I had some great suggestions in response to Post 45 Rugby, so here is the follow up. That post covered a number of English players and the referee Nigel Owens challenges with mental ill health, along with the Rugby Players Association mental health awareness campaign Lift The Weight. There were also some points based off rugby principles that could possibly help with mental wellbeing and especially with regard to managing depression.
I had some great comments back which merited returning to this sporting metaphor. But before that some more examples of rugby players and players association helping to raise awareness of mental health.
Recently Rugby Players Ireland has launched an app (on Apple and Android platforms) called Tackle Your Feelings. It’s an app within which you can assess you’re mental wellbeing to then work through practices and exercises to help. It’s a great app designed very well with some helpful resources built into it.
I was also reminded of southern hemisphere rugby and the All Black legend Sir John Kirwan. He was knighted in 2012 for services both to rugby and for his awareness work around mental health, having also published two books on his depression. This link is a short film about Sir John and his openness to raise awareness of depression.
I have been following the Australian player Tom English on Twitter for a while, he launched a blog last year called Open My Brain, writing about depression and some of the things he finds which help. This link takes you to his site.
In fact we’ll kick off the second half with a point that Tom has just written about.
- Routine Just like players with training routines it really does help to try and stick to a regular routine as part of managing depression. This isn’t always easy, but things like a regular sleep pattern, a routine around journalling and meditation help me. When that doesn’t happen I can sense the difference in me and will be more prone to unhelpful habits like rumination and critical thinking .
- Practice Linked to routine we often need to practice self-care techniques. It takes time to break old habits like being critical to yourself and to replace with a more self-compassionate approach. That also requires understanding more and finding out what works for you to then build into routine. So if writing in a journal works find a set time each day to do it ; if it’s taking a few mindful moments when drinking a coffee make it a regular thing to do; simple things like taking a moment to look out of the window, as if you have never seen the view before. Practice doesn’t have to be this big thing, lots of small things really can help change habits.
- Injuries and performance dips All sportsmen can be effected by injury or periods when their performance isn’t as good. This is true within depression, when down periods come along or your daily routines are interrupted. At such times it can be easy to become impatient and self-critical. It can help to take a more compassionate view, that it’s common and normal for down periods to happen , that sometimes the unexpected hits us or we stop doing some of our routines. It is more helpful to look upon that kindly, while still taking responsibility for our actions. Gentle encouragement goes a lot further than berating ourselves.
- Complexity and interpretation Rugby is complex and the rules are open to interpretation by players and the referee. Life is complex, depression is complex. Events and experiences that happen to us are subject to our perception, often distorted negatively. We both experience something and then build a narrative around it. Sometimes it helps, I find by writing, to try and consider the reality along with the associated emotions I feel. Does the actual event require the emotional reaction or is it the story I am telling myself ?
- Sometimes you can feel punished for doing the right thing. Sometimes in rugby players are penalised through the interpretation of a rule. If they argue they face censure, so it’s better to back off, carry on playing and then check later to understand the decision. Often we feel like we have done something wrong , even though we haven’t or we did what we thought was the right thing and the result was not what we expected. In a similar way to the rugby player, at such times it can be better to take a step back, to review the reality and to learn from it, rather than to immediately engage with the emotions. Often we haven’t done anything wrong, despite how we feel and it’s helpful to make that space between thought and emotion to allow us to see that. And if we did do something wrong, that space allows us to see the mistake and to kindly learn from it, not judging yourself for making it.
- Accept defeat as you accept success Players learn they cannot win all the time. When they lose they need to learn to accept with grace, sometimes the opposition is just better, sometimes they haven’t played as well as they could. Within depression the bad days feel like defeat, the good ones a win. Sometimes the bad days are caused by things out of our control, sometimes we may not do the things which are helpful (eg break sleep pattern) It’s very hard to do this, but keep in mind that bad days will go, just as good days come and go. Recovery and management of depression is not a straight line, it’s a curly-wurly, messed up wavy line that is sometimes very hard to follow. But keeping going along it, the good days are ahead, even when you can’t see them.
For those who made the suggestions in response to the previous post, I hope I have interpreted and represented them as you meant above.
I also hope that within the rambling sporting metaphors you have found something which helps.