It’s interesting and well written but it makes me feel very uneasy. First because I’m not sure that Ronnie would agree with the content or condone the author’s interpretation of his choices and quotes, not to mention her use of them to support what are essentially her views, not his.
First 2009/10/11 were amongst the worst seasons for Ronnie, and probably amongst the worst years too, with him breaking up from his then partner Jo Langley. It’s only in 2011, in April 2011 to be precise, that he started working with Steve Peters. And it was – and still is – real hard work. To change your perspective on life you have to work on yourself, it doesn’t come just like that and no psychiatrist or counsellor has a magic wand. It takes commitment, it takes time and it takes an iron will to change.
Next I’m not sure that Ronnie getting interested in politics has anything to do with his battles against depression at all. For me, knowing the person a bit, it has to do with a fundamentally generous, human and sensitive persona combined with the fact that working with Steve Peters has indeed given him perspective: snooker isn’t the alpha and omega of his life anymore. He’s got perspective and interest in other things, life in the first place.
Finally, without denying the fact that poverty and insecurity do indeed cause anxiety and aren’t easy to cope with, I strongly believe that, whatever the circumstances, your life is essentially what you decide to make of it and shaped by how much efforts you are ready to put in it (and before anyone jumps at me, my family was far from rich or upper class, very far from it: needing the doctor meant no meat for a month, not even bacon. I still got a PhD in maths … by commuting 5 1/2 hours every day for 4 years – the time I needed to get my first Masters and a job – to be able to attend Uni because we couldn’t afford a car or to rent a room, getting up dayly at 4 am, to be there in time, never back home before 9 pm, working like hell on week-ends to catch up with the work I couldn’t do during the week. Yes, that was how “lucky” I was to to be able to study, and I was “lucky” to learn 4 languages too). Life is definitely NOT shaped by how much you earn. I’m a mathematician, and as it happens, I have, in my 30+ years career, worked on statistics about mental health in Europe (among many other stats). Well, in the Scandinavian countries, that have the highest scores when it comes to people welfare, quality of life or populations health, depression and suicide are 30X higher than in the poorest areas of Europe like south Spain, Portugal, Greece and Cyprus. That’s fact, or it was some 7 years ago, but I doubt it has radically changed. So? Family support, social cohesion, inter-personal relationships, and sunlight, are much more decisive factors than poverty when it’s about mental health.
What is true though is that to be able to put an effort into anything, especially a tremendous effort, you have to believe that you have a chance, you need to have hope to be able find the strength. So hopelessness is a huge factor, much more than actual poverty. I feel that the most debilitating factor in our society is negativity, the constant focus on bad news, giving people the feeling that nothing is even worth a try, that things are doomed from the start. It’s especially hard on the young people, unfair and untrue. Things are never doomed until you die and we all will … eventually, meanwhile there is plenty we can achieve. That and the shaming of the successful, knowing that success isn’t measured by money, it’s measured by achievements, personal as well as professional. I don’t believe that being hurt in your pride when you fail is a bad thing, quite the opposite, it’s the seed to motivate you to do better, and it’s something to learn from. People like Ronnie have achieved what they did because they are competitive, because they work hard, because they don’t accept to fail, because they take pride in being fighters and winners. Despite depression. And whatever priviledge they have, they earned.
And that goes for others as well. Mark Selby was born in a working class family, was abandoned by his mother as young child, lost his father to cancer aged 16, wasn’t seen as hugely talented either, didn’t have an actual home for a while, and, still, found the strength and motivation that makes him multiple World Champion and triple crown owner. Novak Djokovic lived through civil war as a kid and has opened up about how traumatic it was. He’s one of the greats in tennis and uses the fortune he earned to support orphaned kids too.
IMPORTANT THINKERS OF OUR TIMESHow Ronnie O’Sullivan Found PoliticsMNMay 22 2017, 2:58pm
Former Labour leader Ed Miliband playing pool with Ronnie O’Sullivan. Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA Archive/PA Images
Snooker’s mercurial genius understands that breakdowns don’t happen in a vacuum.
Snooker was invented in colonised India, its rules cemented in the Ooty Club near the Nilgiri hills – which remains to this day a relic of the empire. The rooms of the Ooty Club are filled even now with mounted lions and tigers’ heads, a strict dress code enforced and a polite notice framed in the billiards room to commemorate its sporting history. Here, a British lieutenant, Neville Chamberlain, added coloured balls to the original game and assigned their worth, playing with first year cadets who were nicknamed Snookers. For a time, snooker was restricted to “officers of the armed forces, and gentlemen moving in general society”, a fact which seems strange now considering the class associations that snooker, like darts, has cultivated.
