Jason Pribila provides a deeply personal account of his own struggles with mental health and how Tyson Fury has inspired him in the fightback
On Saturday night Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder meet in Las Vegas to settle the unfinished business spawned from their first fight being controversially judged draw. No matter whom one is backing, all fight fans should feel grateful anytime the best are willing to face the best. I’m personally thankful to Tyson Fury for again using this immense platform to speak about those suffering from mental health and addiction. Fury’s recent conversation with Jeremy Schaap on ESPN’s E:60 inspired me to write this piece.
One would have to look long and hard to find anything in common between the self-professed ‘lineal’ heavyweight champion and a fairly anonymous boxing writer. If anything one may cite our love for ending a night with a microphone and singing a cappella. For the err, record, my version of Livin’ on a Prayer wouldn’t take a back seat to Fury’s, I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing. My goal with this piece, however, is to show that mental health and addiction do not discriminate. I hope to illustrate this sharing some of Fury’s quotes and showing how they could apply to myself and surely others who will hopefully read this.
“For years, from being a kid I suffered from anxiety. I never knew what it was. These feelings that I were feeling: aloneness, being left behind, frightened and afraid, scared. That’s what anxiety will do to you.”
Fury’s battle began long before he became the “Gypsy King”. He was suffering at a point in his life when one should be enjoying innocence and not suffering from anxiety. His behavior became more erratic when he began to self-medicate.
Shortly after my parents were divorced, I lived with my father. Three months later he was killed in an accident. From the age of 9 I have had to deal with fears of abandonment and guilt. At 15, I began to self-medicate with alcohol.
When Fury was asked how he got up to 400lbs, he replied, “Eating and drinking everything in sight. I drank pubs dry.”
When Fury was away from boxing he gained well over 100lbs. When he tried to run a mile, he was only able to manage 500 yards.
My weight always fluctuated, but after turning 40 my body was no longer reacting to diets that worked in the past. I was covering a fight in New York. I was a block away from Madison Square Garden, but had to sit on the sidewalk due to pain in my sciatic nerve. I was an order of Hooters wings away from 300lbs. This led me to having gastric sleeve surgery.
“I achieved all me dreams and everything that I wanted to box for, but I wasn’t happy.”
Fury beat Wladimir Klitschko in 2015. He fulfilled a life-long dream, but he confessed that he was feeling depressed by the time the post-fight press conference began. Fury had finally reached the mountaintop, but he felt alone.
Every diet and New Years’ Resolution for over a decade all ended with me getting my weight down to 225lbs. Six months after a successful surgery I had reached my goal. The holidays came and went and nothing changed. I was 44 and never felt more alone. My drinking increased and I no longer had the stamina to handle it. I was Paul Simon’s fear from You Can Call Me Al. I was “a cartoon in a cartoon graveyard”.
“A lot of people are suffering from mental health quietly. I suffered from it quietly for too long until I exploded.”
Things quickly went downhill for Fury after the Klitschko victory. He postponed the rematch due to an ankle injury. He admitted to using cocaine and failed a test for performance-enhancing drugs. His image was damaged further when he used antisemitic remarks on a video that went viral.
I began having physical issues. Anxiety bookended my days, I would feel an accelerated heartbeat, and the only way that I could sleep is if I had something to drink. For the first time since college, I was consuming alcohol on week nights.
Bloodwork results showed that I may be having issues with my thyroid. I was genuinely relieved because I felt that I would rather have a physical issue than a mental problem. Two weeks later, I gave blood again, and my thyroid was normal.
“It doesn’t get any darker than not wanting to live. And that’s where I was in my life. I would wake up in the morning and say, ‘Why did I wake up again? Why am I back in my place where I don’t want to be?’
Tyson Fury woke up one day and decided that it was his time to end his life. He jumped into his Ferrari with the intent of speeding into a bridge. Fortunately, he heard a voice that reminded him about his wife and children. He avoided the bridge and called his father to pick him up.
I have never contemplated suicide. I’ve been blessed with the best friends that any single person deserves. That said, there were nights that before I closed my eyes I let God know that I was at peace if I didn’t wake up.
“I just want to say to everyone out there who is suffering in silence; now is the time to come forward and open up and get help.”
Fury reiterated that no matter the outcome on Saturday night he is already winning his most important fight, and he is finally in a place to help others. “My story has more pain in it now, and more people could relate to it. Look to me for inspiration,” he said.
I have wanted to write this story for over a year. However, I would have been a hypocrite if I didn’t first seek help for myself. I want to a recovery center and my first group session contained 12 people. I was one of four that were there for alcohol treatment, while eight others were there for either pills or narcotics. My first thought was, “Why am I in the same group with heroin addicts?” I was soon able to see first hand that mental health and addiction don’t discriminate. Both feast on weakness and both could be merciless. I soon found as much inspiration in that room as I did from the “Gypsy King”.
Thank you, Tyson Fury.