Sport

Clarke Carlisle and the other side of the beautiful game.

It seemed one of the curious, cruel ironies of life. One week removed from retired footballer Clarke Carlisle’s ‘coming out’ about his failed suicide attempt in December (just three days before Christmas), the Premier League announced earlier this week it had negotiated a brand new TV rights deal with BT and Sky exceeding £5 billion.

Cue the public outcry. But about which one? The fact that a player with experience of top flight football is only diagnosed with major depressive disorder more than thirteen years after his first battle with it (Carlisle first attempted suicide in 2001 after suffering a major injury that was thought to mean the end of his playing days), or a big pile of money? Needless to say which has attracted more attention and speculation.

Money, and how to use it. Everyone has an opinion on that one. To the extent where some believe the best solution to mental illness (or indeed most other problems) can be found by throwing money at it. When politicians reference the issue, they do so by claiming more funds should be put into mental health services. Something tells me they’re missing the real issue.

The real issue is us. Mental health is a thing everyone has, just as much as they have physical bodies. If you don’t treat that body right, it changes for the worse. But equally everyone’s body is different and unique. Some are more inclined to be bigger, others smaller. Some can take more punishment than others, whether through environment, nourishment or intense training. Life is all a delicate balancing act, the first quarter of it at least spent finding out what your respective strengths and weaknesses are, and adjusting your lifestyle accordingly. The mind is no different.

Yet, ‘the real issue is us’ means something else as well. In a way, the fact that many people would rather talk about something like money, something tangible, in some way meaningful and to which we can attach real categorical value, is exemplary of what drives a person with Carlisle’s temperament towards suicide in the first place. Upon retiring in 2013, he felt he lost some of that perceived value that supporters had attached to him. Which he kind of did, when you consider it.

People would approach him and ask; “did you used to be Clarke Carlisle?” That may sound like a light-hearted jibe, and in most cases would be taken as such, yet it hints at a truth that I think goes largely unappreciated by those of us who’ve never had the spotlight. When we talk of how obscene their salary or lifestyle, when we attach such value onto them and observe how fortunate they are to have it, or perhaps how we would use it ourselves, the human element tends to become blurred. In one’s mind their value may transcend their humanity. Yet they are still human through all of it. They at least have that in common with you, no matter how drastic the other differences.

Bear that in mind when you see their every action being scrutinised. When you catch yourself thinking they have ‘no excuses’ because they ‘have it all’.

Bear it in mind when you begin judging someone like Carlisle for how selfish you think he was for trying to take his own life so close to Christmas. You may ask; doesn’t he care about his family? How could he think of doing such a thing to them? What about the driver of the lorry he stepped out in front of? Why can’t he take these things into account and logically conclude that suicide is not the right course of action for everyone concerned?

Maybe he did think about all of that stuff at the time. Maybe he felt much worse because of it. In the interview he did on Absolute Radio a few days ago, he explains how his family’s unconditional love only compounded his guilt – precisely because despite it, he still didn’t want to live. I really recommend you take five minutes to watch or listen to this short interview, if only to gain a little more understanding of what it is like for someone in Clark Carlisle’s mindset.

“Clark Carlisle’s mindset”. You see how I’m talking? I am talking as if I somehow know the man personally, as if I somehow have an emotional connection with him. In a sense I do – he is human, after all, and has been experiencing a very human problem that I somewhat identify with. Yet I don’t really know him. The media may just occasionally make me think I do on occasions such as this.

That may not be too far from the root of the problem faced by sports stars and other public figures. In feeling I somewhat know Clarke Carlisle, I feel it appropriate to have some kind of opinion on this major event in his life, whether that is to defend or berate him. I may then feel at some future point, that it is appropriate to hold him to account on how I think he should be acting, or to invade his personal space if I should pass him in the street. And when you have thousands, even millions of people who have been given this impression, it cannot always be so easy as you might think to be the recipient of it. Certainly it is then a lot harder to speak out about a condition like depression, when most can’t stand even to tell their closest family and friends about such feelings for fear of their misjudged comments on the matter.

Granted this case is unique, though. Carlisle has spoken up about this precisely because he wants others to face the issue in their own lives. I trust he wanted these conversations to be happening. I personally just think it a shame that they still won’t be the priority for those who would rather separate every part of life into values; rights and wrongs, good and evil.

Depression is neither. It just is.

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2 thoughts on “Clarke Carlisle and the other side of the beautiful game.

  1. Great article Graeme. I think the other point that people often miss is that depression can be caused by a chemical imbalance, with the brain producing too much/or not enough of certain chemicals. No matter the amount of money being earned or how glamorous a lifestyle, they don’t change chemicals. I find that people (including in the past myself) see Depression as a choice and therefore find reason to criticise the individual for not thinking about the effect on those around them and you mentioned.

    Like you say, its a shame that the TV deal story has overshadowed the Clark Carlisle story. Mental Health is a national (well global, but we’ll stick to the UK for now) issue and if someone with a profile as public as Clarke Carlisle comes out and addresses it, the media should be getting behind more.

    1. Thanks for your input Dave! The chemical imbalance point is certainly relevant as well, though I didn’t want this article to go on too long which is why I haven’t so much focused on that ‘scientific’ side of things this time around – and that’s before we even get started on the roulette wheel that medication seems to be for many people…. A lot of this is still close to guesswork even in the medical community. If money is to be invested anywhere, I daresay it should be in that area. Though this is something I will return to at another point I’m sure.

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