Danny Frawley was at his engaging and self-deprecating best as he spoke to a psychologist for 45 minutes like a man who had put his battle with mental health behind him.
During the extended conversation with Peter Zarris on his No Man Should Ever Walk Alone podcast, created to shine a spotlight on men’s health in general, the AFL great detailed his struggles with anxiety and depression, but always in the past-tense.
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As his friends and family and the footy public struggle to come to grips with the 56-year-old’s sudden death in a car crash in Victoria this week, the words Frawley delivered that day ring louder than ever.
“Dramatic changes in mood and behaviour, that was me … Isolation … I actually craved it when I was going through my worst,” said Frawley, while listing the symptoms of mental illness. “Guys would text me, ‘I’ll come around’, because they knew I was battling a bit. I’d text them ‘yeah, come around’ but I’d actually put the shutters down on the blinds — and they’d be knocking on the door but, no. For some unknown reason I just don’t feel like I’m worthy enough.”
“I knew deep down (something was wrong) because I was losing sleep rapidly … that was the telltale sign for me that something was going on,” he added, while discussing warning signs. “Because I could sleep through a jackhammer and unfortunately the jackhammer became inside my head. The three to four weeks where I basically had no sleep and my mind shut down. Externally, because I was a competitor, I went harder. I was more vivacious. I was drinking more. I was training harder. Because that was what I was taught in the past, if you’ve got an issue work it off. So I actually did 10 things at once. Now I know, the bigger the front, the bigger the back. Because you can’t be up all the time.”
“It was all what people thought of me, that’s what drove me,” Frawley continued.
“‘Danny, the coaching didn’t go that well but boy are you doing a great job in the media. You were a captain for nine years out at St Kilda that must have been absolutely outstanding’.
“I can remember going to functions and not even having conversations with people — I don’t know whether I was just walking around like a peacock — but it was all about what people thought of me. But at the end of the day, it was what I thought about me.”
In the wake of his death in a single-vehicle crash near Ballarat in Victoria on Monday, reports of Frawley’s final days have revealed a brave fighter that was overcome and distant.
He co-hosted Fox Footy’s Bounce on Saturday night with the same infectious humour that endeared him to so many and was reportedly due to celebrate his 56th birthday with family members on Sunday.
But he failed to show up for the celebration and never made it to a psychiatrist appointment scheduled for the day he died.
It was reported on Tuesday the former Richmond coach’s 29-year marriage with wife Anita was breaking down and he was also experiencing money problems after a major investment opportunity went bad.
It’s what makes relistening to the podcast so difficult.
“A lot of comedians have depression — and that was me,” Frawley said.
“Acting the goat in the media, my wife would say ‘gee, you’re so vivacious in front of a group, in front of the media and you come home Danny, and you’re a different bloke to the one I married’. I’m sure if I didn’t go through what I went through, my wife was going to leave me.”
“Alcohol was masking my issues,” he continued. “I found the alcohol was a form of antidepressant for me. It was the time I felt good. I couldn’t unpack the sadness. But I was trying to feel happy. The only time I was in a good place was when I became a bit numb. But the downfall of that the next day, I felt doubly bad. (It was) a vicious cycle.”
Frawley was a prominent advocate of tackling mental health in middle-aged men and the podcast included a call to action.
“It just seems to me — because I’ve gone through the whole kit and kaboodle — we’re very good at promoting the reactive side of it. And we’re still in that hitting zone compared to getting on the front foot and being proactive and (looking at) what are the steps we need to take as a community, as government, as corporations and as family members,” he said.
“We’re still in this zone of we better hide in the corner, put our head in our hands and think ‘oh gee, I hope no one finds out I’ve got a mental health issue’. The glass ceiling has been cracked but we need to smash it open.”
Zarris commended the St Kilda great for speaking out. “The irony is that what Danny was hoping to achieve with the program was to shine a light on the issue of mental health and he did that bravely, fearlessly, and I think it’s important that we recognise that,” he told The Australian this week. “It’s just so sad that it appears that it’s taken (his death) for it to happen.”