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‘GAA helped me conquer terrifying panic attacks’ – How one Irishman found solace in football

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Dubliner Paul Power hopes his video will help others suffering from anxiety and mental health issues

AS A teenager Paul Power experienced a terrifying brush with death that would adversely shape the next decade of his life.

What he describes as a stupid mistake at a rave aged 17, ended up with the young Irishman suffering a heart attack and being rushed to hospital where doctors battled to save him.

“I ended up in hospital from an ecstasy overdose at the rave,” he said. “It gives me chills even thinking about it. In a way I’m glad it happened. As I could have carried on doing drugs and God knows where I would be now.”

Those terrifying events triggered a pattern of anxiety and panic attacks – something the Dubliner says severely affected all aspects of his life.

Now 30 and living in Solihull, South Birmingham, he credits reconnecting with his passion for Gaelic football and the camaraderie that comes with playing the Irish sport, with his on-going recovery.

The Irishman has created a video of his experiences in the hope that it might help others struggling with anxiety and mental health issues.

Scroll down to watch Paul’s ‘My Anxiety’ video

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In action on the GAA field – being part of an Irish sports team has helped the Dubliner to deal with his problems

“I was 17 years of age when had my first panic attack,” he said. “I went on a night out with my mates to a rave and ended up doing some stuff that I shouldn’t have done.

“Later on in the evening I ended up in hospital suffering from a mild heart attack having needed to get a needle injected into my heart to slow it down.

“It was stupid mistake and since then I’ve lived with the regret of it and the fear of dying ever since. It’s played a massive part in my anxiety.”

Having moved to Britain in 2007, the Malahide man first looked to his doctor for help.

Describing the NHS as being ‘brilliant’, he tried councilling and hypnotherapy before turning to medication as a last resort.

“People think ‘oh yeah one tablet, that will sort you out’, but it doesn’t. A tablet is a blocker, it doesn’t solve the problem, the problem is still there,” he said.

“I was on a lot – anti-depressants, heart tablets, sleeping tablets. I was a zombie. After a while I just didn’t feel like myself – everyone around me thought I wasn’t myself.”

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Making his film in Birmingham

That proved to be the motivation he needed to look for an alternative way to cope with his anxiety.

He began to wean himself off his medication and looked to the familiar joys of his youth as inspiration.

“I love Irish sports, I love Gaelic football, it’s very aggressive but very hard work and I always loved that when I was a child in Dublin. I used to play for my school and the local club,” he said.

“Most people wouldn’t imagine I suffer from anxiety at all because I’m outgoing and bubbly but it’s more a mental thing.

He added: “It’s more about in my head, what happens. I tend to go into overdrive. When I’m feeling anxious I get weird sensations in my head, it’s a really difficult thing to explain.

“Most people don’t understand it until they’ve experienced it themselves.”

Joining James Connollys Gaelic Football Club proved to be a turning point.

“They’re a brilliant set of lads. My first training session there were four of us down in Cannon Hill Park running in the freezing cold. It was great though.

“That atmosphere of being associated with something I’m very passionate about, my heritage, something that’s so close to home – but it’s not close to home, it’s in a different country to me – that was brilliant,” he said.

Being part of a team and playing competitive sport has allowed the Irishman to channel his anxieties into something positive.

“Before any game we play, I get anxious during the day, the adrenaline, it just builds up beside me,” he said. “It’s like a feeling of a panic attack but it’s excitment.

“I’m excited about it because I know I’m going to be tackling this and I know once that game’s finished I’ll walk off that pitch and feel a million per cent.”

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The video is a very personal account of the Irishman’s life and struggles

The support of his family and wife Anna – who he married in 2014 – has been crucial – that and eating more healthily, which has also helped.

I’m constantly eating healthy food,” he joked.

“Anna has been a massive help with me and always pushes me not to sit still and get on with things, which is brilliant. She is my everything,” he added.

“I think the future is bright, I’ve got an amazing wife, I’m hoping to have a beautiful family one day, I’ve got a really good career that’s going places, I’m part of a really cool club, I’m very active.

“I’ve got a lot of stuff going on and it’s great. My mum always said to me never give up and I will never give up,” he added.

Confronting his anxiety and finding a way to cope day-to-day hasn’t been an easy road for the Paul, who works in design and marketing.

“You get really, really fast palpitations and think ‘I’m having a heart attack’. You start hyperventilating,” he said.

“There’s not much you can do except calm yourself down, breath and relax. But once you get into that frame of mind nothing anyone says makes you feel better.

“It frightens me, in the past when I’ve had a panic attack it made me feel really jittery – this is going to happen again and what am I going to do?

“I suffered from anxiety for years and I found the more I silenced myself the worse I got, so I wanted people not to be afraid to speak out about their issues.

“Honestly, I just wanted to show people that life continues even in hard times.”

Watch Paul’s video in full here…

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Siobhan Breatnach
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Siobhán Breatnach is the Editor-in-Chief of The Irish Post. You can follow her on Twitter @SBreatnach

One comment on “‘GAA helped me conquer terrifying panic attacks’ – How one Irishman found solace in football”

  1. Boston, USA

    A good story. Good to see people overcoming obstacles.

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