‘I have been thinking really bad thoughts lately.’ These are the heartbreaking words from Broncos star Darius Boyd about his mental health battles.
‘I have been thinking really bad thoughts lately.’ These are the heartbreaking words from Broncos star Darius Boyd about his mental health battles.

‘CRITICAL HOURS’: Darius Boyd reveals his darkest moment

Wednesday, 23 December, 2015

"Been really struggling the last few days. I don't want to be angry and unhappy around Xmas time. It's just been really hard to snap out of it. I have been thinking really bad thoughts lately. Just been feeling really worthless.

I don't think I would ever try to take my life. But when you feel so low sometimes it actually sounds like a good idea.

Sometimes I feel like I'm fine and nothing is wrong. But then when I get like this, I realise I'm lying to myself. I just can't handle any little negative things. I let things get to me too easily. I need to remember what is important. And it's not little things or things that go wrong.

I have so much to be grateful for!! BREATHE/SMILE

XMAS!!"

DARIUS Boyd has never allowed himself to think about the what ifs. What would have happened if he didn't pick up his phone six years ago, on July 22, to ring his then estranged wife Kayla? What if he hadn't gone to see her, sobbing uncontrollably, to confide in her that he felt he could no longer cope, that he was struggling? What if he didn't take her calm, caring advice that evening that he was in need of professional help and needed to immediately book into a mental health clinic?

Darius Boyd. Picture: Libby Willis
Darius Boyd. Picture: Libby Willis

Boyd describes that tumultuous evening as "among the most important hours" of his life. He knows that his life wouldn't be what it is today if he had not taken those vital steps to ask for help, that his life could have veered off in a very different direction.

 

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Fast forward five years on from that diaryentry and Darius Boyd is happily married. He is a father to two beautiful girls - Willow and Romi, is playing at the NRL club that he adored as a child, is working to help others struggling with their mental health and is content as he prepares to close the book on a long career in rugby league.

It's a far cry from who he was - angry, hurt, lost, confused and unsure of where to turn.

In his new autobiography, Battling The Blues, Boyd goes into great detail about the pain he suffered in the lead-up to and during the 2014 season, as he reached a breaking point with his mental health.

Darius and Kayla Boyd with Willow and Romi. Picture: Libby Willis
Darius and Kayla Boyd with Willow and Romi. Picture: Libby Willis

He reveals how his anger started to destroy his marriage, how his wife left him while he was in State of Origin camp, how he barely reacted when she delivered the news and how he came home to Newcastle to find his house empty.

He had hit rock bottom but it was that decision on July 22 to reach out to Kayla that changed the course his life was taking.

With additional help from his manager George Mimis and coach Wayne Bennett, the Brisbane Bronco great checked into a mental health clinic the following day.

"I haven't really thought about what would have happened if I didn't see Kayla that night, but I know I wouldn't have known what my next step was," Boyd says.

"I was struggling. I was in a lot of pain, there was a lot of anger, a lot of emotions. I didn't know what to do or how to do it. Having that help and support, it kickstarted me into trying to better myself.

"The one thing I've realised is, you've got to make the change yourself. If I didn't see Kayla that night, I wouldn't have wanted it or done it for myself. I don't know if I would have gotten help. You have to be invested and want to change and want to understand the change.

"For two years prior, there were times I was seeing therapists and trying to work on myself and it wasn't working or it wasn't my decision.

"It's got to be your own doing and you have to want to get the best out of yourself. With Kayla's support, that's what really helped me let go and want to get better and change my life."

Darius and Kayla Boyd with his mother Rochelle Boyd.
Darius and Kayla Boyd with his mother Rochelle Boyd.

It was this time as well that opened Boyd'seyes to the support that was around him.

Born on the Gold Coast, Boyd had a turbulent childhood and endured a lot of change before he even reached his teen years.

The child of a single mother, Boyd still doesn't know who his dad is and he lost his only father figures - uncle Dallyn to a brain tumour and grandfather Herbie to emphysema - by the age of 11. His mother, Rochelle, then started to suffer from depression as Boyd turned 13, and two years later she checked herself into a mental health facility, leaving her son to take up residence at a friend's house for the next six months.

Boyd recalls these tumultuous years in his book, with his one constant source of support proving to be his beloved grandmother, Delphine.

But his upbringing meant he found it difficult to trust people and he believed that everything you loved would be lost, so why let people in? He turned his focus to other areas in life, namely rugby league.

What he failed to realise for many years was that he had love and support right in front of him.

