Mental illness: One man’s story

Cork man DENIS O’REGAN opens up about his battle with mental health, and why he set up a group that reaches out to people affected by it.
Mental illness: One man’s story
SUPPORTIVE: Finbarr Lordan of Bandon Vale, Denis O'Regan of Insideout, Tom Mcleary from Bandon Mens Shed. Picture: Stephen Coomey.

AS I grew up, I would have partied a lot, from a young age and through my twenties. I did over-step the mark on many occasions, experimenting in drugs and excessive drinking, like a lot people at that time.

We seemed to have endless amount of money but if I knew what I know now, I might have taken a step back. We were uneducated about mental health.

I hurt my family, friends and partners over the years and I have to live with that shame every day.

Did I deserve what was about to happen in my thirties? I definitely feel I deserved some pain, but not the feelings I was about to endure for years.

My journey with mental health started in New Zealand around Christmas, 2010. My long term girlfriend and I were coming home, with a great holiday planned stopping over in Brunei and Borneo, then on to Ireland.

We had a great time but when I headed back to life in New Zealand I lost all control of my senses. I was out drinking all the time and told my boss — who was and still is a good friend — to stick his job.

In my head, I was going to become famous. The funny thing is, I can remember everything clearly.

This carried on for six weeks, but as I was about to find out, you get to the top but at some stage you crash like a ton of bricks.

An Irish friend, who thought I was on drugs — I wasn’t — dragged me to hospital and a doctor came in and asked me why did I think was there. I told him he must have been working for Simon Cowell and he was going to sign me up.

The doctor was, like, ‘OK’, and he looked at me strangely and I know now what he was thinking — this lad is crazy.

Am I ashamed of it? No, because I was ‘crazy’, but I was sick, just like if I had gone in with a broken leg.

I needed help. A broken leg will heal but my illness will never go away, although it can be managed, which is something I found out in the years ahead.

My life-long dream of settling in New Zealand was over, I had to come home. My relationship was broken and as time went by, I was in and out of South Lee mental health ward with a mixture of manic highs and lows.

Just to let people know what that feels like, in a manic episode, as time goes by you get more energetic and fast thoughts crowd you. You start hearing things that don’t exist, see things that aren’t there, but you feel like you’re king of the world and no-one can stop you.

I have many stories from my manic highs but I will just give one that shows how powerful the mind can be.

I was living in Douglas, working in a good job with great money, and once again it was coming up to Christmas — can you see the pattern?

I was now at the peak of my ‘episode’ and I was driving home from work and James Blunt came on the radio with his song Bonfire Heart.

In my mind he was telling me to burn my car. Crazy, right? Yeah, it’s crazy but that’s what I was at that moment and I should not have to be ashamed of it.

I parked my car outside my apartment out of harm’s way — that’s the ‘me’ still in there — and I got out some papers from the boot and watched them burn to the ground. That, I can say, was the craziest thing I have done.

Some may have different experiences with this illness, but what I know now is that it was not me, it was bipolar.

On the flip side were the manic lows, I would not wish them on my worst enemy. Dark, dark times, no energy, no confidence, all you keep doing is going over all the mistakes you made in life and beat yourself up as hard as you can.

Have I got to the lowest point in life? Yes. Do I know what people that have committed suicide feel like? Yes, because I have been there.

People say to me that people who commit suicide are selfish, not thinking about who they leave behind, and that frustrates me because I have a big family and friends who I love, who would do anything for me, and I don’t want to leave them behind. But when you get to that point you don’t think about anyone, including yourself. It’s just a black cloud. That’s not selfish, it called depression.

The sooner Ireland accepts that mental health is a illness, maybe we can help people before they get to that point of no return.

I got there but I was one of the lucky ones.

That’s a lot about my journey, but my main point I want to get across to people — parents, friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, everyone — is just talk about it, even the smallest of things.

Parents should teach their children about different types of mental health issues.

Young people should enjoy life, don’t drink and if you do, do so in moderation. Don’t ever take drugs, stay reasonably fit and enjoy the simple things in life and you will cut your chances of having mental health issues.

I have lost nearly a decade of my life to mental ill-health. Could I have prevented it? Who knows, but I certainly could have helped myself better.

For people with mental health, there is help, you just have to ask for it. I know people complain about the health system in Ireland and there is improvement needed, but in regards to mental health Cork University Hospital are doing an amazing job. Nurses, doctors, and the building itself are first class. The follow-ups outside the CUH are well run too. They could do with more funding but the staff are amazing.

What you need to do as a first step is call them. I said to myself a while back, I can’t let this beat me, I have travelled the world and have a wealth of experience, get yourself together and make a go of life.

Saying that, it’s not all plan sailing as it can bite back fast and you have to learn to deal with that, as I found out few months ago. But all in all, the more I open up the better life gets.

I feel there needs to be more education on mental health, when I was growing up I had the same mentality as a high percentage of people still have today, and that is that mental health issues are that person’s fault. But actually, it is an illness like any other.

I was born with bipolar and when it surfaced I should have taken control of it faster, but I didn’t have the information or understanding.

My journey led me to starting a group in Bandon called Insideout, which is open to all people, especially people with mental health illnesses. It is a social group for people with mental health in their life, and is also open to family friends who have someone in their life suffering. Our members just want to lend a hand and listen.

I have told you a little about my journey and my main point I want to get across is you can live a very successful life with mental illness. I started Insideout in January and it is going great and helping people to feel comfortable telling their stories, which I hope in turn will lead them to be more open in public.

We hold meetings every second Wednesday in St Micheal’s Centre, South Main Street, Bandon, and all are welcome. Find us on Facebook

My message to people out there who have a mental health illness, who just feel down or have no confidence and think they are unemployable — I can promise you, if you pick up the phone and talk about your situation, however big or small, there are people who will lead you in right direction.

For people in West Cork, if you’re in a bad situation and looking for help, there is a great centre in Bantry called NLN, contact Claire Croinn. Or call our group, Insideout.


1. Enjoy life

2. Drink in moderation, if at all

3. Don’t take drugs

4. Treat your partners, family, friends, and work colleagues with respect

5. If you’re worried about anything, TALK TALK TALk.

I would like to thank some people/groups that got me through my journey: South Lee Mental Health Unit, Watergate Centre, Bandon, Bandon Vale Cheese, St Micheal’s, Bandon, Bandon Men’s shed, NLA Bantry, all sponsors Nyhans, O’Donavans, Eamon Finn Painting, Linehans Menswear, Dr Murphy/Dr Bohane Clinic, Brendan MaCarty, Mental Health Acc Cork, Bandon and Togher Garda, family and friends.

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