Snooker world number one Ronnie O’Sullivan has revealed that he wouldn’t pursue snooker if he had the chance to choose his career again, owing to the effect the sport had on his mental health.
O’Sullivan told the BBC's Don’t Tell Me the Score’s Simon Mundie: “Snooker is a really hard sport, and if I had my time over again I definitely wouldn’t choose snooker as a sport to pursue. A lot of people have said over the years, he’s up and down, he’s unstable, and I’m not. I always call it ‘snooker depression.’”
Ronnie claims his desire to win led to an unhealthy relationship with the game when he was growing up: “Playing, competing and enjoying wasn’t enough. I had to win.”
Ronnie blames snooker for resulting in him being prescribed antidepressants before the 2001 Snooker World Championships in Sheffield, saying: “If I didn’t play snooker, I would never have to take any medication ever.”
He recalls a radio interview before the tournament which had to be cut short following a series of panic attacks, and the immediate aftermath.
“I was in my hotel room in the Hilton in Sheffield, I put the phone down and I just lay on the bed and just phoned the Samaritans.
“I was nine, ten months clean out the Priory, I’d had my best snooker season ever; I’d won six out of 11 events. If you were to base success on external things, it was the most successful season any snooker player had had.
“Even winning tournaments isn’t solving my problems, what is it, why am I feeling like this?
“I had these episodes where I’d just disappear, I’d run off and people would think he’s having a tantrum, it’s just I can’t cope sometimes, it’s not that I can’t cope with snooker, I just can’t cope with normal life sometimes.”
Describing the effect the antidepressants had on him, O’Sullivan said: “Within an hour and a half the drug had got into me, relaxed me, took the anxiety away. I can go and have a coffee, sit in the coffee shop.
“I likened it a bit to when you’re in a train in London, people rushing towards you, that’s how it felt. I just felt in a pure state of panic, took this tablet and everything just slowed down.
“If someone came up and asked for my autograph I’d just freeze, and I just thought I can’t be like that, I don’t want to be like that.”
Ronnie claims running has helped him with his mental health, and puts his 10km personal best down as his biggest achievement, even ahead of his five Snooker World Championship titles.
“I came 180th in the Southern England Cross Country nine miles over Parliament Hill, 34 minutes in a 10km race in France, so they’re all my proudest achievements, because not many people know about that.
“I had a ten to 12 year period where I was addicted to running. A lot of my other problems I didn’t need to worry about, if I ran it kept me on the straight and narrow.”