Day I nearly killed myself: Paul Whatuira
EXCLUSIVE by James Phelps From: The Daily Telegraph March 08, 2010 12:00AM
PAUL Whatuira checked himself out of hospital at 2am. He signed the paperwork, walked out the door and then ran. In a rage that was all black clouds and no tomorrows, he sprinted from the demons that had been chasing him since he was six. He spent two hours running from the sickening secrets he had kept locked beneath all the muscle and tribal ink for 22 years - painful memories this rugby league warrior thought he was tough enough to hide.
And then all hell broke loose.
“I assaulted two blokes,” Whatuira said in his only interview. “I didn’t know what I was doing but I knew I was attacking them. I can’t deny that or make excuses for it. I hit the both of them and the police arrested me pretty much straight away.”
Dual NRL premiership winner Whatuira was about to take his own life late last year when he stumbled across the two strangers on a street in Huddersfield in the UK, where he plays football for the Huddersfield Giants in the English Super League. He attacked them because after six months of anxiety, depression and nightmares, he was thinking of the former family friend who sexually assaulted him when he was six. The man who stole his innocence and condemned him to 22 years of denial and fear.
“I was sexually abused when I was a kid,” he said.
“When I was just six. The perpetrator was a family friend and my closest family know who it was. It was horrible but I thought I would be a man and forget about it. I thought I could sweep it under the mat.”
Whatuira thought he was tough enough to hide from his pain. To bury his fear and horror. A rugby league hard man who won NRL premierships with the Panthers (2003) and the Tigers (2005), this Kiwi international thought it would be soft to seek help. And all was fine, all had been forgotten, until his partner Vanessa fell pregnant and the demon clawed its way out of the closet.
“Life was awesome,” Whatuira said. “I was playing a game I loved for a living and then I found out I was going to be a father. I had everything I could want and it was all going to plan but finding out I was a father starting bringing back memories of my childhood and all the demons that I never really fronted. I had forgotten about it and put it away, kept it to myself for 22 years. But becoming a father triggered off the memories. From there I went on a downward spiral. I suffered depression for most of last year and anxiety attacks.”
Crippled by fear and bouts of insomnia, Whatuira confided in his coach, former Dragons boss Nathan Brown, and club doctor. He told them of his fears for his unborn child and of the predator he had tried to forget.
“I saw my team doctor and Nathan Brown was very helpful,” Whatuira said. “He gave me some time off from football and was very supportive. I thought I could concentrate on rugby league and it would go away. I struggled with it for most of the year and then it got worse.”
Vanessa pulled him from the team and took him to Greece for a holiday, hoping the Mediterranean sun and sand would shine some light on his darkest days.
“I didn’t sleep for seven nights when we went away,” Whatuira said. “I had all these thoughts in my head and my mind was racing. I couldn’t control myself and I was a wreck. I thought I was going crazy. I wanted to end it all and was thinking about suicide. I knew I needed help, so we cut the holiday short.”
Consumed by hate and anger, Whatuira decided to front up to his past. He checked himself into South West Yorkshire hospital to seek a cure, if not for him then for the sake of his unborn child.
“They just put me in a room and gave me time out,” he said. “They weren’t much help and they didn’t give me any medication or diagnoses. I knew it was more severe than that. I started to hallucinate. I hadn’t slept for seven nights and I started getting thoughts in my head. Not good thoughts. I was thinking about doing things to myself, things I knew weren’t right. I was thinking about suicide.”
Alone and more confused than ever, he checked out of hospital - and then ran.
“I didn’t know where I was or where I was going but I just ran and ran,” he said. “That is when I bumped into those two people I assaulted. Unfortunately, I bumped into them and I did assault them. I did hit them both. They didn’t approach me, I had no control. I was hallucinating and I just hit them.”
Whatuira’s attack on two Huddersfield fans made headlines around the world. But he didn’t stay in jail long.
After being arrested, Whatuira was branded “insane” and sent to a hospital for psychiatric assessment.
“I was still hallucinating. I was in a rage,” he said.
“I had no control over anything. They knew I was in a bad spot. They knew I needed help and knew I needed it badly.”
Whatuira spent 13 days in the psychiatric ward of South West Yorkshire hospital. For almost two weeks he sat in a white room staring into the eyes of his demon.
My memory is blurred but they had to use some pretty heavy drugs to put me to sleep," Whatuira said. "They sedated me and kept me in there for 13 days.
"It was tough but I needed it. I needed to sleep it off and get my sanity back. I was down. I wasn’t in a good place.
“It was a big learning curve for me because they taught me how to deal with my inner demons. They told me that I had to face my fears.”
Whatuira was not charged for assault. He admitted his guilt but was deemed unfit to face trial because of his horrendous story.
“I will have to live with that forever,” he said. “I am so sorry for what I did to those blokes and I have written them letters and hope to meet them. But in a way they saved my life. If they weren’t there that night I wouldn’t be here now.”
Whatuira believes the assaults could have been prevented.
“I should have been man enough to deal with it when I was young,” he said. “Being a proud Maori, we don’t really think about our true feelings. We are taught to hold it all inside. What happened to me just built up and I just let it all out on that night. I thought I was a tough league player and tried to deal with it. But I needed help from when I was young. This would not have happened if I had dealt with it earlier.”
Whatuira continued his recovery after his release from hospital and told his story to loved ones.
“I was diagnosed me with depression and anxiety,” he said. “It was the low point of my life but it also saved me. My parents flew from New Zealand and spent the next month with me. I have been going to counselling but the best therapy is talking about it with my parents and partner. I am not hiding from it.”
The trigger for Whatuira’s fears is nine weeks old, his beautiful daughter Gabriella. “That was the best day of my life when she was born,” he said.
“The whole world just stopped and that was a day I will never forget. All my worries disappeared and it brought things into perspective. Life is precious and you have to make the most of it. Going through what I have is a learning curve and I want to use it to help people in need.”
Whatuira has told his story to help others who have been through a similar ordeal.
“I want to use my story for teenagers or youths who are dealing with a problem to get help,” he said. “It is not tough to hold things inside. It will just eat you up and come out in bad ways. Suicide is not the answer.”
We leave Whatuira holding his baby girl with his partner by his side. All rainbows and endless tomorrows.
Whoa… this really came out of left field! I hope this story does serve as tool to encourage others to speak out… Does anyone know what happened with those Assault charges? I believe given this, they would have been dropped…
Yep, they were dropped on grounds given his condition at the time.
It is a sad and tragic story.
However in saying that this happens to many people who go on to commit, sometimes terrible, crimes and when they are not a well known character they are, for the most part, rideculed as trying to get off easy and making excuses.
There is undoubtedly a level of compassion required for Paul and his situation but I would encourage that compassion to extend to anyone in that situation