Carlisle reaches out after taming his demons
Not a day passes where Clarke Carlisle does not think about 22 December 2014. On that wet, gloomy morning he stepped in front of a lorry travelling at around 60mph on the A64 in North Yorkshire.
Having been charged with drink-driving just hours earlier, the former Queens Park Rangers and Burnley defender had hit rock bottom. No hope remained. The only way out was to end his life.
Two years after his near-death experience, the first thing that strikes you when speaking to the one-time chairman of the Professional Footballers’ Association is how open he is when discussing his suicide attempt.
The 37-year-old says his outlook is now more positive, but admits that life is still far from perfect. He still has dark times but the worst has passed and now his main focus is discussing these issues with the wider public.
“Things are incredible right now but that doesn’t mean life is a bed of roses,” he says.
“What it means is that whenever pressures or stresses come on in my life or when I get uncomfortable emotions like sadness, anxiety or anger, I now know how to cope with them and process them.
“I know how to handle that in a constructive manner so on a day to day basis, life is very good.”
Many factors contributed to Carlisle’s fragile state of mind but the main one was struggling to adjust to retirement from football.
Although he suffered from depression throughout his career, when he finished his career at Northampton Town in 2013 aged 34, he no longer had a sense of purpose or direction in life.
“There are a lot of outside factors that can contribute to a deepening depression,” admits the Lancastrian.
“One of the factors for me was the transition from playing football and going into another industry. Even though I had another job lined up and I went straight into broadcasting with ITV, the loss of structure and the loss of identity was hard for me.
“When you’re an elite athlete, every day has a strong goal and focus, but when I came out of that and I was working in broadcasting, I was only contracted to do 36 days a year, which even if it was an overnight stay it was 72 days a year.
“I had no structure in what to do and even if I did fill that time with going for a run or anything like that, it wasn’t something that contributed to a greater goal.”
Carlisle says being part of an industry which kept reminding him of the one he had left was also not particularly helpful.
“I was commentating on players and I knew I was better than them or I could do just as good as job as them.
“There was a lot of feelings of failure that came around that and that was very tough to deal with, plus the standard pressures of bills to pay and the loss of income.
“The fundamental factor was that I didn’t have a coping mechanism. I didn’t have a way to understand what those stresses were and how to process them in a constructive manner. I was basically running away in the destructive way that I used to.”
Life after his suicide attempt and deepening depression was difficult for Carlisle’s friends and family, a situation which in hindsight he calls “disgusting”.
“It’s incredibly hard to articulate the [impact] it had on my wife when I was married at the time, my children, my parents and on my siblings,” he said.
“All the old coping strategies like getting drunk or hiding or isolation, they are no longer a part of my life”
“They were coming to visit me in hospital to offer me love and support but I was still there telling them I wanted to die.
“It’s not as though I immediately changed my mindset and my approach around life as soon as I got into hospital.
“There was a long period of purgatory where I was in that frame of mind that I wanted to kill myself. The impact on those around me was disgusting.
“Going through psychiatric hospitals was hard but being there for six weeks was incredibly important to start the beginning of me turning that journey around.”
The man named as Britain’s Brainiest Footballer in 2002 after appearing on a TV quiz says his progression from running away to now confronting his problems is a big factor in his recovery.
“I was an emotional retard when I went to psychiatric hospital,” he admits. “However, the journey that I have gone on since has been all about understanding myself.
“I now understand the individual emotions that I’m feeling and I understand that I need to feel them, and I need to be able to be at ease with those emotions.
“When I’m feeling incredibly sad or fearful or anxious, I now know what to do in order to help me get through that. It might be going and talking to someone or it might be calming and centering myself by using prayers or meditation.
“That doesn’t mean that I don’t feel or I hide or avoid emotions, it means I now understand and acknowledge them and I meet them face on and that’s made such a huge difference to my life.
“All the old coping strategies like getting drunk or hiding or isolation, they are no longer a part of my life because I know they aren’t necessary.”
Lack of understanding
In the past, sport has been criticised for failing to understand depression, and Carlisle says the main reason why people within football take physical injuries more seriously is down to an absence of awareness.
“There is a distinct lack of understanding but it’s just not in the game, it’s in society in general,” claims the former England U21 player.
“Even though things are being done to address the issue, the fundamental knowledge in how to support someone in these situations is lacking across all industries. It isn’t football’s fault, it’s a societal problem.
“Football has the money, the time and the resources to be able to create a support template that other industries could adopt. They need to look after the health and safety of their employees at the workplace.
“People don’t engage and understand what mental health is. One of the factors is that it’s intangible. A broken leg is visible whereas with mental health issues, it’s the mind that is injured but it’s not something that can be seen.
“It is all about basic understanding and education. The way we can try and change that is by educating children so when they grow up and become the decision makers, they will know how to make far more informed decisions about situations and circumstances that are relevant to sufferers.”
Although his life will continue to have good and bad moments, Carlisle is now aware on how to face his problems head on.
He speaks at awareness events for many charities, but his own foundation the Clarke Carlisle Foundation for Dual Diagnosis is continuing to help others with mental health issues.
“You don’t have to stand up and tell the world… but it is mandatory that you tell somebody”
“By being public about it and putting support mechanisms out there, it’s given people permission to acknowledge what is going on in their lives and has given them a chance to seek support and seek an emphatic ear,” he explained.
“It’s wonderful but it’s also good for me because as much as I’m helping others, it’s helping me because it normalises with what I’m going through as well. The illness itself makes people believe that they don’t have no one to speak to and no one wants to listen but that is utter rubbish.
“There is always people out there, whether it be your GP or charities etc, but there are so many people out there who want to listen and want to help and who can help.
“My advice would be: you don’t have to stand up and tell the world and you don’t have to tell everybody, but it is mandatory that you tell somebody. It’s from there that you can begin to engage with a support pathway.”
Follow Clarke Carlisle on Twitter @CCforDD
In the UK, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255