Tragic loss | 

Armagh GAA star developed anorexia and anxiety after dad took his own life

“I was the youngest and the only girl and he adored me. When I look back now I am thankful for the 13 years we had together, I was so happy and so loved. I was lucky to have him but I will never get over losing him”
Aoife Lennon this week

Aoife Lennon this week

Aoife with dad John

Aoife with dad John

Aoife lining out for Armagh

Aoife lining out for Armagh© SPORTSFILE

Paula MackinSunday World

Aoife Lennon has suffered more in her life than anyone should.

When she was just 13, her doting dad John took his own life, an act, until recently, the Armagh GAA star blamed on herself.

Heartbroken and confused, she could not come to terms with her loss or the trauma it caused.

She recalls him tucking her into bed and telling her he loved her on the night he died by suicide, a memory she now cherishes but previously caused her untold pain and anger at why he would leave her.

Lonely and feeling unloved, despite having a caring family around her, Aoife’s life spiralled secretly out of control.

She developed anorexia and severe anxiety, she buried her grief, refusing to accept the reality of her much-loved father’s death 16 years ago.

“It’s still traumatic to look back, I was everything to my daddy. I was the youngest and the only girl and he adored me. When I look back now I am thankful for the 13 years we had together, I was so happy and so loved. I was lucky to have him but I will never get over losing him,” Aoife told the Sunday Worldthis week.

“When he died I didn’t know how to cope – 16 years ago things were different, you were not sat down and had things explained to you. You were just expected to get on with it.

“My saddest memory is coming home from school and looking out the window, waiting for him to come home, waiting and waiting and asking ‘where’s daddy?’ That my hardest memory and it still makes me sad.”

The talented footballer threw herself into the sport her father taught her. She shoved her grief and thoughts to the back of her head and put a smile on her face to convince herself and others she was fine.

“The only way I could cope was to look outside myself, ignore what I was feeling – it was the only way I could numb the pain. Sport was my go-to, soon I was training like mad. Fitness and then not eating was the only way I felt I could take control of my life.

“I just wanted to get fitter and fitter and thin, I wanted people to accept me even though, I know now, I was,” she said.

The 29-year-old – who enjoyed a successful career with Armagh and also played soccer for Newry City and Northern Ireland, was racked with guilt, believing she was responsible for her father’s death and her family’s grief.

“I thought my daddy’s death had something to do with me, I couldn’t understand what I had done to make him leave. I felt rejected, I felt unloved and unsafe and I didn’t know how to love myself. I was always afraid, I had anxiety because I was afraid of who was going to leave me next.

It was only when I was 18 years old and playing for Newry – by that stage I had no interest in myself or school – that I read an article about depression that a light bulb went off.

“I remember sitting on my bed reading an article on Facebook with tears streaming down my face because I realised that the article could have been about me. I was crying and crying but there was a sense of relief because I could finally start to process my grief and trauma .”

Despite this, her anorexia continued to spiral out of control.

It was only when she was in New Zealand and was weighed for a bungee jump did she realise the extent of her weight loss – 10kg in a short period of time.

I think that that was meant to be. It was my wake-up call and I think it came from my daddy. I was so weak and I just knew something really wasn’t right, so I went to the doctor and explained everything I had been doing – they diagnosed me straight away.”

Aoife spent two months in a clinic to help her fight her eating disorder but realised she had to fight her demons herself and face up to her grief finally.

Such was her experience of both mental health and anorexia, Aoife became an ambassador for Darkness into Light, while she continues to tackle her own problems.

She also qualified as a life coach and achieved her dream and vocation of helping others.

“I set up my clinic and called it The Evolution because I believe everyone can evolve no matter what you have gone through. When I help someone, a client, even my just listening to them it is a wonderful feeling, it is a privilege.

“To know what I have gone through to help others gives me an amazing feeling and I know my daddy is my force.

“He is my strength, my angel up there. I still miss him and think of him every day.”

If you have been affected by this story, you can contact Samaritans on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.ie


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