To the outside world, the life of an athlete can seem pretty ideal. And it is amazing, I get to play my sport for my country every day. I get world class support to follow my dreams for as long as I want to.
But there’s a tougher side to sport that needs to be talked about more openly, the stigma surrounding mental health in sport. I was diagnosed with major depression two years ago at a time in my life when most people would think I would be thriving. I was playing sport full time, I was at university, I had a great friendship network, and I was successful in the main passions in my life.
But underneath I was struggling, it took all of my energy to get out of bed every day and go to training, I couldn’t cope with any stress put on me and I wasn’t being the elite athlete I am capable of being.
For the first few months after my diagnosis I carried on relatively normally, I trained hard and did the right things and I performed well at the European Championships. But that all fell apart after we lost our semi final by a single point. I couldn’t shake the feeling of guilt I had and I felt completely defeated, I couldn’t pick myself back up. I got pneumonia not long after the championships ended and had to take time out to recover, afterwards I just spiralled. I let the excuse of illness get me out of anything that was too hard for a long time. I was in third year at university and barely getting by compared to where I wanted to be.
Being an athlete makes you a competitive person and makes you a perfectionist. In my eyes and the eyes of my depression I wasn’t succeeding so what was the point in even trying? I was still on the team and I was still passing university so what did the rest of it matter?
But the longer this mindset continued, the further I sunk into my depression and allowed it to take over my life.
At my lowest point I was suicidal.
I wasn’t planning anything but I’d got to the point where I didn’t care any more, I didn’t feel anything. I was completely numb and empty, it was terrifying.
Rio should have been the happiest point of the past cycle, the Paralympics is the pinnacle of wheelchair basketball but I could think of a million places I’d have rather been. I wasn’t motivated to train, I’d gained weight, I wasn’t the athlete I needed to be and I couldn’t wait for the games to be over.
I moved to Italy not long after Rio to play for a club and it was the best thing I could have done at the time. It saved me and it helped me find my love for the sport again.
Every day is still a huge struggle and I have to force myself to do the right things and not succumb to my depression.
I still take antidepressants and I’m proud of it, they help me to be a successful person and to do what I need on a daily basis. Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, I may need to take medication for the rest of my life and that’s okay.
Meditation and mindfulness have changed me and given me the chance to reflect and be present, to be at peace with who I am and to not fight against the struggles in my life.
I will always have to fight the voice that tells me to just get back into bed and to not bother to train, to just stay on the sofa and watch TV all day. But I’m stronger than my depression and I will win the daily battle for as long as I have to.