Thursday 22 March 2018

Frank account of mental illness is a must-read for all

Book review - Dean Goodison

Let me be Frank
Let me be Frank

Mental health: for years it has been the silent killer, stalking prey like no other disease, lurking in the shadows, ready to strike, ready to pounce with jagged claws that are so difficult to prise off. And nobody is immune.

That's the scary thing, really. There is no type, nobody gets spared. So it shouldn't come as a surprise when reports circulated that former WBC heavyweight champion of the world Frank Bruno was having problems.

But here's the thing: people remember the bellowy laugh, the big man with the smile seemingly knotted to his face. Big Frank, he couldn't be struggling, could he? He was, and it wasn't exactly dealt with tactfully.

The disgraceful way Bruno was treated, and his journey back to being well, through his whole battle with his mental health, is dealt with in detail in his new book, 'Let me be Frank'. Let's just say, the title could hardly be more apt.

Bruno, with the help of excellent ghostwriter Nick Owens, delves deep into his mind. He drags out the demons to show them to the world. They got their good shots in, there's no doubt about that, but the big man looks to be winning the war.

The British boxing champ had previously released a memoir that detailed his life up until 2005, a couple of years after the first time he was sectioned. This is a much more focused effort, dealing with his life, predominantly, between 2012, when things started to spiral again, and now.

The detail Bruno goes into is remarkable and the story is truly heartbreaking. His emotions are raw, his confusion is so real, and chapter by chapter the story is one of two things - renewed hope or absolute despair.

It's interesting that Bruno disputes his bipolar diagnosis, doubts that exactly fits with what he knows and feels. People know their own body, they know their own mind better than anyone else, and it wouldn't be a big surprise if he's proved correct.

Bruno also doesn't believe that being hit in the ring caused his downward spiral. Boxing is in a very dangerous spot at the moment, and the sport's link with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is only going to get stronger.

While American football and other physical sports like rugby may eventually tailor the rules to combat the problem, it will be one hell of a task to take head-shots out of boxing. It's probably something Bruno will eventually be tested for once tests on the living are deemed accurate.

Honestly, this publication has the power to bring up a sense of anger while you read it. The way people struggling with their mental health are dealt with, as described in detail by Bruno, is nothing short of disgusting.

In this country it feels like only one major national problem can be the centre of attention at any one time, and at the moment that's the homeless issue. But the mental health juggernaut is not slowing down, it really isn't, and 'Let me be Frank' is successful in shining a light on the myriad of hurdles ahead for those who are struggling.

Boxing fans of an age, those who have known more than Floyd Mayweather and Anthony Joshua, will remember the halcyon days of Bruno, the Tyson bouts, the Lewis disappointment. They will despair at what they read but they have to pick this up.

Really, the book goes far beyond boxing, it goes beyond sport. This is human life in its rawest, most fragile form. This book is a must-read for everyone.

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Wexford People