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Saturday 20 October 2018

Rugby pundit Pope describes battle with 'crippling anxiety'

Brent Pope (centre) with Professor Jim Lucey and Ann McCormack at the Aviva Stadium
Brent Pope (centre) with Professor Jim Lucey and Ann McCormack at the Aviva Stadium

Rugby pundit Brent Pope has opened up about the "crippling anxiety" he has battled since the age of just 13.

He told how he couldn't understand how he could be so physically fit but psychologically unwell.

"I had been a good sportsman, I always excelled physically. It's just that my mind didn't follow," he said.

"I couldn't work out why it was I couldn't fix myself, that I needed help. I never really understood until I got into my 40s, until I sought the right help.

Anxiety

"My problem is crippling anxiety, catastrophic anxiety, not just an anxiousness."

The 56-year-old shared his experience at a mental health and wellbeing summit at the Aviva Stadium.

It brought together hundreds of delegates from firms and organisations, including the Defence Forces, the garda and the Health Service Executive, along with members of the public and students, to discuss managing mental health.

Growing up in New Zealand, Pope said he had a "Huckleberry Finn" lifestyle - riding tyres down rivers, riding horses, skiing and surfing. He told how, when he was around 13, he was getting into a bath on a Sunday night.

"There is just a barrage of negative thoughts coming to mind," he said. "I then started to get the physical manifestation of a panic attack, which is being unable to breathe, being frozen, crying for no reason.

"Kids have a gut feeling about things. I just knew this wasn't normal behaviour for a 13-year-old. I went back and lay on my bed and cried all night."

He was scared to let anyone else into his world.

"I continued to battle with panic attacks most of my teenage life, but I masked it," he added.

Pope portrayed himself as "the good guy on the rugby team who didn't take things too personally". "But I was hurting because I didn't feel anybody understood me," he said.

The dedicated charity worker said he was a young, physical rugby player looking at playing for the All Blacks.

Panic

"I couldn't understand why my mental health was leading me down these paths of panic attacks and anxiety," he said.

"I was very low on self-confidence. I didn't want to tell my parents where I played rugby for fear they would come and watch me. I never believed anybody who told me I was a good player."

Eventually, he sought the help he needed.

"I have a choice that I have to work at my mental health. I know it now," he added.

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