I don’t blog about football very often. I’m a Liverpool supporter, there’s not all that much to blog about beyond a consistent failure to win the league. And writing about football is not the same as watching it, feeling it, the dizzying highs (few) and crashing lows (many). If you follow a team, you’ll know. If you don’t, you’ll shrug and wonder what the fuss is about.
This isn’t a blog about football.
This is a blog about Gary Speed, Wales manager, who was found dead at his home yesterday after taking his own life, leaving behind a wife, two kids, and a saddened, baffled nation wondering why. Why would a guy who had recently started managing his country, who was doing well in the job, who appeared on TV on Saturday morning happy and relaxed, go home that afternoon and hang himself?
I can’t tell you why. I don’t know, any more than you do. The only person who could tell you is Gary Speed, and no one can talk for him. But I can say this.
Depression doesn’t discriminate.
Depression doesn’t care if you’re a footballer, or a doctor, or a homeless guy under a bridge or a big rich rock star. Depression is an illness, like cancer, and like cancer it can strike anyone, anywhere, any time, without good reason. You don’t get an exemption for being successful, or popular, or rich, or good at what you do. Just ask Kurt Cobain. To say “Why are you depressed, when you’re doing so well?” is as crass as saying, “Well, why don’t you just cheer up?” Like it’s THAT simple. Oh, all Gary Speed had to do was cheer up, and everything would have been fine?
It doesn’t work like that. I wish it did.
It’s hard to ask for help, even when it’s obvious you need it. I can only guess at how much harder it must be to ask for help when you’re in the rarefied position of being well-loved and at the top of your game, when you have everything you could ever want and it’s still not enough. Throw in the macho posturing that can often be found around sport in this country, where men are real men and don’t talk about feelings and girlie shit like that, and you’re heading for disaster. Small wonder that Speed’s tragic death seemed to come out of the blue; nobody saw it coming, because he never let it show.
I don’t delude myself that any professional sports people are going to read this, but I’m sure there are other people out there, people who to outward appearances have it all, maybe people who feel they have to cover up their feelings of fear, sadness or inadequacy, because of the job they’re in, or because of fear of what people might think.
Some clever person said once “Depression is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign that you’ve been too strong, for too long.” It’s not a sign of weakness, it’s an illness, like any other. Nobody would think you weak if you went to the doctors for a virus. Our minds, our fragile, brilliant minds, get ill as much as any other part of our bodies, and there’s no shame in seeking treatment.
And there’s no shame in talking about it. One in four people will suffer mental illness at some point in their lives. That’s your mum, your next door neighbour, your dentist, your sporting hero. The more we talk about it, the more light we can shed on this darkness, the better it will be for everyone, especially those who suffer in silence. Tragically, it’s too late for Gary Speed, but if getting this stuff out in the open, breaking down walls, can save lives, it’s important that we keep talking.
Edited to add – a lot of people are coming to this post using search engine terms like “reasons” or “why?” I wish I had more answers for you. I don’t. I’m just a girl with a blog, and I’m as baffled and saddened as any of you. It seems that when something as sad and desperate as this happens, people go looking for reasons anywhere they can. Depression is a reason in itself, as tiny and as huge as that is. That’s all I’ve got, and I’m sorry.