I think mental health awareness is important for everybody. We need to normalise the conversation of, are you OK? And we also need to normalise the response of, I am not OK. I have been on both sides of the conversation; sometimes, I have struggled to say I am not OK because I know that the person asking isn't ready for my response.
Personally speaking, I've faced several challenges with my mental health, even from when I was a teenager to now in my thirties. I remember being a teenager and just locking myself in the bathroom crying because I wasn't sure how to get out of my current mental state. I felt overwhelmed and unhappy. I still have bad days today and days where I can't quite get out of the fog. What I've learned is that it's OK to not be OK. I'm encouraged by the current climate of people talking about this and want to continue encouraging people to come out and say that they're not OK.
As an athlete, I remember a patch where I would go out riding by myself and be in tears crying every single ride. I didn't know how to escape my thoughts and feelings, nor how to get out of it. Having a support network to reach out to and share my feelings with has been immensely helpful. I am grateful my sport has provided me with a clinical psychologist who has worked with me over the last few years. It has been a long journey with a lot of tears and hard days. However, I am happy to say the good days now definitely outweigh the bad.
I struggled with acceptance. It has been a big part of my mental health battle over the past 10 years. I have feared judgement and sought the constant need to feel accepted by outside sources. I went through a rough patch where I felt extremely lonely, despite being constantly around teammates, friends, and family. No one could tell me that I was doing a great job, and I remember meeting my psychologist for the first time, and I just sat there in tears. I left the meeting feeling completely overwhelmed but kept with it. The second time I met with my psychologist, I felt better. Recently, I have learned to be self-compassionate and to accept who I am. I encourage myself to enjoy the moment and accept that each day, I am trying my best.
When I was at the height of my mental health battles, I felt lonely and isolated, despite constantly being around my teammates, family and friends. I hated being alone, couldn't sleep and had panic attacks. I constantly overthought and became anxious in social situations. I was quite a reactive person and was always angry about something. It wasn't until I hit rock bottom and hurt people that I love that I summoned the strength to reach out to someone that I knew and trusted, and they encouraged me to seek help.
The best tool that I have used during my mental health battles is the implementation of self-compassion. I struggled with self-compassion initially because I thought athletes should be tough and push through any form of difficulty endured. I believed I needed to be hard on myself to perform. Self-compassion was the opposite of that for me. It was an ugly process for the first few times practising it. I battled with myself and in my head before practising it on the smallest of things. For example, if I went to the supermarket and forgot an item, I would typically be hard on myself and think I was stupid for forgetting the milk. I would over analyse it and think about it for days. Whereas now I forgive myself and say it's OK for forgetting an item. It isn't the end of the world. Having the awareness to stop beating myself up and to be kind in my thoughts is something I have learned to practise.
Having someone to talk to and share your mental struggles with is important. When people listened to my challenges and acknowledged when things were tough for me and sympathised with my current battles, it helped. As a listener, you do not have to understand or put pressure on yourself to make a difference instantly; providing a listening ear, a hug, or sitting alongside someone who is struggling, is immensely helpful, more than the individual offering support may know.
I used to perceive reaching out for help as being weak, especially being a high performance athlete. I thought I should be able to deal with my mental battles alone. I now understand the truth and how incredibly strong and brave you have to be to reach out for help. It takes a lot to acknowledge you need help.
Lastly, have the courage to ask someone experiencing mental challenges what they need. Let's try to normalise the conversations around mental health and be there for one another. I know I am grateful to everybody that was there for me and has helped me along the way. I hope everybody can reach out to someone else and help each other through our mental health battles and not go it alone.
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