One week on from the Rose of Tralee, Donegal Rose Amy Callaghan tells Donegal Woman why it was so important for her to open up about her depression.
Amy Callaghan from Glenswilly took to the Rose of Tralee stage last week to open up about her very personal past which was marked with depression. She earned much praise for her bravery and willingness to break the mental health stigma in front of thousands of people.
One week on, Amy is home in Letterkenny and looks back on her experience with nothing but positivity. She remains eager to share her story in the hope of inspiring other young people to seek the help she got as a teenager during her ‘blip’.
Amy had not planned to speak so openly about her depression in her televised interview, but the Rose of Tralee judges and Daithi O Se encouraged her to send out the important message.
— RTE One (@RTEOne) August 21, 2017
Amy, now 22 years old, battled depression over two years while studying for the Leaving Cert in Loreto Letterkenny. She was eager to show other young people that there is a way to get out of the darkness.
“I think that everyone goes through their own stint in their life at different times when they might feel like they don’t have a way out.”
“They are doubting themselves and might not have confidence in their choices, how they look or how they feel and how they may think other people perceive them. I happened to go through mine in sixth year.
“It was just overwhelming for me. There was mixture of things with peers, exams, studying. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I wanted to do dance but I thought that was stupid to say. I felt under pressure to pick a practical course,” Amy said.
“I was in the Beauty and the Beast musical at the time. I would go to rehearsal and be happy out, then I would get home, go straight to bed and cry for no reason. That’s just how I was working.”
“I loved school but I hated going. It snowballed into this mess and I couldn’t fix myself. Eventually I copped on and said I needed to change it,” Amy said.
It took Amy a year and a half to tell her mother Geraldine that she was not well. Amy’s best friend Riona Hennessy eventually confided in her mum that she was worried about her.
“That was the worst part, to hear that from friends and family, but it’s what you want to hear, because I knew it in my heart or soul. I was terrified to say anything because it’s such a delicate subject.
“Just because it’s not a physical illness means it’s not there. It’s a chemical imbalance, it’s something that needs to be fixed,” she said.
Amy talked to a psychologist who helped her through her problems. She also had great support from her mum, but another low hit when she started college to study Psychology.
She remembers sitting in her room in Maynooth and having a huge epiphany.
“I realised this is not what I wanted to do. If I don’t enjoy my life I would regret it forever,” she said.
Amy left Maynooth right away and took a year out before pursuing her real passion – dance.
Amy is a talented dancer, as we saw on the Rose of Tralee, and it was only after this change of mind that she cast aside her two years of doubt to begin studying dance in Derry. Amy concentrated on her great loves in life and before she knew it she had emerged from the depression.
Finding happiness again
“I really put myself in different musicals with Encore. I just did stuff that made me happy, without forcing myself.
“I got into my fitness big time and started eating really healthy. I think that’s what helped. You do have to work and study, but it’s okay to take a breather and be selfish and do the things you love.”
“Eventually those feelings I had weren’t there anymore. It was so dark and I didn’t know what it was, and then it was just gone. Over a few months, with help, with talking to people, it went away,” Amy said.
2012 to 2014 were Amy’s worst years, but four years later she is more outspoken, self-assured and eager to be vocal about them.
Amy’s charity work for local mental health services in Donegal – Pieta House and Jigsaw – caught the attention of the Rose of Tralee judges.
“Daithi told me: I think your message here is fantastic, and more people need to hear this because this subject area is being tiptoed around because it’s such a sensitive topic,” she recalled.
Once Amy spoke out about her depression, she received countless messages and comments from people praising her confidence.
Amy has been overwhelmed by the movement she sparked and delighted that other have been inspired to speak out publically about their own mental health issues rather than sit in silence.
“It gives me hope because these people are looking for a solution to get back to themselves again,” she said.
“What annoys me is people saying that people are looking for attention when they talk about depression. But I say the people who are sitting in silence are those who end up not being here anymore, because they think the only way out is suicide.”
“You’d rather suffer with people knowing you are so that you the support,” she said.
The young woman says appearances are very deceiving when it comes to mental health.
“People need to know it may look amazing on the outside, but there have been terrible days. Everyone has their own story and I didn’t mind sharing mine.
“If my story was to help others and inspire others to go and talk to places like Jigsaw then that’s a pat on the back,” she said.
Jigsaw is a drop-in centre in Letterkenny with free and confidential support services for young people aged 15 – 25. Amy praises Jigsaw as a welcoming place run by young people that is far removed from a clinical setting. She hopes to do more for the service and Pieta House as she continues being the Donegal Rose.
“My life hasn’t personally been touched by suicide or self harm but I know too many people who have. The two charities go together – self-harm and suicide are huge, among young men especially, in this county alone.
“Jigsaw is a very personal one for me. I didn’t use it because didn’t know about but I think it is fantastic,” she said.
Amy recalled meeting a Jigsaw volunteer at an event in Kerry before, who told her their goal was to be made redundant.
“I thought it was lovely that he wanted to get to a point that nobody needed to use the service, that everyone would be able to talk and not use the service in private,” she said.
Wearing the sash with pride
Amy will proudly wear the Donegal Rose sash until March 2018 and is looking forward to more events and travelling.
She is off to California in two weeks for a holiday before the Finn Harps Fashion Show in September. A Christmas trip to Frankfurt and St. Patrick’s Day in New York City are all on the agenda for the Roses.
After the festival Amy returned to work at Backstage Bar & Grill at Century Complex, who sponsored her campaign. She will also begin teaching dance at Encore Performing Arts Academy.
She is still planning to pursue her talents in aerial dance, but will focus her career path on social work-style rehabilitation in the year to come. Amy hopes to study a Masters in Dance Movement Psychotherapy in London, while being an aerial dancer with Cirque du Soleil will always be the ultimate dream.
Amy gave a unique performance on the hoop in the Tralee dome last Monday night. A small story came from this that Amy kicked an RTE crew member in the face, and she is keen to clear up this with her version of events:
“It is true, but it was a misunderstanding. It didn’t happen during the live show. In rehearsal whenever the aerial hoop was rigged they had me up for a practice run.
“I think the cameraman got way too excited that a Rose was doing this for the first time ever on stage and decided to film me.
“I was upside down and couldn’t see a thing! I spun and my foot hit him and I didn’t see him. So yeah, he got a whack in the face but he stayed so far back on live television I think he had it on zoom.
“You’d swear I deliberately kicked him. But you just have to laugh at it now,” Amy said.
Once in a lifetime experience
Her dance, her interview and the many events around the Rose of Tralee have all been once-in-a-lifetime highlights for Amy. She would encourage any young woman to apply for future years, and for young men to play their part as escorts. “Being an escort is so much fun, except they don’t have a curfew and don’t have to wear high heels!, she said.
“It was all fantastic, I wouldn’t change it for the world,” Amy said.
A homecoming party will be held for Donegal Rose Amy Callaghan on Wednesday 30th August at 9.00pm at Backstage Bar & Grill Letterkenny, all are welcome to come and celebrate her achievements.