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"I played 72 times for New Zealand with 12 goals and captained ten games. But it doesn't really matter..." says Chris Jackson. What does matter is that the 43-year old former international has been coping with mental health problems for almost his entire career.

"At the age of 15 I realised I wasn't happy after I had finished a footballing scholarship in England with Wimbledon FC". Back then, Wimbledon was still in England's top division. "Returning, it hit me I was feeling depressed and lost after I had touched my dream but came back to mundane small town reality."

"I always pictured myself playing at the highest level in Europe, playing European Cup football. Touching it and then not having the guidance to follow through was where I took a different path. From that stage I improved but I did it all on my own i.e. training every day, organizing contracts, trials."

"Whilst doing all that, I began getting into alcohol and drugs with old school friends. And then the up-and-down rollercoaster ride began."

"Before international games I would be taking drugs and partying with friends. Then days later I was trying to mark Lothar Matthäus or Ronaldinho!"

"I knew subconsciously I had issues with myself when I was kind of bingeing with those vices. I realised deep down I was not happy and needed more in my life."

"I had and still have a lot of anxiety regarding performance. The pressure bottled up for years particularly when I captained different teams and had to be the face of the team when going through tough times. It was coupled with depression as well. I often went inside myself and only found release by going crazy on drugs and alcohol, until I realised I was on the verge of being addicted to drugs and getting wasted ..."

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"I was young and so naive and had no mechanism to ask for help."

"I didn't tackle the problem at all, because I never admitted to myself I had a problem, just that I needed to keep everything I was feeling inside and not let it out. Thus when I did binge, it was a kind of physical release which initially felt good but obviously it was more detrimental than good for me mentally and psychologically."

"The effect on my professional life was that I played with fear and negativity. I was just trying to get through each game until the end of each season brought relief."

"In everyday life, my illness made me quite withdrawn from a large part of society."

"The most difficult time was when my father died of cancer. I was midway through the season and I simply kept playing. I kept bottling it up with most of the club unaware my dad had passed away. I had no support in any way. I only remember being like a zombie, I cannot recollect anything from that season after that."

From a football perspective, Jackson also had to deal with huge disappointments. He recalls two experiences in particular. In 2003, he was dropped from the New Zealand national team after the Confederations Cup. The New Zealand football association (NZF) informed him by email. "Having represented my country for 13 years and previously captained the team, I was shocked by what they wrote. 'We have chosen a 30 men squad for the upcoming games and also a 30 men shadow squad as well. You are in neither.' No call, just one lousy paragraph."

That same year the management of Jackson's club Football Kingz was under restructuring. "We - the senior players - were told that we would be resigned after an 18 month wait." Jackson waited for 18 months and did not apply for other employment not to jeopardize his career with Football Kingz. "Then I got a call from the new coach basically saying I wasn't needed. Just a two-minute call to me, the captain. To say I was insulted and pissed off is a huge understatement."

Jackson already began his professional career in 1990 and played in New Zealand, Australia and Singapore, for Napier City Rovers, Football Kingz and Dandaloo FC among others. He was New Zealand Player of the Year in 1992 and 1995 and is still playing on a semi-professional level, at Cringila Lions in Australia.

"I am currently also a cleaner at a university on practically minimum wage."

Jackson looks back on his career with mixed emotions. "Firstly my love for the game got me through and made me appreciate what a blessing it was to experience what I did. But after years of reflection and refraining from the regular drugs and alcohol, I can see clearly how much I ruined my potential and opportunities that presented themselves to gain great things from the sport I used to love. I feel I could have reached higher goals if I had been given advice and guidance. That in itself has also been the catalyst for depression and anxiety, knowing I 'missed the boat' and particularly having to work in a mundane, depressive, robotic minimum wage job which daily reveals to me the purpose of living."

"So my current situation is really no better than at my worst moments throughout my career. Perhaps it is even worse, as I'm now more aware of everything." 

Also read: Depression Highly Prevalent in Footballers
  Study: Mental Illness In Professional Football
  Jonny Walker: "Depression is a horrible feeling"

 






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