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Chris Kamara ‘considered suicide’ feeling like ‘a burden’ and ‘they’d be better off without me’

Chris Kamara reveals he ‘considered suicide’ after feeling like ‘a burden’ and ‘they’d be better off without me’ over his speech condition.

The much loved Sky Sports reporter recalls his life being turned upside down after developing slurred speech due to a condition called apraxia.

This was picked up after viewers watching Soccer Special, where Kammy had been pronouncing some players’ names with difficulty live on air.

After 24 years with the broadcaster, he then made the tough decision to step down, and now the 65 year old has opened up about it.

Chris Kamara these days says he’s “doing everything in my power” to treat his speech problem, however while says he was coping well with the condition, he admits he may have to live with it indefinitely. You can buy his new book by clicking HERE.

In an extract from his book, titled Kammy, serialised in the Mirror, he says: “I’m going to admit something now, something I’ve never mentioned before. It’s hard for me to talk about, so bear with me. As I was gripped by apraxia, and the apparent hopelessness of my future, I’d been escaping more and more down to the animals at the back of the house. Hidden away, that smallholding became my refuge.

“Animals don’t judge. You look after them and in return they show you unconditional love. I would talk to them as I stood there. I’d let all my innermost feelings tumble out. I didn’t need to worry about them noticing my slowed speech or my compromised stability. It seems silly to say they ‘listened’, but in those moments that’s how it felt.

“Going down there allowed me to unravel my thoughts. And I’ll be honest, some of those thoughts could be dark. I worried about where I was going to end up. Would my physical and neurological deterioration just keep going and going? And I worried more about the effect it would have on those around me.

“I’m a man who has always wanted to help, to provide, to love and nurture those around me. And now I could only see myself as a burden. A shell of the man I used to be that they would be left to look after. Seeing myself like that was like staring into an abyss. I could never reconcile that image in my head. It was unthinkable.

“And it’s at that point I’d think, ‘They’d be better off without me.’ I thought of Gary Speed and then I thought of my own position – a man in his mid-sixties, whose best days, because of a brain condition, were gone, struggling on while becoming a weight on all around him. Whose wife and children would be left to deal with whatever I became.

“I didn’t want that for Anne and the boys. So how do you prevent it from happening? You take yourself out of the picture. There were times when I definitely thought that was a way out. If you’re stuck in a maze, with no sign of an escape route, eventually you’ll try something extreme. Especially if you have chosen to wander that maze alone.

“And that really is the key. When finally I did start to share my problems, I began to see that the future might not be so bleak. That a world could exist with me in it. Hopefully a me who was better, but nevertheless a version of me who I could live with.

“It’s hard to look back on those dark times. To the outside world I know how irrational those thought patterns must seem. But when the walls are closing in it’s easy to feel differently. I hope by being honest and talking about it, I can help others see that there is always another way out. There is always hope. You just have to let other people help you see it.

“My heart felt like it was beating out of my chest. I was gripped by palpitations. I’d been doing live match reports on Sky for more than 20 years. My appearances on Soccer Saturday are what I’m known for more than anything. And yet now, facing Jeff Stelling down the camera, my tongue felt as if it had swelled to double its size.

“The famous Kammy smile had disappeared. I was also sweating profusely. Hot prickly heat spread up my back. If no one had been around, I’d have been pulling at the neck of my shirt, trying to get some air in. But of course there were plenty of people around – including an audience of thousands staring at me on their TV screens.

“All I could think about was getting through what had become an awful and terrifying ordeal. I’d noticed a change in myself, as if someone had taken over my voice box. Like someone else was talking through my mouth – someone with a slow and increasingly croaky voice. Each morning I’d taken to shutting myself in the bathroom and talking to myself in the mirror to see how quickly I was speaking and if I sounded ‘normal’.

“At first, it seemed to have no pattern to it. One day it was there and the next day it wasn’t. Or I’d have three days on the bounce when I was suffering and then it would disappear. Other times, I’d feel happy with what I was hearing in the bathroom, but then by the time I got downstairs and started talking to Anne, I’d sound totally different.

