Living with depression: Sir John Kirwan


(Sir John) Depression and anxiety
is about fear. Raw fear, a series of very, very scary thoughts that are controlling you, so it’s just like being
out of control in your head. For me, playing badly in an All Black
jersey was an absolute disaster. I used to go to training and thought
that everyone was watching me, and they knew that I was depressed. Until the illness got stronger then,
I didn’t really care about the football. It was just about survival. Anxiety takes, might take two minutes, they feel like three days. You’re always in tension. ♪ (mandolin music) ♪(narrator) He was, and still is, one
of New Zealand’s great rugby heroes,
but today Troviso in Northern Italyis where Sir John Kirwan calls home.(Sir John) I first came here
when I was 20. Then I met my wife,
who didn’t speak any English, so that sort of forced
to extend your vocab…(narrator) As John came to terms
with his much publicized depression,
he also discovered
this Italian town as a haven.
(speaking in Italian) This is the prince! The prince?(narrator) He’s developed firm friends,
and likes that emotions
are freely expressed here.(speaking in Italian) So Lele used to look after
all the rugby players, so we’d all come in and he’d give us
fruit and vegetables. Like this is asparagus season here.(narrator) John’s been based here
for the last ten years.
He travels the globe
for his job coaching rugby,
and back to New Zealand
where he passionately supports
others with mental health issues.(speaking in Italian) ♪ (music) ♪ When you on depression,
you don’t feel normal. You feel very isolated, you feel very, that it’s personal, that it’s yours,
you feel weak, you lose your confidence,
and so you have a series of things happening to you all at once
that depression gives you that just flatlines you, you know? ♪ (serene music) ♪ (speaking in Italian) Would you like some? I’ll try a sobe. He said that instead
of giving you flowers, he’s giving youfragole.(narrator) John shares
the household cooking.
The morning market
is part of a lifestyle
where simple everyday pleasures
are built into a plan for wellness.
So the white stuff, you boil
and just have a little bit of oil, and boiled eggs, but then this– (speaking in Italian) He says this one
is from Troviso area and it’s best in a risotto. ♪ (Django style jazz) ♪ (speaking in Italian) When I was unwell, I went
on this really fun journey, I made it a bit of fun
finding out what was good for me to make me mentally relaxed. (interviewer) What gave you
that kind of relaxation? How did you find out that this
is the kind of thing that keeps you level? (Sir John) Just kept trying.
Just kept trying stuff. I mean, I’ve tried everything. I tried meditation, I tried everything. With very much of an open mind. What I sort of found out for me
is that I’m a very active relaxer. (interviewer) So you would,
like, all the vegetables, like taking the time to look at them
and smell the roses, so to speak. (Sir John) Yeah, no,
it’s more about people. So it would probably be
more about Lele. And with the cooking,
it’s more about the process. (narrator) He treats the stroll
to and from the market as a chance to chill and when he stops for coffee,
it’s not just the caffeine he’s craving. (speaking in Italian) (Sir John) You know, sometimes
you sit there and you drink the coffee, but this is about stopping
and enjoying the moment. You gotta be careful because you come
and meet him, have a coffee, come and see someone else
have a coffee and so. But then if you say “water”, it’s– Yeah, I can imagine, he’d be like
“what’s wrong with you?” There’s more. And they’re all making fun
and just having a really good laugh. Used to do this a lot. (narrator) They’re a bit more
lighthearted, perhaps. (Sir John) Yeah, exactly. Just see
what’s around you rather than– (speaking in Italian) He said it’s very hard for him
not to swear in the local dialect. He’s trying to be nice. (speaking in Italian) He just said, “I let
the old guy sit down.” The young guy’s gonna stand up. The whole shop’s gonna come out
and say good bye to New Zealand. And to you. (speaking in Italian) (laughing) (narrator) No matter
how busy his schedule is, John knows it’s vital
to take time out. He knows it’s not always easy,
but a healthy mind depends on it and that’s his message for everyone. (interviewer) Ah! Love it! (laughs) (Sir John) Growing up in New Zealand
we had Indian food and Indonesian food, Chinese food, but here in Italy
you don’t get it. I don’t really risk cooking Italian,
because they’re so good at it, so what I’ve done
to sort of make up for it is I cook up a lot of curries
and Indonesian food. The first thing you have
to get used to in Italy is they totally criticize what you–
like you can sit down at dinner, and the guests will say, “ah, it’s–” (interviewer) It’s not that great. (laughter) He can joke about that now, probably
because he’s mastered the cooking and he’s well. But when he was in the depths
of his depression, Criticism was paralyzing for John. (Sir John) There’s a whole lot
of little things that if I say, “don’t be
bloody stupid, harden up”, right at that moment,
if you’re not feeling well, that can be dramatic. Just like when Michael Jones
said to me one day, “You’ve got a great heart, JK.” Well I clung on to this,
I was in such bad shape that day, I clung on to those words
and they’re very special words for me. Because it got me through
a really bad day. ♪ (serene guitar strumming) ♪ I say to my kids, you know. It’s okay to cry when it’s emotional. If you’re a male. If you’re upset,
it’s okay to cry. It’s something that I never did. However, if you get knocked over
