an england cricketer's up close experience with depression and anxiety
The summer of 2016 arrived, and I knew that things weren’t quite as they should have been. I found myself in the eye of the storm that is depression and debilitating anxiety. That long summer was clouded with mental challenges; challenges that seemed to emanate directly from the sport that I loved, and specifically from the demands that I placed upon myself. I experienced an overall numbness that stole my focus and constantly struggled to keep my suffering under wraps.
“I’ll never forget walking out to bat for England at Lord's, feeling like the world was closing in on me. We are talking about the most prestigious cricket ground in the world, the place I grew up obsessed with, a stadium steeped in history, and the home of cricket where I dreamt of one day following in the footsteps of my famous grandfather Denis Compton.”
I didn’t want the public, my girlfriend, family, coach, or teammates to detect anything was wrong, for fear of them somehow thinking less of me. I was determined not to show any sign of what I thought was weakness. I operated on a façade – masking everything that was going on inside me. I did my best to appear happy, positive, confident, and in control, but I constantly wanted to disappear to the comforts of my cozy hotel room. It was a safe space, away from external threats and a means of escaping my expectations, which now had become out of reach.
In deconstructing all that transpired in my professional career, and attempting to alter my mental headspace, I have since come to understand that I had built my entire identity around the idea of cricket success. It was about more than just sport to me, it became an obsession. My whole raison d’etre, an all-or-nothing quest, with no room for imperfection or failure. I lost all sight of why I fell in love with the sport in the first place and the tenants of sport that matter. Having an iconic grandfather - a man who once dazzled and entertained a post-war Britain with his audacious stroke play and slicked-back Brylcreemed hair on both the cricket and football fields, may have played a part. This being said, I have come to learn that my challenges originated from an insatiable appetite and desire to succeed. An almost desperate longing to fill a void within me; a void that consumed me for 20 years.
It has not been an easy journey, however; I have found therapy in photography and travel as a means of finding purpose and passion. The camera has been my conduit to a less intense life, away from the seriousness of professional sport. Connecting with people and communities in out-of-the-way places that are hidden from the everyday, and experiencing the beauty of our planet has given me a new sense of direction. Coupled with this, I have invested heavily in exploring techniques and practices such as yoga and meditation. Over time, they have proven to be instrumental in improving my mental health.
As I navigate a new path in life, I do so knowing that I can't do it alone. That in isolation, I am in a self-inflicted prison of fear. When I ask for help and live in connection, I am growing on my path of meaning and fulfilment. I do so knowing that my physical health and my mental health will be my biggest successes to date. I hope that in sharing my journey I can help to destigmatize mental health in sport and inspire young athletes to speak up and ask for help.
Connect with Nick
If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, Mental Health America has an online screening tool that can be used to give you a quick snapshot of your mental health. They also provide numerous other resources to help in the journey towards concurring whatever mental health challenge you might be facing.