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Ronan Patterson – My Mental Health Battle With GAA

My name is Ronan Patterson, I am 21 years old and I play football for Ramor United in Virginia, County Cavan. I am delighted to have been asked by the guys at ClubSpot to write a small piece about how my mental health affected my sporting lifestyle.

I was born in a town called Cushendall in the Glens of Antrim with a big hurling tradition in the family when I was 8 years old my family moved to Cavan. This is where I first started playing Gaelic Football. I attended St. Marys National School in Virginia, a football driven primary school to say the least. After a few years of playing and training with Ramor, I started to get the grips of it and ended up captaining our primary school to a momentous Cumann na mBunscoil title, a very proud day for me. That was the start of it really, all I wanted to do was play football and compete to the highest level I could.

I got called up to u14 trials with Cavan and this was the beginning to my Inter-County career. Our team won our first bit of silverware when we won the u16 Gerry Reilly Tournament that takes place every year in Oldcastle.

I loved every minute of it, playing with the best lads in the county will only improve your own game and the friendships that were made with them lads will never be lost.

I was lucky enough to captain our club minor team to both league and championship titles and received the man of the match and Cavan Minor Player of The Year.

That same summer our minor county team made it to the All-Ireland Semi-Finals against a Kerry team boasting the services of David Clifford. That same summer, I also got called to Australian Rules Trials up in UCD.

Sporting wise I was on top of the world, I felt like I had achieved everything I had ever wanted.

But everything good comes to an end and I really hit a wall after that. I had been suffering from low moods and struggling to keep up with my course in college which I eventually dropped out of. I felt like nothing really mattered anymore and had lost all interest in playing GAA. I went to Boston that summer as I wanted to just get away for a while. I thought being away might have helped but I was still suffering from the low moods when I had got home.

It is tough going to training and games when you know you're just not in the right frame of mind anymore, I had that constant feeling that I was letting the team down, I didn’t want to be there and I wouldn’t be performing to the best of my abilities like everyone else around me was.

I remember we were a few weeks away from playing u21 Ulster semi-final against Tyrone and telling my manager at the time John Brady that I wanted to walk away from the panel, that I was not enjoying it anymore, that I felt I was letting my teammates down. I was lucky to know John personally and he persuaded me to stay with the team, he reminded me about the friendships that have been created and the bit of banter there would be at training.

I was really struggling with my mental health at that time and finally started getting help from a psychiatrist who had a big interest in sports, and I was able to relate to him.

I got back into the swing of things with the club. I was struggling to get my second breath in training and in games, I was extremely anxious togging out. During the melting stages of the championships I can recall one game we had against Lacken, I came on as a sub at the start of the second half and I couldn’t get my second breath in the game and I felt like I got lost in the run of play, It’s as if I wasn’t there like I was in my own bubble, I couldn’t stop shaking and when the final whistle blew. I still couldn’t catch my breath and one of the lads asked me was I okay, and I couldn’t respond, and I started to burst into tears and had a panic attack. I couldn’t deal with the pressure I had put on my self to perform anymore. I was not able to play the way I used to.

It came to a point where I needed to sort this out for myself. Why was I feeling so low? I found it was great being able to speak to my psychiatrist so openly but I needed to start dealing with it myself you have to go on your own journey and ask yourself really tough questions. I am not saying to suffer in silence, of course, open up to someone but you really need to put the work in yourself to start feeling better, one of the things that helped me was a mood journal which my psychiatrist advised me to do. A mood journal is where I’d write down three things I enjoyed doing that day, three things I didn’t enjoy so much and then overall how my day went! This was extremely important for me to be able to reflect and see a pattern with the things I’m doing that made me happier and things that made me suffer from the low moods.

A few tips I would give to people going through something similar to what I was going through regarding football is to not beat yourself up over performances, “control the controllable” and make sure you're eating the correct food, getting the right amount of sleep and things will start falling into place.

Everyone has their ups and downs but it’s how you react to them that will get you through them.

If you are feeling low or down speak to someone you trust and tell them how you feel.

You might spark a conversation with them they didn’t know they needed to have.

I took a break from GAA this year to focus on myself and hopefully find that hunger and passion I had playing Gaelic football, I hope one day I can get back into it and play for my club and hopefully pull on the Breffni blue jersey again.

Ronan Patterson.

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