feature Thursday, 29 August 2013

Depression in boxing is an epidemic – Tony Quigley

In a revealing interview, Tony Quigley tells Tris Dixon something needs to be done now

I got to the point where I had to sell my own clothes just to be able to eat

LIVERPOOL'S former British super-middleweight champion Tony Quigley has had just one fight since losing his title to local rival Paul Smith almost four years ago.

Depression caught hold of the gifted star and his weight ballooned from 12st to 21st.

His record stands at 13-2-1 (6) and as he approaches his 29th birthday he has dropped around four stone and is focused on an incredible return to the ring in December.

Tony, we were only talking about you in the office recently wondering where you’d gone. Then there was an interview with you talking candidly about depression, and that explained it.

It hasn’t been the best couple of years for me. 

What was the trigger for you, or is it something you’ve always had?

I think it was the fact that I stood still for the first time. I’ve always boxed for England and I’ve always boxed professional and the minute I wasn’t able to do it I had too much time on my hands and I started to think about things too much.

Then I wasn’t able to fight, and I was losing my money and losing everything I had, everything came together and hit me all at once and it put me into a depression.

Why weren’t you fighting?

I got an injury, it started with an ingrown hair in my back and it ended up taking seven operations and I ended up having tubes and packing in my back. And obviously as a boxer if I’m not fighting I’m not earning any money and everything in my life sort of went down hill. I lost my car, lost where I lived and ended up back at my mum’s and ended up putting loads of weight, I went up to 21 stone. I became a recluse, I wouldn’t leave my bedroom, I was that embarrassed and I was in my mum’s house where one of my dad’s big dressing gowns and I hid. I ate and hid.

I’ve lost about four stone now.

I got to the point where I had to sell my own clothes just to be able to eat. I had nothing. I wasn’t booked into the Priory. I haven’t got a big house and a fancy car and money in the bank to pay the bills. Part of my depression was not being able to be a man as well as everything else.

I’m your average boxer who boxes not because I’ve got loads of money but because it’s something I’ve done from childhood, and it’s my life. And when you get told you can’t do it and you haven’t got anything in the bank, you can’t help but get depressed. I’m not taking a dig at anyone with money who gets depressed because it doesn’t matter who you are, whatever walk of life, religion, background whatever, you can get depressed. I’m just saying for the likes of me I didn’t have famous people coming together and sending me of to the Priory or anything like that. No one was interested. I’d have to win a belt before someone was interested in helping me.  

And you want to fight again?

Yes, on the 22nd of December on the Jolly Boys show. You know when you just need that goal, to get given a date, when you lack that you lack direction in life. You don’t know what to do to yourself. When you dedicate your whole life to boxing and then all of a sudden you can’t box, you don’t have any direction. You’re also not earning money, either, which doesn’t help.

Fighters do get close, but they don’t seem to talk about depression with each other. 

People would rather not ask you how you’re doing than put up with you saying you’re depressed. The amount of people I know, whether they’re friends or acquaintances, not one person I knew at that time was interested. Maybe not interested but they didn’t know what to do or how to go about it and I just got left by myself with no help around me at all.

With a boxer, if he goes down and he’s hurt and the referee asks him if he wants to continue a boxer will say yes, won’t he? Even when he’s hurt he says yes. With boxing, any sort of mental weakness is a bad thing in boxers. You get taught to show no emotions when you’re hurt, not to flinch when you’ve got a punch coming at you and so when it’s personal, when it’s not spoken about anyway, you think you’re going to be an outcast because you’re the one struggling with something that no one else is.

When you were sat away at your mum’s in your dad’s old dressing gown, how far away did those big-selling derbies with Tony Dodson and Paul Smith feel? 

It doesn’t even feel like it’s me. At my worst, I disliked myself that much and didn’t like what people were looking at and I was speaking about myself as if I was the same person as I was three years ago. I’d automatically say, ‘This isn’t me, [what you see now], this is what I look like’ and I’d show them the pictures of me boxing on my camera-phone. I tried to get them to accept that’s who I was on my camera-phone rather than who I was in person in front of them.

Some fighters have said they are worried that if they take anti-depressants they might fail drug-tests in boxing and be banned. What do you feel about that?

I got given the anti-depressants. I did they take them and they’re not going to be in my system now because I took them a long time ago but I did take then and to be honest, they made me worse. They seemed to make everything 10 times worse for me.

When I had my deepest depression days, I was thinking about suicide and when I took those tablets the first couple of weeks you’ve got to get used to them and I got so bad I didn’t trust myself and I was feeling loads of anger and loads of depression.

The doctors for me didn’t work either. I went in, got given a piece of paper, they said tick what you think and they said, ‘Right, you’re depressed.’ They gave me some tablets and I was off. That was that. Just a piece of paper in the doctors. 

How did you think about ending it?

There were three ways. I was going to hang myself, I was going to throw myself off a bridge and then there were tablets. They all came to mind. You think of every single thing and your whole day is a plot how to end it. That sounds like a crazy thing to say so easily but when I was there I’d go into a trance and you think how to prepare, what do you do, and you think, ‘Well that won’t work’ and it’s so realistic, how you plan it.

I used to sit there and think, ‘So if I die, who’s going to be interested? Who’s going to turn up [to the funeral]? I was thinking, ‘Would my family be upset? Would anyone even know? Would anyone be bothered?’

