Sport, mental illness and Our Anxious Lives

Simon Orchard Columnist

By Simon Orchard, Simon Orchard is a Roar Expert

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    A little over a year ago, I was diagnosed with a generalised anxiety disorder. Roughly characterised, that means I have excessive, uncontrollable and often irrational worry.

    It can be about trivial things, like what to have for dinner; or it can be much more serious, like worrying about which form of cancer will ultimately strike me down.

    I know that sounds ridiculous, but such is the headspace of someone with anxiety. I documented my thoughts in a 2015 blog entitled ‘My Anxious Life’.

    This is a follow-up to that piece.

    A lot has happened since I broke down in front of the Australian Kookaburras in September last year, as I announced I was leaving the program to focus on improving my health. I won’t go into all the details, but it’d be remiss of me not to share the important bits and pieces.

    I want to start by saying thank you to everyone who has made contact with me since ‘My Anxious Life’ hit the web. The overriding sense of support was liberating, but also quite afflicting.

    Why? Because I quickly realised that many are doing it tough, and most of them are doing so in silence.

    This whole experience has reinforced to me that mental illness really doesn’t discriminate. And it justifies why I’ve heard the trials and tribulations of people from all walks of life over the past year.

    The first few months after I went public with my troubles were the most poignant of my life. Evening after evening spent holed up in a room, scrolling through heartfelt and heartbreaking messages would make even the sternest man shed a tear or two.

    Many messages detailed problems that others were dealing with, and many expressed feelings quite similar to my own. Some were really struggling. Some seemed desperately in trouble. Some stories in particular stopped me in my tracks.

    Without trying to sound too dramatic, I feel like some of those conversations were preludes to a life-or-death tale. At times, I felt helpless and overawed.

    But at other times, I felt an enormous sense of pride and appreciation. These moments comforted me as I wrestled with worry, both of my own, and of others.

    During conversations with other sufferers, I would refrain from offering any clinical advice – I am no psychiatrist after all. Instead, I chose to share my story, thoughts and feelings, as I felt this was the best way to connect. Most of the time, they just wanted someone to talk to. So I just listened, and occasionally hugged.

    I become distracted in my own pursuit of improved mental health for a while by engulfing myself in the issues of others. I thought that was rather clever at the time, until I was advised that this wouldn’t help me recover. I was also told that if I was serious about getting better, I needed to start undertaking some kind of therapy.

    So I began several different methods of treatment, each of which seemed to create subtle, yet extremely valuable changes to my mental state.

    Firstly, on the advice of my psychiatrist, and in consultation with our Australian team doctor, I began taking a prescribed medication called Zoloft. It’s an anti-depressant, which essentially affects chemicals in the brain that may be unbalanced in people with anxiety.

    I was initially quite apprehensive about this method, because I straightaway thought it would dull my personality. Or, in typical worst-case thinking fashion, I thought I would develop some kind of killer drug dependency.

    Thankfully, and predictively, neither of these outcomes occurred. It instantly seemed to calm me, even my emotions out, and helped me sleep much more soundly, which were all of enormous benefit.

    Now, over a year on, I’ve recently taken an agreed break from the medication.

    I found the meditation app ‘Smiling Minds’, and I try and meditate at least once every two or three days. The series of programs on offer have been developed by psychologists to help bring balance to people’s lives. This practice is so calming, and once finished, a ‘smiling mind’ allows me to focus my attention on more important things. I highly recommend it.

    For Christmas last year, my parents (who clearly had a finger or two on the pulse) bought me a mindfulness colouring book, which has literally had me fixated for hours at a time. I initially thought it was a bit childish, but once I’d been colouring for ten minutes, I seemed to forget about the issue that drove me to the soothing back-and-forth of the Derwent in the first place.

    And finally, one of the best treatment methods I stumbled across was you guys, the readers. You see, when I penned ‘My Anxious Life’, all I really hoped was that it would reverberate with anyone who has ever been troubled by such a thing, and remind them that they are not alone.

    I still have people approaching me today, thanking me for sharing, and acknowledging how much of a difference it has made in their life, or in the life of someone they love.

    I feel like it’s given them hope, which in turn, gives me hope.

    Which is great, as all I really want to do is offer hope. Because hope can be a powerful and inspiring thing, not just for the readers of such works, but for the author as well.

