Ex-Irish League star Aaron Smyth: 'Opening up to counsellors helped shine a light on my life'
Former Irish League star Aaron Smyth has explained that opening up to counsellors about his mental health problems helped shine a light on his life and he has urged others going through dark times to do the same.
The ex-Cliftonville, Lisburn Distillery, Carrick and Glentoran ace says he has chosen to talk publicly about his experiences on the back of the tragic death of Jerry Thompson in the hope that his story can help anyone in a similar situation.
Carrick Rangers player Thompson took his own life on Tuesday. In the Belfast Telegraph, Jerry’s mum Leanne spoke about her family’s heartbreak and devastation.
There has been an outpouring of emotion from across the football world following the sudden death of the 24-year-old Belfast man, who was a doting dad to seven-month-old son Thiago with partner Samantha.
Smyth, 32, who now plays for intermediate club St James Swifts, has revealed that he sought professional help after Christmas last year when he felt his life was on a downward spiral.
Bravely telling his powerful story, father of three Aaron stated: “Slowly but surely I was starting to lose myself without me really noticing it. Family were becoming worried and started to ask was I okay, which I thought I was.
“Clearly these people saw a change in me that I didn’t. I didn’t think I needed any help or counselling but it was only after counselling that I realised what I was doing to myself.
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I remember sometimes sitting in a room crying on my own but I never told anyone. I also remember sitting drinking from a Saturday to Thursday with no sleep at all. Aaron Smyth
“I was drinking and partying and I even missed Christmas last year. I was covering up what the problem really was and gradually I was losing everything around me, constantly feeling down and worthless.
“Anyone that knows me knows I take pride in how I look but I wasn’t doing that any more. I stopped going to the gym and caring about my appearance. People would ask what was wrong with me, not knowing I was depressed and all over the show.”
A highly-rated defender in his younger days, Smyth added that there were days when he would be sitting alone in his room in floods of tears.
“I remember sometimes sitting in a room crying on my own but I never told anyone. I also remember sitting drinking from a Saturday to Thursday with no sleep at all,” he said.
“A few weeks previous I left a party and tried to drive to work, crashing at 70mph on the motorway. I’d fallen asleep at the wheel and was lucky to be alive but that didn’t stop me or make me speak out about how I felt.
“For six months to a year my partying was gradually getting worse. Why was I drinking so much? I was blanking things out thinking I was having a good time, then it hit home when people were sleeping that I was on my own again, behind closed doors and there was me crying again.
“I would maybe not even wash or change clothes in four or five days and then something just clicked and I said ‘you can’t do this any more’.
“I don’t think I ever contemplated suicide but if I didn’t go get help then I’m sure things wouldn’t have changed for me.
“I was covering insecurities and feelings by partying. I lost two jobs in six months to a year. I wasn’t seeing or spending time with my kids and I wasn’t going to football. Everything I loved was going.”
Aaron’s life got back on track when he went to see professionals.
In an searingly honest account he said: “I first went to Jigsaw Counselling in North Belfast because I wanted to be away from where I thought people might know me and then after a few weeks I just thought I’d go to Holy Trinity Counselling which was near me.
As soon as I started to speak about things I would well up and start to cry. I was carrying the hurt for maybe longer than I ever knew. Aaron Smyth
“When I started to open up about my feelings it really helped me. I didn’t feel comfortable speaking to my friends or even my brothers about my problems but going in to speak to a professional, who was a stranger to me, was a big help. I learnt to trust the person and really opened and I would strongly advise anyone going through dark times to do the same.
“What happened to Jerry is a tragedy and I feel so much for his family and what they are going through right now and send my thoughts and prayers to them all.
“When I went into counselling there was a lot of past hurt and pain. I spoke about that and other stuff I had seen in the past and also about the present stuff which was ongoing at the time including how I felt personally and what the underlying problems were.
“I didn’t know at the time what they were, but speaking to a stranger I opened up and shed many a tear. That was when I noticed the hurt coming out.
“As soon as I started to speak about things I would well up and start to cry. I was carrying the hurt for maybe longer than I ever knew.
I have never spoken about these things to my family but with Jerry Thompson’s death and how it has affected so many people I thought I should speak up and hopefully my story can bring people in trouble some help and some hope. Aaron Smyth
“I was never a confident person growing up and never believed in myself. Even when I won awards during football I still had massive self-doubt.
“I was always a bit of a rocket and I won’t ever lose that but now I know I’m in control where before I was reckless and lost.
“I had no feelings or emotions and everything was a blur and the world around me was falling down.
“Speaking to someone made me see what I was doing and it opened up to me everything I should change. I recognised and realised a lot about myself which I didn’t know and it made me realise the pain I carried was all bottled up and gradually became a bigger problem.
“I have never spoken about these things to my family but with Jerry Thompson’s death and how it has affected so many people I thought I should speak up and hopefully my story can bring people in trouble some help and some hope. I know having gone to counselling I am in a far better state now than I was last year.”
Belfast Telegraph Digital