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Darren Cousins: Back From The Brink

It’s no secret that the number of cricketers who have committed suicide is relatively high in relation to other sports. Quite why cricket attracts such numbers is still unclear, but thankfully the list was not added to when former Essex, Surrey and Northamptonshire player Darren Cousins tried to take his own life in 2011. Joe Brewin asked him to tell his story.

Family bereavements, unsuccessful relationships and injuries – 12 operations in all – ultimately took their toll on the now 41-year-old Cousins. But, thanks to the PCA Benevolent Fund, his life is back on track. After finally succumbing to “almost torturous” pressure from assistant chief executive Jason Ratcliffe, Cousins is still around and able to tell his eye-opening story.

Cousins set himself two goals after treatment for depression – to get a job and buy a house – and has achieved both. He is now successfully selling designer sunglasses (“I am an absolute tart,” he admits) and life is looking less bleak.

So Darren, tell us what happened?

After several operations, Essex released me in 1998. Being a professional cricketer was all I had ever wanted to do, and I remember just sitting in the car outside crying. After playing a few one-day games for Surrey, Northants got in touch and gave me a two-year deal. It was a fresh start. Through the only stroke of luck I ever had in my career, injury to someone else meant I played the whole summer of 2000. I got 67 Championship wickets and only Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath took more all season. I was on top of the world.

The following summer my feet started to hurt and nobody could get to the bottom of it. I wasn’t right but I carried on going because I had a devil and an angel on my shoulders. The devil always won. Have a day off? No, I’d just get on with it. I came back but I wasn’t the same; it was getting worse and I was in agony. We had a televised game at Bristol. I ran in on the fifth ball and collapsed in a heap. It was like a knife going through me. But I refused to get stretchered off and finished my over. When I walked into the dressing room, I knew that was the end of my career.

What happened next? Did anybody help when it was all over? 

In December 2002, Northants called me in to discuss my retirement – I was an insurance risk, they said. I was having none of it, told them to ignore the insurance and just write me a disclaimer. When I walked back in after the winter, people looked at me as if I was a ghost. When you are capped you got your picture put up the bar, but they started adding squad pictures too and I wasn’t there. That broke my heart and I hit rock bottom. The PCA stepped in and paid for two operations on my feet and I have had to have another one since.

How did those events lead to you trying to take your own life?

I lost my mum to cancer when I was 12, my uncle died an alcoholic, and my dad was diagnosed with bowel cancer and nearly died several times. I was living in my auntie’s spare room, coming home and hitting the bottle. Spiralling really. Eventually I had just had enough. I had been drinking too much, had stored up a load of pills and went back to my auntie’s house. I don’t even remember writing it but there was a note to my young daughter.

I drunk a lot of vodka, took these pills and texted my ex. She put two and two together, contacted my cousin who lived up the road and he burst in. I was in a t-shirt and boxer shorts but forced my way past and ran to a nearby park. I was barefoot but I kept running and ended up in a lake. I was swimming around thinking ‘why aren’t I dead?’ I felt terribly guilty and went back. My family were there, the police, an ambulance – they had called the dogs and a helicopter.

I spent two nights in hospital, discharged myself and went back to work in a job I hated. I told them what I had done and that I couldn’t do it any more. I battled my way through but I carried on drinking and started putting stupid things on Facebook.

How did the PCA come to your aid initially?

The cricketing family got in touch via Ratters. He said ‘Look, we’re here to help you’. I thought it was my fault, I had made my own bed and nobody could help me. I didn’t want them to spend their money on me because I didn’t think I was worth it. Eventually he persuaded me. I went in and had my 12th operation, the fifth one on my right knee, in October 2011. It was a big operation. I went straight from there into a clinic and just did as much as I could.

Ratters saved my life. He always tells me off for using his name and not the PCA Benevolent Fund, but he is the sole reason I am still here today. He cared enough to keep going with me when I didn’t want help. It was like Chinese water torture, dripping away – ‘come on Cous, get some help, come on’. Because of him I did, and now I am in a better place.

What can you tell us about the treatment you had?

I was there for a week and then I went to counselling for two weeks. You have to stick with it because it can feel as though you are saying the same things over and over again.

You have had a hand in the PCA’s ‘Mind Matters’ initiative – can it really make a difference?

Definitely. The idea of the confidential helpline is brilliant because now people can go there, tell the PCA they need some help and get it. Before, it was such a taboo subject and that made things more difficult. Because it is confidential it will get used, even if is just somebody at the end of the phone to speak to. When I am feeling down, just speaking to somebody – ranting or otherwise – really helps. You clear the air and somebody is actually listening. They can’t cure it but they are there and can empathise with your situation.

The dressing room environment can be daunting – how difficult is it to open up to teammates?

I think it’s a lot easier to talk about it now than in the old days. Before it would just be a case of getting on with it. You imagine telling Fred Trueman that you weren’t feeling up to playing that day! Everything is so much better now and that is in no small part down to the PCA. I have no doubts that people, if they are struggling, will ask for help. They might not necessarily stand on the table and tell the world, but the more people that come out with issues, the easier it will be. Struggling is nothing to be ashamed of, we are all only human.

There must be others out there in a bad place – what would your advice to them be?

There is always something in your life, no matter how small, that you can be proud of. If I messed up everything I would still have my daughter and that is what I have to think about in my dark days. I talk openly about my struggles now because I want to pay Ratters and the PCA back for the way they helped me. If I can help people too, then it is worthwhile.

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