Whether it was from his wife Kayla or the watchful eye of Wayne Bennett, Boyd had people who cared about him. "I was a bit blind and didn't really see it," Boyd says of the support around him.

Wayne Bennett with Darius Boyd. Picture: AAP Image/Dave Hunt
Wayne Bennett with Darius Boyd. Picture: AAP Image/Dave Hunt

"I was too focused on myself and didn't see the bigger picture of things. Those two years prior (to 2014), we went through some tough times and hurdles.

"When I look back now, that's what I really realised after all the hardships and challenges. Kayla was still there and supporting me. For a long period of time, I had the wrong idea of what was important in life. Rugby league was everything to me. My career was number one and family and friends were number two. I had to change that perspective."

He has come a long way since that time.

Boyd has been very open about his mental health issues since he left the clinic in 2014 and has gone on to work with the Brisbane Broncos to deliver resilience workshops to schools across the state.

But even in Battling The Blues, he reveals many hardships that fans and critics alike would not be aware of.

It has not been an easy journey for the 33 year old since he sought help six years ago.

Nothing about working on your mental health is easy and, as he shares in his book, the end of 2015 proved to be a new low for Boyd.

Darius Boyd. Picture: Libby Willis
Darius Boyd. Picture: Libby Willis

The journal entry that Boyd shares in his book - at the beginning of this profile - is one of the most eye-opening moments he reveals from his life story.

He knows some people might be shocked that just over 12 months after he left the clinic, he was writing about suicide.

But he hopes that by sharing this journal entry and showing the ugliest and most confronting aspects of his mental illness, he could make someone else see that life can and does get better.

"We all have really dark periods and hardships," he says of his low point in December 2015. "Not everything is perfect. The best thing about sharing this is it shows that entry was 14 or 15 months removed from the mental health clinic.

"I'd learnt so much, I'd had my first daughter (Willow), I'd played in a grand final with the Broncos, but at the same time it shows mental health is something you consistently need to work at.

"Most people put on a brave face but you never know what people are going through behind closed doors.

"Writing this book was about sharing my story and my journey … I hope it can be a really useful tool for other people to let them know we all have tough times and struggles. You just need to have the right support and strategies to get through this rollercoaster in life."

In the lead-up to December 2015, Boyd was struggling with several areas in his life.

Broncos captain Darius Boyd. Picture: Jono Searle/Getty Images
Broncos captain Darius Boyd. Picture: Jono Searle/Getty Images

The Broncos had made the NRL grand final that year - his first season back in Brisbane since 2008 after stints with the St George Illawarra Dragons and Newcastle Knights - but they had lost the game by one point to the North Queensland Cowboys in golden point extra time.

He had welcomed Willow and was over the moon to be a father, but writes in Battling The Blues how he struggled somewhat with the loss of attention from Kayla, whose time was now mostly taken up by caring for their daughter.

He knew Willow needed Kayla more, but it was an adjustment for him.

And Christmas had never been an easy time for Boyd. It reminded him of everything - and everyone - he had lost over the years.

"It was probably a combination of things but Christmas has always been a struggle for me since I was young," he says. "When I was young, I didn't have a lot of family around and for a few years there was just five or six of us. Those family members slowly started falling away.

"Christmas became a sad time for me and a memory of how little support I had. It became a struggle in my life.

"Even having my own family, which I was really proud of and wanted to grow, it still reminded me of the loss and hardships.

"It's about training myself to understand I have my own family now so I have to make sure it's really special."

Delphine Boyd, grandmother to Darius Boyd, at home in Merrimac.
Delphine Boyd, grandmother to Darius Boyd, at home in Merrimac.

Willow is now four and Boyd says seeing Christmas through her eyes is giving him plenty of new memories to cherish.

"She's at a great age," he says of his eldest daughter. "She wants to leave biscuits out for Santa and milk and she loves opening presents and always asks when Christmas is.

"She thinks it comes around three or four times a year. That definitely helps in making and creating new memories.''

Relationships form a large part of Boyd's book. From starting his own family to opening up about the unwavering support of grandmother Delphine, who sadly passed in September 2017, to the amazing friendship he developed with former St George and Newcastle teammate, Alex McKinnon, Boyd certainly does have a strong base around him. And perhaps one of the most influential in that support crew has been his longtime former coach, Wayne Bennett.

Darius with Willow and Romi.
Darius with Willow and Romi.

Bennett was Boyd's first NRL coach when he joined the Broncos straight out of high school. Together, they also went to the Dragons and the Knights, before returning to Brisbane in 2015. While Boyd opted to stay at Red Hill last year when Bennett headed across the border to coach South Sydney, their relationship has remained strong and evolved over the years.

