Sharks star makes Thailand rehab confession
Josh Dugan was in a such a dangerous hole he feared he would never again see the light.
He remembers days last year when he felt like walking off the Cronulla training paddock.
Other days, the former Test centre wished he'd never arrived at training at all.
"There were times, I wouldn't say anything to anyone,'' Dugan told The Daily Telegraph.
"I didn't even feel like talking. I lacked all motivation to do almost anything.''
Deeply concerned at the sight of Dugan's dropped shoulders and head hung low, his teammates called an urgent meeting with the club's welfare department.
They no longer viewed the 103kg centre as a footballer.
They saw a frighteningly fragile 28-year-old man who desperately needed saving.
And when Dugan's fiancee Jordan could see her love struggling to put one foot in front of the other, the NRL star knew he was no longer just hurting himself.
"That hit home for me and so two days later I was on a plane to Thailand,'' Dugan said.
"I wasn't getting anywhere on my own.
"And so I thought 'if it's going to help me and it's going to help my partner', who was so upset with how down I was, I needed to get professional help.''
In a frank and cathartic admission, Dugan revealed for the first time how he has emerged as a proud advocate for mental health and depression following a month-long stint in a Thailand rehabilitation centre last September.
Until now, only Dugan's closest teammates and select Cronulla staff members were aware of his trip made a fortnight after the Sharks' preliminary final loss to Melbourne.
"I went and got professional help, I was away for four weeks and it was the best thing I ever did,'' Dugan said.
"I learned a lot about myself, a lot about my condition and how the past has contributed to that.
"I'm not making excuses for myself, but everything adds up and my past mistakes have added to that.
"It all just snowballed and at the end of last year," he said, pausing. "It overflowed."
Dugan fronted a press conference last September and broke down over his angst at the public perception of him.
"The press conference was pretty public, but it was a blessing in disguise," he said.
"I got a lot of support out of it.
"And rather than avoid it, I was able to move on and hit it head on.
"Seeking help, it's probably the best thing for you.
"Because if you don't, you're only going to dig yourself a hole that you might not be able to get out of.''
A string of setbacks last season, including NSW State of Origin omission and leg and shoulder injuries, added to the feeling of rejection he felt after being shuffled between fullback, wing and centre at the Sharks last year.
It would be too much to suggest Dugan felt worthless, but he wasn't far away.
"I wasn't enjoying much at all, but I'd turn up to training because I didn't want to let the boys down,'' Dugan said.
"Being chopped and changed positions, it made me frustrated and so I'd shut down and I wouldn't be as vocal as I normally am.
"A few of the boys (Cronulla players) pulled me up and told the staff, 'look, Duges isn't himself.'
"That hit home as well. Because in recent years, I probably wouldn't have had that at a club from players.
"It felt reassuring to know that I've got support from the boys as well.
"I can't tell you how refreshed I came back (from Thailand).
"I definitely think I'm better equipped to handle what comes my way now.
"I've got better tools and hopefully it doesn't come to that (being dropped), but it's the game we're in.
"There's always going to be competition for positions. It's just about equipping yourself the best you can and I feel I've got those tools now to do that.
"The biggest thing with that I have learned, is having an avenue outside of footy - not living and breathing footy every day.''
Which is why Dugan is proud to become a State of Mind ambassador for the NRL this year at the same time as he studies a diploma in counselling.
And just last week, he and Andrew Fifita began visits to juvenile justice centres across NSW, in the hope of helping troubled teens who also have their mental demons.
"I've always been pretty public about getting professional help - I think it helps a lot,'' Dugan said.
"I've grown up with my old man (father, David), who's pretty old school. He doesn't talk a lot. And so to see him open up a bit after me getting go to get help, it puts into perspective that I've done the right thing.
"He now sees that it's OK. So a lot of people that feel it's weak to speak up and get help - it's not.
"That's my biggest message. It's OK not to be OK.
"The reach I have on social media these days, it's huge. We can reach up to 60,000 people with one post.
"If anyone one person sees that and gets a little bit out of help out of it, then I'm going to continue to do that.''
Following off-season shoulder surgery, Dugan will make his return for Cronulla in a trial match against Newcastle on Saturday night in the Hunter.
And for the first time in a long time, Dugan can't wait.
"I'm back being excited about footy again,'' Dugan said.
"Watching the boys play last Saturday, I was champing at the bit to get out there and it's been a long time since I've felt that.
"It's been a long road back, but Saturday night is a great place to get going again.''