Tyson Fury’s comeback story is a lesson in overcoming mental health challenges

Former boxing world champion Tyson Fury fights Deontay Wilder December 1st 2018, Saturday night (PT) for the WBC heavyweight title. Here’s his comeback story on how he fought depression, drug and alcohol addiction, and the lessons we can learn from it. We have all at some point fantasised about what our life would look like if we achieved something significant and memorable. Whether it’s in our personal or professional life, we have most likely pondered how we would deal with the fame, glory and trappings that come with it.


This is exactly the situation where boxer Tyson Fury found himself in 2015 after he defeated Wladimir Klitschko to become the WBA; IBF and WBO heavyweight champion of the world. Opening up about his experience with depression on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast recently, Fury said he was a man who had everything. “Money, fame, glory, titles, a wife, family and kids — everything.”

Suddenly, after accomplishing his dreams, left without any more goals to focus on, a feeling of emptiness followed the fights aftermath. “I didn’t want to live anymore, I had everything a man could want, there wasn’t nothing I didn’t have, but it meant nothing, nothing meant to me, and I felt worthless, the longer it went on, the more it hurt inside, and it was hurting everybody”.


Haunted by undiagnosed and untreated mental health challenges, he “gave up on life”. The following year Tyson plunged into alcoholism and drug addiction. “I’d wake up and think, 'Why did I wake up this morning?’ I felt there was a big gaping hole that was filled with gloom and doom.”


He was drinking 18 beers a day, chasing them with spirits and then binging on fast food. He was out all night partying with “women of the night” and not coming home. “I didn’t care about boxing, I didn’t care about living, I just wanted to die,” he said. “And I was going to have a good time doing it.”




His life bottomed when he came seconds away from driving his brand-new Ferrari off a bridge near his home. “I got the car up to 180 miles an hour, I was heading towards that bridge and I didn’t care what no-one was thinking. I didn’t care about my family, my career, people and friends, anybody. I just wanted to die so bad. I gave up on life.


"But as I was heading towards the bridge I heard a voice saying, 'No, don't do this Tyson, think about your kids, your family, your sons and daughter growing up without a dad.’ Before I turned into the bridge I pulled over on the motorway, I was shaking, I was so afraid,” he said.


That was the turning point for Fury. He went home, locked himself in a dark room, wept and turned to his faith. With his father’s support, he got psychiatric help, returned to boxing and turned his career and life around.

Setting goals - essential to strong mental health

So, how does somebody go from a dark place like Fury was in, to turning his life a full 180 degrees? “You can only change your life if you want to change it,” he told Joe Rogan. His solution was to set short and long-term goals, starting with getting back training which would mean kicking his booze and drug habits, and finishing with being the heavyweight champion of the world, which required losing the massive amount of weight he’d put on and getting back into fighting condition.


Here are some key points that Tyson used to help him overcome his depression and the consequences.


1. Set SMART goals


“The way to beat mental health [challenges] is to set yourself goals – short and long-term goals,” he says. “I don’t suffer mental health when I’m active and I’ve got a goal. If you suffer mental health problems, you tend to suffer them when you’re on your own and you’ve got a lot of time to think. But when you’re busy… you don’t have much time to think about mental health.”


Tyson set himself SMART goals. The acronym stands for targets that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound.

“One of the things about happy people is that they are goal-orientated people,” he says.


2. Re-set your goals as you progress


Tyson would set a SMART goal, achieve it, and then set himself another short-term target. He would continue this step-by-step process until he reached his long-term goal – becoming a serious boxing contender again. This was achieved with his early December 2018 fight against Deontay Wilder, the WBC heavyweight champion.


It was a long road to this point, however, Tyson had to lose 140 pounds of excess weight in 10-pound increments. It also meant turning his back on alcohol, even though he still goes for a pint with his mates from time to time. And with his training, it meant starting to go shorter at first and gradually work up to longer increments.


As Tyson demonstrates, by setting SMART goals there’s a higher probability they will be achieved.


3. Learn from your failures


Everyone fails in life. At some point or another, we all suffer from through failure. The key is that failure doesn’t mean defeat. You can learn from your failures, pick yourself up as Tyson did, set new goals and keep on going. This is echoed by a great book by John Kavanagh, “Win or Learn” where he discusses his life as one of MMAs elite training coaches creating SBG gym in Ireland, and being head coach of “the Notorious” Conor McGregor.


Failure allows us to grow, mature and achieve new understandings and perspectives on life, relationships and money. As coach Kavanagh would say, you win or you learn, and try again.


4. Do physical activity


As a boxer, Tyson had a long road to travel to get himself back into peak physical condition. He described in the podcast how he was initially deemed medically unfit because of his mental state and abuse of drugs and alcohol.


Once he had experienced his watershed moment, he found a new trainer, a new promoter, and started getting himself back into fighting condition. He described how at first, he would start out for a run, but had to stop after a short distance because he wasn’t physically able to continue. He had put on too much weight, but he knew he could walk, so he started by walking. Tyson persevered and is back to the physical form that took him to the top of his game.


He says: “The best way to live is fit and healthy. If you feel fit, you feel good. Training sets off an endorphin your blood that makes you feel happy.” As a top athlete, physical training is key to his success. However, even a brisk walk several times a week will get the endorphins pumping.


5. Be thankful and content with what you have


Tyson maintains we should be thankful for the things we have around us, not the things we don’t. This is a common perspective from people who have suffered from physical and mental challenges and bounced back. Tyson encourages you to find contentment, which can be described as a state of happiness and satisfaction.


“Contentment doesn’t come through material stuff – jobs, possessions, fame, glory anything. You’ll never find contentment while you’re chasing that stuff,” he says.  


“My message would be: Look around yourself, be thankful for what you do have today.  Don’t look for what you don’t have – you’ve got to be happy with who you are.”


6. Do what sets you right and avoid what sets you wrong


He adds that we should look out for the things that make us feel better and do more of them. On the flipside, we should avoid those things that don’t deliver positive outcomes in our life. As obvious as it might sound, Tyson says: “If someone suffers with mental health problems the worst thing we can do to escape it is take drugs or alcohol.”


“Study yourself, try and understand yourself, try and work out what makes you happy and do that. Set yourself short-term and long-term goals, achieve them and move on.”

If you or someone you know is in need of crisis or suicide prevention support, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit www.lifeline.org.au/gethelp

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