on the football field or something,
you’ve got to toughen up. So there’s being a man, it’s important
that you’re tough physically, but also soft psychologically. You know, if you’re upset
and if your spirit’s upset and your soul’s upset it’s okay to cry, whereas I think maybe my generation
was just harden up across the board. So you know, communicating
those things is important. (speaking indistinctly) …and Colin Meads is here,
they’d say harden up but they wouldn’t be saying harden up,
you should be harder than this, it’s sort of–
what it really means is, you’ll get through it, try
and tough it out, you know. It’s so hard in there that you’re just
trying to get through the minute. and you’re trying to get through the hour,
and then you try to get through the day, so often you can push people away, or the people around you don’t understand, so sometimes I think the communication when people don’t understand
can be taken in many different forms, and I think that for me,
for those that are watching us and that have loved ones
and you don’t know what to do, I think just accept, you know,
what is love? Love is unconditional. It’s very common then
in some of the symptoms, but very personalized as well so some of your inner thoughts,
you’re too scared to share with the person next to you, but it is an illness. (interviewer) There’s a stigma
as well associated with it, isn’t there? That’s why people tend to mask it
and tend to say, you know, “I’m doing okay.” (Sir John) Yeah, if I had had
help a lot quicker, if there had been more
understanding about it, I wouldn’t have beaten myself up so much
and the journey wouldn’t have been as long, or as hard. You know, I totally refused to accept it
for a couple of years. One of the other questions I get asked
all the time is “did you take pills?” Yeah, well, I did.
Did I like myself for it? No! But at the end of the day,
if you had another illness, if you had diabetes, you’ve got
to inject yourself every day. That’s just part of the illness. So I think more understanding
about the illness and more people get to know
the symptoms and understand it, then they can really, you know? Accept it and do what they need to do
through the illness to get well. (interviewer) The dad, the butcher,
the accountant, they all care about what people think. What people’s perceptions of them are. They don’t want to let their family down,
they don’t want to let their boss down, you know, that is, I suppose that is
the same for everybody, isn’t it? Well, I felt, I mean–
You hear about some people who maybe have had
a business problem, lost all their money, people say,
“well, it’s only bloody money.” But you cannot relate that to yourself. It might have been the most important
thing in that person’s life, that he might have associated
money with failure. If I said to you, “you lost
an All Black game and you knocked the ball on,” you’d say, well, so what? But for me, at that stage it might
have been the biggest disaster ever. (narrator) John’s three children
are in school, and come home for their lunch break. So the kids expect a cooked meal
when they come home from school? Is this– Yeah, lunchtime is really
the Italian thing. Like, we’re all together at lunch. So tonight Luca finishes at one,
the others finish at one thirty. They’ll come home for lunch, and then
they’ll study in the afternoon and in the evenings
there’s sort of sports, so it’ll be a little bit different. (narrator) For John, recognizing
he was unwell was the first step. Once I accepted it, I actually
started getting better instantly. It was incredible. That was probably the best
afternoon I’d had in three years. Once I accepted the illness and then
started on the getting well road I made a little bit of fun. So I said to myself,
“how am I going to get the time in my head
that is going to give me some… …mental relief?” (narrator) He started writing and talking. His services to a major
mental health campaign launched six years ago
led to his knighthood. He was initially scared
to bare his soul, but believed Kiwis needed to talk
more openly about depression. (Sir John) The most interesting thing
for me was that I was scared to do it. I didn’t want to do it because people
would judge me and see me as weak and the awareness campaign
was incredible. I’d have people sort of
whispering back then, you know, not so much coming out
and saying, just whispering, you know, (whispering) “I’ve been
a bit depressed myself.” (laughing) that sort of stuff. and then I said, if this is what I’ve got,
I want to be the best at it, ’cause that’s my personality. So then I started on this journey
of what I call wellness, you know? Being as well as I can be. (ethereal music) (narrator) FIve thirty AM.
The family is soundly sleeping and John is at the local swimming pool. In his professional life,
John is the coach. He first coached the Italian
national rugby team, then the Japanese side. But here he takes instruction
from a former Olympic swimming coach. The coach makes it his business
to mold John’s mind as well as his muscle. (speaking in partial English) John’s training for grueling
long distance ocean swims. The goal: to raise money for athletes
disabled through playing rugby. The morning swim sessions
are part therapy for John too. His coach is wise, and inspires John. An athlete learns to understand himself. And so, as an athlete you learn
to dominate your energy. When a rugby player is at his height,
he shows his energy, everything outwards, aggressively.
So everything’s aggressive. In water, it’s very different.
You have to be very prudent and you look after your energy and