Class means something entirely else to snooker now than it did when it was invented. One-hundred-and-forty years after its invention under the watchful gaze of beasts killed in the name of British glory, one of the sport’s all time greats, Ronnie O’Sullivan, played pool with Ed Miliband. In the Common Room Pool Club in Sheffield, he offered up his game in support of the Labour party.
Miliband played because snooker is a sport that normal, working class people like. Miliband playing snooker is different to, say, Miliband playing cricket. It’s different, too, to him having a kickabout with some Premier league footballers, who are inescapably tainted by the sticky residue of outrageous salaries and assault allegations and multi-thousand pound bottles of champagne in bleak nightclub VIP areas. Snooker is different. The anachronistic bow ties and dinner suits are an echo of the working class Londoners who began to play in the 1930s and sought to bring some respectability to their clubs. The silence of the snooker arena exists because it is a game which requires concentration and consideration, a game of patience and stamina. It is a respectable, working class sport – it’s authentic, in that intangible way politicians pursue ceaselessly but can never quite achieve.
O’Sullivan is snooker’s reformed bad boy, the mercurial genius with a troubled past. He was a dazzling prodigy from the age of ten, encouraged by his father “Big Ron” who ran a string of West End sex clubs. Big Ron was convicted of murder and imprisoned when O’Sullivan was 16, a devastating blow which preceded breakdowns and spells of addiction, and a well documented struggle with his mental health. He failed a drugs test and walked out of huge matches and gave reckless interviews about how much he hated the sport. Having always seemed mystified and burdened by the immensity of his gift, it seemed for a time he would destroy it entirely. Then, in 2009, after developing a relationship with legendary sports psychiatrist Steve Peters, he made a miraculous comeback in every sense. He returned to the game with spectacular success, got engaged and began to tackle the legacy of his depression.
Something else happened to O’Sullivan after his mental health problems were finally articulated and addressed. He got politicised. Having never voted before and professing an understandable apathy in the face of interchangeable career politicians, in 2015 he threw his support behind Ed Miliband. Almost overnight he seemed to become convinced that parliamentary politics have the potential to change lives. Since then, he has been a dogged defender of Labour and increasingly vocal about social inequality and poverty.
“I’ve not paid much attention to what is going on in the outside world,” he said in an interview in 2015. “But that has changed now, and it has changed my outlook on life like you wouldn’t believe. I now realise how lucky I’ve been… I get the chance to choose when I play and when I don’t play. Most people are stuck in jobs they don’t like and have no choice over the hours they work. Or are struggling to find work. That can’t be easy or good for the mind.”
It shouldn’t be so remarkable that someone financially privileged is capable of empathising with the poor, but it is. When the snap election was called O’Sullivan tweeted his support for Jeremy Corbyn and encouraged his fans to register to vote.
When challenged that he would not love paying increased tax, he tweeted again:
O’Sullivan became political after addressing his own mental illness. At the same time, he began to see how inextricable the relationship between mental health and class is. Once you come to see that, it’s very difficult not to be furious at the state of things.
Mental illness is spoken about like a phenomenon which occurs inevitably, like weather or death. While it is of course true that there are countless people who will suffer from mental illness regardless of their class position and circumstance, it remains true that mental illness can be exacerbated and even created by the conditions of living as a poor person in a capitalist society. Sometimes people are wary of saying this because they fear it implies that mental illness is not as “real” as we can perceive it to be if we discuss it as a purely physiological phenomenon. But it is a simple fact that our society is not only neglecting mental illness with a lack of funding, but also actually causing it. A person who is prone to relatively minor bouts of anxiety or depression can be propelled to a much more serious iteration of their illness by living in poverty. If you are constantly stressed about the very basic logistics of life, like housing, food and healthcare, it only follows that your ability to negotiate the messy business of living and having a brain becomes hugely compromised.
O’Sullivan has stated this explicitly:
“We are all human beings, we all have a purpose in life, we all want to enjoy this time on the planet, there is enough in the world for everyone in the world to have the basic needs without feeling under depression. I believe a lot of our illnesses and struggles and suicides and drug addictions and whatever is brought on by hopelessness.”
Recently I went to the GP to get a prescription for antidepressants, having spent seven years off them. I felt dishonest in his office, not truly ill. According to the symptom checklist, I suffer depression and anxiety. But even so, I couldn’t stop myself from saying to my doctor: I don’t think this is because I’m depressed. I think it’s because I’m poor. My anxiety about being poor makes it impossible to work, which makes me poorer, and the cycle continues.
I don’t know what I was expecting to happen, what solution might conceivably have been offered; but in the end the doctor gave me the pills to make my brain function adequately enough that I can work properly again, and maybe, some day, make enough money that I’ll be operative in the world I’ve found myself in; the one Ronnie O’Sullivan is determined to change.