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

Solihull News - - BOOKCASE -

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

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