Irish star Earls praised for candour over mental health struggles

Keith Earls has had a long and distinguished career with Munster and Ireland but perhaps the greatest praise he has received is for opening up about his mental health struggles with James Ryan, the Irish captain for Sunday's Test against Argentina, saying it was "inspiring".

The 34-year-old utility back revealed in his recently published biography 'Fight or Flight: My Life, My Choices' how after years of "negative thinking" and panic attacks he finally bit the bullet and went to a psychiatrist in 2013.

He was diagnosed as Bipolar, though, he takes a crumb of comfort from it being Bipolar 2 "probably the better out of the two to get," he said on Irish TV station RTE's 'The Late Late Show.' in October.

Earls' revealed that his first panic attack came when he was still at primary school and his 19-year-old cousin was killed in a car crash.

“You know I was sitting at home on the couch and my parents were at work and I remember thinking I wasn't going to see my cousin ever again," he said.

"Then it just went downhill from there. I was thinking about 'when I die I will never see my parents'. I was shaking, I was trembling and the panic attack started."

From then on it got progressively worse - Earls describes hiding his mood swings and emptiness as 'exhausting' - until he sought help.

Even then there were dark moments including after the memorable victory over France in the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

"It was all bad stuff, I was genuinely in a brutal place," Earls told 'Off The Ball' podcast.

"I had tears in my eyes even walking round the pitch after the match and then I went straight to my cubicle in the dressing room.

"The boys were outside on the pitch cheering as we had hammered France. I could not work out why I was feeling so bad.

"So I wiped away the tears and went back out but, even though I had a beer, I really was in a brutal place."

- 'Having the courage' -

Earls -- who is Ireland's World Cup record try scorer with eight -- said it took another three years to find the panacea.

"I finally found my routine in life, with a lot of the gratitude lists and the self talk," he said.

"It took a good three years to finally feel that my thoughts were eventually changing.

"I was willing to try anything to get better."

Remarkably, despite the inner turmoil, Earls kept on performing to a very high standard and was an integral part of Ireland's 2018 Six Nations Grand Slam winning side.

Edging closer to joining present Ireland team-mates Johnny Sexton and Cian Healy as a Test centurion -- he is likely to win his 96th cap against Argentina on Sunday -- Earls has been delighted by the reaction to his revelations.

"We played against Connacht the night after The Late Late Show, even the Connacht lads on the pitch were saying, 'fair play to you'," Earls said this week.

"I've spoken to other teammates as well. I'd known some of our teammates would have the same issues as well without really bringing it up.

"I've got a text off one or two fellas saying they've now gone and spoke to someone as well."

His decision to go public has been widely praised including by James Ryan, who captains Ireland against the Pumas on Sunday in the absence of the injured Sexton.

"I didn't even know and then I saw him on the Late Late Show and it was pretty inspiring, to be honest," Ryan said on Wednesday.

"You talk about bravery but having the courage to speak like that so honestly on national TV was pretty inspiring for us.

"I didn't think I could think higher of Earlsy.

"I was wrong because off the back of that, my admiration of him has grown more, the way he's able to normalise that, that it doesn't matter who you are... Mental health doesn't discriminate."

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