This is the most brilliant piece from Carrie Armstrong on HuffPost UK The Blog:
He had it all and he just threw it away.
It’s none of my business what other people’s opinions on public figures are. So l tend to just let them get on with it.
Look at Gary Lineker-he could have a life just like his right now.
Some people tend to crop up more than others. Grab more headlines. Evoke more emotion.
I loved him when I was a kid. Look at the state of him now.
Everyone likes to feel a bit special don’t they? A bit talented. Memorable. But in a mainstream sense most of us fly firmly under the radar. We are the watchers, rather than the doers.
He was a football genius. Now he’s just a p*sshead. I’ve no sympathy where that’s concerned.
If you don’t know what happens after the seizures take over? If you haven’t seen a body break down in the final throes of end-stage alcoholism? I don’t want to be the one to tell you. Stay firmly in the dark about it. It’s horrific. A slow, torturous end. Blood. So much of it. Cascading out of everywhere imaginable. A struggle to breathe. Talk. Reason. Hallucinations. I won’t go any further. No one deserves to hear about it, never mind experience it themselves, or in another soul.
When this awfulness ends. We will be left with more shaking of heads. Furrowing of brows. There will be yet more talk of a man who started with a rare gift, but left behind a legacy of destruction and frustration.
The problem is it’s not true.
Paul Gascoigne was born into poverty. His family struggled. Badly. He was an anxious child having been surrounded by domestic upset. This manifested more when his friend’s little brother was killed in front of him in a hit and run whilst Paul was supposed to be looking after him. Although Paul himself was a mere 10 years of age, he never got over the feeling of guilt and responsibility for his death, regularly admitting he still cried over it as an adult.
The next few years saw him experience severe unrest when his dad suffered a brain haemorrhage and never worked again. When another childhood friend was killed in an accident, Paul developed severe physical and verbal twitches. His Death Anxiety became an obsessive compulsion. He was put into therapy by his doctor, but discontinued it when his family felt it would be subject to discussion by others.
This is part where Paul Gascoigne really shows his first spark of genius. Instead of succumbing to the twitches and compulsive obsessions, he realised he was able to totally overcome them whilst playing football. Not only did he feel better and display absolutely no symptoms when he played-but a career in football would provide for a badly struggling family. At aged 15 Paul decided that he would use football to pull his family out of poverty, and himself out of a downward mental spiral.
On his sixteenth birthday he signed a contract with Newcastle United.
Whilst Paul did go on to provide for his extended family from that point, buying them houses and making sure they never needed anything on the same basic level again. He found that football wasn’t the escape he’d hoped for. He was overweight. Not massively so, but enough to impair his playing. He felt that Jackie Charlton, (who was Newcastle’s manager at the time) picked on him and undermined his confidence, on and off the field.
To seek solace from the bullying Paul felt he encountered, he turned to binge eating. To gambling. To smoking.
And of course, to drinking.
Paul Gascoigne went on to achieve incredible accolades by anyone’s standards. 57 England caps. 10 Goals for England. An FA Cup. A career not only representing his country, but spanning several continents.
He got married. Became a father as well as a well-liked figure in the world of sport, and won Sports Personality of the Year.
He did all of these things. All of them as a person already broken. Already severely damaged. Damaged from a very early age. Haunted by the things he had seen. The people had had lost. The compulsions and anxieties he could not control.
When I think about Paul Gascoigne I think about his sheer resilience. His determination to provide for those he loved something that has eluded him his entire life.
Stability. Security. Safety.
Something we all deserve. Irrespective of god-given talent.
Paul Gascoigne took what could have been a life spent hiding in the shadows, from childhood, and he did something incredible with it instead. He used the gift that provided him relief from the mental anguish that otherwise knew no respite. He took it and he shared it with us and gave us all upliftment in the process.
Yes he fell, hard. And he picked himself back up. Countless times. And as it stands he sadly has fallen more times than he has risen. But not because he had it all then threw it away further down the line.
But because he managed to distract the demons that followed him. Incessantly. Even from being a small boy. Rather than beating those demons altogether.
And because he only became visible to us as a young adult? We assume that’s when his journey started.
So next time you do see another headline denouncing Paul Gascoigne and what he has become:
Please spare a small thought for who he always was. Where he came from. And the exceptional things he managed to achieve in spite of it all.
Who is Carrie Armstrong? She describes herself as:. This is who she is and she is amazing and absolutely right on this issue 🙂
Edited to add 12th July 2016:
In other words, this isn’t just a problem with The Sun. It’s a problem with society. We do not understand that things like addictions or the life-threatening anxieties behind them are illnesses. And this public shaming isn’t just bad for Gazza. It’s bad for people who suffer with mental health problems generally. I don’t think it’s hyperbole to call this kind of microscopic interest in the troubles of a former sportsman dangerous, as it can directly make symptoms worse. Mental illnesses are, by definition, illnesses of thoughts, and articles which lower the esteem and ramp up the self-loathing of addicts or depressives do not help. They just feed the cycle.
It reinforces stigma, particularly among men, who are the most likely to stay quiet if they suffer from a mental health problem. This is a country, after all, where suicide is now the leading cause of death for men under 50. We know that suicide is largely preventable, as rates vary widely not just between genders but between eras and cultures. But if we are a culture ready to ridicule depressed alcoholics then the rise in both depression and alcoholism will continue, as it is the shame and silence and misunderstanding surrounding mental illness that so often leads people, again particularly men (who are over twice as likely to develop a dependency to alcohol), to self-medicate.
Read the full piece here:
Well said Matt Haig well said!