Brendan Doyle is an ex-Garda and Winter Olympics hopeful from Dublin. Close to seven years ago, Brendan’s life was turned upside down in a heartbeat. What followed was a painful struggle with depression and anxiety. Brendan lost all hope in ever enjoying life again…until he discovered his passion in life and began to fight for his dream of Olympic glory. We are very proud to be working alongside Brendan in our mission to raise awareness around mental health, fight stigma, and put wellbeing within everyone’s reach.
We all have our own definition of what stress is. The things that make us feel we are carrying a weight that our mind can’t quite manage. I want to share with you my experience with depression, anxiety, insomnia and panic attacks.
Firstly, I want to tell you a little about myself – a good place to start with any story. I was born and raised in Dublin and like every other young lad in my area, I grew up playing football every waking hour of the day. It wasn’t until I hit my second year of secondary school that I started a journey down a different path.
My history teacher at the time saw I had some potential as a sprinter and asked if I would come to the local track after school and start training. I instantly fell in love with the sport. I loved every aspect of it. The hard work, having to drill over and over and over to get something right, having a track session and then going into the gym and giving my all.
I felt alive when I was training and competing. I learnt a lot about myself and anyone who has ever done track, will know it can be such a harsh demanding sport. Being so demanding, it taught me how to persevere, how to mentally handle setbacks and have faith in knowing success is going from failure to failure without losing your drive and enthusiasm.
So fast forward a couple of years, I’m now out of school and I’m working in a career that I’ve always wanted – being a Garda.
To me, it was a perfect mixture of excitement, variety and most of all, I got great satisfaction out of doing something that mattered and helping people who really needed it.
It’s by no means a glamorous job. Despite what CSI Miami or COPS may lead you to believe, it’s 40% sitting in a car or walking a beat, 59% paperwork and 1% action. This is where my story starts, at the 1%.
On a late spring day in May, a colleague and I were called to a domestic abuse incident at a house in Dublin.
Arriving to find an aggressive man and a frightened, injured woman, I did what any Garda would do and attempted to apprehend the suspect.
During the incident that ensued, I sustained massive injuries to my hand which still leaves me without function in my baby finger and thumb, and a lifetime of skin grafts and corrective surgery ahead.
Despite the damage done to my hand, it wasn’t the physical damage that took its toll. It was the mental trauma that hit me hard.
This started with night terrors. I would relive what happened that night, waking up and grabbing my hand thinking it had been wounded all over again.
I would wake up thinking my bed was covered in my own blood, or that the suspect was in my room and he was going to attack me.
I started having real trouble with sleep. Initially it was just the dreams, but then I would have anxiety attacks at the idea of going to sleep, knowing I would have to go through the same dreams over and over. I wouldn’t be able to get to sleep. I would watch the clock go from 3am to 4am and five minutes felt like an eternity.
Feeling like a prisoner in my own room, I started to go on drives. What started at drives around the area, turned into drives that lasted up to six hours. I would leave when it was dark and return home at sunrise.
Days, weeks and months would just mould into one. I started getting depressed. I stopped doing the things I loved. Panic attacks would hit me, and hit me hard. For anyone who doesn’t know what they are, it’s just the most overwhelming flood of emotions to experience. You can’t breathe, can’t move, you sweat profusely. It feels like someone is strangling you. To make it worse, the attacks would hit me without any notice or warning.
Depression followed. I found it hard to keep going, living off of no sleep, not knowing when my next panic attack would hit. I just got into a dark place where I struggled to keep on going.
The lowest point for me was not when I thought about ending it all, but when I got to a point where I thought this would be the most logical step. For me, it stopped being scary and simply seemed a better solution than what I was going through.
It was after my deepest, darkest moment, just before I was about to take that step into doing something permanent that I made a deal with myself. I would make one last and real effort to break this cycle that I was living in.
I returned to the one thing I had…Sport. I started training again, hitting up the gym twice a week. A far shout from my past six days a week but it was a step. I had a moment one day. I had a playlist I would put on when I was in the gym, and one day it came on when I was in my room, and I felt something. I got excited about getting into the gym, I looked forward to pushing myself. I had five long years without feeling that excitement and now all of a sudden, all I wanted to do was to get into that gym.
I went from training two days a week, to four and then back to six days. My coach decided that I should try a few competitions. I couldn’t believe it, I’m back racing! I’m eating healthy and I’m starting to live again.
I made a massive decision to leave the Gardai. A job that I love and worked hard for and was so proud to do. I tried it all, moving to an office, changing station, I even asked for a career break so I could settle myself and return. I was refused the career break and to me that was the final nail in the coffin. I spent so long trying to return to myself.
My happiness meant more than any job. Being as close as I was to losing it all, I knew I needed to take the step to ensure a happy future. So I resigned.
I’m now training to get to the Winter Olympic games in a sport called Skeleton. I race down a bobsleigh track head first, hitting speeds of over 145kph. I’m giving every ounce of energy I have to this.
I now understand how fragile life is, and I’m going to do this. I want people to see that depression is tough but it’s not the end. If I can not only work through it, but go to represent my country at the Olympics in such a mentally demanding sport such as skeleton, anyone can come out the other side.
I faced all of this myself. I had one or two friends I would chat with. I shared all the dark, scary moments and I was lucky to have people who were so understanding.
It was when I was promoting myself online as a Skeleton slider that I came across an organisation that changes how mental health services provide help to the people who need it.
MyMind believes that help should be available to anyone who needs it – no matter what your situation is, your employment status or location. Their goal is to give the help that’s needed.
The reason I’m so excited to work with MyMind is that when I was going through my depression and panic attacks, I had so many reasons not to go talk to someone.
I needed a GP note to get a referral to a counsellor. It was just too expensive and honestly, I didn’t have the drive to go. They make getting help simple. All you need to do is pick up the phone to call or click online to book and get the help you need. Easy as that.
Imagine a service that’s there to offer help where cost is based on your situation. That you don’t need to fork over money to a GP and you can open your mobile phone or go online and start talking. That’s what MyMind offer.
If there is anyone out there reading this, going through their own troubles, I urge you to take the step and contact MyMind. I was so lucky to get through my ordeal and I want to do all I can to ensure that others don’t have to struggle as I did.