Mental Health touches everyone, athletes, family, and friends. It affects how we think and how we act. I have certainly struggled a lot to talk about it. Creating awareness is so incredibly important and I am choosing to speak about this now because I have seen my friends and teammates also battle with mental health challenges.
However, I have never had the courage to speak about my journey. If we can all speak openly, we can help each other by normalising the conversation. I have struggled with bouts of mental challenges throughout my career. I believed when I was younger I would never get injured, but as my career went on, I developed niggles both mentally and physically. Unfortunately, it has always been bred into us to be tough, but what is resilience without honesty?
I always felt ashamed of feeling down, rather than accepting it as part of my journey. I struggled in build-ups to major competition. My anxiety got the better of me on a few occasions, and I was unable to compete to my potential. I battled with the equation in my head that if I didn’t sleep a certain number of hours or my weight didn’t say a certain number on the scale, I would let myself and my teammates down. Even when we won races, I wondered if I had truly contributed to the result.
I have struggled with anxiety throughout my life and the pressures I put on myself to perform have made this worse at times. Leading into some of the biggest competitions of the year, I have had strong sleep insomnia, weight and body issues, and self-doubts. My anxiety intensified these issues and it took a long time to recognise/ identify. It took until we stopped winning before I realised I had to change my behaviours.
I am lucky to have a support team around me so eager to help, especially my teammates. I was able to admit these issues, which at the time I found very hard but have felt so much better for being able to do so. I regularly catch up with my psychologist even if it’s to talk just about him. When I stopped isolating myself and decided to speak openly about my challenges, I realised how normal I was. I’m lucky to have a supportive family, and I couldn’t dream of turning down ice cream with my nieces.
I would encourage people facing mental challenges and struggles of their own to talk to the people they feel most comfortable with (peers, teammates, family, or friends). Getting it off your chest is the biggest step. I have now realised I treat and train my mind like I would, my body for sport. Once you take the first step to talk, everything else becomes so much easier. We can always be kind to each other. I believe by being kind you can impact an individual more than you would ever know.
Carded athletes have their HPSNZ support team who can directly support or refer to external specialists
Non-carded athletes can access Jason McKenzie
Coaches and staff can access EAP services through Vitae
To speak to a counsellor or psychologist, call or text 1737