Book review: A Life Too Short – The Tragedy of Robert Enke

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Even those not familiar with football (soccer) will find that this book resonates with them somehow. Even if one has not suffered the misfortune of having depression it is likely that you will know someone who has. It might be a family member or close friend, perhaps even a work colleague or an aquaintence that you only see once in a while, but above all, you will have come into contact with an individual with depression at some point in your life.

Perhaps one of the cruelest aspects of this illness is that the sufferer is all too often far too ashamed to admit that they have the condition in the first place. Often it is the people around you who you have always regarded as the strongest that are the ones most likely to suffer from depression. It  is an illness that is almost impossible to rid yourself of once it has you in its deathly grip and can often cause your loved ones to scream at you in helpless despair.

“Why can’t you pull yourself together?”

“Don’t you know there are people out there with worse problems than you?”

“What’s the matter with you now?”

These and numerous other questions are hurled in the direction of a depressed individual and only serve to increase a person’s feelings of desperation and lack of self-worth. There are many times when one has absolutely no idea why they feel so low – they only know that they do – and that there is nothing that they can do except wait for the mood to pass. Sometimes their mood will lift and things will seem brighter for a while, but a sufferer always knows that there is another dark cloud looming on the horizon, waiting to strike at any given moment.

Those who have depression live with constant fear: that they are not good enough, that they are a burden on their loved ones, that they will never be able to achieve anything. The list is endless and so are the fears and negative emotions associated with them. Depression becomes a never-ending cycle of self-inflicted torment until it drives a person to take action and attempt to stop the endless procession of voices within their head.

The life story of goalkeeper Robert Enke is one that is both poignant and tragic. Here is a man who many would consider has a ‘perfect’ life. He had a loving wife, a young daughter, a career as a successful professional sportsman, and a comfortable amount of money in the bank. Yet for all of his good fortune, Enke was a man crippled by depression and anxiety, so much so that it often crept into his ability to play the game that he loved. Every tiny mistake that he’d ever made on the pitch would hound and haunt him incessantly, to the point that he c0uld never switch off from over-analysing what he could have done differently. There were many times that he had not even been at fault for the goals his team had conceded, yet each mark against his team on the score sheet he took as a personal insult and failing.

To the outside world, Robert Enke was a man who seemed impervious to the pressures of professional football, a man who laughed in the face of defeat. Even his friends and family had misunderstood just how much depression and anxiety bled from such a talented man. Enke was a family man and a loyal friend and his loved ones had always accepted his ‘dark’ moods, his moments of panic, never believing that one day the pressure would become too much and that he would take his own life.

On 10th November 2009, Robert Enke stepped in front of a passing train and left behind a devastated family. He had been the goalkeeper of the German national side at the time and seemingly had the world at his feet. So why had he decided to end it all?

Through talking to teammates, family, friends, and anyone else that had known Robert Enke throughout his short life, author Ronald Reng attempts to piece together exactly what caused his friend to take his own life. To this day, no one will ever really know why Enke felt as if he’d had no choice but to commit suicide and it is this very fact that often haunts the ones left behind from such a tragic set of circumstances.

Reng knew Enke personally and this is reflected in the way he writes about the complex man in this book. There is no sensationalism or overdone sentiment, just a detailed look at a man with a much misunderstood illness. Perhaps one of the most striking elements of this book is the way that many of Enke’s friends and colleagues look back with a sense of regret that they had not spotted the signs earlier or that they did not do more to save him.

The truth of the matter is that there was probably very little that they could have done to help him, such is society’s view on depression and mental health as a whole. Even in today’s world, we refuse to see how a man who had everything could suffer from depression. What did he have to be sad about? He had money in the bank, a good career and a loving family – yet the grip that depression had on him was greater than all of the positives in his life.

It is a sad fact of reality that depression can happen to anyone at any time and that so much of the condition remains misunderstood by many. If a man with as seemingly a perfect life as Robert Enke can be crippled by depression then what does that say about our understanding of the illness as a society? There is still far too much of a taboo when it comes to the subject of mental health and perhaps Enke’s tragic passing has helped to highlight how devastating the condition can be.

Depression doesn’t take wealth or social standing into account, it doesn’t care if you have a fantastic job and a huge group of friends and family. Depression does not discriminate based on age, colour or creed, it cares not for your material possessions.

Depression is silent and potentially deadly.

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Book review: A Life Too Short – The Tragedy of Robert Enke

  1. How sad. Depression is real for woman and men. I think it’s great that you reminded us of that, Heather. He is missed, I’m sure.

    Audrey xxx

    • Hi Audrey,

      Yes, Robert Enke’s passing was so tragic and untimely and yet it serves to remind us all that anyone can suffer from depression – even famous and well-regarded sportsmen.

      I would recommend the book to anyone, even if you have no knowledge of the sport itself as it paints the picture of a man tortured by his own anxiety and self-doubt.

      Heather xxx

  2. What a wonderful review, Heather. You’ve made me want to learn more about this gentleman from the compassionate way in which you recounted the struggles of the depressed personality. Really, this was well done!

    • Thanks, Kate, for your lovely words re this blog post.

      Depression is an illness that is very close to my own heart and I think that more should be done in the wider society to understand what a complex and debilitating illness it is.

      Heather xxx

  3. I’ve never heard of this man but his story intrigues me now. I dealt with depression, which eventually lead to bipolar depression for many years. Depression is ugly. Depression is a sinkhole that has no ladders or ropes. My struggle with depression, though I haven’t written much about the actual experience, is a big part of why I started blogging. My blog, amount other things, tells us our food choices…. and why we eat the way we do now…because it cured my bipolar depression. I write about it so that hopefully others dealing with this type of illness may reach a happy healthy life as well. The struggles of depression are agonizing. Your post and this book is wonderful because it does reach out to others to help them understand just how agonizing it is.

    • Hi,

      Thank you so much for reading and commenting on this post. It was my hope that by blogging about the tragic demise of such a promising young man that it would highlight just how indifferent depression is to social standing, wealth, fame etc.

      Depression is an illness that can affect anyone from any walk of life, yet so much about the condition is misunderstood by society as a whole. I think more should be done to help those suffering from depression and for the illness itself to have greater acceptance in the wider world.

      Heather xxx

  4. I liked this post too, Heather. You do a good job expressing the helplessness one feels in the grip of this disease. Depression is a disease like any other, and like every other disease, it’s curable. Jesus cured me of mine, which for a time was severe. Fortunately, He did so before it took my life. I’m sure Mr. Enke’s suffering wasn’t in vain. It sounds like he led a full and vibrant life, in spite of its tragic end. End? No. Beginning.

    • Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment on my blog post, it is very much appreciated. I glad that I managed to convey some of the feelings of a depressed person through my post. Depression is so often a greatly misunderstood illness my so many that I thought it important to make folks aware that depression can affect anyone at any time.

      Heather xxx

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