Champ's life after depression
By John Bowe
I SPENT 23 years living in a bubble. As a professional racing driver, my life revolved around race tracks, sponsors, testing, politics, media relations and then more racing. I loved every second of it. Like a lot of men, particularly athletes, my career was my life. Then came time to retire.
That's when the bubble burst.
Looking back, I should have seen the end coming more clearly but I did not want to see it because I did not want it to stop. It was a cycle: Create more distractions to delay facing the inevitable.
I know lots of athletes and sportsmen go through it. Several counsellors told me so. But knowing it and going through it yourself are two different things.
The last couple of years of my professional career were tough. The more I tried to distract myself, the more lost I felt. That's when the depression began.
Hindsight is marvellous but at the time I did not see any of this. I just felt more and more dejected, more and more sad.
When depression gets a hold of you it is so debilitating. I really do know why some people take their own lives - the burden feels that huge at times and many days there just seems to be no hope of feeling normal or not feeling down in the dumps.
I am mostly a very logical person and I tried to convince myself of the reason for the situation. All of this was happening when I was still racing, during my final year but I knew I had to retire.
It was like a bad dream. I tried to appear normal although I felt anything but. People who followed me for years were incredibly respectful, my peers were respectful, the media were great but it did not make me feel any better. The closer the last race got, the worse I felt. Looking back even now makes me feel petrified.
Family, friends and mates could obviously see what was going on but, because I could not face it properly, I pretended I was OK. I really do appreciate them sticking by me.
Slowly, each day became a massive struggle, firstly to get up and then to do something which I felt was meaningful. It got worse and worse. Sadness descended over me like a black cloud.
I know now that I saw myself only as a driver and, while I always had been very realistic about my own importance in the scheme of things, I ended up feeling not one ounce of self-worth at all.
The strange thing is that as a youngster I never aspired to be a professional driver. I sort of fell into it, got a couple of breaks and away I went. Then it became my life.
Men in all professions can relate to this. We're prone to letting our careers take over. Then, when the career is over ...
The biggest issue is getting the correct treatment and advice. Throughout my last 18 months of pro racing I saw various experts, from sports psychologists to hypnotherapists to life counsellors. At times I felt better for it and I certainly understood a huge amount more about my life path and choices I had made - but it did not halt my decline into complete clinical depression.
At that point I saw a psychiatrist who prescribed anti-depressant medication. There are some who think that anyone on anti-depressant medication is a nutter. This is far from the truth. When depression is really deep-seated, medication is the only answer.
There are thousands of anti-depressant meds, the challenge is finding the one that is appropriate to your problem. Everyone is different, everyone has their own mental make-up and so there are no black and white answers. This is why it's important to be referred to a trained psychiatrist.
Seeking help is probably the most difficult thing I've done but as the fog lifts and you start to feel more normal it is worth it. From the depths of despair, gradually things don't look so bad. Little bits of light appear at the end of the tunnel - and it's not a freight train.
Just by way of explanation, anti-depression medication does not make you walk around in a daze, although I think that may have been the case in the dark ages. Getting the correct treatment and medication leads to feeling more normal again, so finally those dark clouds pass.
I still race cars but it's just for fun. Through the good graces of my long-time friends and sponsors Wilson Security, Westrac CAT, Rare Spares, Infomedia and Oak Flavoured Milk I am racing in the Biante Touring Car Masters series for old muscle cars.
I have lots of people who used to watch me race come up to me, which is great, and now I have much more time for them.
Being at the major races allows me to deal with my corporate clients and an interest in a couple of my old teams and their young drivers helps keep me involved in the sport I love.
After all, it's impossible to turn your back on a lifetime's passion. It's just a question of getting the balance right.