By Thomas Lyons
“I can say with certainty that the punches over the years did far less damage than the lifestyle changes which came after I walked away from boxing.. the battle to find something, anything, to replace that boxing drug: they truly were the hardest punches I have taken in life.”
As the front cover suggests, this is an incredible, inspiring story straight from the heart.
From the euphoria of winning the WBC Heavyweight title at Wembley in September 1995 to battling and overcoming his biggest challenge in life, bipolar disorder, British boxing icon Frank Bruno breaks down the dark moments he faced beyond the realms of the boxing ring. Having celebrated an outstanding career with an endless drive to go on and achieve big things in the sport and reach the pinnacle by beating Oliver McCall in front of thousands of his loyalist fans to facing his demons and being on the verge of collapse, makes this account of his journey very moving.
In an emotional and honest account of his uphill battle against depression, Bruno talks about the different phases of relapse and recovery in his book. From being sectioned the first time, stripped of his dignity and pushed over the edge by the endless cycle of drugs and treatment, Bruno reflects on how he regained control of his own life after his release from hospital.
His battle with mental health has been well-documented and Frank has used this media attention to raise awareness of the stigma attached to mental health issues and aims to promote and educate people on the problems they may have to overcome in their lives. Although Frank enjoyed the fame and fortune, the flashy cars and the big houses, finding that peace of mind was more important to him and with boxing brought a focus to his daily routine.
Even the most colourful and charismatic figures in the sport can become trapped inside this conundrum of negative thoughts and dampened spirits as seen with Tyson Fury, who makes his return to the ring after a two-and-a-half-year absence, recovering from recreational drug use and getting back onto the straight and narrow. In both cases, it must have been extremely difficult to deal with their problems alone but with the support from a close circle of family and friends, they were able to find their feet and look to a brighter future.
When we talk about mental health, do we really understand its meaning? How do we uncover the truth behind depression and anxiety and to what extent does this impact us without even knowing its there? are all questions I asked myself as I came to terms with Frank’s experiences chapter by chapter. Bruno explains the trauma of being exposed to the outside world when his condition was deteriorating and the impact this was having on his loved ones.
Before reading into his life story essentially, Frank had visited my university, like so many talks he had given over the years, to discuss the issues he’d faced and I soon realised how much strain this had put on him when I got my copy of ‘Let Me Be Frank’. In answering my question, ‘when preparing for a fight, what was tougher, the mental or physical preparation?’ he responded “Boxing is all about channelling the mind and staying calm under pressure. 80…90% is all in the mind.”
By speaking openly to people about his struggles, it has sent a strong message to those facing similar problems and how it doesn’t hurt to talk to people about these issues. While Frank managed to put on a brave face for a very long time despite what was happening behind closed doors, his persistence and faith have got him to where he is today, an ambassador for mental health awareness and a focal point for fighting mental illness.
Bruno talked about how he was so close to throwing in the towel but kept a positive mentality to manage his struggles:
“But after I announced my retirement I began to feel stronger and stronger. I was walking away from the past and towards a brighter future. I knew my defences were up and was ready for whatever punches my illness would throw at me. I’d come so far. I’d been able to ask for help. I’d finally accepted my boxing career was over. So now was the time to start winning the biggest battle of all. Winning back peace of mind. And keeping control of it.”