Boyd says Bennett was a mentor, one that he may not have appreciated fully in his younger years, but is now a friend.

"He was always looking out for me and had my best interests at heart. I've always known that," Boyd says of Bennett.

Together, Boyd and Bennett have won two premierships - the 2006 title with the Broncos and the 2010 grand final with the Dragons.

Bennett was there for all of Boyd's highs, including being named the 2010 Clive Churchill medallist and earning his Queensland Maroons and Australian Kangaroo debuts.

The 70 year old was the one who made Boyd's dreams come true when he announced he would be the Brisbane Broncos captain in 2017. And now he has also played his part in influencing Boyd's future.

 

Wayne Bennett and Darius Boyd during a press conference. Picture: Liam Kidston.
Wayne Bennett and Darius Boyd during a press conference. Picture: Liam Kidston.

Darius Boyd is about to come full circle.

On Friday, March 6, of this year, a slightly emotional Boyd announced that 2020 would be his last season in the NRL.

And, as he writes in Battling The Blues, you only retire once.

His final year has been an absolute rollercoaster - he lost the Broncos' captaincy to Alex Glenn, was moved from fullback to centre to start the year, saw the season be postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, stepped away from Brisbane's leadership group following a reported breakdown in communication with coach Anthony Seibold, and now knows he will not play finals football this year due to his side's poor form. But, even with all of that, Boyd is not going back on his word. This season will be his last. Boyd knows it hasn't been Brisbane's best year, but he is trying to soak up every single moment. "I'm just trying to enjoy it," he says. "I know performances have been mixed this year but, for me, I want to enjoy training every day, enjoy my teammates' company, challenge myself and do my best each and every weekend.

"That's the way I always try to look at things. It's about the big picture. Even in negative or hard times, you just have to look a little harder for the positives.

"COVID's been crazy, our performances haven't been up to scratch, but there's worse things going on in the world - COVID is exactly that.

"This season might not have kicked on and I might have not kicked on. But that's the whole point. You never know when your last game is. You can get injured.

"I'm trying to take every game as my last because you just never know. I'm making sure Kayla and the kids come to every home game they can come to.

"Looking at the bigger picture, whether I finish tomorrow or in Round 26, however I finish or whatever happens, it won't change how grateful I am to the game of rugby league."

Anthony Seibold and Darius Boyd. Picture: AAP Image/Dan Peled
Anthony Seibold and Darius Boyd. Picture: AAP Image/Dan Peled

As for life beyond football, Boyd has manyplans in action.

He will continue to work with the Brisbane Broncos to deliver workshops around mental wellbeing. He is also looking to take this work further in a joint venture with his wife, but they are still keeping the details of their business plans close to their hearts. And he's studying a Certificate III and IV in fitness, with a view to hopefully doing some coaching, whether it's with the Broncos or through another avenue.

This will be where he comes full circle.

Just like his mentor, Wayne Bennett, Boyd will combine his two passions in rugby league and mental wellbeing to create a new career. And just like Bennett kept an eye on him, Boyd will keep an eye on others.

He'll do so with his wife by his side, making the most of their new life that they've been able to create thanks to that fateful night. "We talk about how far we've come and if we would ever change anything," Boyd says of Kayla.

Darius Boyd and wife Kayla at home. Picture: Mark Cranitch
Darius Boyd and wife Kayla at home. Picture: Mark Cranitch

"We've gotten stronger and stronger as the years have gone on. Not many people can say that. We're stronger than ever and we're only going to get stronger and stronger."

And while walking away from his NRL career will no doubt be daunting, Boyd is ready for whatever life throws at him next.

"There are two big things I've learnt in the last 15 years," Boyd says.

"The first is from Wayne and how much he cares about his players. It's with any business you're in, if you care about your employees and workers, you get the best out of them.

"Then secondly, from my own experiences and journey, I've learnt that people just want to be loved, cared for and supported.

"It's all about the way you talk to people, the way you listen, the way you follow up, the support you can give someone. I learnt that from Wayne and the clinic backed that up for me as well.

"Whatever I do post-football, I will use that as my first thought. I want people to know that I care and have their best interests at heart."

Darius Boyd’s new book, Battling the Blues.
Darius Boyd’s new book, Battling the Blues.

 

Battling the Blues by Darius Boyd, Hachette, $33, out Tuesday

 

 

Originally published as 'CRITICAL HOURS': Boyd reveals his darkest moment


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