A MAYFIELD teen, who has just completed the Leaving Certificate, has spoken of how an education centre freed him from becoming a prisoner in his own home.
Darragh Cotter from Mayfield had been suffering from extreme anxiety before enrolling in the Cork Life Centre, an education centre for teens and young adults.
Leading up to that he had been confined to the house as a result of crippling anxiety.
He spoke of the difficult months before his enrolment with the voluntary organisation which offers an alternative learning experience for students.
“I had just started secondary school,” he explained. “The anxiety was numbing. In primary school I had been with the same group of people for eight years. Suddenly, everything had changed. I had to manage everything myself.
“For me, it was like they were expecting me to be an adult and I couldn’t understand why. I was so sensitive to every sound around me that it became overwhelming. It made it difficult to breathe, and I was hyperventilating.”
Darragh’s all-consuming anxiety meant that continuing in mainstream education was no longer an option. I felt like I was walking into a personal hell. My mind would just go blank. It made it impossible to learn anything. My mum thought that I was going to have a mental breakdown.”
For the months that followed, Darragh stopped going to school and was confined to his home, spending all his time online.
“I didn’t leave the house and dropped all my friends,” he explained. “I spent my days on the computer and watching Japanese animé cartoons.”
He cast his mind back to a time when his only interactions were with online acquaintances.
“I told them a lot of personal things about myself. The thing about talking to people online is that you know you’re never going to meet them. That’s why you tend to open up that bit more. Looking back now I know that you can never be sure who you’re actually talking to. At the time I thought I was content.”
But the Life Centre changed everything for Darragh.
“I was talking to people and making real human connections. Now I talk to everyone. I’ll even make conversation on the street.”
He criticised the current education system which he believes is too rigid in its approach.
“It’s as if they are training youths to work in a factory. That’s not mentoring.”
Darragh has gone on to become one of the key players in the Cork Climate Strike which continues to take place every Friday and forms part of a global movement calling for action on climate change. The initiative started with 16-year old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg in late August last year.
Darragh led the Cork campaign along with Caoimhe Cotter, Mira Hencki, and Saoi O’Connor. He has also made a name as a talented public speaker, giving talks on a wide range of issues. He has participated in PsychSlam — an annual competition for transition year students from the Munster region.
Life Centre director, Don O’Leary, who had joined him for his Echo interview praised Darragh for how far he has come since his first introduction with the Life Centre.
“During his interview for the centre Darragh was terrified and shaking,” Don said.
“Getting Darragh to communicate was very difficult. Darragh has achieved so much since and it has all been driven by himself. We never steered him in the direction of climate change.
“When it comes to this subject he is the most knowledgeable and used his own initiative.”
For more on the Life Centre, visit corklifecentre.org/contact