Mo Bro Moments with David Burns

Like Henry Hill in Goodfellas, I always knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a boxer.

The most solitary of sports. You rise at 4.30am to run in solitude and conduct most of your day in isolation. It demands ultimate personal responsibility. You have no teammates to carry your bad days. It’s all on you.

That comes with pressure, but also with a simplicity which, as a withdrawn child whose thoughts seemed eccentric to others, suited me perfectly. It also offered the perfect context for my condition to remain concealed for three decades.

Due to the head trauma we suffer, fighters suffer from mental health issues far more than most, yet we are extraordinarily physically tough and have iron will. When I was growing up mental illness suggested weakness, which is at odds with the boxer’s psyche.

We mitigate any underlying issues with denial, leading to inevitable breakdowns, which I have witnessed in friends.

I’m not like that. I have Asperger’s syndrome. I knew that I saw the world differently, which led to frustration and an itinerant early post-boxing career, as I struggled to interface with neuro-normals. I was no longer ‘David the fighter’, I was just weird.

This couldn’t go on. At 38 I was diagnosed and immediately the world seemed to make more sense.

Aspies are like iOS when the rest of the world is running on Windows. We can do OK, but we may need an adaptor to function. In practical terms that just means understanding that we fixate over certain things and see the world differently.

I’m lucky that I have landed in a career where my eccentricity is an asset, but I sincerely wish I’d had the benefit of an early diagnosis. Life would have been so much easier for me.


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David is a Strategy Director at OMD UK.

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