'I made peace with myself that 17th February would be my last day alive'
Wasps Senior Academy back-row Will Wilson has revealed his compelling story about battling mental health issues.
The 23-year-old admitted that almost a year ago to the day, he was suffering so badly with mental health, that he came close to ending his life.
However, the back-row has been using the support that has been available to him at the club to make significant improvements to help his life take a different course. But following the help and support of teammates, Wasps Club GP Ralph Mitchell and Wasps Psychologist Neil Addington, the Wilson is managing to gradually overcome his demons.
His full story is detailed below, in his own words:
More and more pieces about the impact of mental health within professional sport are reaching the public domain. I have read and listened to the words of several hugely courageous rugby players, the likes of whom I am grateful to call my friends, candidly and openly discussing their experiences and reassuring others they are not alone with their thoughts.
I personally did not consider myself ready to add to this discourse: my struggle with mental health has been comparatively short, without an obviously traumatic trigger, and I have isolated my problems from those close to me. Most of my friends and almost all of my colleagues do not know I have been taking anti-depressants for a year, or even that I am depressed. No one outside of my family and the psychologists available through Wasps and the RPA know the story detailed below of how far I spiralled. In one way or another, depression has cost me my love of rugby, intimacy with friends and family, a loving relationship, and happiness and contentment with my life.
Continue reading below…
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I don’t know if I could have solved all of my problems by talking more, but I do know that solidarity in these tough situations is vital to help others. I was reminded of this one lunchtime, when a friend opened up about his own struggles, and commented that he had no idea I felt the same way. That I was able to provide such a comfort to him, an outlet for his emotion and a realisation that he wasn’t the only black sheep of the herd, convinced me that while it may not feel right for me to talk, the possibility of helping preventing someone from finding themselves at their lowest was far more important in the grand scheme of things. I thought that if there was a chance, however slight, that I could help those I know (or don’t know), then there was only one logical option. So let me talk you through my struggles, starting, perhaps illogically, at the bottom.
Almost exactly a year ago, I made peace with myself that 17th February 2019 would be my last day alive. As I got into my car to drive home, I told myself I would never get out: I would die in my seat. Right up until the last moment, I believed I would deliberately crash my car, until I had a last-second change of heart. It was without relief or celebration; it was with sadness. I was sad that I was convinced I had no reason to live, and sad that I had felt so trapped in my own issues that I couldn’t trust anyone to help me.
There were several minor reasons that contributed to me reaching such a low point: injury, a lack of enjoyment at work, and environmental concerns all played their part. However, it has taken me a year to realise they remain insignificant beside the major cause, which I’ve tried to rationalise and detail below.
One of the main factors I have struggled with before and since my diagnosis with depression is feeling that I have no right to be depressed. I have a loving family and a fantastic circle of friends. I have a roof over my head, food in the fridge, and money in my bank account. When I decided I wanted to commit suicide, I was on the way to a black-tie ball. It made me angry and ashamed that a man with so much going right could find so little reason to live, and still to this day, when I find myself in the troughs of the rollercoaster ride that is depression, I seethe at myself that I cannot just be happy. Realising that it is not my choice to be unhappy, and that being depressed has nothing to do with what I possess materially or emotionally, has been one of the biggest struggles for me, and I know several of my friends also find it difficult to rationalise this.
Danny Cipriani has released a video message today following the death of his ex-girlfriend Caroline Flack last Saturday.https://t.co/OnF3esijFG
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) February 21, 2020
I always prided myself on being self-aware and not wanting to project my problems onto others. At school and university I wanted to be seen as the mediator in my friendship group, someone who could be trusted not to let emotions get the better of me, and someone who could be a confidant to anyone who wanted help. While I loved the feeling that my friends knew if they needed me, they could find a confidential, trusting ear, I also found increasingly that the more serious my health became, the less I wanted to burden people who had shown me their vulnerabilities. When those closest to me demonstrated emotional insecurities and fears of isolation and abandonment, I didn’t want to tell them how I was considering actions that would realise those very fears for them.
