Whatuira walking tall again after trauma

Former Huddersfield Giant Paul Whatuira has opened up about the mental problems which have plagued him since the end of his playing career.

The former New Zealand Test centre, now 35, has faced down many of his demons, and is now working in an education and welfare role at NRL club Wests Tigers.

Shortly after appearing in the Challenge Cup final in 2009 with Huddersfield, his life began to take a turn for the worse.

The birth of his and then-wife Vanessa’s first child brought back intense memories of him being sexually abused as six-year-old by a 12-year-old boy.

Within months, he was threatening to kill his wife and their unborn child. He was also convicted of an assault on two men in Huddersfield, and admitted that he was hearing voices.

After leaving the Giants, and returning to Australia in 2010, he attempted suicide twice.

“For some reason, expecting to be a father triggered memories of my childhood and all the skeletons started to come out of my closet,” he explained, speaking to Rugby League Week.

“My parents did their best to raise me, but I was surrounded by alcohol, drug abuse and domestic violence. Then at the age of six I was molested by a 12-year-old boy.

“That was when I was at Huddersfield in 2009, and I went down a six-month spiral suffering from depression, which led into seven days of hell without sleep. I was terrified … my past demons were hitting me left, right and centre.

“It was then I started to hear voices, telling me to kill my partner at the time, Vanessa, and our unborn child, Gabrielle.

“They were in real danger and I had to get away, so I checked into a hospital. The same day, the voices became more powerful and were telling me to take myself out of this misery.

“I broke out of the hospital filled with rage and anger, and that’s when the assaults took place.

“Fear brought out jealousy and hatred and it was then I assaulted these people.

“I was tasered by the police and taken to a secure unit where I was locked in for four weeks on heavy medication and under surveillance 24/7.

“I feel terrible about the assaults and feel sympathy for the victims, but I had no control over my actions and I’ve learnt to forgive myself and to move forward.

“In the end, I wasn’t convicted because under the Mental Health Act in England I was labelled mentally unwell.”

His playing career at Huddersfield came to a premature end due to his condition.

“I tried to play on at Huddersfield, who were great to me, but I was heavily sedated. I had to retire,” he added.

“I had been on heavy medication for five years since the 2009 episode. I felt they were poisoning my body, but in truth they were poisoning my mind.

“I believed the world was against me. I cut all ties with my family and friends and lived alone in a bubble, hiding away in fear.

“I regularly thought about ending my life. Twice I tried.”

But the former player turned to drugs in an attempt to numb the pain he was feeling.

“After four years of marriage, me and Vanessa decided to go our separate ways. She loved and cared for me, but how could I love her back when I couldn’t love myself?” he said.

“It was then I turned to drugs. My choice of drug was cocaine. In my apartment by myself, for two months I abused my body.

“I needed help badly. I called Aunty Chrissy (former West Tigers team-mate Bronson Harrison’s mother) and she was the only person I trusted.

“She was great throughout. We talked and I stopped with the cocaine experience.

“It was then I started to make decisions for my own good once again.

“I began to learn how my own mind worked and starting educating myself, reading endless self-help books, completing well-being courses and surrounding myself with positive people and reconnecting with family friends and former teammates.

“I understood when I isolated myself that loneliness is toxic and I had five years of toxic thoughts.”

But Whatuira is now on the path to feeling much better about himself, his past and his place in the world.

“I now appreciate that in life there’s always hope,” he said.

“I believe the more people who share their journeys through life’s battles, accomplishments and values, the better this world will be.”

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