Teresa Enke: “Robbi couldn’t show any more feelings”

Teresa Enke has gone through hell. First daughter Lara dies of a heart defect, then her husband Robert Enke takes his own life. In the “Mental Health Matters” interview, Teresa tells how she and her adopted daughter Leila found their way back to life. With this series of interviews, GALA aims to de-stigmatize mental illness. +++ TW: The subject of suicide is dealt with in the interview. +++

On November 10, 2009, national goalkeeper Robert Enke committed rail suicide at the age of 32. Just one day later, Teresa Enke, 45, made his depression public in a moving press conference.

This year marks the twelfth anniversary of Robert’s death. How do you live on as a wife with such a loss? How do you explain to your adopted daughter why dad killed himself? Teresa talks about this in the “Mental Health Matters” interview.

For several years Robert Enke’s depression was kept a secret. The mother of the now 12-year-old Leila had to live with a depressed partner under the guise of secrecy. In an interview with GALA, she tells how she experienced this time and the days immediately after the death of her “Robbis”.

Teresa Enke: “Robbi was afraid that someone would point a finger at him”

At that time, her husband kept quiet about his depression and justified his absence from illness in 2009 with a “bacterial infection”. How so?
If you are at the top and then say: “I have a depression”, the fear of being stigmatized resonates with you. Robert was afraid that you would point your finger at him and that others would think that a goalkeeper would have to be mentally fit. But one thing has nothing to do with the other. It’s a disease like a cruciate ligament rupture. At that moment you are not as productive, but you can go back to work after the therapy. But then the depression was still relatively unknown – in contrast to today.

Robert Enke with his daughter with heart disease in his arms in the stadium of his club Hannover 96. Lara died in 2006 at the age of two of a congenital heart defect.

Robert Enke with his daughter with heart disease in his arms in the stadium of his club Hannover 96. Lara died in 2006 at the age of two of a congenital heart defect.

© imago images

In 2009, during his severe depressive phase, her husband decided against inpatient therapy. Do you know why?
I think it wasn’t the clinic that was the problem with Robbi. The real problem was: if he allows himself to be admitted, he can no longer keep his depression a secret. That is why I also fight in the foundation to ensure that there are opportunities for athletes to stay in training and still be able to do therapy.

“I lived together with a shell”

How was it for you, as a relative, to live with a depressed partner?
I suffered, but first had to accept that my husband was depressed. Before that I had no contact with the disease. At first I didn’t understand why he couldn’t get up and go out. First I had to understand that this is hardly possible for those affected. It’s like amputating someone’s legs and saying, “Come on, let’s go jogging.”

The bad thing was that he could no longer show any feelings in his depressive phase.

I lived together with a shell. Then I didn’t recognize him anymore. I also got the impression he doesn’t care how I feel. But that’s a fallacy

because he knew that his illness was causing bad things in the family. Many think that when they are no longer there, everyone is better off. This often leads to suicidal thoughts.

A certain form of codependency can develop in relatives of the mentally ill. How did you protect yourself from that back then?
I didn’t really protect myself, also because this game of hide and seek took a lot of strength. But I tried to take care of myself while Robert was in therapy or in the stadium. I’ve been walking the dogs and doing sports. I tried to participate in life without a guilty conscience.

What advice do you give family and friends when dealing with a depressed person?
First and foremost, your own mental hygiene is imperative. In this stressful everyday life of work, children and the illness of your partner, it is good to ask other people for help. Your own breaks are important to minimize stress. When dealing with those affected – especially in the pandemic – it is important to pay attention to whether they are just annoyed or do not want to go outside at all. In a severe depressive phase you should call the telephone counseling or the Robert Enke Foundation.

How did you get the strength back then to go public with his suicide just one day after the death of your husband?
That was spontaneous. After Robert’s death, I sat with the press officer and the manager until four at night. You thought about telling the truth or telling a story. I sat next to it as if paralyzed. We were all overwhelmed. At some point I said that I was speaking and everyone looked at me questioningly. I wanted to tell what he had because I couldn’t do it all the time and so there would be no speculation.