make sure that you conserve that energy. That’s the biggest difference. And this is my problem.
This is my biggest problem. So– So he said if I can actually
get on top of this problem, ’cause when I get tired,
I go to aggression and water is an enemy
that you’ll never beat, so you have to be at one with the water, so when I get tired
I tend to grit my teeth whereas I need to– But I have good discipline.
He’s just being nice now. ♪ (Django style jazz) ♪ (interviewer) You’re looking
quite tired after swimming today. Yeah, I suffered this morning. (laughs) You know, I really enjoy every day now. I still set my goals for the future,
but I don’t worry too much about the past, and I don’t worry too much
about the future once I set my goals. And just enjoy myself.
We have a laugh every morning and that’s why it’s so good to have
sort of sufferance in the pool. and work off a bit
of the salami I ate yesterday. So that’s good. It’s a good life. (narrator) Depression struck when John
was at the height of his rugby career. Today as a coach, he’s tough, but he allows his softer side
to come through. He looks out for his players. As a coach, I want the players under me
to have the best times of their lives, so to do that you need
to be challenged, to do that you need honesty, to do that you need to try to be
the best that you can be every day. Sometimes it’s not nice.
Sometimes I’ll have to say things to you, that are going to upset you
but will make you better. Sometimes I’ll be angry with you
if I don’t think you’re giving 100%, because it’s about giving
100% all the time. My job is to make you
the best that you can be so that when you’re my age,
you look back on your career, you say, “I have no regrets.
I gave it my best shot.” Yeah, good.
Try the other side. Yeah, good! If it wasn’t my son, if I was coaching, then you could have a lot of fun. It’s just a game we used to play a lot Zinzan Brooke used to play it,
Robert Brooke used to play it a lot. Just, you know, accuracy of pass– (narrator) Son Luca is getting some
of the best coaching a kid could get. But there’s no expectation
to follow in his dad’s footsteps. Get this, it’s 2-1! Bring it, 2-1! He’s really keen on footy but I don’t want
to put too much pressure on him, you know? I just want him to enjoy it. It’s one of those hard ones, I guess. I can imagine anyone that sort of wanna
ride that clutch, like how am I doing it? Protecting him from the pressure
that he might have, being your boy. Yeah, it’s like a said,
it’s a real hard one, you know? There’s plenty of sons of players
that have gone through to play at the highest level, so– It’s just really important. It doesn’t matter
if you don’t become an All Black, but if you want to be an All Black,
you’ve got to try. So if you try your best
and you don’t make it, that’s better than not trying,
’cause I think sometimes when some things seem unsurmountable, it’s easier not to try. Ok, this is tool. Nice. 3-2 to you. Pressure’s on! (laughing) Because of what I’ve been through, then, I’m very open about mental health and Luca and Francesca know
about mental health and what it is so I explained it at a young age, and it’s just something that they get,
you know, they understand that it’s normal. Competition, Hands out. Oh, no! That’s ridiculous, John! As rugby players are expected to be tough
[rogues], mentally and physically. Is that– Well, I think that’s a little bit
unfair on the sport as of today, because I think that rugby players
need to be mentally tough, just like any other sportsman. Then I think this harden up
thing is a society thing. You know, rugby
was rugby racing and beer 25, 30 years ago, and society
has continued to change. I would say that it’s probably been
a lack of communication or a lack of showing emotion
between father and son 40 years ago, because that was the generation. One of the reasons why
we set off on this journey of trying to break down the stigma
was it was more myself. (interviewer) Pressure
you’re putting on yourself. Weakness, this is a weakness of mine.
I’ve got absolutely no right to be unwell. I’m an all black, happy, what’s wrong? So it was more about no understanding
from my point of view. (narrator) Sir John Kirwan
was one of the greatest rugby wingers the world has ever seen. But it’s the depression
that has shaped him in ways that he could
never have imagined. There’s certainly something amazing
you can take out of that experience. What was it for you? I just think I’m a better person. You know, I just think I’m really,
really aware of myself, so I understand fully myself. I can work harder, push all limits,
because I know my limit. One of the things that a lot of,
especially young people ask me is that they’re lost themselves,
and they’re worried that they won’t get their good old happy self back, and I say, well, I didn’t get myself back.
I got someone better back. You know? And I think
that’s really important. You go back to being happy,
you go back to enjoying things, you go back to being motivated. You get all those parts of your life back. (speaking in Italian) Something that for me has been
the worst thing and the best thing that’s ever happened to me,
and I don’t wish it on anyone, all I ask of people who’ve never suffered
is to understand if someone does. Doesn’t matter, just relax! It’s close. Look at how close it is! You can do it, man. We play this game.
It’s called World Cup Final. Luca’s got to kick, and we pretend
that it’s the World Cup Final. If he gets it, we win the World Cup. And we’re doing this before
we won the World Cup actually. See? Good pressure,
took the pressure.

