‘Mad Max’ seems like a fairly accurate euphemism to express the range of emotions Glenn Maxwell is capable of evoking when he has a bat in his hand.
But is it though? Doesn’t it sound somewhat inappropriate when attempting to describe someone so affected by a plethora of mental health concerns?
He doesn’t mind being called the ‘Big Show’ because… well, he is. You saw the unbeaten double-century on Tuesday night against Afghanistan, didn’t you?! But ‘Mad Max’?
Sitting across from him over a cup of coffee at an airport not long ago, it was apparent that his battles with depression were far from done. Then again, some battles can never be won, only fought.
“It’s funny that I am called ‘Mad Max’ when I actually feel like I am going mad a lot of times,” he said and laughed so loud he drew more attention than he already had on him.
“The irony is hilarious,” he said, still laughing.
Humour, it turns out, is his way of normalising what cripples him every day, and frankly, that’s impressive for it’s not easy to see the light at the end of that tunnel.
In fact, the deeds of a day which seem mundane to most are not to those who often can’t physically rouse themselves out of bed to brush their teeth, let alone go to work at a job which involves entertaining others.
“When you’re clinically depressed, you feel alienated and thereby you feel like alienating. It’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s vicious,” says Eddie Street, a sports psychologist based out of Edinburgh. “Athletes who are depressed have it slightly better because they have a sense of purpose through sport, but the issue is when even that feels pointless. It’s this nihilistic thought process, for no fault of theirs, that puts them in this inconceivable and unexplainable funk, they very rarely get out of it.”
“They can alleviate some of the symptoms through medication and therapy, but they cannot escape it,” he says.
Keeping this in mind, one needn’t be pushed to acquiesce that Maxwell’s unbeaten 201 from 128 balls is the greatest knock in One-Day International history. Lest we forget, this innings came when his entire body was cramped to a point where the team physio comically likened it to rigor mortis.
The point of Tuesday night is as much about the runs scored, records broken or the circumstances in which it was achieved as it’s about who did it and how he overcame that pain barrier.
Maxwell is among the most misunderstood cricketers in this era, which means he is often on the receiving end of brickbats and social media mortars. ‘Professionals are paid to perform so they should’ is the oft-perpetuated narrative, and it holds water to a degree, but ignoring the totality of a human’s struggle is not.
So, when Maxwell pulled out of a series against Sri Lanka in 2019 due to his battle with depression, there was plenty of support, but there was also plenty of sniggering. He revealed that he wanted his arm to be broken so he could miss the 2019 World Cup. More sniggering followed.
Repeated ‘freak’ accidents, including one which led to a golf-kart-induced concussion during this World Cup, meant he was the butt of jokes within the community and beyond. ‘Clumsy’, ‘alcoholic’, ‘clown’, ‘weak’ are some of the terms thrown at Maxwell casually, and he internalises them without ever reacting, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t hurt.
His brain doesn’t register a lot of what is said because he, admittedly, zones out often, but his body remembers the way he was made to feel. That, he had said at that coffee shop, is the only way he knows who is laughing with him or at him.
“It becomes an us versus them issue in the minds of those going through depression,” says Shruti Ramesh, an independent psychologist who specialises in athletes. “But the thing with them is that they can be hyper-focused and get intense hits of adrenaline on demand. It’s because they are constantly in fight or flight, meaning these kinds of feats are not abnormal among those dealing with certain kinds of mental health conditions.”
“Again, people on the spectrum can go to great lengths to be loved. Winning games is also a way of getting that love,” she adds.
It’s peculiar that someone, who would break his body in half to deliver Australia a win against absurd odds, would find the need to fight for acceptance, love and care.
He finds it readily at home, and that’s why, even after scoring the fastest century in World Cup history a couple of weeks ago, all he wanted to do was go back and spend time with his newborn son. But out in the world, Maxwell doesn’t feel safe.
In a stadium, and with a bat in hand, it’s much the same feeling of alienation, but at least in there, he has the medium to showcase a fight. And that, ironically, is a poignant reflection of his battle against his own traumatised but beautiful mind.
(Published 09 November 2023, 03:50 IST)