How sport helped me…
In theme of Mental Health Awareness Week I thought I’d write about how sport has helped me handle both my illness but also stressful situations in my life.
I was at a Q&A session at the viewing of Running to the Source last month and someone in the audience was talking about sport being a great leveller. In the context of her question, I think many of us from disadvantaged, or shall I say, non-mainstream backgrounds disagreed with that sentiment… however it does provide a healthy outlet within a growingly stressful world. So I say, it does level your head but I did not come from a good starting point in life to become an olympian by no means. The socio-economic barriers hidden and visible to participating and excelling in sport definitely has stopped me in the past.
For me, I always participated in individual sports. I enjoyed swimming to the point that I would say my life ambition was to be a dolphin, much to my parents embarrassment at family gatherings. But it was the one thing that made me feel in control of an increasingly uncontrollable situation. I would contemplate in my head from a young age what to do with my mother when she got older and her mental health got so bad that she was no longer cognitively able to work or look after herself. Many of my family would tell me that I was too young to worry about these things, but when your mother is a single parent and also too proud to show anyone but you how ill she actually is I felt more alone by their flippant and insensitive remarks. In a strange way, being alone was the only way to not feel lonely. I felt myself gradually getting faster, my technique becoming smoother in the water.
I had control over my body, how it moved and I was able to relax from a constant state of anxiety. I didn’t really have much to prove other than to myself that everything will be okay, and that one day you will be independent as you are in the water. The connections I will have in the future, as an adult, will be those of my choosing, ones that supported me like the buoyancy of the water in which I swam in.
But, you don’t always really know a good thing until it’s gone. And I didn’t have sport for a very long time, I’d say for over 10 years. My mental health deteriorated. I moved to a new place and I didn’t really have many friends and was looking for a community. I thought about swimming, but I’d know I’d want to compete. I am too old for that now. I tried climbing a few times, but I found I was so consumed by what grade I was climbing, I didn’t enjoy the process. I felt I was being harsh on myself, telling myself that I was too rubbish to climb with people. But I found Colour Up. I didn’t mind being a bit rubbish or a bit scared of heights, who cared apart from me? I began to think where are my feet, how should I place my hands, I thought to myself “oh that feels weird but if I do movement a) will that work better than movement b)”. From technique and training comes the higher grades; and I knew that from swimming. Keep getting that experience under your belt, you will get better.
Like swimming, I felt sometimes I was better off climbing by myself to allow some self-dialogue with what I was doing. If I wanted to do something I’d happily go by myself. But when times have been hard to just get out of bed, it helped to know every Monday there would be a group of supportive climbers to climb with, to chat with and make be feel happy with who I am, regardless of the baggage and stresses I feel I have inherited.