Tablets left me locked in a world of darkness
HEAVYWEIGHT FRANK BRUNO OPENS CHAMPION UP TO NICK OWENS ABOUT HIS BATTLE FOR HIS MENTAL HEALTH
HE WAS one of the world’s best- loved boxing champions. But the biggest fight of Frank Bruno’s life took place away from the ring. The former world heavyweight champ has fought a long battle for his mental health and says powerful drugs prescribed by doctors turned him into “a zombie”.
Medics insisted he take the medication to control his bipolar disorder which was diagnosed after his retirement from boxing.
The breakdown of his marriage and a series of personal tragedies led to him being sectioned three times.
The sportsman recalls all of this in new memoir Let me Be Frank.
Frank says he would have died if he hadn’t fought to get off the tablets that left him “locked in a world of darkness”.
“If I hadn’t got myself off the drugs and won back control of my life I’d be dead – 100% I would not be here today,” he says.
“The world closed down around me. I went from a person who was on top of the world to a man dribbling in the corner of a hospital room unable to find the strength to lift his head.” Pointing at a scar on his head, he continues: “This mark here reminds me every day how powerful the drugs were that I was given day after day.
“On one occasion when I was locked up they literally knocked me off my feet. I was left lying on a hospital floor with blood pouring everywhere and my ribs smashed up. It’s at that point you either fight... or you die.
“Even when I began to fight, the doctors insisted I had to keep on taking the medication. I told them time and again they were making me feel worse... like a zombie. It was only when I fought with every ounce of my strength to get off the meds that I got my life back.”
Frank was first sectioned in 2003 when his life descended into turmoil after he quit boxing and his marriage to Laura Mooney ended.
Then, in 2012, he was sectioned twice in the space of six weeks.
In his new autobiography, the 55- year- old lays bare the reasons behind his high- profile public breakdowns that led to him cruelly being branded Bonkers Bruno, and details the hell he endured in hospital. He also writes about family tragedies that floored him and reveals secrets about his life in and out of the ring.
“It’s time for the truth to come out,” Frank says. “For years and years I kept things bottled up.
“Now I have learnt being open is the only way to leave my past where it belongs – behind me.
“Coming through this fight has undoubtedly been the biggest battle I’ve ever had to win. I thank God every morning that I won it.”
Frank adds: “The drugs the doctors insisted I took often turned the lights out on my world. When I came off them I felt alive. I felt far more able to cope. Many people rely on medication to control their mental health conditions and I’d encourage those people to carry on doing what works for them.
“But what about all the people on medication or who have spent months and months locked up in hospital who want support but aren’t getting any help?
“I’ve met so many people like that. I feel lucky I was able to escape from the hell I was in.”
In his book Frank says he believes he was prescribed higher doses of medication as doctors feared his career as a boxer made him a threat.
“It was definitely a factor,” Frank says. “I don’t know who the doctors thought I would hurt. I’ve never touched a person outside the ring – and I never would.”
The scars of his treatment motivated Frank to launch his own foundation to help rescue the soaring number of people suffering mental health problems.
He says: “There are too many doctors happy to send people off with a bottle of pills, telling them everything will be OK. We need to think more about the different kinds of treatment we can offer. By speaking out about my experiences I hope to show everyone there is no shame in asking for help.”
He adds: “Mental health problems can affect anyone: your mum, dad, brother, sister, son or daughter. It doesn’t matter who you are. Celebrities, sports stars, millionaire businessmen, judges, dustmen – I’ve met them all along the way and listened to how mental ill health can ruin lives. It almost destroyed mine.”
With the support of family and friends, Frank used exercise and lifestyle changes to help him gradually reduce the amount of tablets he was on. Eventually he was signed off them entirely.
Frank’s ring career – he won 40 of his 45 bouts – made him a national treasure, becoming a household name in the 1980s.
He was also turned into a star of stage and screen. His double act with commentator Harry Carpenter led to his catchphrase “Know what I mean, ’ Arry?”.
Frank was crowned world champ in 1995, beating Oliver McCall at Wembley. But then came the battles with a truly heavyweight opponent – mental illness.
He says: “When I am on a high, I open my eyes in the morning and I feel like I can climb a mountain.
“Nothing is beyond my reach. I look in the mirror, splash my face with water and the person staring back is young Frank – that teenage kid who was full of dreams and who had all the guts to see it through to become the best fighter in the world. But when I am low and in the grip of this illness, then, well, God help me.
“There will be a heavy feeling in my chest. A bit like how you feel when someone close to you dies.
“I will feel acutely alone, withdrawn, angry and on edge. Sometimes I will barely recognise the person staring back.”
Two years ago Frank readmitted himself to hospital as he sought help again for his bipolar, something he covers in the book.
“Nothing is left out,” Frank says. “I want everyone to know what I went through and how I came through the other side. I need to speak out to help rescue others in the same dark place I was.
“Too many people silently fight mental health problems without anyone in their corner.
“That has to end.”
Let Me Be Frank is available from Mirror Books. RRP £ 20. Visit mirrorcollection.co.uk or call 0845 143 0001. Find out about his mental health charity at thefrankbrunofoundation.co.uk
Frank Bruno hopes his book, below, will give people the strength to face up to mental illness
Frank knocked Anders Eklund out in round four of the 1985 European Heavyweight bout, right, and, left, Frank with ‘ Arry Carpenter