NACCHO Aboriginal #MentalHealth #Suicide : #DefyingTheEnemyWithin Powerful new book extract from @joewilliams_tew out 22 January – a promising career derailed by booze, drugs and mental health problems.

That afternoon, a guy I’d never seen before, who was partying with the group, approached me and asked if I needed anything to help me stay awake. That was the day I had my very first ecstasy tablet. Boom. I was instantaneously hooked.

Now I had a drinking and drug problem. But I didn’t for one second think I might have a mental-health problem.

I thought that someone who was mentally unwell was “weird” or not stable in society. I even believed that mentally ill people were criminals.

How wrong I turned out to be. “

This is an edited extract from Defying The Enemy Within by Joe Williams, published by ABC Books, in stores Monday

See 3 Pages from book below Part 2

Win a copy of the book by sending an email to

Telling Joe in 50 words or less why you would like to read his book : Entries Close Wednesday 24 January : Winner Announced Thursday 25 January NACCHO Deadly Good News Post

‘Joe Williams has been into the darkest forest and brought back a story to shine a light for us all. He’s a leader for today and tomorrow.’Stan Grant

‘In telling his powerful story, Joe Williams is helping to dismantle the stigma associated with mental illness. His courage and resilience have inspired many, and this book will only add to the great work he’s doing.’Dr Timothy Sharp, The Happiness Institute

‘It is through his struggles that Joe Williams has found direction and purpose. Now Joe gives himself to others who walk the path he has.‘ – Linda Burney MP

Former NRL player, world boxing title holder and proud Wiradjuri First Nations man Joe Williams was always plagued by negative dialogue in his head, and the pressures of elite sport took their toll.

Joe eventually turned to drugs and alcohol to silence the dialogue, before attempting to take his own life in 2012. In the aftermath, determined to rebuild , Joe took up professional boxing and got clean.

Defying the Enemy Within is both Joe’s story and the steps he took to get well. Williams tells of his struggles with mental illness, later diagnosed as Bipolar Disorder, and the constant dialogue in his head telling him he worthless and should die. In addition to sharing his experiences, Joe shares his wellness plan – the ordinary steps that helped him achieve the extraordinary.

Joe Williams was guest speaker at NACCHO Conference Canberra : See full text from the Enemy Within  .


View Joe Williams Presentation from NACCHO Conference 2018

Read over 169 NACCHO Mental Health Articles published over past 6 years

Read over 119 NACCHO Suicide Prevention articles published over past 6 years

MOVING to Sydney to chase my dream in the NRL was a fantastic opportunity; spending my first two years in the big city under Arthur Beetson’s roof gave me a lifetime of memories and an experience I am truly grateful for.

But those years also provided me with some of the biggest and toughest life lessons I’ve learned.

During the 2002 pre-season, I got my first taste of mixing with the squad as a full-time player. I was expected to train with the team either on the field or in the weights room two or three times a day, five days a week.

It was essential to get to training on time but one day I was running late for a mid-morning session because I’d had to stay at Marcellin (College) a bit later than usual for school photos.

I raced to training, knowing I’d get in trouble from coach Ricky Stuart for being late. Sure enough, being the tough coach he was, Ricky started ripping into me.

When I told him I was late because I had my school photos, he and all the players burst out laughing. For the next few weeks, it became the running joke as an excuse for being late.

I learned so much during that off-season and impressed the coaching staff enough to be chosen in the top squad for the trial period.

Having just turned 18, it was amazing to play in two trial first grade NRL games at halfback inside Brad “Freddy” Fittler, one of the greatest five-eighths of all.

I didn’t make my NRL debut that year because the coaching staff wanted me to gain more experience playing in the Roosters’ under-20s Jersey Flegg side.

Looking back, although I felt like I was ready, I definitely needed the time and experience under my belt to become a more complete player and the sort of on-field leader a halfback needs to be

At the time, though, it was disappointing to go from playing with the first grade team one week to training with guys who were pretty much hoping to get a spot so they’d be contracted.

It was after I was put back to the under-20s that I first noticed the negative voices in my mind rearing their ugly head, telling me I didn’t deserve to be in Sydney given I wasn’t playing first grade and that I should just pack up and head back to the bush (Wagga) because I was worthless.

Back then, there wasn’t as much emphasis on the psychology of professional athletes and the pressures that came with playing elite sport.

There were days when training staff were almost like army drill sergeants. Sometimes they screamed at players and humiliated and even degraded players in front of other members of the team.

Occasionally, they would even bring the racial identity of a player into the abuse. It may be that they believed this was the way to make the players mentally stronger and that, if you weren’t mentally strong, you should just give up playing rugby league.

