First Steps Women’s Centre

Cliona McCarney is a volunteer with AWARE – the national depression charity for Northern Ireland. In a two-part blog, she speaks candidly about her descent into depression.

Work? A headache? Cramps? Babysitting again? Which excuse hadn’t I used for a while? I’d used all of them, and more, a lot recently.

I was tangled up in a web of my own lies as I struggled to come up with yet another excuse for why I couldn’t meet a friend for a coffee. Depression. The darkest, most terrifying time of my life.

The truth is that I couldn’t bring myself to face anyone - I could hardly face myself in the mirror.

I’ve always been a bit of a control freak, but at this point, my whole life was spiralling out of control and I felt powerless to stop it. I am 20 years old, and I have never felt so low in my life. 

Let me circle back a little bit. It was late summer in 2014. I’d just returned from an incredible summer in America and, on the face of it, I had the whole world at my feet.

I had spent my summer with the most extraordinary group of people I could ever have imagined and I finally felt like I belonged somewhere.

That’s the trouble with finding your happy place. You don’t always get to stay there, and sometimes it’s far from real life. Nevertheless, I returned home excited and optimistic, full of plans for the future.

I wasn’t due to start back to my part-time job for another four weeks and still a couple of months away from starting back to Queen’s University, Belfast.

I was bored. I went from living at 100 miles an hour to doing nothing and I couldn’t cope with it. The excitement and optimism I felt soon turned into pressure, pressure to achieve and succeed.

I felt the weight of a thousand expectations on my shoulders, so heavy I could have sworn they were blocks of concrete. 

Things went from bad to worse, to worse again. Most days I felt like I was watching myself from a distance and felt disgusted at this lazy, unmotivated disgrace that I felt I’d become.

My self-loathing increased on a daily basis to the point I didn’t even want to say my own name because I felt that it represented failure.

If I thought these horrible things about myself, I dreaded to think what anyone else thought of me. At this point, I’d started back at university.

I’d gained a lot of weight due to my cycle of not eating, binge eating and not eating again. I didn’t want anyone to see me. I didn’t want to see myself.

The hardest part of it all wasn’t the crying or the feelings of emptiness and despair, it was the dishonesty. I was quite literally living a lie to everyone in my life.

The effort of having a chat on the phone with my best friend exhausted me to the point I felt I’d just run a marathon. 

It was just before Christmas time when I realised things would have to change. I knew I couldn’t live like this anymore. The sadness and the feeling of the weight of the world on my shoulders was literally killing me...

Cliona’s journey continues next week.

If you are struggling with depression, you may find the group support offered by AWARE useful. For more information visit

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