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'I didn't care if I died at 21': Former Ulster prop Rodney Ah You opens up on depression in emotional video

Rodney Ah You, now of Newcastle Falcons, has opened up on his struggles with depression.
Rodney Ah You, now of Newcastle Falcons, has opened up on his struggles with depression.
Gareth Hanna

By Gareth Hanna

"I like the physical confrontation. I just like smashing people or getting smashed. It's an escape in a way as well."

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Rodney Ah You is a prop with significant rugby pedigree.

But the former Ulster player's high-profile career developed in its early stages through an undercurrent of abuse and mental issues.

The 30-year-old, who spent two years at Kingspan Stadium before leaving for Newcastle Falcons last year, amassed over 100 appearances for Connacht, earning three full caps for Ireland and representing New Zealand at underage level.

But even throughout his impressive rise through the game's ranks, Ah You has explained why behind closed doors, all was not quite what it seemed.

"I didn't really start playing rugby properly until I was at high school. Back then it wasn't a passion or anything - it was just something that my dad thought I should do," he says of the man he admits he is struggling to forgive.

"I'd get hidings after the rugby games. I was always being criticised about what didn't go good and why did I play the way I did.

"When I started coming up through teams, I always felt out of place. I never really felt like I belonged. I always had pretty bad thoughts that I wasn't even good enough.

"I played for Canterbury. I was there with Richie McCall, Brad Thorn and Dan Carter. Even just seeing my team photo from that year, I can't believe I'm in that squad. I was there with all those All Blacks."

Watch Rodney Ah You's emotional story here or keep reading below:

Those early seeds of negativity would take root and eventually manifest themselves in the most cruel of ways.

"All those bad moments with my dad after rugby, I just bottled it all up," he continues. "I didn't realise how negative I was mentally. It was always constantly 'that was a s**t game. Played s**t today'. The whole time I just never liked who I was.

"I got to a point when I was 21 and I didn't even care if I died at 21. I got pretty bad sometimes. During the night when I couldn't sleep - 'if I take this car and just speed down and just crash into a big truck, that would be me done'.

"That tipping point was on my 21st birthday. I had a dinner and you could tell there was such an awkward silence the whole time. Everyone knew what happened, it was obvious. My dad was hungover and my mum had a black eye. I was there not really in the mood."

His next door neighbours would then have to stage an intervention that would prove to save his life.

"They're the ones that took me to hospital," he said. "That whole time I was like 'don't take me there'. The doctor said it's a good thing we came early. Any longer and I would have been dead.

"After that I told my mum and dad I was at the hospital. Obviously my mum and sisters were crying. My dad was there and he was just like 'if you had the balls to do that to yourself why don't you have that sort of courage in rugby?'

"That was rock bottom."

It's because of those friends that Ah You's tale can take a turn for the better.

It's because of them that it's a story of hope and a story of progress.

"It took a while to finally open up to a psychiatrist," he laughs. "I remember the first session with an awkward silence and she was asking me all these questions. 'Yes'. 'No'.

"It felt really weird - being a little cry baby talking to some random about your feelings.

"After trying for a few months, it helped me let go in a way. They were giving me better ways to help me retrain my mind and think more positive. Then I told the squad that I was suffering with depression. It took years but I think now I can say I'm a good person. I like myself now. I can say, 'yeah, I'm the man'."

Ah You is now married to his wife Bella, who says her 'heart dropped' when she received a text from him saying goodbye during his 'rock bottom' experience.

The couple have five children and Rodney says he's a 'handy-man' about the house.

It's one of the traits that he's happy to thank his father for.

"I was always there when my dad was doing stuff and it helped me to be a handy-man," he says. "Whatever's broken around the house, I try and fix it. My dad was a hard-working man and he had a big heart. He was always helping people. I think that's what he wanted me to be - just be humble.

"I love my family and I love my dad. He worked hard and sacrificed to leave his home and build a better future for me. I will always be grateful but if I can't talk about the negative stuff too, I'll never be able to heal and move forward to build a better future for my children. That's all I want."

Ah You's five children are now growing up in north-east England, but through their parent's stories and their mother's Samoan cooking, they'll know all about their roots.

And thanks to their dad's admirable honesty and courage, the world will know about Rodney Ah You's tale of struggle and of hope.

If you, or anyone close to you, is affected by any issues in this story, contact the Samaritans free on 116 123 or Lifeline on 080 8808 8000.

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