Tyson Fury (otherwise known as the ‘Gypsy King’) is a British professional boxer who recently returned to the sport after a two-and-a-half-year hiatus.
It’s not uncommon for athletes– especially in a sport as high-impact as boxing– to go on hiatus or take breaks. For Fury, however, his break from the ring was not for the sake of giving his body time to rest. Instead, it was for his mind.
The heavyweight boxer hasn’t shied away from his battle with depression. In fact, he has been extremely open about his mental health struggles. This is quite unique and unexpected for an athlete in a sport like boxing, which is pervaded by a macho, hyper-masculine culture. Fury’s candidness about his mental health shows that he is determined to combat this culture within the sport. However, his honesty is actually having far-reaching implications. It’s allowing his fans – and all sorts of men less acquainted with the sport – to realize that being a strong, successful man isn’t determined by a lack of struggle.
Fury is proving to men, who may have certain expectations about masculinity, that overcoming struggle (be it mental or physical) is where true strength lies. So let’s take a deeper look at Fury’s battle with depression and suicidal thoughts, and examine why this boxer is helping to break down the barriers of masculinity.
Fury’s Mental Health Journey
Fury said that he “gave up on life” in 2016, following his struggles with depression, alcoholism, and drug addiction. He appeared on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast and openly discussed his mental health issues. During his rock bottom, he said:
“I would start thinking these crazy thoughts. I bought a brand new Ferrari convertible in the summer of 2016. I was in it on the highway and at the bottom I got the car up to 190mph and heading towards a bridge.
I didn’t care about nothing. I just wanted to die so bad. I gave up on life but, as I was heading to 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.
I’d wake up and think, ‘Why did I wake up this morning?’ And this is coming from a man who won everything. Money, fame, glory, titles, a wife, family and kids – everything. I was out at Halloween in 2017 dressed as a skeleton but I was 29 and everyone was younger. I thought, ‘Is this what I want from my life?’ I left early and went home into a dark room, took the skeleton suit off and I prayed to God to help me. I’d never begged God to help me. I could feel tears running down my face.
I almost accepted that being an alcoholic was my fate but after praying for 10 minutes, I got up and felt the weight was lifted off my shoulders. For the first time in my life I thought I was going to be OK. I knew I couldn’t do it on my own.”
Fury’s spiraling out of control was triggered after his win against Wladimir Klitschko. He became WBA, IBF, and WBO heavyweight champion. But his victory did not signal lasting happiness. What he found was that, after achieving his ultimate goal, he was lost and aimless. With no sense of purpose left, he fell into a deep depression. He filled the emptiness with heavy drinking and drug abuse. But his party lifestyle wasn’t sustainable. It was just exacerbating his declining mental health.
Challenging Expectations About Masculinity
When Fury was committed to recovery, he stressed he couldn’t do it on his own. Which is an extremely important thing to say, especially for a man. One of the greatest burdens a man carries is the expectation to deal with his problems on his own. If you’re struggling with a serious mental health issue, one that is contributing to suicidal thoughts, this is when you really need outside help. Not seeking support during a critical time like this could be life-threatening.
For many men, being self-reliant is extremely important. It’s deemed as essential to their masculine identity. To seek help from others is believed to be a sign of weakness. But Fury wasn’t buying into that narrative. He wanted to get better and knew what he had to do. So he sought out support from a psychiatrist, psychotherapist, and family members. He also highlighted how regular exercise and a renewed religiosity got him through that difficult time.
On December 1st, 2018, Fury returned to boxing, fighting Deontay Wilder in the world heavyweight championship. The result was a draw. In the run-up to the fight, Fury stated that becoming the heavyweight champion of the world wouldn’t be a big deal. He believed that going home with the belt would be great, obviously, but “no different from a nice jacket, watch or car”. He added:
“I’m not going to make love to the belt, am I? The most important thing is going home to my family and enjoying Christmas.”
Following his mental hardship, it seems Fury has discovered that one’s relationships are far more meaningful and nourishing than the pursuit of status and glory. This outlook certainly runs counter to expectations that many men have about happiness. Expectations about masculinity lead a lot of men to believe that money, fame, status, ambition, and success are the keys that will unlock lasting happiness. But Fury discovered that – for him, at least – this is illusory.
Fury is now a mental health advocate who wants to represent mental health sufferers all around the world. And his outspokenness is certainly going to inspire many men who are struggling with their mental health but who feel resistant about opening up. As Fury has proved, acting in defiance of masculine norms is what helps you to get back on your feet and build the best version of yourself.
About Sam Woolfe
I'm a freelance writer who is interested in mindfulness, mental health and the evolving concept of masculinity.
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