Alex Fasolo - AFL - PlayersVoice
Alex Fasolo - AFL - PlayersVoice

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Death was an escape fantasy

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Death was an escape fantasy

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I have thought about walking away from footy. I’ve thought about it heaps.

 

But I’ve spoken to a lot of people about mental health and depression and suicide, and I think leaving footy would just be running away. Where would that leave me? I’d still have to battle with it.

 

I have some really dark times where you think about death a lot. This is a hard thing to talk about. It’s hard to explain. I get it. It’s an escape fantasy when things get really bad and dark thoughts do really travel in your mind.

 

Death, you feel like death is at the back of your mind somewhere. Not suicide. That’s just an escape fantasy. It’s like leaving footy; on a larger scale. I’d like to think that I’m strong enough to go, ‘Nah, there’s a problem here and I’ll deal with it’.

 

I’m OK. I’m gaining more and more knowledge around what I’m going through, and I’m going to take this time and the off-season to really put some structures in place. I don’t want to spiral to the point I got to at the start and middle of this year, but I think just the fact that I know what I’m dealing with is really helping.

 

I can’t say I’m cured or I’m better, but I think I have a lot more clarity and understanding of it and I have more good weeks than bad, which is good.

 

I’m still not really good at talking about it – I suppose because I’m still learning about it myself. People always ask me, and it’s usually after a couple of beers, ‘How are you really going?’ and I go, ‘Mate, I don’t know’. I try to talk about it but I don’t really have a huge understanding of it.

 

And I am super-lucky that I’ve got a lot of people around me that care about me, and a footy club that’s been so supportive.

 

 

‘JUST GET ON WITH IT, JUST GET IT DONE’

Now that it is out in the public, probably the worst thing is that I’m still quite self-conscious about it. Obviously it blew up, it went really big, when I first came out and said it.

 

I don’t want it to be, ‘There’s Alex Fasolo’ and then the second thing people say is, ‘He’s got depression’. But right or wrong, that’s still how I feel.

 

I think it’s got a stigma surrounding it because, I mean, if I was on the other side of the fence I’d be the same. There’s a stigma surrounding it because there’s a real lack of understanding around it, and I think what people don’t understand, people are interested in.

 

If I ever said this to my therapist, he’d say, ‘That is ra, ra, ra’. But I still feel like a bit of a sook, and it’s a bit of the footy culture of just get on with it, just get it done, find a way.

 

Finally I was just, ‘This isn’t right, something’s really not right here’, and I’m trying to work through that.

 

If I was to be really honest with myself, it’s something I’ve probably been battling for three or four years. But I believe it’s a maturity thing. When you’re young, you’re not as in tune with your emotions and your body, so it’s easy just to dismiss things.

 

And then as I’ve started to get a bit older, I think I’ve found myself looking around and going, ‘Jeez, I’m finding myself in some moments where I’m just innately sad for absolutely no reason’.

 

Death, you feel like death is at the back of your mind somewhere. Not suicide. That’s just an escape fantasy. It’s like leaving footy; on a larger scale.

 

It probably got to a tipping point earlier this year. Towards the end of pre-season I’d wake up every morning, I’d set my alarm and I’d go, “Oh, no”.

 

I’d sit in my car and cry for about 20 minutes. Then I’d get up the courage and I’d drive into the club and I’d get to the carpark, and then I’d sit in the car and cry for another 20 minutes, get up the courage, and then I’d walk into the club, look at the doors and just go, ‘Yep!’ – put on this big front.

 

With my personality, I’ve always been the life of the party, I’ve always been the bloke that’s created energy, and I kept feeling that I had to keep living up to that.

 

And that didn’t help, because I’d go to the club, I’d put on this big front and then I’d walk out of the club, get into my car and then just cry all the way home and just fall in a heap. This probably went on for a few months.

 

 

‘THERE’S SOMETHING DEFINITELY NOT RIGHT HERE’

Then for whatever reason, for a period of time it kind of finished, but then it came back, by around round four or five.

 

I found myself completely disengaging from people.

 

I couldn’t hold conversations, I couldn’t concentrate, I could hardly look people in the eye. And one of the things I rate so much is relationships; I love people, I have so many good friends and family and I was just not returning phone calls.

 

I couldn’t handle the idea of holding a conversation.

 

I’d go into the club and avoid everyone around the gym, and then it’d come game day and I’d go, ‘I’ve just got to lock in here for two-and-a-half hours’.

 

Then, for about two or three games in a row – before I went, “I need to do something here” – I’d finish the game, I’d walk into the doctor’s office, hide from everyone and just sit in the corner and just cry. And just lose my shit.

 

That’s when I thought, ‘There’s something definitely not right here’, but again there was that attitude of just get on with it. But after the Brisbane game (in round 10), I just went into the rooms and basically had a full panic attack and was almost hyperventilating just sitting there, for absolutely no apparent reason.

 

And that’s when I thought, ‘Something needs to be done here’, and then we sat down and went through a bit of a game plan. And ever since then I’ve had weekly therapy, and I’ve been on medication, and it’s really helping.

