Fred Nathan: Martin Ling looking for club to give him a shot after revealing all about his battle with depression
Life Beyond the Premier League
Wednesday 14 May 2014
Martin Ling doesn't need to speak so candidly about the depression that has plagued him for the past four years. The former Torquay United, Cambridge United and Leyton Orient manager could have fostered the belief that his two enforced absences from work were just due to a "virus" or a "stress-related illness", the phrases peddled by his advisers and employers.
Instead, the charismatic 47-year-old, who in early 2013 suffered a series of such severe panic attacks that he had to spend over a month in rehab, has chosen to speak frankly about the trauma he experienced. Despite believing this taints his CV, he continues his quest to return to football management.
"I don't think the general public understands depression at all," he tells The Independent. "Six years ago, if someone would've come to me with depression, I'd have seen it as a sign of weakness. Only those who have experienced depression understand it, so I need to tell my story, that depression is an illness of the brain that can occur in anyone. By speaking publicly and openly, I am continually getting rid of the rucksack full of rocks that was weighing me down. For me, this is part of my recovery."
Besides compassion, Ling has an unashamedly selfish motive for going public. Following his admission into rehab, the internet was awash with baseless rumours of alcoholism, cancer or a brain tumour, prompting him to "clear my name".
"My CV looks impressive, but if you type Martin Ling into Google, the first thing that comes up is depression. I accept the concerns of a reccurrence, but I know I have now got the tools to cope. Neil Lennon has suffered with serious depression yet manages one of the top teams in Europe. So why can he work with it and I can't? I know that I can work. I just need a chairman to take a chance on me," he says.
The onset of Ling's depression came as a major surprise to all who knew him. The outgoing, vocal, chirpy cockney had enjoyed an excellent playing career in midfield, playing over 600 games across all four divisions, including a season in the Premier League at Swindon. "If someone asked you who would be the last person to have depression, it would have been me."
Behind an ebullient exterior however, lay a deep thinker whose mind was susceptible to feelings of uncertainty surrounding his future. When after six years Ling lost his job as manager of Orient in January 2009, a few months later he found himself out of safe surroundings and into an unknown environment as manager of Cambridge.
Although results were not going his way, the trigger for Ling's bout of depression was nothing more than a routine glance into the mirror. "I couldn't normalise things, which I now know is where depression starts, tiny issues becoming massive ones."
He noticed his hair was not gelled, which became a huge problem: "It felt as if I was having an out-of-body experience, very sweaty and hyper-sensitive to everything, all because I had used no hair product."
A consultant doctor to whom Ling had been referred by the League Manager's Association diagnosed slight depression and anxiety. Light medication and a course of cognitive behavioural therapy was prescribed, and Ling returned to work after 10 days, with Cambridge none the wiser.
It was three years later when a second, far more serious bout saw Ling unravel. After a first year at Torquay, with his side vying for promotion before losing in the play-off semi-finals, results began to tail off midway through the second season.
Ling's demons began to return. This time, the LMA referred him to a different therapist who diagnosed Intolerance of Uncertainty. The night before a Devon derby with Exeter, Ling was admitted to hospital, convinced he had a brain tumour.
"You get a pain in your head and when you are in that fragile state, a headache turns into a brain tumour. While I was laying in that bed, my mind started to rationalise. I knew I didn't have a brain tumour. I just wanted the doctors to find something, because I didn't want it to be depression yet again," he says.
"The next day, I was travelling back to London on the M5 to see my wife and children. Suddenly, I couldn't catch my breath or hold the wheel. At Taunton service station, I was convinced I was having a heart attack and I was going to die. I called me wife who asked if I was sure: 'On Sunday you were having a brain tumour, on Tuesday you're having a heart attack!' she said.
"But I was completely convinced. I threatened to report the paramedic who said I was just having a panic attack because I was sure I was dying."
Within two days, Ling was admitted to the Priory clinic. He emerged to be greeted by messages of support from Sir Alex Ferguson. However, the optimism about his managerial future turned sour as he was sacked by Torquay.
He would love another shot at it. "I'd be a much better manager now with the knowledge I've gained," he says. He has found his way to cope and is convinced he is stronger than ever, yet he realises he must translate his frankness into a tangible managerial position. "I describe it in this way; I am an onion that was stripped raw, peeled back layer by layer to the core. Then, those layers started to be re-applied. Now I feel like an onion with an overcoat on. How about that for an analogy?!"
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