For me and many others, that approach of ridicule, embarrassment and tough love didn’t work.

In fact, it had the opposite impact of sending my self-esteem lower and lower.

But the negative thoughts were a different story altogether. They’d often spiral out of control, to the point where I felt like I was witnessing an argument taking place between two separate people; the negative Joe and positive Joe.

The head noise and voices affected my mental well-being so severely that it started to affect me physically.

Things grew worse, as the voices wreaked havoc on my ability to think. I started second-guessing every decision I made both on and off the field. The voices became so vivid and loud in my head, it was like I was hearing actual voices.

After a while, I became so anxious and down that I’d get to the point where I’d convinced myself I was worthless, a failure.

Even on the days I didn’t put a foot wrong on the footy field or won player of the match, I’d convince myself I would be dropped from the squad because of the negatives in my game.

I would be scared to go to training because I dreaded the coach saying I wouldn’t be in the team the following week.

The only way I knew how to combat these constant thoughts, turn down the voices and deaden the pain I felt, was to drink as much alcohol as I could.

Despite the negative voices and drinking, I managed to stay on track with my footy, even captaining the under-20s Roosters team. They were a great bunch of guys and good players and we ended up having a fantastic season and making it through to the Grand Final.

On the day of the Grand Final I kicked three goals, had two try assists and kicked the winning field goal. After our first grade team also won their grand final, we had one hell of a party that went on for a few days.

During the 2003 season, I was really battling emotionally, suffering from homesickness and looking for comfort at the bottom of a bottle. Instead of concentrating on playing well, I was busy worrying about what drinking and late-night partying the crew had planned after the game.

It all began to take its toll physically and mentally. At the same time, I found I was clashing with some of the coaching staff. I became desperate for a change. As a result, I decided to move to South Sydney Rabbitohs.

When I called my mother to tell her I’d signed with the Rabbitohs, she burst into tears of joy. Mum had been an avid Souths fan since she was a young girl and had dreamed that one day she’d get to see me run out in the famous red-and-green South Sydney colours.

I’d signed with Souths to show I was still keen to be an NRL player but the money wasn’t great so the pre-season was tough. As a result, I had to make a living like many league players did, working long hours labouring on a construction site. Afterwards, I’d go to football training then get some sleep and do it all over again.

To make matters worse, I broke my thumb in the opening trial game and had to have surgery on it, causing me to miss the first six weeks of the season.

I was no longer drinking so much or partying hard as I didn’t have much money. After a few weeks of putting a huge effort into training and committing myself both physically and mentally, I was picked in the reserve grade team. I began to play myself into form, stringing a few good games together and it was noticed by the coaching staff.

It wasn’t long before I was picked in the first grade team to make my NRL debut. Finally, the time had come to live out my childhood dream.

I didn’t sleep a wink the night before my first grade debut. On the way to Shark Park, I seemed to take every wrong turn and was late for the warm-up. To my surprise and happiness, though, the coach had organised for my dad to present me with my playing jersey.

I’d dreamed of this moment for most of my life and the fact I was playing for the mighty South Sydney Rabbitohs made things even sweeter.

People sometimes ask me what it was like playing my first NRL game. The funny thing is, I copped a knock to the head that gave me a mild concussion for the rest of the match.

I do remember that we lost but one thing that stood out for me was that my idol, close friend and mentor Dave Peachey was playing in his 200th NRL game. After the siren and when we were shaking hands, “The Peach” said to me: “Young brother, as my career is nearing its end, yours is just starting. Good luck”.

Joe Williams tells his story.

I had spent my entire life chasing the dream of becoming an NRL player. I now had the monkey off my back and it was time to get to work and live up to my potential.

Unfortunately, wins were few and far between for Souths in 2004.

My alcohol abuse was becoming rampant again, now I was earning more, and playing first grade had sent my ego to an all-time high, especially after I was named Rookie of the Year in 2004.

Things got even worse when I discovered party drugs during the 2004-2005 off-season. I enjoyed being the life of the party, laughing and joking, the centre of attention.

On Mad Monday, I celebrated by drinking so much alcohol I couldn’t stand up. That afternoon, a guy I’d never seen before, who was partying with the group, approached me and asked if I needed anything to help me stay awake. That was the day I had my very first ecstasy tablet. Boom. I was instantaneously hooked.

Now I had a drinking and drug problem. But I didn’t for one second think I might have a mental-health problem.

I thought that someone who was mentally unwell was “weird” or not stable in society. I even believed that mentally ill people were criminals.

How wrong I turned out to be.

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