You may know Renee Gartner, one of Australia’s favourite sports media personalities and a professional boxer to boot. What you may not know is that she once tried to take her own life.
Here’s a rare insight into what it’s like to live with debilitating depression, straight from Gartner’s own mouth and just in time for World Mental Health Day on October 10. A prominent reminder to check in on your mates – even the strong ones:
‘When’s your next fight?’ Not an uncommon question to be asked when you’re a boxer. But my answer was ‘every day’. Not because I was walking around swinging like a Dutch windmill caught in a hurricane, but because I was fighting an invisible disease. A disease that had me so perplexed because I, like most people, couldn’t find an answer to the question: ‘well, what’s wrong with you?’
I had no idea.
Depression has hit me when I’ve woken up, in the middle of the day, in the middle of a job on live TV. It didn’t wait for an invite. I was goal orientated with sport and work, had a roof over my head, a family that loved me, and better humans around me who I could have reached out to and asked for help. Yet I couldn’t.
Unlike a broken bone, I couldn’t point at a cast on my ankle and say: ‘I broke it’. People understand physical injuries.
I want to show you what went through my head during and after what’s considered ‘one of the most selfish acts you can do’, in the hope it will help you or someone you know.
After attempting to take my own life, I was placed in an involuntary psychiatric ward. This is an excerpt from a journal entry I wrote the day before I was released from care:
‘This is my last night here, and it has served its purpose. In my repetitively cluttered and loud mind, it feels like the volume has been turned down and a certain calmness has set in. Is this what ‘normal’ feels like? My week in here has been a huge mix of emotions. Anger that I had been stopped; embarrassment for what I had done. I still feel like I have let so many people down. But I deserve to be here because I decided to take my own life. Funny saying that: ‘own life’. It’s our ‘own’ life until we decide to take it; after, we find it is far from that. Every loved one, as well as those you have yet to meet, all have ‘stock’ in your life. And they sure as sh*t don’t agree that it’s yours to take.’
On Sunday at 5pm, I was caught. A phone call to a mate triggered a domino effect and led to my flatmate bursting into my room at that exact moment. And here I am. I was crying uncontrollably because I was going to be the cause of hurt. But the guilt was also the reason I had held off for so long. I’d spent months ‘saying goodbye’. Seeing as many people as I could, hugging longer, laughing louder, loving harder. But I couldn’t feel a thing, I was numb. I’d written countless letters, but they broke me every time. I always felt like words would never be enough.
The depression had gotten so low, it was debilitating – I couldn’t leave my bed. I knew I had people who love me, I knew I just had to reach out to them. But I felt like I couldn’t be fixed. Boxing used to be my life saver, but now I couldn’t even look at my gloves.
Four years later, I have the right medication and I have found the right therapist. It’s important to remember that both self-care strategies and professional help aren’t one-size-fits all. You need to find the right fit for you.
The biggest change? Finally taking responsibility.
If I’m feeling out of whack, I give myself a recharge day and I book in for a ‘check-up’ if it’s really bad. I let my friends know if ‘I’m not fine’, and they help by being my ‘middle-man’. They don’t need to diagnose or fix me. They just need to create a safe space to let me chat, to listen without judgement, or drive with me to my doctor so I’m not alone.
If a bone is broken, we go to a doctor, we get a cast, we get crutches, we have rehab. Is that embarrassing? No!
If your friend has broken a bone, do you need to diagnose it, put it in a cast, be the crutch? No! You just need to help where you can.
And if you are reading this thinking – wow, this is me! Take some responsibility, find your middle-man and swing like a Dutch windmill caught in a hurricane. Because we should – and will – fight every day.
If you’re experiencing a hard time, need someone to talk to or are in crisis, there is always help available. These free national support lines are available 24/7: