In this episode Ex-AFL star John 'Jumbo' Sudholz shares his struggle with depression on returning to the farm. He shares the hard times he faced, and how he has learned to live with depression.
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Hello, Brigitte Muir here. I am a storyteller who used to be a mountain climber, and I've been calling the Wimmera home for the last 40 years. In this podcast series, we'll be meeting farmers, talking to experts and sharing stories about mental health, physical health and wellbeing.
Footy fans know him as Jumbo Sudholz, the Rupanyup farmers on who became a Swan player in 1966. After being South Melbourne's best goal kicker for four successive seasons, John returned to the family farm where he found out that being a farmer ain’t quite the same as being a footy player.
I tried to turn myself into a farmer that was like when I was playing footy, that meant everything had to be perfect. And I wasn't a perfect farmer by any stretch of the imagination, and I ‘was trying to do everything that these guys that were really good at what they did. It was a waste of time, waste of resources, waste of energy, waste of activity, because that wasn’t me and I was trying to be something that wasn't
What happened to you that brought you to a place where you realize you had depression?
Didn't realize that I had depression at the time and didn't find out until after I had a breakdown and went away to mental health institution. And then that's when I realised that my personality changed I'd become reserved, I isolated myself, wouldn't be socialise. And they were all the wrong things. When you're suffering from stress and depression, you've got this magnificent ability to be able to close it up and not show the person you're talking to or meeting or even within your own family
And which is that's part of the conditioning I guess, ah…people close to you find out whether it's your partner or your kids or people that you'll work with, they tend to work out but you're not sort of traveling too good and what's but very few of them have got a courage to be able to say “hey, you need to go and get some help”.
Did you get anyone telling you that?
Yes, my wife at the time did and she was so frustrated with me. And that happen… That happened, because she came from a family that had similar issues as what I had and in my case, I was … I could… I'm gonna beat this. And that came from my early days as being a competitor. You had to run through that brick wall over there. I'd run through it, which part of the deal and this is what I was like when I was suffering from depression. No buffer at all, I'm gonna fix this. I can do it. I can get through it but anyway, didn't happen until such time as I completely crashed.
But when I did have me break down I went into the hospital and at Rupanyup to the doctor, there was a doctor, a locum and he came from Melbourne, talked to him. He said “Look, I know what's wrong with you, you need to go and see Dr. Such and such at Pinelodge Psychiatric Hospital on Heatherton Road Dandenong” and I went down there, and spent 13 weeks down there. Worst part, worst time of my life ever.
I wouldn't even wish it on the worst enemy, I tell ya.
What do you call a breakdown? What is the breakdown for those people out there who may be on the verge of a breakdown?
When you having that stage you usually lacking a lot of confidence. So it's very difficult to say look it up not feeling too good. So the first person you need to talk to is probably your best mate. And everybody's got a mate, and I talked, I talk a lot about this chap that was my really close friend at the time, who had a lot of issues himself. But when I did completely break down rang Kyle and he was there within five minutes and drove me to Melbourne to the hospital and I've still haven't, that's 35 years ago. I've still never forgotten it.
That's quite amazing when you consider that probably in those days, the general attitude was come on guy, man up, you know…
When it all boils down to it… is that comes back to the family closeness. The most…the important things in life are not necessarily whether you've got the best farm, whether your growing the best crops, or whether you've climbed the highest mountain, or whatever it might be. That's not necessarily… like their goals to achieve, but are they… in my opinion, the best things in life to achieve, in those days, it was in those it was well those things were what was important to me. But now, there’s a hell of a lot of other things that are important to me.
It doesn't go away or never will go away and you'll always live with it. The most important part is you need to manage it. My method of dealing with the depression is getting away from home and meeting new people and talking to new people. And that's how I deal with it and that's why these last 12 months have been so hard.
Did medication help you?
Medication did for a start, or when I first went down… to Melbourne, like when I crashed I wasn't on medication prior to that but then when I went to Melbourne, well they put me on antidepressants pretty severe ones. Luckily I was able to gradually be taken off that medication and I haven't taken medication for depression for probably 30 years. But from my point of view if you need to take medication, you need to take medication, that's taking medication it's not a failure, or a something that you should get worried about, because some people will have to take it.
Depression cost me a relationship, and that was… the first 15 years of my marriage, with a very good relationship. The next five to six was a bit tense. The last five was bloody hopeless, that was when I had the breakdown. And then actually I was lost because I was on my own for a number of years and then I got sick of being the way I was and I said “Well stuff it all. I've got to change things here. I'm gonna start doing a few things that I'll enjoy and what I used to enjoy”. And that's how I did that, and then anyway that's where I moved on in life and then met my now partner for 25 or 6 years.
And you were mentioning that you do a lot of exercise. Does that help?
Yes, it does. Exercise is one of the major things now, I don't care whether you're four or 104, exercise for a start it makes you use energy, so therefore when you use energy, you get tired and then when you go to bed at night, you actually sleep. But exercise can mean a lot a whole lot of things… it can be… mean going shopping and don't park the car out the front of every shop and walk.
I gotta bunch of mates, there’s 13 of us that all meet at the gym and half past seven to half past eight every morning. We get on the treadmill, on the bikes and some do weights use the medicine ball, some will do a few laps in the lap pool, others will just stand in the heated pool and that's good therapy to for you too, for your aching joints.
The bowls club is very good for me emotionally. I love the communication, I love the mateship and fellowship that you get from bowls clubs. And my old uncle said to me many many years ago that he played bowls and he said “It didn't matter where you went in this world, if you took your bowls, you could go and find a game and meet some people”.
What would you like to leave people with?
Well, well for a start… people … is that …. they've got to analyse their life and if they are going through a tough time… don't be frightened to go and ask somebody for help, or talk to somebody… and try to at least … ask or take in some advice that they may offer. Shall I finish in saying is that life continues to go on. The world will continue to evolve whether it's good or bad, and you and I will live happily ever after, and somebody down the track will have some good memories or *John laughter* will hopefully have some good memories of what we were like.
Well, it's been an absolute pleasure and an honour to spend time with you, John… Jumbo * John - haha* and thank you for being not only honest with yourselves but for using that feeling to help people and inspire them to do the right thing for themselves.
Good on ya Brigitte
What an inspiration! That was John ‘Jumbo’ Sudholz former footy player and mental health advocate. If you need help, or know someone who does, you will find numbers to call in the words attached to this episode.
Until next, have a healthy life on to a healthy life won’t you.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai edited by WWHS Health Promotion Team