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Soup of This Day #117: I’m Happy, Hope You’re Happy Too

January 6, 2012

Andrew Flintoff bowling
Andrew Flintoff bowling for England, Day 1, Brisbane Test, 2006/07 Ashes, 23rd November 2006. Australia finished the opening day of the series at 3 for 346, with Flintoff netting a passable 2 for 47. He would finish the match with 4 for 110 and scores of 0 and 16 off the bat as England lost by 277 runsPhoto: Jonathan Nalder, 2006. Jonathan Nalder is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff and I have never seen eye-to-eye. At least in part because he’s 6’4″ and I’m not. I could stand on some bricks but that just feels like I’d be selling myself short.

It’s also because we’ve never met but if we did I just think we’d not be friends. I respect him, in a fashion, but he was a key part of the English cricket team at a time they broke up the Australian hegemony over the Ashes. Freddie bowled and batted his way through our lads in 2005, raucously snaring wickets and bludgeoning boundaries as England squeaked past Australia, 2-1, gaining the Ashes after an 18 year drought. It was a brilliant series, thrilling to watch and you surely couldn’t begrudge the Poms who had re-invigorated the Test arena by deposing the team that had truly dominated the cricketing world around the turn of the millenium.

Except I begrudged them. Unreasonably, I freely admit. Them and their loud celebrations – Freddie seemingly drunk and visiting the Prime Minister. Some of the players even got honours from Her Maj – For winning 1 series.

So in 2006/07 when they toured down under, with Freddy as captain, I wanted us to smash them. I wanted a 5-0 whitewash with Freddie crying by the boundary line.

And I got it.

Not Freddie crying by the boundary line. That was more than a bit churlish in hindsight. I did get the 5-0 whitewash with Australia pummelling the English into cricketing oblivion. Flintoff tried hard but seemed a little off his game. Allegedly he was underdone and several times on the tour was warned about his drinking. Something was not right for Freddie and there was a real risk of damage to the man as well as his reputation.

In his own words, from a recent BBC interview:

‘I was having a quiet drink with my dad Colin on Christmas Eve 2006 [having already lost the Ashes] and as we made our way home I started crying my eyes out. I told him I’d tried my best but that I couldn’t do it any more, I couldn’t keep playing.

“We talked and, of course, I dusted myself down and carried on. But I was never the same player again. I was captain of England and financially successful. Yet instead of walking out confidently to face Australia in one of the world’s biggest sporting events, I didn’t want to get out of bed, never mind face people.’

Andrew Flintoff had depression. It’s a paradox that while he might have felt that way he wasn’t alone. Around 1 in 5 Australians experience a mental illness in a given year. It’s more common for women (1 in 4) than men (1 in 6) but the suicide rate is 4 times higher in the latter case.

Freddy soldiered on, as men often do (This is not a good thing guys – Take a look at that suicide comparison 1 more time). He was England’s vice-captain for the One Day International (ODI) World Cup in August of 2007 in the Carribean. After a 1st up loss to New Zealand, Flintoff had some drinks in a night club with some team-mates. It was just 2 days until their next match, against Canada. In the early hours of the morning, drunk, England’s vice-captain found himself having to be rescued after he got into trouble falling off a paddle boat out on the water. England’s management could no longer just warn their talismatic all-rounder and they suspended him and stripped him of his leadership role. In his BBC interview Freddy sums it up:

‘The whole time I was on the field and throughout that World Cup all I could think about was that I wanted to retire.’

‘I didn’t understand what was happening to me. I knew when I got back to my room I couldn’t shut off, which is why I started having a drink. It got to the stage where I was probably drinking more than I should.’

‘All I wanted was for the doctor to tell me what was wrong but no one suggested it was depression. There’s a certain sense of shame when I remember sitting in the dressing room after winning a one-day international in the West Indies. The lads were celebrating and I didn’t want to be a part of it, I didn’t want to do anything but sit on my own in the corner.’

Flintoff came through it all. In 2009 he played an integral part in England’s attempt to reclaim the Ashes. In particular he snared 5 for 92 as they won an Ashes Test at the home of cricket, Lords, for the 1st time since 1934. For the 5th and deciding Test, Flintoff was injured and the middle order was misfiring so a number of players were canvassed as possible replacements. Notably Marcus Trescothick was 1 – He had previously retired from the international game due to a fight with depression in 2008. In the end Trescothick ruled himself out and Flintoff was fit to play. Freddy made scores of 7 and 22 and on the final day effected the crucial run-out of Aussie skipper Ricky Ponting, breaking a 127-run partnership. It helped England to a 197 run win and a 2-1 series victory. It was also to be Flintoff’s final on-field contribution in Test cricket as he retired from the premier form of the game immediately after the final Australian wicket had fallen.