“If she asked, I’d wheel out the ‘I’m fine – just a bit tired’ excuse. It became a catchphrase, I’d use it so much over the next couple of years. Of course, in reality ‘fine’ was the last thing I was. The fear that my vocal problems would trip me up, hold me back or be noticed by the Soccer Saturday team would lead to off-the-scale anxiety.

“When I’d hear that Jeff was coming over to me for the first time, I’d feel properly scared, like something really awful was about to happen – a creeping presence, slowly grabbing hold of my mind until I was barely able to function. When the cue finally came, all too often I could hear how slowly I was talking. How words weren’t coming out clearly.

It was beyond devastating. After one game at Doncaster where I’d clearly struggled with a couple of names, Jeff rang me to check I was OK. ‘I’m just tired,’ (the catchphrase) I told him. ‘It’s not easy covering players you’re not familiar with. I’m looking at my notes, the match programme, the game and the camera all at the same time.’

“I wanted to believe that was true, but deep down I knew the truth. My words weren’t flowing properly. What had once seemed so easy was becoming increasingly hard work. I noticed also that people were starting to comment on Twitter after games. After I had reported on a match at Rotherham, one person asked, ‘What’s up with Kammy? Is he drunk?’

“‘Has he had a stroke?’ wondered another. As ever, if anyone asked how I was, I’d insist I was OK. And actually every now and again a good day would come along to fool me that I was worrying unduly – everything was going to be all right.

“A few days later, however, I was back on the floor. I covered Huddersfield versus Bristol City, but as I reached the top of the gantry stairs, which I’d walked down literally hundreds of times, I was gripped by a feeling I was going to fall down the 50 or so metal steps before me. My balance seemed to have gone completely and I negotiated them very gingerly. As I reached the last one, I saw a steward looking at me. ‘Watching you come down the steps reminded me of my old man,’ he said. He wasn’t to know, but it was the last thing I wanted to hear.

“By the time I reached the conclusion that I needed to act, I’d spent a year keeping my fears to myself. Fear and lack of knowledge eat away at you. Is there something seriously wrong with me? Is this dementia? Alzheimer’s? There’d been several high-profile cases of footballers of my era now paying the price for repeatedly heading a football. Could that be what had happened to me?

“Finally, in early 2021, I bit the bullet and made an appointment to see my doctor. My GP arranged a brain scan. Thankfully, the result was clear – no sign of dementia or other brain disorders. In his quest to help me further, my GP recommended a visit to Leeds-based neurosurgeon, Dr Oliver Lily. Virtually the minute I walked through his door, he delivered his diagnosis. For the first time I heard the word that has come to dominate my life – apraxia.

“His verdict was straight – it could get worse, would probably not get any better, but could be managed with speech therapy. Desperate for help of any kind after my apraxia diagnosis, I went to see hypnotherapist, Daniel McDermid. He urged me to go public with my condition. He was right. Why make it worse by keeping it to myself?

“I took my phone in my hand and called up the Twitter app. Slowly, I typed out my message. ‘Just wanted to let a few of you know who tweeted me today that I am ok-ish. I have developed Apraxia of Speech & have been working to get my speech back to normal. Some days it can be a little slow and some days it’s normal. Hopefully I can beat this!’

“I jabbed my finger at the screen. Done. Gone. When I got home, I told Anne what I’d done and finally picked up my phone to have a look. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I was being overwhelmed with messages of support, not only on Twitter but from countless friends and acquaintances from down the years. The relief was unbelievable.

“But in my new world of unknowns there was one absolute certainty. I was finished as a football presenter.”

The NHS says about apraxia: “Frequently the person with apraxia will have difficulties with conversational speech. However they may be good at ‘automatic’ speech tasks such as counting, swearing, repeating rhymes, greetings and farewell.

“It’s usually caused by damage to the left side of the brain, such as a stroke.”

“The condition does not affect a person’s understanding and the symptoms of the condition can vary occurring to the severity of the disorder.”

Those feeling distressed or suicidal can call Samaritans for help on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org in the UK.

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