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    The Crowd Says (6)

    • Roar Pro

      December 18th 2016 @ 10:18am
      Mike Huber said | December 18th 2016 @ 10:18am | ! Report

      Hi Simon

      Let me start by saying I suffered anxiety from 1996 -2001 , crippling incapacitating episodes , but it was not ” generalized anxiety” , but rather , Obessessive Compulsive Disorder . I suffered all sorts of irrational and ridiculous thoughts which I simply could not get out of my head – I won’t share them here because they are that bizarre it beggars belief .

      Ironically at the time, I was working in Mental Health , namely dual Diagnoisis , as a contracted forensic Social Worker to Probation and Corrective services in London England . I was very dubious about seeing a Psychiatrist as I new first hand that treatment would involve medication which I was against . I would roll up to work , looking into the eyes of serious offenders , not knowing whom was more insane , me or them . I suffered in silence for years as I honestly thought I had developed a new disorder the world had never seen .

      After confiding in my wife and a fellow colleague , I got online and found at that the intrusive thoughts and ruminations were symptomatic of a condition called OCD . Armed with this revelation, I immeditely found out that the best treatment option was Cognitive Behavior Therapy by a qualified therapist or Clinincal Psychologist . Within 6 weeks of seeing a CBT Practitioner I was ” cured” and/or back to normal mental health ( after a long , long time ).

      Cognitive Behavior Therapy is the most affective form of treatment for anxiety world wide . It examines your thoughts and beliefs in accordance to the catastrophic irrational world your mind is creating – not the world creating it ! It is a process of written and practical exercises which challenge every aspect of the “anxiety” and concludes with a pragmatic real outcome . Most people who suffer bad anxiety or OCD are high achievers with a particular personalty type – they exhibit an unrelenting attitude to life , are ardent perfectionists and are rarely satisfied as there is no end to continually wanting to achieve . The mind goes into over drive and breaks down due to the kalediscope of things an individual want to succeed at . Obessessive compulsive people never smell the roses nor celebrate wins – you can always do better and must be the best – at everyone you do ( trapped inside your head). Parents tend to be the mitigating factor in driving and manifesting this disorder in loved ones at an early age – putting their kids on pedestals and viewing them as trophies ( consciously and unconciously ) for their own shortcoming . Over time you internalize the parental process and start acting it out in your mind , climaxing its dysfunction in your mid 20’s .

      Anyway , I am sharing this with you as I know , hope and trust you can get back to 100% mental health and a continued enlightement sharing and helping others . I was so empowered by CBT that I become a therapist in this field – went back to Uni and become qualified. You aren’t different or mentally ill , but an individual who has achieved much in your short life and who just needs to recalibrate his thoughts . While Psychiatrists have there uses , they are becoming redundant and obsolete in the Therapy field due in large part to Cognitive Behavior Therapy . Give CBT a go ( if you have not already ) and stick with it , as it will resolve your anxiety issues once and for all.

    • December 18th 2016 @ 10:21am
      Carl said | December 18th 2016 @ 10:21am | ! Report

      May it all work for you.

    • Columnist

      December 18th 2016 @ 10:52am
      Geoff Parkes said | December 18th 2016 @ 10:52am | ! Report

      Best wishes Simon. It’s an incredibly brave thing to do, putting yourself out there like that, but you’ve not only expressed your situation, you’ve done it superbly well.

    • Editor

      December 18th 2016 @ 1:59pm
      Riordan Lee said | December 18th 2016 @ 1:59pm | ! Report

      Thanks so much for writing this piece, Simon. Despite all the progress made, the issue of mental health in sport is still chronically misunderstood(the countless depression-based sledges at Buddy I heard throughout the season testament to this) and the more brilliantly articulated articles like this, the better.

      Now I’m going to go off and download the Smiling Minds app – got into meditation a while ago and really enjoyed it until I started getting lazy, keen to give it another crack.

    • Roar Guru

      December 18th 2016 @ 2:21pm
      Ben of Phnom Penh said | December 18th 2016 @ 2:21pm | ! Report

      Thanks for writing this, Simon. I work in developing nations about the region where institutional support for mental health is minimal to non-existent. An app such as ‘Smiling Minds’ may offer some support for individuals I meet, professional athletes included, where no other structured support is available.

      Thanks for sharing.

    • December 18th 2016 @ 8:41pm
      northerner said | December 18th 2016 @ 8:41pm | ! Report

      Good stuff, Simon, and courageous. Look after yourself, get the help you need, and believe that your strength in “opening up” has helped a lot of people.

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