Ronnie O’Sullivan has claimed if he could again choose a career he would not opt for snooker due to the toll it has taken on his mental health.
The five-time world champion blamed the sport for being prescribed antidepressants in 2001, and revealed the pressure led to panic attacks.
“Snooker is a really hard sport and if I had my time over again I definitely wouldn’t choose snooker as a sport to pursue,” the world No 1 told the BBC’s Don’t Tell Me the Score podcast. “A lot of people have said over the years, he’s up and down, he’s unstable, and I’m not. I always call it ‘snooker depression’.”
O’Sullivan has spent the last 25 years at the top and is widely considered to be the best snooker player of all time. But “The Rocket”, reported to have won over £10 million in prize money since turning professional in 1992, recalled calling the Samaritans for help before the 2001 World Championships.
“If I didn’t play snooker, I’d never have to take any medication ever,” he said, while recalling how he felt after a radio interview before the tournament had to be cut short due to a series of panic attacks.
“I was in my hotel room in the Hilton in Sheffield, I put the phone down and I just lay on the bed and just phoned the Samaritans. I was nine, ten months clean out the Priory, I’d had my best snooker season ever; I’d won six out of 11 events. If you were to base success on external things, it was the most successful season any snooker player had had.
“Even winning tournaments isn’t solving my problems. What is it, why am I feeling like this? I had these episodes where I’d just disappear. I’d run off and people would think he’s having a tantrum, it’s just I can’t cope sometimes. It’s not that I can’t cope with snooker, I just can’t cope with normal life sometimes.”
O’Sullivan turned to running to help ease his anxiety and rates his 10km personal best as his biggest achievement, ahead of any of his five world titles.
“I came 180th in the Southern England Cross Country nine miles over Parliament Hill, 34 minutes in a 10km race in France, so they’re all my proudest achievements, because not many people know about that. I had a ten to 12-year period where I was addicted to running. A lot of my other problems I didn’t need to worry about. If I ran it kept me on the straight and narrow.”
O’Sullivan described the effect the antidepressants had on him, adding: “Within an hour and a half the drug had got into me, relaxed me, took the anxiety away.
“I likened it a bit to when you’re on a train in London, people rushing towards you, that’s how it felt. I just felt in a pure state of panic, took this tablet and everything just slowed down.
“If someone came up and asked for my autograph I’d just freeze and I just thought ‘I can’t be like that. I don’t want to be like that’.”