A life too short – Ronald Reng
part of last year’s Mental Health Reading Challenge 2013
*warning potential plot spoilers*
Winner of the William Hill Sports Book of the Year, the biography of Robert Enke, the international footballer with the world at his feet who took his own life
Here, award-winning writer Ronald Reng pieces together the puzzle of his lost friend’s life. On November 10, 2009, the German national goalkeeper, Robert Enke, stepped in front of a passing train. He was 32 years old. Viewed from the outside, Enke had it all. He was a professional goalkeeper who had played for a string of Europe’s top clubs, including Jose Mourinho’s Benfica and Louis Van Gaal’s Barcelona, and was destined to be his country’s first choice for years to come. But beneath the bright veneer of success lay a darker story. Reng brings into sharp relief the specific demands and fears faced by those who play top-level sport. Heartfelt, but never sentimental, he tells the universal tragedy of a talented man’s struggles against his own demons – Goodreads
‘Speaking at a press conference at Enke’s club, Hannover 96, Teresa Enke, dressed in black, told journalists about her efforts to help her 32-year-old husband beat his depression. “We thought we were capable of managing everything. We thought love would make it possible. But sometimes you just can’t manage it,” she said.’ Read more here
A note from me. Before I get into this review, you’ll have noticed this has taken me a year to get round to reading and reviewing it. At the time I was so eager to do this challenge and decided to pick something completely different to what I would normally read. I borrowed it from the library and thought crikey, this is a fair size book to get through. It was at that time things started to change for me and the book sat there and stayed there, renew after renew, and then I just gave up. Not sure why. Then I decided about a month ago I would try get all unfinished books out-of-the-way and here we are.
This book for me was not an easy read. Not because of the subject being depression but it seemed to just be boring topics at certain points and part of me felt where was the drama going to be, but of course there was none. It was more about life, a personal journey. Not just one person’s but several all entwined.
‘But beyond the headlines, deep down, there was real pain, a profound paralysis. Robert’s death reminded both of us how little we understand about the illness that is depression.’
‘Depression, even today is a taboo subject, along with other illnesses it’s not fully understood. Nobody understands what’s going on in other people’s heads, not truly. We can explain how we’re feeling but never truly understand it. The best way we react is to tell the person to ‘Keep smiling’ ‘We’ll get through it’ ‘things aren’t as bad as it seems’ or the best one ‘there are people much worth off then you so get over it’
This book explores Robert’s life at so many levels. From childhood to parenthood to the pressure an international goalkeeper has. How even as a normal man he still had to ‘put up a front’ as they say. What annoys me the most was the fact as a goalkeeper, as someone to look up to as a football fan, He could not tell anyone outside his family what he was going through because he would have been seen as a failure. To me, as I read them words I got so angry I didn’t want to read the book anymore.
As a society, we’re rubbish when it actually comes down to dealing with mental issues. It’s because its invisible. There’s no physical item to mend, it’s trying to precondition a person’s way of thinking, feeling. To tell someone to ‘get over it’ could be the worst thing. From this story it just made me realise how much as individuals we shut out the world how we don’t want people to see us as week when everything seems to be going our way. To say Robert was unlucky at getting depression, to me seemed like the wrong thing to say. We’re human, not robots.
‘I don’t dare go home, because then I’ll have to face Terri and I won’t be able to pull myself together’
The book also focuses on in great detail on the world of German soccer, particularly the unique burdens born by anyone playing goalie. At the end of the day winning of losing comes down to one single person….the goalie. And that’s got to be one of the toughest jobs in the world. Football to me, has been something I played as a kid in the fields across from where we lived. A bit of fun, it also was one of the most annoying sports my Dad watched which I never understood because he got so upset at the tv and started shouting even though no one could hear him and if they lost put him in a bad mood. So initially it lead me to hate the sport and when I moved out I had to check the football score to see if it was safe to ring home.
Football is meant to be a team sport but a lost rest of the goalie. As you go through his book you can see the enormous amount of pressure Robert was put under, what any goalie is put under at any point in their career. What I liked most was how he tried helping a young goalkeeper after analyzing his match, and how he feared upsetting other goalkeepers if he took their spot on the bench or field especially when it came to the international level.
But through his life and career Robert had plenty of support and not everyone gets that. Although he went into himself and there was only signs showing that he was struggling, sometimes it just didn’t seem to help him. But again this is real life and not a fiction book. Like his wife Teresa and his best friend, they gave everything they could. But in the end his illness was to strong and Robert was lost to depression.
This book is worth a read especially as it give you insight not into just one person’s struggle but several, the person with depression and the people around him who feel helpless and just want their loved one to be ok. It also gave fantastic insight into the illness itself referring to a articular subject ‘the black dog’.
Through book club and the various challenges that have been set I have read several books on depression and didn’t realise how many fiction books let alone non-fiction are actually based on it. With this being a non-fiction book it also gave insight into other people suffering from depression. Another famous person being Winston Churchill.
‘Depression wasn’t a weakness of character but an illness, moreover an indiscriminate illness that afflicted people without regard to their status, success or strength, and regardless of whether these people had all these qualities and possessions we think are necessary for a happy life. One of the most steadfast politicians of the modern era, Winston Churchill, suffered from depression just as much as any unknown secretary.’
“Black Dog” was Churchill’s name for his depression, and as is true with all metaphors, it speaks volumes. The nickname implies both familiarity and an attempt at mastery, because while that dog may sink his fangs into one’s person every now and then, he’s still, after all, only a dog, and he can be cajoled sometimes and locked up other times.”
“I think this man might be useful to me – if my black dog returns. He seems quite away from me now – it is such a relief. All the colours come back into the picture.” – Winston Churchill
A good article here about Winston Churchill read more
Oh and if you haven’t already, you need to read this book – I had a black dog
There’s a quote towards the end of the book that I would like to share. Once again its realising we never fully know or understand each other and why they can’t just ‘get on with things’. It was what was printed int he paper after his death:
‘Afterwards lots of newspapers mistakenly used the German word Freitod-literally, ‘free death’. The death of a depressive is never a free decision. The illness narrows perception to the extent that the sufferer no longer knows what is means to die. He thinks it just means getting rid of the illness.’
And this is what broke my heart and I started crying. Like I said before it was a tough read, more because of the amount of information in it than the subject. We make life so complicated when we don’t need to, we think we’re all the same because we have 10 toes, two legs etc yet forget the one important element…. We’re all wired differently, we may have the same genes in most cases but how we process thoughts, how we learn things, how we seen things, is a completely different aspect of being a human being and we must not forget that. Yes some people are better than others and sometimes we should not show off or be jealous we should just see how we can improve our selves and support others in what they do. After all we’re only human.
Music to match the book
‘ And I don’t want the world to see me
‘Cause I don’t think that they’d understand
When everything’s made to be broken
I just want you to know who I am’