There is no one specific thing that brought me to consider taking my own life, although like many people I went through some bleak times in my life.
I guess it really started for me when I was 18, and I lost a baby in utero at 6 months. Nothing could have prepared me for it. Although I did see a counsellor briefly, we didn’t really gel and I didn’t like the prescription medication I was put on.
I went down a road of destructive behaviour – drinking, drugs. Looking back I know now that I was self-sabotaging, and I tried to take my own life not long after the death of my baby.
I moved to the UK shortly afterwards as a way of avoiding all the emotional trauma and suppressed feelings, and spent my time there going through cycles of depression and self-medicating with drink and drugs. I was so angry, and so sad.
When I came back to Ireland at 24, I got into business with a partner running a hair salon – I wanted to sort my life out after years of partying. But all the trauma I’d experienced started to come up in really destructive ways through my leadership style. My business partner and I parted ways, which was a difficult experience, but I went on to open my own salon, which then started to become very successful.
A year later I got pregnant again with my daughter Sienna, and I immediately became one of the most annoying pregnant people ever – everything was ‘fabulous’ and I thought that life after having a baby would be amazing. Sienna arrived on Friday 13th and needless to say my experience after she was born was really, really different to what I had expected. I was feeling really low, really paranoid. I was consumed with thoughts of her dying. I became really uncomfortable with people touching her or picking her up. I know now that I had postnatal depression – but at the time I didn’t have the tools or the support to really navigate what was going on. This went on for 9 months or so.
You never would have known anything was going on. My life looked perfect on Instagram but that wasn’t the reality.
I started going out again and socialising a lot around that time, drinking a lot. Then my husband intervened and asked me to get help, so I went to my GP. I told her I was feeling depressed, told her the history of my miscarriage and I also told her that I was having suicidal thoughts. She wrote me a prescription for anti-depressants and told me to come back in 6 weeks. I remember sitting in my car in the rain outside the GPs office just feeling like the system had totally failed me.
I went home and discussed it with my husband, who then suggested Pieta House. Initially I was shocked – I didn’t see myself as the type of person who needed Pieta. I felt I’d be taking a spot away from someone who “really needed it”. But I went, and that was the turning point for me. It was the beginning of a massive change.
Even walking up to Pieta, I felt like running away, but I was greeted by the friendliest, most welcoming person, and then went in to see my counsellor. My experience with him at Pieta was transformational. He held me in a space of love. There was no judgment. He just listened. It was the first time in 32 years that I ever stopped to press pause on my life and to pay attention to what was really going on, and it changed everything.
I got the care and the space at Pieta that I needed to process my grief and trauma, and I was able to consider my life as a whole – how I had avoided dealing with the trauma, how I’d been running away and distracting myself. Pieta gave me the tools not only to work through things by myself, but to know when I needed help.
My journey since has been one of a return to the importance of my self-care, awareness, love and evolution. For years I put others’ needs before my own, but that had to change.
I finally sold the business I had for 10 years to head into life coaching, and I now spend my time advocating for mental health charities and helping to empower others to return to a more present and holistic well state of being.
Cliona O’Hanlon is a previous client of Pieta. She is a holistic therapeutic life coach and the creator of ALIGN – mind, body, spirit charity events for Pieta which run biannually.