I’ve heard depression described as a battle. I’ve never liked that metaphor – Battles are by-and-large single engagements. 2 armies meet, they fight and there is an outcome. Depression is a whole series of engagements, a war. It’s a war of attrition, of scorched earth, long sieges and desperate, scrambling defence and it is made up of countless battles. Some are seemingly simple, like getting dressed and leaving the house in the morning. Others are more complex, like admitting on your blog that anyone can read, that you sometimes have trouble getting dressed to leave the house in the morning.

Yep.

If you were 1 of 5 Australians in a room with me you could feel statistically safe – I’m the guy fighting a battle with a mental illness – Chronic depression.

Don’t worry, this isn’t a cry for help and I’m not in distress right at this minute. I’ve been fighting the war for just shy of 20 years now, as near as we can work out anyway. A councillor I saw for a while reckoned that my Mum dying when I was around 15 was the key. That’s not an ideal time for a kid to lose a parent, she said. And no, there isn’t really an ideal time – I think she meant that it was a particularly crucial stage in emotional development. Either way war was declared and the battles began even if I didn’t know it at the time.

Actually it took until the new millennium for me to realise that I had a problem. Even after I worked out that things were not good it took me a bit more time to go see a doctor. I think I have a problem I told him. Yes you do he said.

And I’m not an elite sports star. I’m not an anything star. I didn’t ask for this and I sure as @#$% don’t want it. None of that matters though – This is the war and you fight it because to lose is something I’m too scared to think about. God help me (Anyone of the pantheon will do) but the lowest point was some 4 years ago, curling up on the floor, howling, because I was scared to die, to leave all that I love. How does that work? You can be so scared of taking your own life that you’re in danger of taking your own life? Whose idea of a lame joke is that then?

I won that day. I’ve bloody well won a bit since too. Some of it’s obvious – I’m a decent bloke – I’m learning to be a good husband and a good dad. I’d like to think I’m a fair boss at work and a successful 1 too – I spend a lot of time trying to make sure that I do the right thing by as many people as I can, including me. Some of it is less visible – I got my driver’s licence late at 32 and found it in me to be a sociable volunteer guide at the local observatory. And then there’s the victories that just don’t register for anyone but me – 1 time at the start of my university studies it took me a week and some serious balls to go and take a book out of a library – I did it and it ranks as 1 of my most memorable moments – An orchestra played John Williams as I carried that caper off – I gave the black dog a lesson that day.

All of this has taken a lot of help, from councillors, doctors, family and friends – my wife has been a rock. She was also an extremely patient driving instructor. The things I haven’t needed to get me through though have been money and fame and to be a cricket star. Depression respects none of that @#$% so I’ll back anyone who fights it.

Even English cricketers who nick the Ashes off us.

Twice.

If you’re familiar with the way this blog is operated you’re probably now looking for the clever punchline, the funny twist that brings the whole post together in a nice neat package, that leaves you with a smile, either at my sense of humour or in spite of it.

There isn’t 1. Not today.

Instead, and this will sound a little strange, I’m hoping you’ll leave off reading this feeling a bit uncomfortable. Uncomfortable enough that you’ll ask yourself and those around you if they are ok. If you or they are not then there is plenty of help around – You might need to look for it but for Australians here’s a good place to start:

beyondblue: the national depression initiative.

I’m Happy, Hope You’re Happy Too

3 Comments
  1. Honest, straight-forward and heartfelt piece. We should always check in and on those close to us…as well as keep our eyes and ears open for those outside the “inner circle” we may be able to assist. No one should ever feel alone or that they can’t get assistance.

    • Thanks for reading and for the comment. Not the easiest post I’ve ever written and probably not the easiest to read either – I reckon your sentiment of keeping watch for those around us is a good 1, even those outside the regular contacts – Never hurts to ask if someone is ok and sometimes it’s what makes the difference.

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  1. Soup of This Day #353: It Seems Like Years Since It’s Been Clear | Longworth72

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