James Hird has opened up to Shane Crawford in a revealing interview. Picture: Michael Klein
James Hird has opened up to Shane Crawford in a revealing interview. Picture: Michael Klein

How Hird overcame his mental health demons

James Hird has revealed how his mental health battles left him at times feeling like he was trapped "at the bottom of a 30-foot well" seemingly with no way out.

But in a revealing interview with fellow Brownlow medallist and close friend Shane Crawford, the Essendon great hopes his road to recovery can assist others suffering through similar issues, especially during the coronavirus pandemic.

Hird detailed the toll that the Bombers' 2013 sports supplements saga took on his life and on his family across a seven-year period, including a moment where he sat inconsolable in a parked car in Sandringham before a call to Beyond Blue helped save him.

"No matter how bad things get, there is a way through it," Hird said.

"It doesn't happen quickly or easily, but life can be great if you can get through it. It helps to have the support of your family and your loved ones. I was very lucky in my case, with my wife Tania and with my kids.

 

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James Hird has opened to James Hird in a revealing interview. Picture: Michael Klein
James Hird has opened to James Hird in a revealing interview. Picture: Michael Klein

 

"Without Tania, and her love and support, I don't think I would still be here.

"This is a seven-year journey to get to the point that I'm happy to talk about it (with Crawford), but I'm also happy that I feel as good as ever, having my life back."

In the hour-long chat for AIA Vitality, where Crawford is an ambassador, Hird also explained how he:

FELT he had brought shame to his family, the club and the game he loves, even though he maintained the Essendon players were innocent of the drug charges;

FAILED to look after his own personal wellbeing in a quest to protect the players;

RAN away overseas for a period because he couldn't deal with what had happened;

SPENT five weeks battling depression in a psychiatric facility when his issues came to a head in early 2017.
 

'IT WASN'T ABOUT ME OR FOOTBALL'
One of his most poignant moments came when he called Beyond Blue in late 2015, months after losing the Essendon coaching role.
"I was sitting in the car and had some shocking thoughts about what was next," Hird told Crawford.

 

"Fortunately, I remembered Beyond Blue was the number the club had always talked about.
"I pressed the number. Within 30 seconds a guy was on the other end of the phone.
"I said, 'Mate, this is how I feel. I feel like I can't go on. I've brought shame to my family, shame on my football club and my profession. I've lost my identity'.
"He said, 'Where do you live?'
"I said, "I live about 15 or 20 minutes from here.
"He said, "You think you can drive yourself home? I'll talk to you, but just drive home'.
"I started the car and was talking to him. By the time I got home, there's a special unit from the Alfred Hospital waiting outside my front door.
"He didn't know my name. It wasn't about me or football.
"This was the end of 2015, but then I ran again and ended up overseas for quite a long time."
The feeling of never being able to escape the controversy weighed on him heavily.
"I think back to time in 2015 and 2016 where I felt like I'm at the bottom of a 30-foot well," he said.
"It's dark and every time I try to climb out of that well, another brick just hits you on the head and people are just throwing bricks at your head or you're throwing them at your own head.
"To be helpless like that, lying in bed and hearing your kids playing outside but still not being able to move.
"To where I am now … it is just light years away. The sense of happiness and joy you get from understanding how you feel now (compared) to how you felt so poorly, is a really nice feeling. Yeah, there's up and downs … but I have a much greater appreciation for how good you can feel after knowing how bad you can feel."
 

'CRYING ON THE KITCHEN FLOOR'

Essendon coach James Hird and his wife Tania leave the Federal Court after day 1 of their court case against the AFL and ASADA. Picture: Michael Klein
Essendon coach James Hird and his wife Tania leave the Federal Court after day 1 of their court case against the AFL and ASADA. Picture: Michael Klein

'HISTORY WOULD SAY IT WAS A POOR DECISION'

In hindsight, Hird believes he shouldn’t have jumped straight into the senior coaching role. Picture: Marten Ascenzo
In hindsight, Hird believes he shouldn’t have jumped straight into the senior coaching role. Picture: Marten Ascenzo

'WE DEFINITELY HAVEN'T BEEN DOING IT'

James Hird sings the song in 2013. Picture: Getty
James Hird sings the song in 2013. Picture: Getty

"(I) SHOULD'VE PUT A STOP TO IT EARLIER'

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'DAD, YOU'RE GOING TO HAVE A BAD DAY'

Hird maintains Essendon’s innocence. Picture: Getty Images
Hird maintains Essendon’s innocence. Picture: Getty Images

 

 

'IT'S NOWHERE NEAR AS BAD AS YOU THINK'

 

He said it was important for people feeling isolated to not feel as if they have to be perfect.
"When your relationships with people you care for are tested, when you don't get the job you wanted, or you want to earn more, (you have to realise) it's nowhere near as bad as what (you think) it was," he said.
"It's OK if you slip off (routine) sometimes, so long as you get back on. Just take little pieces every day, in exercise, in diet, in health, in mental wellbeing, that's the way to start and you never know where you can end up.
"Life's not perfect. You are on this journey and it's up and down. When you realise that, I think you become a lot happier."
Hird knows his journey will likely have more twists and turns, but is happier than he has been for a long time.
"The world is crazy at the moment as we all know," he said.

"But just to spend some quality time with your family and your kids … treasure those times.
"Life is good."

 

SEE the full Hird-Crawford interview at the AIA Vitality Onelife website

 

 

 

Originally published as How Hird overcame his mental health demons



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