Alliance Profile – John Kirwan
Rugby World Cup Winner for New Zealand, One of the Highest Scorers in Rugby Union History, Former Coach of Two Rugby National Teams, Appointed a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for Services to Mental Health
What past life experiences, physical traumas or genetics do you believe have had an effect on your mental health?
A history of depression existed in my family as I was growing up. As a professional athlete, when I started to develop similar symptoms, I continued obsess over the “why” behind the fact that I was feeling the way I was feeling. I was searching for answers and just couldn’t find them, and as a competitor I couldn’t just turn it off at first – I kept looking for reasons over and over again.
How did the effects on your mental health appear in terms of symptoms?
Simply put I felt like I was in a living hell. I would have severe anxiety attacks. It felt like I had lost the “me” I had always known and like there were two different version of me – 1) the me I used to be and wanted to get back to, and 2) the me I was feeling at that time. I kept wondering, questioning and hoping I’d be able to get back to that old me.
When and why did you decide to ask for help to get relief?
I was on the road for Rugby games in Argentina. I was laying in my bed in my hotel room having anxiety attacks and staring out of an open window with feelings in my head like I may want to jump out. My teammate saw me and sensed something was wrong. He then said to me: “JK you have a good heart. You shouldn’t have to feel this way.” It was at that moment that I decided when I got back to New Zealand that I’d go get help.
What methods helped you individually get/feel better?
I called it my “journey of wellness.” I started by sharing what I was going through openly with my family and a doctor. I then started practicing meditation, taking up surfing and cooking and it helped me to stop thinking about the “why” behind I was feeling the way I was. I just became focused on how these practices could make me better and healthier.
Why did you decide to go public with your story? Who were/are you hoping to help and how?
What I went through was so miserable that if I could help even one person not have to feel what I felt, it was worth the risk of potentially tarnishing my image as this All Black player who was macho and had it all.
How did people react when you went public with your story?
I’ve had so many people, since I’ve been sharing my own personal experience, come up to me and say – thank you, you’ve saved my life. I can’t imagine anything more rewarding. Sharing your #SameHere story, you can do the same for others.