With depression, you can’t help but feeling sorry for yourself somewhere in there as well.

How did things change away from boxing?

At the time, I felt like Mr Popular. I had loads of people who wanted to know me, who were around me and who were there for the good times. Then I thought I had loads of friends and when it actually happened I ended up having myself. And that’s basically it. I had to deal with it all by myself. I did have friends, but I think they were scared to come near me. I think they were scared to deal with the situation. They started going out without me and that didn’t help me. You know what it’s like when your mates start going out without you and you haven’t had the invite? That type of thing.

What’s changed?

I’m only taking about this now because I feel I was lucky to be able to get through it. There are a lot of fighters out there who might not be able to deal with it like I dealt with it. Obviously I didn’t deal with it the best because I did get to that point but I’m still here so I’ve dealt with it somehow. That’s why I’m talking about it, to help other fighters come out and talk about it.

What can be done about it? What would you like to see?

I’d like something off the Boxing Board, some sort of support. If I turn up to them and say I’m depressed and then I get offered a fight and I want to fight and they so, ‘No, because you’re not mentally right to fight’, that could wreck your life or your career. I think, the way it is, if I’m fighting in December, if I go to the Boxing Board and they knock me back over something that I had a while back, that’s bad because they’re not helping, they’re making it worse. If I can pass all of the medicals and I can prove that I’m okay to fight then that should be enough. They shouldn’t judge me on the past.

If we had some boxers, I’d love to start a boxer’s union but I don’t think I’ve got the voice but maybe if someone bigger wants to we should do it. We need a boxer’s union. It’s a one-man sport but we need more of an all-for-one and one-for-all attitude where we back each other. We might compete with one another but we’re all in it together. We should get a bit of boxing morale together in Britain.

Boxing is a lonely sport, in many ways fighters are prime suspects for depression given the loneliness that exists in and out of training…

I personally think, and I don’t know how anyone else thinks, but the trainers train you for money, then the manager takes a percentage of you, then the promoter takes a percentage of you and the minute you’re not working and they’re not taking a percentage of your money they’ll work with the other kids in the gym who are making the money. That might not be the case for everyone but while you’re in the gym and around everyone it’s easier because no one wants to take time out from making money to come and see you. In most people’s eyes you’re feeling sorry for yourself in the corner, they don’t understand it’s depression. I used to say to people I didn’t feel too good and they’d say, ‘Come to the gym and hit the bag, you’ll feel better.’ That’s how they think you should deal with it.

I’m starting to think it could be an epidemic in boxing.

It’s an epidemic and really think it is underlying in a lot of boxers and something needs to be done now. A few weeks ago, everyone was writing on Twitter, ‘RIP Billy Smith, so sad, what a warrior.’ Then it’s forgotten about, no one does anything about it or acts on it. Before then it was ‘RIP Darren Sutherland, gutted, what a talent.’ And people want to write the RIP but no one wants to step up and do anything about it. It’s something that’s obviously going on but no one’s willing to take on.

I’m planning on fighting again but I don’t even know if I’ve got a voice in boxing because it’s been that long but people need to know that it’s not a bad thing just to come forward and say ‘I’m struggling a bit’ at whatever level.

How much has it helped you talking about it?

Instead of it becoming a touchy subject where you’re becoming a bit nervous about it you understand it better and the fact you can help someone else helps you to help yourself.

I’ve been so busy on Twitter with people in boxing and not in boxing asking me how I dealt with it and I say, ‘Look, I’ve got no qualifications but I can tell you how I dealt with it and what I did.’

I’ve fought 12-round fights and I’ve had to dig deep in fights and I’ve shown I’m mentally strong, and for someone who’s supposedly mentally strong to have depression… you don’t put the two and two together, do you?

I also think the internet community and on Twitter people need to be a bit more thoughtful with what they write. I’ve read some terrible things of people calling fighters bums, saying they’ve got glass chins and that they’ve got no heart and I think that if that was me and they were saying that about me and I knew it at the time that would probably affect me big time. As a fighter, that’s the last thing you want to hear. People are a bit nasty with their mouth and they should support the fighters, really, instead of pulling them down.

How have your experiences changed you? 

Since being depressed, I think about people a lot more and I’m a lot more emotional as a person and I think that might come with overcoming it. If anyone needs to they can get in touch with me and just say your peace and not be judged and see if I can direct you to the right place or help you in any way.

But boxers are still suffering in silence and want anonymity.

People need to put their ego away and get help because you can’t help an anonymous person. You don’t even have to make it public; you can go to someone who can deal with it.

The picture illustrates Quigley after defeating Tony Dodson and (inset) weighing around 20st when battling depression

Tris Dixon has investigated in Depression in Boxing in this week's Boxing News (August 29 issue), on newsstands and available to download HERE  

With boxing, any sort of mental weakness is a bad thing in boxers. You get taught to show no emotions
Author : Tris Dixon
Louise Evans (Seary)

Tony your story is amazing, hats off to you for being so open and well done for being so strong. Sounds like you had a rough time but pulled yourself through. You should be so proud of yourself for what youve have done up to now and what you will achieve in the future. No one should ever go through depression alone and it takes people like you to make people aware of it. You are an insperation to be so open, all the love and luck in the world xxxx

09:12 - Friday, 30 August 2013


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