Lou Vincent’s cricket career is a story in itself. A Test debut hundred against Australia began a peripatetic journey that took him from Auckland to Lancashire, Mashonaland to Dhaka as one of the world’s troubadour cricketers, plying his trade wherever the game called for him. After his county career came to a close last summer at Sussex, this summer the 33-year-old New Zealander is rolling around the UK in a pimped-up party bus, telling a thousand tales to draw attention to the strains and traumas of living with depression in professional sport. This is his story. But it is not his alone.
I’ve been asked to submit an article about my story, and what it has to do with mental health. What do I know? All I know is my experience with mental health problems has changed my life.
From standing at the edge of a cliff wishing my life away, even when I had two amazing children to live for, to picking myself up again and starting a journey that has empowered and touched me, it has taught me so much about myself and most importantly the people around me.
I’m no writer. I play cricket, I muck about and most people know me as a crazy prankster. But there is more to me than that. Here is my story.
I agreed to write this because many of us suffer from mental health issues and yet feel ashamed or embarrassed by them. I am on a quest to raise awareness and put this right. All summer I’ve lived on a clapped-out old bus, travelling around the UK speaking to whomever I encounter along the way.
It has been the most incredible journey, but it isn’t forever. Soon I will proudly set foot on my homeland soil again to wear my country’s colours and play for Auckland. There were moments when I never thought this time would come around again.
I dedicate this article to my two angels Molly and Bessie Vincent.
I remember playing cricket every possible day growing up. From using a desktop on a good length in the backyard with a plastic ball, to the side of the road with a half-taped tennis ball, trying desperately not to hit the parked cars, to playing inside a double garage batting with an axe handle against a rebounding golf ball off the brick wall.
I learnt flair. I developed a great desire to score runs; in the early days I even remember crying for not getting to 25 retired. And as I got older, with experience I learned to construct an innings, the bowling got quicker and the pressure of representative cricket became an addiction.
Fast forward to my Test debut against Australia at the WACA. I’d just turned 23. I was given the opening role against McGrath, Gillespie, Lee and Warne. Steve Waugh walked up to me before I’d faced my first ball and I’ll never forget him saying, “Everyone gets a duck in their first game”.
I have no idea what my reaction was. But when I looked up again, all I saw was a single Australian, Glenn McGrath, at the top of his mark. ‘Where’s everyone else?’ I remember thinking. Did they see us Kiwis as walkovers so only brought two fielders out?
I then heard a herd of lip-lickers from behind me, which broke my concentration like the blaring traffic announcements on the car radio telling us how smooth the M6 isn’t. I turned around, and there they were: eight hungry Australian slip fielders excited about another stat to their name.
The rest is history. I will never forget that feeling of going to three figures. It will always be in my heart as a very special day. I felt on top of the world and so proud to represent my country and friends.
After a trip to the tattoo parlour to get my new love imprinted on my chest we were up against little Bangladesh in Hamilton for one of their earliest series as a Test nation.
I got a first baller.
They say with mental health you need to look out for warning signs. Well, looking back, I can’t believe I missed this massive warning sign. And what’s it saying? Penthouse to Shithouse? After crashing back down to earth, I just remember feeling embarrassed, alone with that out-of-body feeling, thinking to myself, ‘Is this really happening?’
As I struggled through the next phase of my career, the doubts started kicking in more, and with these doubts I started listening to more advice. The search to understand how I played the Aussies, and how to replicate that again, had well and truly started. And the more I listened to others, the more malleable I became. My inner flair got confused and lost, until it got to the point where I wanted to run and hide. And yet the more I ran and hid, the more I started to use alcohol and drugs to suppress and ease the reality of a young man now living with a new friend.
As we get older we fail more. Learning to fail in a healthy way is perhaps what we need to teach more of. Oh, but it’s negative, people say. But the reality is that we as human beings will fail a lot more than we will succeed. So why don’t we ‘train the healthy way of failure’? As time has gone on I’ve understood a lot more about the warning signs and what I need to do to ride the wave. It has to be better than being that typical person who tries to flick the switch and make things right straight away.
Or even worse, pretending that nothing’s happening that can’t be fixed by the medication of alcohol, drugs and a kebab, so I can sleep and forget, wake up the next day, go to work and repeat the cycle for as long as possible.
During my travels this summer on the bus, I met an interesting chap called Mark Allen who is a technical director at Probiz. I’d invited him and a few others onto the bus where I remember one fabulous piece of philosophy that made so much sense. “We need a balance of certainty and uncertainty,” he said.
We as human beings need that security of knowing we can survive. We all have bills to pay, even after our money has been squeezed out of us each month and we are left with nothing.
But for many of us over time, we end up hitting that point where enough is enough. We buy the red convertible, go on a lads’ trip to Tenerife, run off with the secretary, bleach our hair, or worst case, we shrivel away to consider ending it all.
I am learning my balance of certainty and uncertainty. I feel so alive when I live my life through my heart and soul. The mischievous things I get up to still make me laugh, the back roads I take to get places, the random places I sleep, the fascinating people I befriend.
But I also need order and a plan as my certainty is supporting my ex-wife and my kids, which has been a painful challenge but I’ll always see through.
