James Hird has bravely spoken before about the devastating depths of his fall from one of Essendon’s favourite sons to a football pariah.
His desperate calls to Beyond Blue, the five weeks he spent in a psychiatric ward and the night he took “too many sleeping tablets”.
But now, several years on from those dark days, the champion Bomber can speak confidently about how he escaped the sad spiral that saw him hit rock bottom.
Hird, 48, delivered several important messages during a lengthy conversation with Corey McKernan this week as part of the former North Melbourne player’s Walk With Me project.
He appeared at peace with himself and spoke with honest reflection on the Essendon supplements scandal which ruined several careers during his time as coach of the Bombers.
Hird was hit as hard as anyone by the years-long saga but appears to have well and truly moved past it.
“Where I am now in my life, when I look back I think ‘how’d you get through that?’,” Hird told McKernan.
“When you make mistakes like I made, and we made at the Essendon Football Club, and big mistakes, and public mistakes, and the pressure comes on and rightly so, you’ve got to find a way of coping.
“You cope with the support of your family and your wife and friends, but in the end you can only cope for so long. I did melt down. Ended up in a psychiatric ward for five weeks and really didn’t handle that pressure well.
“But fortunately with the help of people around me I was able to get through that and be where I am today.”
‘There were mistakes I could have prevented’
Few have scaled the heights the two-time premiership winner and Brownlow medallists did on the field and then plummeted to the depths he did after becoming coach.
“One of the greatest things that gets you to doubt yourself is when you make mistakes that maybe you could have prevented,” he said. “There’s a lot of blame on yourself. That’s when things are tough — when you hurt other people or the footy club gets hurt by things you could have done better.”
Hird said accepting his failures was difficult because he was so used to success. He also admitted not only losing the respect of others, but also respect for himself, and it took time to regain that.
“You lose a lot of respect for yourself along a journey like that,” he said. “But then you gain a lot of respect for yourself as you build out of it as well. Because you know you’ve gone to a very low spot and (you could have made the choice) not to come back. So I get a lot of self-confidence out of what I’ve done the last three or four years, business-wise and personally. It gives you a different confidence than football gave you … a deeper, more sincere confidence.”
The three pillars behind his current happiness
Key to his current mindset is a return to some of the rigidity in his schedule that was lost when he stepped outside the AFL industry.
He exercises at 4am or 5am every morning for an hour “just to get my head straight”.
“If I don’t do that I know the day won’t be as successful as it normally is,” he said.
“Having that commitment to do that on a day-to-day basis is something that I don’t let go of, ever.”
He also makes sure his day is structured with a series of tasks to complete, so it’s “not just a wandering day” and sticks to a healthy diet on week nights, with no alcohol.
“You get to a point where you’re drinking every night and I just said ‘no, this is just not going to happen’.”
Hird said those pillars formed the base of his approach to life and then to keep growing he made sure he was filling his hours with interesting tasks and people.
His current happiness stems from emerging from a critical period a few years ago where he made a conscious decision to stop hiding from the world.
“(I had to decide) am I going to get back into life or am I going to hide from it?” Hird said. “There was a period of two or three months in the middle of 2017, somewhere around there, when I was hiding from life and not really contributing.
“Was I going to have a crack and try and live my life again or just hide away? I’m glad I chose the decision to get back into life because it’s bloody good. It’s not always great but when you get it right there’s a lot of good things to look forward to.”
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