On November 11, 2009, one day after Robert Enke's suicide, Teresa Enke made her husband's depression public during a moving press conference.

On November 11, 2009, one day after Robert Enke’s suicide, Teresa Enke made her husband’s depression public during a moving press conference.

© Getty Images

I didn’t know if I could get through this. I never spoke in public before. Robbi always said: ‘If someone shows you a microphone, nothing comes out.’

But then I was so determined and worked in a state of shock and at that moment I spoke as a wife and mother.

“What bothered me the most were the paparazzi”

How did you experience the time shortly after your husband’s suicide?
The first two weeks after that, I was like in a bubble. What bothered me were the paparazzi lurking in front of my house. I gave our daughter to the housekeeper at the time, but brought her back three days later. I tried to take part in everyday life, although I didn’t feel like it at all.

After the first two weeks, the most difficult phase after the funeral began, when the people who support you return to everyday life. I didn’t enjoy life anymore, but I wanted to hold on to life – because of my daughter, because of the animals. I had a responsibility.

Leila has a right to have a mother who works.

I didn’t mean to leave her in such a mess; I firmly believed that I would be happy again.

Still, did you feel guilty?
Of course I quarreled with myself. In the first year after Robert’s suicide in particular, I often thought back to every single minute of that day. I wondered if I could have responded if I’d left five minutes earlier. Basically, I’m at peace with myself. I did everything I was always by Robert’s side, but this illness was just stronger.

In January 2010, Teresa Enke established the Robert Enke Foundation.  Since then, she has been committed to the research and treatment of depression and heart disease in children.

In January 2010, Teresa Enke established the Robert Enke Foundation. Since then, she has been committed to the research and treatment of depression and heart disease in children.

© Getty Images

Teresa Enke worked through her trauma in a clinic

Did you get professional help to process what happened?
Two years later, in 2011, I went for a walk with my daughter. It was a great, snowy winter day. Leila hasn’t really spoken yet, she was two years old. I would have loved to share this moment with Robert. Tears ran down my cheeks.

Then Leila, this little person, put her hand on my shoulder and said a sentence she had never said before: ‘Mom don’t cry.’ I get goose bumps now.

I immediately looked for a clinic that would help me come to terms with the trauma. Because after two years this sadness was still so strong and it also influenced my daughter. It cannot be that my little daughter has to comfort me. That will not do.

What do you think is important in raising children from a depressed parent?
You have to convey openness and understanding to the child. At the time, the psychologists advised me not to hide my grief from my child. Nevertheless, I think that I initially let Leila participate too badly in the grief.

A psychiatrist later told me that it was safe to explain to children what depression was and that Robert died of the disease. There are also great children’s books that help explain depression, such as “Daddy’s Soul Has A Cold”. Because children torment themselves with the question of why. If you make the disease understandable for them, then they know that they cannot help it.

Robert Enke is still present a lot in family life today

What has family life been like since Robert’s death and what have you done so that your husband is present in the lives of you and your daughter Leila

When we’re in town or at the stadium, we like to tell old or funny stories about him, but not sad ones.

On the day of his death or on Leila’s birthday, Robbi’s mother still comes to visit. Only those who are no longer talked about are dead.

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Has anything changed in the public image of depression since your husband’s suicide in 2009?
I think a lot has happened. The acceptance is there. People talk much more openly and often about mental illness. Many companies now know that mental health plays a very important role. But of course there is still a lot of room upstairs. This is precisely because you cannot see depression and, for example, determine it in an MRI.

Important note for those affected:
Do you suffer from depression, have thoughts of suicide or do you know someone who has voiced them before? The telephone counseling offers help. It is anonymous, free and available around the clock at 0800/1110111 and 0800/1110222.
A list of nationwide aid agencies can be found on the website of the German Society for Suicide Prevention.

Source used: own interview

This article originally appeared on GALA.de.