As a result, I found myself emotionally isolated, not unable to trust, but fearful that trusting people enough to talk would make their mental health worse. Choosing to carry this weight myself, therefore, appeared to me at the time to be a selfless act, but one with no form of escape or prospect of improvement. Consequently, the weight piled up until I reached breaking point.
The combination of not wishing to burden people whom I thought realising my state would harm, along with not understanding why I, of all people, could not find happiness in the world around me, led to an extremely toxic build-up of shame, anxiety and embarrassment. This was furthered by being unable to express myself on the field rugby-wise.
I was aware before joining Wasps that I would not fit the stereotypical image of a rugby player, and I was prepared to encounter perhaps more difficulty than others in forming relationships and finding things in common with my new teammates. Injury then prevented me from enhancing relationships on the field, creating a catch-22 situation that meant I isolated myself from those who I had the most contact with. Trying to fit in more at work then caused behavioural changes picked up on and criticised by those close to me socially, all creating a situation where I felt I could not win.
However, I was in a variety of situations that I felt required strength: my girlfriend was travelling, my brother struggling at university, and my friends jealous that I was supposedly living my dream. Sucking up and internalising these problems seemed to me to be the only way to cope to help myself save face and prevent bearing all to people who I felt increasingly less connected to.
It has taken me a long time to realise how harmful to me this approach was. Even writing this article has revealed more of my thought processes and reasoning behind my spiral and continued battle than I consciously thought would come out in my writing. My reaction to my mental health now is by no means a finished product, but I feel as though I have learned to manage my darkest thoughts in productive ways. That I have the confidence to write this, and assuredness that it is the right thing to do for me and for others, demonstrates to me how far I have come. I hope that others can see this and think more constructively about expressing themselves as soon as they can, rather than waiting for an apparently suitable opportunity.
Events like World Mental Health Day/Week are crucial to raising awareness of mental health problems, and allowing people such as myself to realise that we are not alone in struggling with our daily lives. However, I also think dedicating a day or week to mental health is slightly disingenuous. Mental health is a constant struggle: it’s not something that people can just get on top of with some antibiotics and bed rest and feel better.
I felt writing this that I might be missing out on finding some power in my message, with my decision to write not falling in any of the conventional ‘mental health awareness’ dates; however, struggles and depression don’t wait for such occasions to rear their heads. I’m not sure what the fallout from revealing this about myself will be, but I hope it will act as both a weight off my chest, and help others who, even now, might be thinking of giving up.
I hope that at least one person reading this can realise that when you wake up and can’t get out of bed due to anxiety sawing at your stomach, or halfway through a friend’s party you have to stand outside and meditate for ten minutes to stop yourself from crying, or the only thing you want to do is sit in your room with some Netflix and shut yourself off from the outside world, it doesn’t make you weak. Having a cold or cancer doesn’t make you weak; if anything, your response to it can demonstrate strength beyond what you thought you could demonstrate. All of those things and worse have happened to me in the past two weeks, yet I continue to try and convince myself that I can’t control these feelings. What I can control is my response.
So I would say to anyone else in a similar boat: control your response. Some things you can’t escape, but know there are support networks you can always use. Not using mine was a mistake that led me into a deep hole: once I did, my psychologist and doctors at Wasps were extremely supportive, helping me organise counselling sessions, prescription drugs, and simply being an outlet whenever I needed one. One of the things writing this will do for me, I hope, is open up still more people who will be able to support me. Even in the absence of professional networks, allowing friends, family or professionals to share your weight is critical not just to health, but to being happy and enjoying your life. Talk more, trust more. Problems like these are more common than you think, and we are always stronger together rather than fighting alone.
RPA members who may be struggling with their mental health can access the RPA’s 24/7 confidential counselling service by calling 01373 858 080, or for more information visit therpa.co.uk/lifttheweight.
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