John Harrington
When Maurice Shanahan talks about his daughter Rosie, his chest swells and the happiness beams from his face.
She was born six weeks ago and he’s very much a besotted first-time father.
When he holds her in his arms, he can’t help but feel relieved all over again that he eventually reached out for help in 2014 when he was so suffering so badly with depression he came close to taking his own life.
He eventually found his way out of that dark place when he opened up and spoke honestly to those closest to him about his inner struggles.
He’s always been happy to share his story to help others and has now teamed up with Electric Ireland to invite the public to join them for a special ‘One Sunrise Together’ for Darkness Into Light on Saturday, May 8th, in order to raise vital funds for Pieta House’s lifesaving services.
He knows from his own experience that talking to people who want to help you is the vital first step you need to take if you’re suffering from depression or suicidal thoughts.
The moment you’re in right now might be a very tough one, but there’s always hope for a better future if you seek help, which Shanahan is reminded of every time he holds Rosie in his arms.
“Jesus, being in that room when Rosie was born was a different feeling altogether,” he says.
“It was the best feeling I ever got in my life to be honest. To hold my daughter in my arms straight away and thankfully everything is good with her since. She's flying at the moment.
“If I didn't talk out in 2014, who knows? I might never have witnessed that. But, it was the best day of my life so far, witnessing the birth of our daughter.
“I suppose when I was suffering, I probably thought there's no better days ahead for me.
“But if you can speak out and talk to people, you will see things improving down the line and I wouldn't change my life for anything at the moment.”
When he looks back now, Shanahan can’t pinpoint exactly when his mental health nosedived in 2014.
It was probably a confluence of events. He was injured and so cut off from the positive environment of training with his club and county team-mates.
There was also a frustration with the slow progression of his Waterford career up to that point.
He was coming into his prime years as an inter-county hurler, but hadn’t yet managed to become the central figure in the team he was putting pressure on himself to be.
He started waking at 4am and would then cry uncontrollably for the next five or six hours. Eventually it got to the point where he felt he had little alternative but to end it all and take his own life.
“I suppose in 2014 I kind of saw no way out, to be honest," he says. "I kind of locked myself away for nearly two months and then my family members knew there was something wrong and were trying to look after me but I didn't really want their help either at the time.
“One day below in the kitchen inside in the house I saw my father and he just busted out crying. It hit home with me then.
“My father had cancer at the time as well and, I suppose, he had his own battles that he kind of had to win himself but I was putting more doom and gloom down on him because he kind of forgot about his own battles and looked after me more so than his own thing.
“But, thankfully, he got the all-clear a few months later from that as well.
“My brother Dan had a stern talk with me and I got in touch with Conor Cusack. The one thing I would say is I was talking to a few people who were trying to help me, but it was going in one ear and out the other.
“But when I talked to Conor, I could understand it with his GAA background and from a guy who had played sport and done what I had done growing up. So whatever he said to me, I took it on board and I found it a great help to be honest.”
The pressure he put upon himself to be the best hurler he could be was one of the reasons why his mental health suffered.
But the game of hurling itself and the friends he made from it also ultimately helped him find his way out of the dark place he was in.
The then Waterford manager, Derek McGrath, was a constant support, and he was just one of many who made it their business to help Maurice in any way they could.
“To be fair to Derek, he was very good to me. He said 'take the year out now and come back the next year stronger and better.'
“It wasn't that Derek just hung up the phone and left it then until the following year, because he was in touch with me every day, trying to look after me in a way.
“Sean Prendergast who is a teacher in Lismore was training the Lismore senior team at the time and he was very good to me too. I could hear the school-bell going at half two or a quarter to three and five minutes later, Sean would arrive up to my house for two or three weeks solid with bottles of water, bottles of Lucozade. 'Could you come up to the field to training tonight? You don't even have to train, just to be with the lads,' he'd say.
“To be honest, I didn't want to go. I didn't want to play. I'll never forget, we were playing Roanmore in the championship below in Walsh Park. I remember the lads training of the Thursday night, and me having done nothing for maybe a month. I remember Mattie Pender - he was a selector, he said 'we need you tomorrow evening.' I said 'I have no interest in playing that match.' And I didn't, I didn't want to.
“But it was the best thing I've done. I got the gear the following day, went down, was inside full forward and we got three goals between us, myself and Dan, I got two and it kind of brought a pep back into my step.
“I'll never forget it, we got a free to win the game around 60/70 yards out. I'd say most of the lads didn't want me hitting it because they didn't know what kind of headspace I was in but, thankfully, it went over the bar.
“The joy I got from that day. I remember the huddle after the match, I thanked every one of them that got me down there and that gave a bit of life to me again.
“There was a long road after that, there was, we lost to Ballygunner in the county semi-final but I was back into it big time and I wanted to go to the field, wanted to be back hurling. It got me back.”
It took Shanahan a long time to fully open up about his problems because his feeling was that the only person who could deal with them was himself.
He almost felt like he would be burdening people if he shared his issues with them, forgetting of course that those closest to him would be happy to share the load if it helped him in any small way.
“The one thing I would encourage kids, male or female, is to maybe talk to your mam or dad, a brother or sister, a friend, even a stranger because there are counsellors out there who are great," he says.
“It's just about going out and opening up to people that you trust, really. The minute you do that, there's always light. It's like a dark tunnel, but the minute I opened up I could see a small bit of light at the end of it straight away.
“You have kids going back training now, so even if you spoke to your coach, they're going to help you, they're not going to tell you to go away, they're going to try to help you.
“I would encourage everyone just to open up if anything is bothering them. It might be only a small thing, but it could be a big thing in their heads.
“You hear every day about people unfortunately passing away from Covid but you don't really hear about the people that are dying from suicide.
“People are ashamed to be saying it, but what's there to be ashamed of? I suffered. I know two or three other people that suffered.
“We're as normal as anyone. Everyone has ups and downs in life, and it hits people differently.
“The one bit of advice I'd give is that you're no different to the person who's not suffering.”
Former Waterford hurler, Maurice Shanahan, has teamed up with Electric Ireland to invite the public to join them for a special ‘One Sunrise Together’ for Darkness Into Light on Saturday, May 8th, in order to raise vital funds for Pieta’s lifesaving services. You can sign up now at www.darknessintolight.ie