I was at war with the world back then. A silent war, admittedly, for no one knew how utterly devastated I was. I lived in a vacuum, where I saw nothing but emptiness, but my family thought I was doing fine. They couldn’t see inside my mind, and I was careful not to allow them guess what I was thinking.
I was 19, working in a joinery works and seemingly going nowhere. I had finished my Leaving Cert the year before, and was hoping to land a permanent post in the Cork Examiner where I had worked for the summer about 18 months earlier. I was miserable acting as a joiner’s assistant, a general dogsbody. Making tea and running errands – looking for glass mallets might have been funny for the general workers, but I wasn’t laughing.
Apart from work issues, I had no real friends. I was also acutely conscious of my face and had stopped socialising. Why go out to places where I felt everyone would stare at me? I’d given up on girls. I could see the future and it looked distinctly unpromising. Girls clearly weren’t interested in me – and never would be. My confidence was not so much eroded as shattered. I had become very timid, fretful, weak. I believed the worst about myself and was convinced – after many nights silently discussing this with myself – that I had no future.
And I maintained this negativity for a lengthy period, always believing the worst about myself: that I was useless in every way; that I was an ugly bastard and that’s how the world viewed me. Once I planted those thoughts in my mind it was very hard to shift them. I was grieving for my lost self.
I wasn’t happy being who I was, with my imperfections; I was afraid to share my thoughts with anyone. There seemed no way out, no chink of light that promised even partial hope or redemption. The world had rejected me, or so I thought. I pitied myself, despaired of my life and eventually despaired of living.
And I thought, why not end it all, just kill myself and that would be the end of my suffering. Who’d miss me in a world that seemed to have given up on me just like I was giving up on myself? And I genuinely was in a state of utter hopelessness and helplessness.
I couldn’t talk to anyone about my feelings which compounded matters. I remember one night taking a long walk through the city weighing up how I would end my life. Drowning wouldn’t work because I had a phobia about water. I thought about using gas, but couldn’t figure out how to do that, so my preferred option was hanging. I figured it would be relatively easy to get a rope and hang myself without anyone noticing.
I kept thinking about it. Day after day I pondered my existence. And the more I did so the more I convinced myself it was the right course to take. And yet… I hesitated. I began to wonder about my parents and their reaction, so I decided to postpone any action for a while, to see if ‘something would turn up’. Some miracle. Not expecting any, of course, and still in the back of my mind playing with the idea of ending my pain.
And then, out of the blue, a letter popped through the letter box asking me to attend an interview for a job in the Examiner. Gone were thoughts of taking my own life, replaced with some hope about the future.
I found a career in the Cork Examiner, although the negativity stayed with me for many more years and sometimes I would feel I was back in those dark days again. But a career masked my other problems and didn’t fundamentally alter how I viewed myself. I loathed my physical self. It would be 10 years before someone changed that forever, 10 years of denial and anguish.
It’s hard to speculate what path I would have taken had I not found work in the Examiner. I might have drifted along for a while, perhaps taken my own life. Perhaps not. I see myself now as a very strong individual, who has survived many setbacks and grown stronger as I result. I may have paid a heavy price for my mistakes – such as my unwillingness for years to face up to my facial disfigurement and get on with living. I know I wasted some of the best years of my life feeling intensely sorry for myself, furious at God for my disfigurement, without taking responsibility for my situation and realising I could change my attitude. We can be so wise later in life.
My advice is never to give up and surrender to hopelessness. There are always positives to take in life no matter how bad your situation seems. You just need to look harder and have the courage to find it. I’m so glad I did. Had I not done so I would never have met my wife, nor experienced the joy of parenthood.