Cooney and Black

I was never tempted to take the same drastic suicide option as Clarke Carlisle, but there were many, many nights that I went to bed and hoped I’d never wake up. That doesn’t happen any more, thank God

Depression 1


I’M standing in the wings of the Greenock Arts Guild Theatre. My colleagues, Jim Black and Bryan Cooney, are completing the warm-up for the talk show – The Crazy World of Andy Ritchie. It’ll be my turn very shortly.

Having spent seven years with Morton – some of them fairly profitable for both the club and myself – I’m back with my ain folk. They like me here, so much so that they call me a legend. I should be in the laid-back position of smoking a cigar.

Yet, I’m having what is called a moment. Nothing like a contemplative moment, either. Far more like a chaotic moment. My insides are in chaos.

There’s a guy beside me. He knows I’m having that moment. He asks me if I’m all right. I tell him I’m just having a minute to myself to decide whether I want to go out there or not; whether I want to parade the adventures and misadventures of my life in front of 350 people.

Hey, I’ve had thousands of these moments before, when doubt and indecision seized my mind and threw it into confusion. And I don’t mind admitting, there have been many times I’ve done a runner. Just disappeared, as if I’d been tutored by Harry Houdini.

At other times, I simply didn’t turn up for things, but I never admitted the real reason for the no-shows. I just made up some Cock and Bull story that seemed appropriate (to me) at the time, if to no-one else.

You can put it down to stage fright if you choose, but it’s not that at all. It’s a lot more complicated. It’s times when I tipped over the edge of depression. And at those times, my anxiety levels were away off the dial.

So this myth about Big Andy not giving a f*** about anything is exploded. I would sit there as if I didn’t have a care in the world. It was ridiculous. I mean, there were times when I’d ask myself how the f*** I could appear so blasé.

Because, inside me, contrary to outward appearances, there was nothing associated with blasé. I’ll tell you something else: depression, unlike a bad knee or a sore arm, is a lifetime affair.

Right at this moment, my life is in control. When you’re like this, it makes you feel you’re nearly through this long tunnel, but the fact is that tunnel will always be with you.

Listen, I’m on medication and if I don’t take that medication, I feel doom and gloom. I mean, I can actually feel my metabolism changing within my body. And if it affects my body, it affects my mind. Then, I feel as if I’m dragging myself everywhere and everything becomes a chore. I have no patience and no understanding of other people’s needs.

If you let it fester, you are in deep trouble. Hence the terrible anxieties and panic attacks. I only stopped taking the tablets once and the depression came on within a few days. And it lasted a month to six weeks – until I went back on them again and allowed the metabolism to regain its balance.

The doctor was scathing about my failure to take the pills. She said if she’d come to me and asked me for advice about football and she’d ignored it completely, what would I say? I said I’d be inclined to tell her to take a flying f*** to herself.

“Well,” she says, “that’s how I feel when I’m confronted by people in your position. The medication is very important and I put you on it because it will do you the world of good. If you want to feel well, like you used to, you’ll be on it for the rest of your life.”

Everything became clear to me. That was six or seven years ago. Why had I stopped taking the tablets? Because I felt better and hadn’t known “bad” for a long time. So we were back to the word blasé. But, remember, blasé can bite you like a rabid dog.

I once went into rehab in Barrhead. They wanted me to take group therapy and all this kind of stuff. I didn’t want that – I don’t feel comfortable with that kind of thing.

So we did it on a one-to-one basis. I was lucky in that I got a fantastic counsellor. A fella called Andy Todd. He’ll always have a place with me.

You know, we visited all the dark places together. That sounds like one of those locations out of a Christopher Lee movie, but the thing is you don’t go there with anyone else.

These were not the sort of conversations you have with someone belly up at the bar. Sometimes it made me feel good about myself and sometimes it didn’t.

I remember going into a flat – I wasn’t very well. I had been on the booze as well. We started speaking and I could feel the conversation going into things I’d never spoken about. See after about half an hour, the counsellor told me to look at the windows. They had all steamed up.

Now, there was no heating on at the time, but the heat from my body generated the steam, I was getting a wee bit panicky and frightened. My hands were sweating and my body was giving off signals. My counsellor said he’d never seen this before.

He had a good manner about him and it wasn’t put on. When I started to feel better, we did things together. He came out and saw my mother. I’ve met him a couple of times socially since. He was the man who helped me turn the corner.

When I read bits about Clarke Carlisle, I looked for similarities. I spotted a couple. He’d been done for drinking driving – not a good mixture. Alcohol and medication don’t mix.

I’m surmising here, but if you’re caught drink driving, you’re probably back using alcohol the way you shouldn’t be. He would need to be horrendously unlucky to have had three pints of beer for the first time in ten years and be caught by the police.

So I’ve got to think that he’d been abusing alcohol. And if he was on medication, that would have been a major problem. As long as you’re aware of what you’re doing, you’re just about all right with alcohol.

The occasional drink will be frowned on by the doctor, but you’ve got to be fully aware of what you’re doing.

In Carlisle’s case, he always looked to be completely under control, but you only realise that all is not well with him when he steps out in front of that lorry. The last time I saw him he was on Question Time. Now, what a step that is for somebody who is not a politician. Going on a programme like that takes a bit of bottle, because you’re right outside your comfort zone. He acquitted himself admirably – but, all along, things were bubbling up underneath the veneer.

I was never tempted to take such a drastic suicide option as he did – maybe I didn’t have the bollocks for it. But there were many, many times when I went to bed and hoped I wouldn’t wake up. That doesn’t happen any more, thank God.

You’ve got to remember that depression doesn’t pick its opponents. It can affect anyone. I remember once reading that Howard Hughes suffered from it. At the time, he was probably the world’s richest man. The crux of the thing is it isn’t about finance.

You can be depressed if you’re very wealthy and also when you’re very poor. Some people say it’s easier to be that way when you’re wealthy. I wouldn’t know.

What I do know is that my mother and I don’t talk about it. I don’t know if she discusses it privately with other members of my family, but certainly not with me. I tell a lie: she did once.

She told me that in the old days there was never a lot of money in our house. If at any time she felt down, she went away and got five litres of white paint and painted the living room. I just looked at her and laughed.

That’s exactly the way the old school thinks. It’s a “pull yourself together, man” syndrome. In other words, get off your arse and do something about it. But you know, that can be the worst thing in the world to hear.

I mean, if you’re battering your head in and working at being the busiest person in the world, you can still be a sufferer. There’s no hash tag attached to it. That’s why it becomes very difficult to explain.

I’ve gone on long enough, but as a final gesture, maybe some of you wondered what happened that night in Greenock. Well, I conquered the demons on that occasion. I sat there and controlled the chaos that was going on within me. I talked about a football career that had ended at 26 years of age, the frustrations of never taking my life to a higher level, a marriage that had collapsed.

There was plenty of laughter to offset the pathos. I did not run away and hide. I put on a show to the world of Greenock and, in the end, I was delighted that I had done so. But, believe me, folks, it was a close-run thing.

TOMORROW: It’s taken me 16 years to go public about my depression – Jim Black.


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