Stay Positive: Previous experiences with mild depression. Expect strong language, dark humour and the occasional outdated opinion.
Image: John MacDougall/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
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However, in the midst of all of this self-discovery and in-fighting, something happened that rendered me speechless for days to come.
The suicide of German goalkeeper Robert Enke in November showed precisely how depression can ultimately destroy someone’s life.
The Story (From the Guardian):
Personally, it left me feeling heart-broken. While his depression may (and probably was) a lot deeper than my own experiences, it was horrible to know that he couldn’t/wouldn’t seek help to tackle his illness when I personally knew it could rejuvenate your life.
There I was, in a little bubble of self-fulfilment and optimism, focussing on how well I was doing, and how far I’d come, then the fragility and despair of the illness came back into full view.
As someone who has (hopefully) come ‘full circle’ again and is near enough back on track, there is the feeling of wanting to help others who may be struggling as you really don’t want someone else to go through the same ordeal.
To know that he was lying to his family and his psychiatrist for several weeks while planning his own suicide is an incredibly chilling thought. He thought his illness would tear his family apart and destroy his career if he ‘confessed’ when in fact his death has had a different effect.
A foundation has been set up in his name, which is dedicated to research and treatment of depression, and – to an extent – it has also got people discussing a taboo subject, and how such a tragedy could’ve happened at all.
There are seriously low moments throughout the illness where I know I have questioned my purpose in life, but I’ve always found something to hang on for – and I hope I always will. To know how much and how far he must’ve gone to have reached a place of no return left me feeling completely cold.
It also made me feel slightly angry that he couldn’t think of the other members of his family, but the problem with the illness is that it pretty much stops selfless thoughts, and makes you completely internalised. Even if your team lose a game of football, it makes you feel like you were the one letting the team down, when there are usually 10 other people on your side.
So it’s somewhat paradoxical to think that – in my eyes at least – it can only be yourself who can drag you back from the depths. You may talk to counsellors, doctors, family etc., but it’s only through putting in the energy yourself to open up, embrace change and help yourself that you actually become better.
While I know this has become all ‘me me me’ when it’s about Robert Enke, but I felt the need to try and show my feelings as a ‘fellow sufferer’, and in some way make sense of it in my own head. It really hit home about how lucky I was to find a way out.
As with everything in life, some people won’t make it, and his death was an all too vivid a reminder of how fine that line can be. Showing weakness in life is one of the hardest things to do, but it really shouldn’t be like that.
In some ways, the only way to become a better, stronger person is by identifying and discussing a weakness and overcoming it. No-one should have to feel lumbered by anything, or suffer in silence. Whether or not this (stupidly long) article helps another being is probably doubtful (as I hardly publicise it), but it would be nice to think it could.
Even though there was nothing I could’ve personally done to have stopped Robert’s death, you can’t help (as a ‘fellow sufferer’ [EDIT: I hate that term, by the way]) but feel totally helpless all the same, like you should’ve been able to have done something, or should’ve been able to have helped someone else out.
In the next decade, depression and mental health will become the world’s number one ‘illness’, ahead of conditions like heart disease and cancer – it currently affects one in four in the UK. But in that time, can we expect the world to have become savvy on the idea of depression and mental health?
The BBC’s Inside Sport programme co-incidentally ran a programme shortly after Robert’s death about sportsmen who had been diagnosed with depression over the years, and how it had changed their lives.
Cricketer Marcus Trescothick, snooker’s Ronnie O’Sullivan, footballers Stan Collymore and Neil Lennon, New Zealand All Black John Kirwan and boxer Frank Bruno all contributed to the programme and documented how their lives seem to unravel before their very eyes – with Frank Bruno being subsequently sectioned.
Bruno Bashing: The front page of the Sun on 23 September 2003. The cover on the left was the Sun's early edition. The later edition was altered due to complaints received over the insensitive headline. The image above is taken from Gary Nunn's piece in the Guardian in 2014, entitled "Time to change the language we use about mental health." Click the image above to be linked to the story.
It was an incredibly emotive feature, and hopefully it will shed some light on the illness to others in the general public. The last thing I would think some sufferers would subsequently want was a heap of sympathy, but if it made some people stop and think, then it’s all good.
From a personal perspective, I would’ve liked to have heard a little bit more on how the guys managed to get through the ‘recovery’ time, as (due to time constraints) they could only highlight what happened before showing them ‘cured’ and happier with life once more, but the show wasn’t aimed at that sort of audience.
(If only someone could now do a spin-off where they highlight just how annoying it can be to hear people use the phrase “I’m sooooo depressed” when they’re just having a bad day, then that would be ‘triffic. It’s picky, but it’s something that bugs the crap out of me these days…)
Now the counselling is done, I’m trying to find different ways to channel the thoughts that used to go into the weekly sessions. Writing this long-winded article has helped, although it’s not a long term solution.
Having my life back has opened up my former passions, so I could possibly find my outlets are back in music, photography, filming and sport – maybe even in something new, like food or art.
I’ve got to wait until March before I can kick a football again (after tearing my ankle ligaments back in October during a five-a-side match), but it’s not like the weather is that appealing at the moment for a kick around anyways!
Ultimately, it’s about channelling as much positivity and enthusiasm into life again as is physically possible. It’s all it should’ve ever been, but things didn’t quite work out that way. All I know is that I’ve got a new lease of life, and I want to use it as much as I possibly can – and with about two years’ worth of time to make up for, I’d better start catching up…
All links are to BBC News, unless stated.
'Stephen Fry saved my life' (Daily Mail)