Content warning: this article discusses thoughts of suicide and severe struggles with depression.
photos taken from Gabriel Kidd’s Twitter
The lights dimmed in the 2300 arena. The fans attending NJPW Strong turned toward the entrance ramp as a video began to play on the titantron. No one quite recognized it at first; the screen showed what looked like the coverage of a pandemic spreading in Japan, with red squares appearing throughout a map of the country.
The name “Gabriel Kidd” came into view, and gasps echoed through the dark. The man himself emerged soon after, wearing a black denim jacket and black jeans. He wasn’t here to wrestle, so what did he have to say?
Gabriel Kidd is a young lion of the LA Dojo. The Englishman gained much notoriety through his decision to stay in Japan during the COVID-19 pandemic while the rest of the LA Dojo trainees returned to the United States.
The decision was a strong showing of dedication and bravery on the part of Gabriel. After all, we have to remember what the world was like in March 2020: the suffocating uncertainty in the air, like the moment where you find yourself in the eye of a hurricane, unsure which way the wind will blow next. Gabriel had enough faith in himself and in NJPW to hunker down and stay put. It’s a decision I find extremely admirable.
Gabriel told fans in the 2300 arena about the consequences of his decision. He spoke slowly and chose his words carefully, occasionally taking brief pauses to recollect himself. Each pause was met with encouragement from the audience through applause. The most harrowing part of the promo was when Gabriel described the pressure he felt during his time in the Dojo during the Spring of 2020.
“That kind of pressure, that’s enough to get on top of anyone. In May… In May, I uh… it got on top of me. It got on top of me and I was out walking one day, and I couldn’t do it anymore, and I stood on top of a building in Tokyo and I didn’t want to be alive anymore. And I looked down at the ground and I thought, ‘if I jump off this building, it all goes away. Everything I’m feeling, everything that’s confusing me, it all goes away.’
“There’s two things that kept me from jumping off that building. The first was the thought of my mum. And the second thing was pro wrestling because I swear to God I’ve put too much, I’ve sacrificed too much, I’ve lost too much for that to be the end of my fucking journey.”
The weight on my chest grow heavier with each word Gabriel spoke. I could see myself in his shoes, in a foreign city, isolated, confused, and terrified. I could so easily picture myself in his position because I’ve been in it before.
When the global disaster struck in early 2020, I had been studying abroad in Vienna, Austria. I had dreamed of studying abroad since I was in elementary school, and the Spring semester of 2020 was the manifestation of that fantasy.
For Vienna and me, it was love at first sight. The florists that lined almost every corner, the opera house I walked past each day, and the countless chocolate shops endeared me to no end. I could’ve stayed there forever, beginning and ending each day with a smile on my face.
For reasons I don’t wish to get into right now, what began as a fantastic adventure turned into a horror show. The streets that had charmed me a few months ago became dreadful to walk along. I found myself thousands of miles away from my family and in a near-constant state of panic.
To be in that situation, where mental illness takes a strangling hold on you while you’re so far away from home is such a uniquely terrifying experience. Hearing that Gabriel experienced it made my heart sink.
Being in a foreign country, even one you’re fond of, can be so isolating and exhausting. Sometimes you feel that people might know what you’re trying to say, but they won’t understand you. Other times you feel as though you’ve made an awful, irreversible mistake in coming to this place, where you feel so painfully different from everyone else. These haunting moments, coupled with the pressure to pretend that everything is alright, quickly become unbearable. They can lead you to scary places, like a high rooftop in Tokyo, or a train station in Vienna.
We are lucky that we have mothers, and dreams, and loved ones, to lead us back home.
Gabriel told us that the thought of returning to an NJPW ring was his lifeline during his bouts with depression:
“The only thing that kept me pushing through, when I was sat at home and I was feeling confused, and I didn’t know all these emotions or these new things that I was experiencing, the only thing that kept me going was this moment right here.
I pictured this moment in my head a thousand times over, every single day I would run this through. I didn’t know where it was going to be, I didn’t know who it was going to be in front of, but I knew I was going to stand in a New Japan ring again, and that is exactly what kept me going.”
I’m not sure when the episode of NJPW Strong that features Gabriel’s promo will air, or if the promo will air at all. It’s already been shared around Twitter, so whether it’s aired on NJPW World or not, Gabriel’s promo is out there. This article isn’t at all meant to be a show review, though. If nothing else, I want this article to be a thank you note to Gabriel Kidd. So, if he’s reading this, thank you for sharing your story, it touched me in a way I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to articulate, no matter how many articles I write.
I’m so, so happy you were there that night in South Philly, and I hope I can see you again someday.