Monday, December 12, 2011

Depression and Hope, One on One with Ian Joy

When I first read Ian Joy’s tale I was struck with just how personal Joy allowed himself to be. He told his story of depression with no shame and truly opened himself up to what he went through. His candid approach led me to reach out to him.

Initially, I had absolutely no intentions of interviewing him. I only wanted to congratulate him on sharing his story and let him know how truly amazing it was that he had the courage to open up in such a way. As his story began to spread and in talking with others, it seemed that he truly had touched people with his words. I wanted to expand on that and reached out a second time. 

In the interview, Ian goes more in depth on why he felt the way he did, the moments where he pondered taking his own life and most importantly how his relationships with family and friends have changed since revealing his article.

MLS Reserves: I realize the death of Gary Speed was a factor, but what else motivated you to write and publish such a personal story? Did you consult anyone, was there anyone influential in convincing you one way or the other?

Ian Joy: “I did not tell anyone I was going to write about it and decided to do so one evening in bed alone. I started to write and could not stop. If I wrote about my whole career I think I’d have a best selling book. The up's and down's that a professional athlete goes through is just crazy.”

“Gary Speeds suicide hit me really hard. I remember my dad waking me up first thing in the morning to tell me that he had died in an apparent suicide. It confused me and not one person could understand why… but then what you see in the public eye is not exactly what goes on behind closed doors.”

“That’s exactly what hit me! To the next person I was always happy and smiling where deep down I was hurting and totally lost. I have always wanted to share some of my stories about what goes on behind a professional soccer players’ life and this seemed to be a good time to do it. I've seen footballers all through my career struggle with depression and never had the courage to open up and I think that has to change! USSF, MLS and the Players Union need to put a focus on this to prevent a disaster from happening and to give players the confidence that someone is always there to help.”

MLS Reserves: Can you talk a bit about the feedback you've received since the story has published?

Ian Joy: “The reaction to my story has blown me away. Every single Facebook message, Tweet or email was read. I take to heart the notes that people were sending and it was a very special week for me.”

“I realize that I have touched on a subject that a LOT of people struggle with. Many friends, family or former team mates have contacted me and shared with me their own problems dealing with stress and depression. People I never in a million years would have thought were going through troubles… Scary really, but nice to know that my story has given them the courage to talk or contact me about it.”

“The reaction from the press has also been fantastic and they are all committed in trying to get some sort of help for professional athletes out there who desperately need someone to turn to in their time of need. The press plays a big part in an athlete’s confidence and life. They are the first people to pat someone on the back when they put in a good performance but they are also the first people to destroy a player after a bad performance.”

MLS Reserves: Were there any friends or family that were unaware of your condition until the story was published and if so, have any relationships changed because of that?

Ian Joy: “Yes. I don't believe my Mum and Dad knew exactly how bad it got for me but they always knew I was low at that point in my life. I'll never forget my dad, who is my best friend and someone I turn to all the time for help, said to me "I know things are tough for you right now but you must never do anything stupid" what that meant I have no idea but it stuck in my head from that moment on. I had a responsibility to my family not to let them down or do something dumb.”

MLS Reserves: You mentioned many names in your article, some coaches, some thing stood out to me though. You credited the fans in Portland, particularly the Timber's Army and fans in Salt Lake of helping you through your struggles. Can you expand on that a bit?

Ian Joy: “Some players have no time for the fans and I could never understand that. The fans play a major part in a player’s career and when I was going through my worst period, in Salt Lake City was when I was injured, I felt completely helpless around the team so I tried to stay away from the team as much as possible. I used to get so frustrated that I couldn’t train or play with the boys that I felt it was bad for them to see me mope around the locker room. I'd always stay away as much as possible to keep the spirits high in the dressing room.” 

“That’s where my connection with the RSL fans came into play. They would always ask for photos, autographs and just genuinely say wonderful things about how happy they were that I played on the team. I got asked to go to events that the fans were hosting and one in particular that stood out the most to me was a “Home Brew” contest! I was asked if I would be a judge for the best home brew and after getting permission from Jason to do so, I joined the fans in the parking lot and tasted about 30- 40 beers. Some good and some terribly bad and after presenting the winner with a team signed shirt, I joined the fans in stadium. Hugs and high 5s all around I felt part of a family.” 

“In Portland my personal situation was different after spending 6 months in Germany with my girlfriend and my daughter. I was also visiting a doctor to help with my injuries and depression. I was much more relaxed and had an extremely positive outlook in life. Signing for Portland happened by chance!”

“No MLS team would touch me after my season of Injuries at RSL and Gavin Wilkinson signed me to a one year deal after a short trial period. I had heard all about the fans in Portland but I had absolutely No idea what to expect and it was out of this world. Talk about passion! These fans loved the team, the Rose City and the game. I was awarded the captaincy by Gavin and the fans took to me right away. They always wanted to see a player play with fire and passion and that is exactly what they got from me. I felt like the fans gave me so much confidence as a player that I took it into my everyday life. I finally had that smile back on my face with pride.”

“I'd always get asked if I could join the Timber’s Army for a game and during a red card suspension they asked again but Gavin Wilkinson told me not a chance would any player be allowed to stand with the Timbers Army. Why? No idea, Gavin was weird like that. I made it my goal to sit with the Timbers Army after that moment… I managed to stand with the Timber’s Army for the first ever MLS home game and I loved every single minute of it. I was made to feel at home with them all and continue to have a great relationship with the fans of Portland as I do in Salt Lake.”