Those electrifying couples I’ve met on my journeys share and understand each other’s balance. They are a team, they back each other up, they communicate every little detail, they laugh and are never offended. This is the world our children need to be brought up in. Imagine our society four generations from now if every kid was introduced into this world with this. Don Bradman’s Test average would be in trouble.
I had an amazing chat with Marcus Trescothick in the bus down in Taunton. I’d called him a few weeks beforehand asking if he could spare half an hour and he hadn’t hesitated in saying yes. We sat together while it was raining, an RAC chap under the bus attaching the gear stick that had disconnected from the gearbox. A quick fix was needed to get it back on the road; it felt a lot like life.
Marcus’ problems have been well documented. He explained to me about his difficulties in being away from home. Unbearable homesickness is his issue and now he has acknowledged how to live with it. “A lot of people with depression or anxiety issues just want to sleep,” he told me. “[But] I’ve got to get out, I can’t sit still or I’ll just sit there watching the TV with things going over and over in my head. I’ve got to keep busy. I don’t sleep in, I’ve got to get out and be with friends and family. I just know if I’m home doing bugger-all then there will be an issue.
“People perceive mental issues as being not normal – that those who suffer from a mental illness are loonies. But people with experience know what it is. It’s just like getting antibiotics for an illness, it’s exactly the same.”
Marcus has worked with the Mind charity in the past and he believes in the importance of people speaking up about the problems they go through. “Raising awareness is probably the biggest thing we can do,” he told me. “It’s all about trying to publicise it and get the message out there.”
Aged 28, I endured a year when all I wanted to do was the longest disappearing act possible, as the ghost and all his mates from the dark side came out to play. Snow Black and the seven devils… Mr Worthless, Mr Negative, Mr Suicide, Mr Destroyer, Mr Cheater, Mr Unreliable and Master Loser.
They all had a great time picking on me, and they won hands down, without a fight. My poor wife and child at the time. You know when we take a vow to support till death do us part? Well, in my worst moments death couldn’t come quick enough to stop the pain and hurt I was causing to others.
When you find yourself in a place where you want to end your life, it is the lowest of the low. You forget everything and everyone else, you are so self-obscured you don’t see sense. It’s a bad place to be.
The first time I really contemplated that journey to ease the pain, I was a teenager. I remember at the end of our road in Adelaide an abandoned quarry. It was my peaceful haven where I could escape my home where nervousness and not belonging compounded my introduction into teenage years. I would climb the boulders and eventually make it to the top overlooking the amazing scenery of Adelaide city from the south.
The one boulder that formed a natural diving board over the quarry was my best friend at the time. Hours and hours getting to know each other, we shared stories and patience. It was nice to talk to something.
He could have been my last friend, my only friend. The friend that I needed right then to say ‘Don’t do it Lou, it will hurt’. What would have hurt? The landing 200ft below? The effect it would have on family and friends? Or the hurt of not understanding what life’s about and having regret? It was the latter for me.
I’m glad I didn’t jump, although if I had known what more pain I was going to go through, I sometimes wish I had. In heaven there is no pain.
Then I started to get it. I read on a Shane Warne tweet a few months back: “At school we are taught many things then we have a test, with life we have the test first and then we learn from that”. So true.
My journey with cricket has taken me all around the world. I have been blessed to share the same field as elite cricketers in the most exclusive grounds, and I have met the tuk tuk driver in Sri Lanka who shares a double bed with his wife and three kids and drives me around, helping me find my medication at three in the morning.
This summer in the UK I’ve wanted to bring all these experiences together and to build on those friendships I’ve built up over the years. So this is what I did. I invested in a 30-year-old camper van to help me love, learn and talk to as many strangers and old friends as possible. It’s a 1985 Mercedes HymerMobil camper van. I am on a journey like no other.
Chiefly, I want to encourage today’s society to talk about mental health. Although I’m not proud of the things I’ve done in the past, I am proud of the person I have become and I want to share what I’ve learnt to help and encourage others who have similar issues in their lives, whether in the sporting world or not.
Mental illness is a serious issue and it affects one in four people in some way. I have been very proud to get behind the Mind charity on my journey.
I love what they are trying to achieve here in the UK and I’m so privileged to have their stickers on my bus during my 12,000-mile journey around the UK.
The bus has given me the opportunity to talk to some of the sporting world’s most successful people. From Sir Vivian Richards talking about his mindset, to Sir Steve Redgrave sharing his experiences, to the fun side of getting these legends to do random acts for my own amusement in order to show people that it’s okay to be embarrassed and laugh at yourself.
My god, the amount of times I’ve cringed at decisions I’ve made and beaten myself up worrying about my reputation. But my journey has taught me many things. There is a testament from John in the Bible 3:13, which I read not long ago as part of my study into mental health: ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of god unless they are born again’.
It wasn’t until I ‘really’ read what was being said that it came to me.
I have done many things I’m not proud of. The ghost of the past always seems to haunt me. But we have a choice: we can be reborn. To me, it’s not about going to church. It’s about understanding the lessons we are learning on our journey so each time we tweak our outlook we are reborn; each time becoming a better person. Then there is forgiveness, to ourselves and to others.
I am not religious. But I get it. I respect a greater energy.
I finished this article on the day the Auckland Aces named their first round of contracts. There is my name: LOU VINCENT.
This story is not done yet.
To follow Lou’s journey on the bus, go to Whereislou.co.uk