 

Was I really fooling people? Apparently I was, yeah. I was very good at hiding it at the club. Hiding it from my mates.

 

I mean, a few blokes like Taylor Adams and Lachie Keeffe have even been asked on radio, ‘Oh, did you know that Faz was …?” and they said, ‘well, no, not really. He hid it pretty well’.

 

 

 

ABOUT TIME

I remember my Mum and Dad were actually in town, and I went, ‘Guys, I’m in some trouble here. Like, I need to get help. I’ve got depression, I’m gonna go on some meds and I’m gonna start working it out’. And I remember the first thing my Mum said.

 

She looked at me and said, “About time, you’ve been miserable for a few years’. That’s the first thing she said! And I went, “Mum knows all”.

 

But I think I was pretty good at hiding it at the club – except towards the end. When I was really just disengaged. When I was ignoring people, basically.

 

Was it affecting my game? I was playing some pretty good footy for the first half of the year. Then had a bit of a lull.

 

Then, for about two or three games in a row – before I went, “I need to do something here” – I’d finish the game, I’d walk into the doctor’s office, hide from everyone and just sit in the corner and just cry. And just lose my shit.

 

I mean, it wouldn’t have been helping. All through the early part of my career I’d rock up, and I’d be up-and-down, a pretty excited player, whereas I’d start rocking up to games and go, ‘I just have to fully lock in here and try so hard to concentrate’. And then it’d finish and I’d just fall in a heap.

 

I used to always say to my Dad, ‘This is bullshit. I have no reason to be sad. I’ve had a privileged childhood, I haven’t got any trauma in my past, I have a loving family,’ and he was like, ‘Well, it’s just like people have dodgy hammies and knees and your brain needs to be a little bit tinkered with, and that’s that’.

 

And that’s what I’m still trying to understand now.

 

I got to the point where I was so sick of talking about myself. Even around the club, Bucks has been a legend about it, but it’s always been, ‘How are ya Faz, how are ya?’ and I’m always, ‘Yeah, I’m fine, how are you?’.

 

I’d go into the therapy sessions and I’d almost dread them. I’d get really anxious – almost out of fear of what would come out or what I’d say.

 

There was probably a six- or seven-week period there where the sessions were intense. I’d walk out of the sessions like I’d just run a marathon. It was grueling.

 

They’re getting a lot easier now. There’s a lot more substance to them, there’s a lot more clarity. A lot of the time I was just so confused and so in a huff that I’d be talking in circles, but now I’ve got a little direction in where I’m going.

 

The support I’ve had has been absolutely amazing. Just about after every game, an opposition player or two came up to me and said, ‘Mate, so good to see you back out here, hope you’re going well’.

 

I wasn’t expecting any sledging, and I honestly couldn’t have cared less if there was. When I first came back, Sando (Brenton Sanderson, my forward line coach), said, ‘If anyone says anything, obviously don’t take it, but I don’t think they will’.

 

But it hadn’t even crossed my mind. I was like, ‘Surely not’. Nah, no-one’s ever said anything. What would you say? ‘Stop having a cry, Faz?’

 

 

‘INNATELY SAD FOR NO APPARENT REASON’

I was in denial for a good six to 12 months. Probably longer. And then even when the doctor told me, ‘You need to look into this,’ I was still in denial. And I was heading down a really destructive pathway because I didn’t want to feel anything.

 

So I’d drink. I always love a drink, I always love partying and I always love carrying on and all that kind of thing, but then I found myself drinking and even while I was drinking I started asking myself, ‘Why are you doing this, because you’re not having that much fun?’

 

And then I thought, ‘I need to stop. I’m heading down a slippery slope here’.

 

Depression in footy, it’s hugely widespread. I’m not a psychiatrist, so I don’t know how it works, but I sort of feel like there’s a bit of a spectrum.

 

Obviously I got to a tipping point, but I think a lot of people have probably gone through it and dealt with it their way – either got professional help or just managed it and moved on – or some people are still battling it really badly.

 

There’s just so much ignorance about it. People don’t know enough about it, and people are, ‘How do you explain it, Faz? Explain it to me’, and I think the best way I’ve found to explain it is, ‘Being in moments that are very neutral but just feeling, innately, so sad for absolutely no reason’. And those moments were coming more and more.

 

I always ask myself, ‘So how much of it is to do with footy? Is it just because of football?’ And I think the simple answer is no.

 

I could be laying bricks, nine to five, Monday to Friday, and I’d probably still be battling with it. But playing footy doesn’t help. I think being in the spotlight amplifies it.

 

One thing that really sucks is that if you get diagnosed with depression, you can tell your boss you’re not dealing with it and your boss will go, ‘No worries, you go and see someone and get right’. I was going to sessions in damage control.

 

It was, ‘What can we do to get you up for this week?’ as opposed to ‘Can we get to the bottom of this?’. It was all coming from me, not the club. That made it harder.

