male strength in weakness

I was in awe when legendary All Black, Sir John Kirwan came forward many years ago and spoke publicly of his panic attacks and battle with depression at the height of his career … a battle he succinctly called ‘freaking out’.

Rugby in New Zealand is essentially one of the nations major identities which unfortunately transforms these remarkably talented rugby players into faultless ‘gods’. As in most sports alcohol and drug abuse is a serious issue which I think masks many other underlying problems. The pressure men are placed under is immense, whether its expectations placed on them from others or self-induced it seems to manifests itself in several destructive and debilitating ways. As women, I think we certainly need to be more grateful and acknowledging to the roles our husbands, partners, fathers, brothers and sons fulfil in our lives. I think we need to speak appreciation and gratitude when they provide for us and share our lives. So to have such a revered, talented player and man stand up and share his battle in a time when little was understood about mental illness is inspiring to me. In his book All Blacks Don’t Cry, his honesty is disarming and absolutely vital reading for all men, his strength in speaking out has helped dispel many myths and served to broaden countless minds on the topic of mental health, depression and who this debilitating illness effects. Knighted in 2012 for his role in educating the public on mental health, Sir John Kirwan has fronted advertising campaigns and written extensively about depression, and was made an Officer of The New Zealand Order of Merit back in ’07 for his efforts in mental health.

    ”It’s been an incredible journey” he said.

”Starting out, I had a lot of fear about exposing myself but it’s turned into an incredibly humbling and satisfying journey. I’m still getting emails every day from people, so it’s a fantastic thing for me to be involved with and there’s still a lot more we can do.

”Hopefully this knighthood will give people hope, strength and encouragement, because when you’re unwell it’s pretty dark. Hopefully this will continue to add to the work, help people understand the illness and continue to break down the stigma.”

John Kirwan was one of the most devastating wingers New Zealand, and world, rugby had ever seen. A prominent and revered figure at the dawn of the professional age of rugby, he seemed to live a charmed life.

But nobody knew, though, that behind closed doors ‘JK’ was living a life of torment. Afflicted with depression for many years – including those as a high-profile sportsman – Kirwan was able to survive by reaching out, seeking help from those closest to him.

All Blacks Don’t Cry is John Kirwan’s story of hope, of working through the pain and living a full life. It is a poignant, inspirational and helpful example for anybody battling depression.

At my worst moments, I lost all sense of hope for the future. As I began to slowly get better, I began to be able to say to myself, ‘This will pass, you’ll get through this. Hang on to hope.’

John Kirwan

It’s a comforting feeling when we have people close to us we can open up and divulge our daily woes and thoughts to. On the contrary, there can also be an unwillingness to burden family and friends with our struggles and concerns knowing how busy and committed they are also. This is why I firmly believe in finding a suitable professional therapist or psychologist to work with short-term. Do it on the sly if that makes you feel better but trust me, you would be surprised if you knew the amount of “got-it-all-together’ sorts do get some help.

The optimum result in working alongside a professional therapist or psychologist is to give you the tools, mentally, physically and spiritually in the form of understanding your thought processes, establish a structured plan (aka – baby steps) to help  attain goals, re-think unhealthy mind sets and rebuild healthy thought patterns. Their job is to initiate, encourage and enable  you to walk through these steps until they become a part of who you are.

I certainly believe there are times and places in everyone’s life when seeking out professional help is the right thing to do. I suggest ringing the office and mentioning specifically what you need or are hoping from these sessions. Ask if there is a specialist proficient in your area of need. This saves time in baring your heart and soul to an ill-suited match. Pronounce what you want to gain from your sessions, meet and engage the therapist.

I see loneliness in people everywhere, separation and breakdown in communities, even though the majority of us have family and friends to support us and I am concerned at the amount of lonely, disconnected and downcast people functioning on empty, I fear the numbers are growing. I was told of a 70-something-year-old man recently: successfully retired, married, children and grandchildren to be wonderfully proud of. Surrounded by loving, caring family and friends he’d known for years, with no major life issues to get him down, other than his all-encompassing loneliness. A disconnection from his manhood had ensued since his retirement, his role as provider for decades was now defunct and the gaping hole in the Who- Am-I shaped box within him had become too much to deal with alone. So once a week he met with his therapist to talk with someone impartial. He didn’t need counselling, direction or advice. What he hungered for I can only surmise, is to connect, converse with someone outside of the nest he had created for decades, to find who he is in a new setting, amongst new conversation exploring new thoughts on himself and his new role within the family and in life. What I love is he could do this privately, with his dignity intact as he searched for his new role in his new phase in life. Funnily enough, I’m positive he already had the tools to move on but I think it can take talking to therapist or psychologist sometimes to help us shift our thinking, that shift can be minute but when it’s fully grasped the ripple of change it can make in is infinite.

I think most of us can feel that cross-over phase when our everyday stressors start to turn into something much more negative, when sluggishness and apathy has nestled in, when we’re running on empty, exhausted, irritated. We know when the downward spiral has begun and all we can do is keep going and hope for the best.

So whether you’re someone who can catch up regularly and de-stress with friends and team mates or someone who needs extra help: Bite The Pride Bullet and seek counsel to put right a few wrongs in your life. You alone happen to be your best asset and I can guarantee you right now, there is nothing you could say or do in the company of your professional therapist that they haven’t heard already 😉

I saw an extremely interesting and enlightening documentary on Depression amongst Men in Sports hosted by one time England Cricket Captain Freddie Flintoff. He speaks to Irish boxing great Frank McGuigan and WBA Welterweight Champion Ricky Hatton about their battle with depression.Unfortunately I can only find the last 10 minutes of a wonderful hour-long doco but if you can get your hands on it somewhere it is well worth the watch.

10 Comments Add yours

  1. ladyfi says:

    You’re right… it’s ironic that in this age of interconectedness, we are in fact, more lonely than ever.


    1. palomino says:

      Hi Lady Fi, it horribly true isn’t it. I know so many people young and old who are busy, happily fulfilled to some degree and yet are intensely lonely at a deeper level.


    1. palomino says:

      Thanks Kenneth 🙂


  2. It is SUCH a debilitating condition. I am normally irrepressibly upbeat and a laugh-a-minute but depression has still caught me a few times in my life. Has beaten me around the head severely. But now I can recognise the symptoms and start to work against them. It is just so bloody insidious, though. I have said many times that the only way you know you have been depressed is when you emerge (if you emerge) on the other side. You do well to highlight this issue. Well done!


    1. palomino says:

      Hi David, that’s fantastic that through experience you’re aware of the symptoms now before depression rears its ugly head. Its certainly beaten many a mans head severely as you put it 😀 Thanks so much for your comment, I appreciate it !


  3. Mate, you do us the favour! We always listen to women (well, perhaps not always as attentively as we should!) and, so, are more likely to accept advice. Yours is a good blog. I like it!


    1. sandra says:

      always a pleasure David, thanks so much !


  4. Prayers and Apples says:

    Some really powerful points.. The Beatles “Eleanor Rigby” lyrics started playing through my mind with your paragraph, “I see loneliness…” So sad, yet so true – and I completely support your recommendation to seek outside counsel, as well as your encouragement to voice our appreciation to the men in our lives. (Trust me: As soon as I get one, I’ll be sure to let him know! haha!) 🙂 xo


    1. sandra says:

      Cheers Jess, your comments are always welcome and taken on board. Should i publicly admit I don’t know the ‘Eleanor Rigby’ song *blush*


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