16 comments

  1. It's great to see such a beautiful human. I've been trying to overcome my own depression, so seeing a man best it makes me feel optimistic about my own future. It's strange, when I came to accept my own depression and be open about it, I began feeling amazing. Friends opened up to me and my loneliness faded.

    In my country it's been estimated that one in five men are currently going through depression and anxiety but you'd never have guessed it. So many attempt to hide it.

  2. I've seen this before somewhere now I remember…..Can't help but think the problem is only 6 people have watched this…… Was going to link the "Phsychosis" Attitude program on my facebook as it exactly depicts what I went through….. but can't help but think no one will bother watching it……. sad yes ha ha but very true…….

  3. We learned, in our support group here in NYC, to 'self-monitor"..in order to help deal with depression. For example, with me – I know that when I am fatigued, I am more likely to feel low, and depression can 'sneak in the side door'. So, I make sure to pace myself, listen to some music, hug the cat, hug my husband, go out and walk in the sunshine, get enough rest, eat healthy, gift myself with a treat, or a special goody. Even these seemingly trivial, small adjustments have gone a long way toward keeping my 'Blue Bad Boy" far away.

  4. My Dad is taking the first steps towards recovery. He had just started a trial on anti depressants. I think he has always struggled but, he was scared of what a diagnosis might mean. You look happy and healthy John, it's something for my Dad to work towards.

  5. That’s bullshit Attitude! For every other disability you made several decent videos and for depression you give me this?!?!?!
    Has this man been through how many types of medications until he finds one that works for him? Did he had to be internalized in a mental institution because he wanted to take his own life??? And did he go trough ECT because the medications don’t work for him???? Because let me tell you ATtitude, for some people that it’s how Depression really works. So maybe, just MAYBE a depressive who had been through that and succeed that’s the equivalent to posting a video about a quadruple amputee person.

  6. Never knew he had this illness. Poor bloke, what a shame. Such a gent. Similar to Jonny Wilkinson whose own anxiety caused him to self harm and scream under water when he was having a bath

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