Mark Selby has revealed his demons took away the joy of one of his greatest Crucible achievements. The reigning and four-time world champion embarks on his quest for a fifth Betfred World Championship crown tomorrow against Welsh qualifier Jamie Jones.
But this year’s trip to the iconic theatre in Sheffield comes after Leicester’s Selby, 38, publicly spoke about an acute recurrence of mental health problems.
Current world No2 Selby talked with searing honesty about how the death of his beloved father David when just 16 affected him having never seen him play as a professional.
That pain never went away - and it emerged before and during Selby’s charge to a second world title in 2016.
That same night also saw the Foxes clinch a shock Premier League title and he was pictured with the club’s flag as well as the trophy. But that was just in body, as his mind went blank.
Happily, after taking some time away from the sport before this tournament, Selby seems fresh and relaxed after a two-week break in Dubai with his family, and has been back on the practice table.
But of that night six years ago, he said: “When I won the world title for the second time in 2016, I wasn’t in quite as bad a way as I have been this time but I wasn’t in a good way.
“I went on to lift the trophy, Vikki and Sofia came up to the table afterwards and Vikki said to me it was like they weren’t even there, that I was just staring into space.
“Even in my post-final interview I remember saying it had been a tough few weeks, that close friends and family would understand, I had pulled out of a couple of tournaments before that, and wasn’t even going to play in the worlds.
“In the end I agreed with Vikki to go and play, and that hopefully the venue and the atmosphere might perk me up rather than sitting at home.
“It felt strange winning it that year, but maybe I was feeling under no pressure. I wasn’t expecting anything from myself.
“But at the end, when it should have been one of the best times in my life sharing it with Vikki and Sofia, I was emotionless, holding it up for appearances.
“While I was trying to have the professional help from the doctor and play at the same time, it was not so much the actual playing that was difficult – more the sitting in your seat.
“When I was at the table I had things to think about and keeping your mind active. But sitting in my chair you’re in your own headspace and thinking about all the rest.
“That was life off the table, past experiences, not snooker at all. Initially we agreed to carry on playing if I could, because there is a danger of locking yourself at home and curling into a ball.
“That wasn’t the way to go, I wanted to keep myself busy which was why I carried on to start with. The playing is the easy bit, it’s the battling with the demons in my head that is tough.
“Some days I am okay, but I am been having more bad days than good, hence why I am in the position I am in and why I spoke out.
“Hopefully I can reverse that, and that is why I have been working with his psychiatrist doctor from London, a couple of sessions a week at first, then one a week, and a change of medication.
“When I am not really doing things and not busy is when the day-dreaming starts, if you want to call it that.
“At home during the day keeping yourself busy can be running, getting outside for a 30-40 minute walk, write down in the morning what you want to do that day, and then do it.
“And I have had to write down a lot about my past and my father and stuff. That has been tough, because now it all seems raw again.
“But I felt I had to do it, because I never really did it before and had bottled it up. Even though I spoke about it, it was never in depth and I had to get it all out.
“Snooker goals seem irrelevant right now, even though this is the World Championship. I have had no motivation and it is hard to explain it other than to people who have had it.
“The temptation is to say ‘Just snap out of it’, but I just never know how I am going to feel. I can wake up and feel a little better, then as the day goes on have a cloudy patch and feel much worse.
“It feels like I am fighting myself every day, but I have got great support around me with Vikki and the family, and now this doctor.
“I will be going to the Crucible probably with a different perspective and hopefully feeling better. I have someone to WhatsApp in a bad patch.
“I have been given a lot of things to do and it is up to me to do them. I have always treated snooker like it is life or death, and the hurt from defeats has been very strong.
“The doctor is sure that has something to do with losing my dad. Because my mum walked out when I was young, when I lost him, it was my whole family.
“I had nobody, the only thing I had to turn to was snooker, and that became like a comfort blanket. He believes that is why I have put so much into it, and where I feel most comfortable.
“I would love to look forward to it, because it would be a shame to be at the Crucible and not care whether I won or lost.”
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