 

 

 

GUILT

It was my call to come back and it was too soon. I shouldn’t have played for the rest of the year. But I want to play and I’m paid to play and I felt an over-riding sense of guilt for not being out there.

 

So it’s a double-edged sword, because then all season I felt an over-riding sense of guilt for being out there. But when it was clear we weren’t going to play finals I had a pretty honest conversation with Bucks.

 

I said, ‘Mate I can’t keep doing this’. He said, ‘Yeah, no worries’.

 

But even then I felt guilty as all hell walking into the footy club. This isn’t because of the footy club. This is obviously my shit. They’ve been nothing but supportive.

 

But, seriously, I feel like a criminal walking around the footy club. I’m looking at all the boys and it means so much and I want to be out there and I almost want to say, ‘Boys I love you all so much and I want to give you all the biggest hug, but I just can’t be out there and I hope you all understand this’.

 

I don’t really have the balls to say that, but it’s kind of how I feel.

 

I’d sit in my car and cry for about 20 minutes. Then I’d get up the courage and I’d drive into the club and I’d get to the carpark, and then I’d sit in the car and cry for another 20 minutes.

 

It’s been harder than I thought it would be. My personality is: problem … fix it. And then we get on with it. Faz, you can’t kick. ‘Oh, well I need to do this, this and this. I can kick, and now I’m back’.

 

But I go into therapy and I’m like, ‘Fuck, just fucking tell me what I’ve got to do, let’s just fix it’, and that shits me. So I have days when I’m just so angry and just so sad and it’s a vicious cycle.

 

I know I’m not right, and then I hate myself for it.

 

And then I have this big inner turmoil, and then every time I walk into the footy club it just reminds me that I’m not the person I want to be, or the player I want to be, and I’m not achieving and it’s just this big, big, vicious, spiral.

 

It’s too easy to blame social media. Bucks is a very enlightened man, and it was really interesting, because when it all came out, I was like, ‘I’m not talking to media, I’m not talking to anyone, fuck everyone, I don’t want to do anything’.

 

I was just seeing bits and pieces float out on the news and Bucks summed it up perfectly. He said, ‘The way the media works, the media need answers for everything. Right now they know that you’ve got depression. They don’t know why. They need something to label it on, so use social media’.

 

And I was like, ‘Social media is not even a blip on my radar. It’s the least of my worries’. But everyone thought, ‘It’s social media. It’s put all this scrutiny on the boys, that’s what it is’.

 

And I have no doubt social media does hurt a lot of people, but I’m not big on it. I don’t use Twitter much, and my Instagram’s private. Social media’s not even part of my life.

 

 

THE EXTROVERT

It’s still early days, but my theory is it’s a perfect storm of personality and environment.

 

I’m a massive extrovert and I love to be around people and I love to be up and about, and, in football clubs, everyone knows how you feel, everyone knows how you are, because literally you walk into the club and you’re meant to fill out a diary to tell them.

 

How’s your body? How’s your mind? It’s just like everything’s out there to be seen, so there’s that.

 

And, personally, I’m always crying out for empowerment and autonomy and I want to take the reins a bit, and AFL culture doesn’t really allow that.

 

Footy clubs now, they’re like high schools. You be here at this time and we’ll be here at this time, and we’ll tell you what to do, and you’ll do this and this. That’s hard for me.

 

A big thing, and something I’m starting to work out, is that I need to find something else in my life.

 

I study away from footy – I’m trying to knock out a psychology degree, ironically. And this is not a whack on footy; AFL’s great, I understand it’s great for people and it gives people a lot of happiness.

 

But for whatever reason it doesn’t seem to stimulate me in the way that I need, and I struggle with the feeling that I’m not bettering other people enough.

 

So I need to find something in my life where I really feel like I’m making a difference, and that’s eating away at me subconsciously.

 

 

AFTER THE STORM

Since all this came out it’s made the club environment a lot better. It was really nice to give everyone some understanding, because I felt like such a shit bloke, not being able to look blokes in the eye and stuff.

 

When my psychiatrist stood up and spoke to the boys I was so happy. I just wanted everyone to know, like, ‘I don’t hate you guys. I love you so much’.

 

I’d hate to imagine where I’d be if I didn’t have that amount of support around me, I think I was heading down a really slippery slope, so I’m really lucky. The coaching staff and Bucks have been just really amazing.

 

My advice to anyone else in this situation: stop being in denial. Just go and see someone. And talk to your mates.

 

Talk to anyone you can. Having close mates at the footy club and a coach like Bucks made my life easier. I also have a family that love me. I owe a lot to Mum and Dad. They copped the brunt of my bad times.

 

If you think something’s not right, just say something. I just know as soon it came out in the open – I still didn’t want to talk to anyone about it, but at least things become more clear.

 

Depression is a muddled, confused mind, basically, and as soon as you get some clarity and a little bit of information, half the battle’s won.

 

If you or someone you know needs help, please contact Lifeline or Beyond Blue. 

 

More information on R U OK? Day.

 

Alex Fasolo  -  Contributor

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