‘You are not living’ – ex

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I was like a zombie – Kirkland on depression

“I used to think, ‘How can you do that to your family? How can you leave them?’ After what I have gone through, I can see how it leads to that road and it is scary.”

Chris Kirkland realised the ambitions of thousands of youngsters by playing in the Premier League and representing his country.

But, after leaving Wigan Athletic in 2012, the former Coventry City and Liverpool goalkeeper started to struggle with crippling anxiety.

Five years after his battle with depression began, Kirkland, now 36, tells BBC Sport how it affected him and his family.

‘They lost their husband and dad’

Kirkland spent 17 seasons playing professional football, before announcing he was taking time away from the game in August 2016, shortly after joining Bury.

The 6ft 6in goalkeeper is a husband to wife Leeona and father to daughter Lucy.

It had gone too far. The four years, looking back now, I can’t really remember a lot about it. It was just… I wasn’t there for Lucy or Leeona.

They lost their husband and their dad for four years, which hurts now, really hurts now. That’s why I knew I had to do something because I didn’t want my daughter growing up without a dad.

Me and Leeona have been together for 18 years, she is a wonderful wife and mother. She is the perfect role model and luckily our daughter has taken after her mum. She is great. I knew I had to do something. The way I was going, I was worried where it was going to lead to.

My wife was a rock. Until a couple of years ago, she didn’t really know the extent of it. I was ashamed, not so much ashamed, but your mind takes over yourself. You are not thinking rationally. You are not really thinking. You are just in a dark cloud. Everything just goes by you. You are dismissive of everything. You don’t want to go out. You try to stay in.

I even stopped walking the dog, which I have always done. I just felt as though everyone was looking at me when I was out. I just wanted to stay in the house, lock the door, shut the gate and not let anyone in.

I put my phone on silent. I didn’t call people back. I didn’t reply to texts. Normal life just wasn’t there anymore for me. I was in this different place and it is not a nice place to be.

‘A vicious circle’

Kirkland, who won his sole England cap in 2006, started his career at Coventry City, before earning a move to Liverpool and then Wigan Athletic, where he played more than 100 times for the Latics.

In 2012, however, the goalkeeper signed for Championship side Sheffield Wednesday. It was after that move Kirkland says his anxiety began to take hold.

I never wanted to leave Wigan. I loved it there, loved the club. It is local to me as well. I started to struggle with anxiety when I was travelling over to Sheffield Wednesday. I have always been a home person. My family lived in Leicester, Leeona’s family lived in Scotland. We have always been together.

When I was away from the house I started to panic and started to struggle. Andy Rhodes, the goalkeeping coach at Sheffield Wednesday, if it wasn’t for him I would have walked a long time ago. I was playing, which made it a little bit easier because for 90 minutes I managed to put it to one side.

Looking back now, it was hard to do it, but you just do. You get through it. I really started struggling during those three years. In the end, I had to leave. I was going to sign again. I was going to sign for another year. They wanted me to stay. I was in my training kit. I was in the gym. I was ready to go upstairs and start the first day of pre-season and just thought ‘I can’t do it any more’.

I didn’t tell them. I just told them I needed to be closer to home. I think Andy Rhodes knew, but the club were just a little bit unsure. They told me to take my time and to give it a couple of weeks. I just knew it was the right thing to do. I just wanted to get home at that point. I just wanted to be in the house and shut the door.

That is unfortunately the way it went. I didn’t want to do anything. I wanted to shut myself off. My head was just… I couldn’t think straight. I couldn’t wait to get to sleep at night to have a little bit of clear mind. But when I woke up in the morning, it all started again. It was just a vicious circle.

‘It all escalated – you are not thinking rationally’