MLS Reserves: Perhaps one of the most difficult parts of your article to read was your description of sitting on train tracks, waiting...only to jump out of the way. In those moments after you moved, what went through your mind?

Ian Joy: “Positive thoughts & terrible guilt. How could I ever consider leaving my daughter Madison without a father? I could see a future and I could see me in it. I believe that most people who try to commit suicide see no other option! The whole time that train was coming towards me a million positive thoughts went through my head and those positive thoughts made me step off the tracks. I'd break down in tears then go home and plan a way to get myself together.”

MLS Reserves: With so many people around the country suffering depression, what is your message to them and perhaps more importantly, to those around them?

Ian Joy: “So many people only ever care about their own situations that they forget to care for the ones around them and especially the loved ones. I've always tried to be there for the people around me and often offered an ear for someone to talk to. You'll be surprised how many people just need to talk to someone or at least have someone to listen to them. At the end of the day you can only do so much to help someone if your own situation is not in a good place. If you feel trapped, lost, confused, scared, depressed then you have to find the courage to talk to someone about it and you'll be amazed how good you feel to share and get some issues out in the open.”

MLS Reserves: Professional athletes lead interesting lives, particularly when the private life impacts the professional one. What were your thoughts on David Testo's coming out and do you see any correlation between his situation and yours?

Ian Joy: “First of all I am extremely proud of David for coming out and honestly hope that his story gives other players and especially active players the courage to do so too. I'll guarantee that David wishes he would have done this years ago when people started to question his sexuality but I have to give him the respect for keeping it to himself to protect the people closest to him.”

“The pressure that’s off his shoulder now must be enormous and it could not have been easy being a person in the public eye with such a personal secret. As for it being similar I don't think so… If a player comes out to the team that he has depression or suicidal thoughts his idea is that everyone will support him through that time but for a homosexual player to do the same his thoughts are the opposite he/she has fear that they will be rejected by a player or team.”

“Unfortunately we live in a messed up society where not everyone is accepting of homosexuality and that makes the decision to come out a lot harder when the fear that you will not be supported for your choices are exposed. It should not be this way and the support for homosexual athletes should also be provided in all sports.”

MLS Reserves: On a brighter note, what are you doing with your life now? Day-to-day and career wise?

Ian Joy: “I am currently running a business with two wonderful partners from Utah and doing extremely well. I have plans to get my coaching badges and get back into Major League Soccer in some way... Already a few opportunities have been offered but at this moment in time I am enjoying my time away from the game. I have done the game commentary for Real Salt Lake last season on a few occasions and I hope to do a lot more of that next year as I love it so much.”

“I surround my apartment with photos of all my family and football memorabilia to remind me of how lucky I really am to have been given the opportunity to touch so many people's lives.”

MLS Reserves: Lastly, a chance to say anything you might have wanted to say in retrospect in the article you wrote or to any one in particular.

Ian Joy: “Today I can gladly say that I am the happiest I have ever been in my whole life. I have a beautiful, healthy and happy 5 year old girl who lives in Scotland with her Mum. I visit her and my family once every 2-3 months and treasure every moment. I have a girlfriend from Utah who I am in love with. Nichole has been through the bad times with me and back, Our relationship has suffered due to the up and down times but we're still trying and I believe that all these life experiences will make us so much stronger in the long run. Nichole deserves the best in life and I'll do my very best to make sure she gets it.”

“I would like to thank my Mum and Dad who have always been there for me. We have a crazy family but a very close one and it’s all down to the love that my Mum and Dad have always provided us.”

There are over 15 million people in the United States who suffer from depression at any given time. They rely on the people around them for support and to help get them through tough times. Ian’s courage in sharing the darkest moments of his life serves to inspire others that things truly do get better…that there are positive things to look forward to. In short, there is always a reason to live. Congratulations to Ian Joy on giving the soccer community another fantastic look into a side of the sport we are rarely exposed to.


  1. Excellent, interview. Thank you!

  2. So critical to shine light in this darkness.. which so many of us actually protect or shield from the world! Let that shit out, folks.

    Having battled depression through my twenties and now into my thirties, I can attest to the absolute importance of asking for help and seeking it out, be it with friends, family, or a professional. There's no shame in needing help, and in fact, you likely can't do some of the most critical growth by holding all your powerful emotions and thoughts inside you.

    Another option for help: gender-specific group work. Gender-specific because often lots of what's going on inside our head is tied up in the opposite sex and opening up is more effective and honesty more possible around your same gender. Group work because sitting in circle with other people going through similar things is uniquely empowering and different from sitting in a room as one patient with one professional. You may find you have worked through certain things and can offer advice to others as you work through your own issues. For men on this front, I can whole-heartedly recommend The ManKind Project. I just discovered it months ago and am finding this type of group work incredibly effective and insightful. For women, I don't have any recommendations but MKP does on their website and I would expect them to be solid.

    Being imperfect is more normal than being normal, and we do ourselves and our communities a great service by rejecting the outlandish notions of the invincible individual and storybook perfect life. Reach out. If you're feeling helpless, without power, then definitely reach out! Even simple volunteering can be a great way to get back in touch with your abilities, and connect you with what's real and meaningful.

  3. Dave your outlook is fantastic. I hope more people realize it's alright to find help. Thank you for reading.

  4. It is seen in the number of people coping with depression and at the same time with anxiety disorders. These are may lead to sleep deprivation and ultimately to serious health problems.

  5. As Arnold M. Ludwig says,"Without emotion,man would be nothing but a biological computer.Love,joy,sorrow,fear,apprehension,anger,satisfaction, and discontent provide the meaning of human existence."

    --Jane Larson.