The Anxious Physio
My Anxiety Storey
I have always loved my job and felt lucky and privileged to have been given some great opportunities in sports medicine with some amazing teams. This passion and love for my job however masked a darker side to my personality that I managed to suppress and hide for over 7 years.
The difficulty for me I guess, was that 10 years ago this topic wasn’t discussed and trying to forge a career as a physio in elite sport was hard enough without discussing anxiety or struggling with your own thoughts.
Following a great start in a successful hockey club I quickly got opportunities to work in international sport, travel with teams, get a sponsored Sports Injury MSc and then a traveling role with my first GB team.
The Joy of Working in Sport
The following few years then snowballed with fantastic opportunities coming in to work with great teams, more travelling and further GB work with different sports. Many friends in the early stages questioned why I was avoiding nights out and trips to work for little or no pay, but for me, my work was my life and I loved every minute.
This, I believe was the start of the problem, I genuinely loved my work so much, that I didn’t even notice the impact it was having on me mentally and the natural challenges that elite level sport brings or that fact that I was pushing my mental health issues further and further inside.
My Anxiety and Reflection
Looking back now and reflecting, I think I then started to use my job to hide the fact that I was starting to struggle personally. I would accept all offers of work as the reality of my own personal life was difficult and it was easy to slip into a different persona. It was commented by a friend and team manager in 2017 that it was incredible the level of professional and complex work I could achieve with a squad, yet I would forget my coat or lose my phone and have little concept of simple life skills :)
I used to tell myself that "I was the Physio" and it was my job to 'fix' everyone and people 'needed me' and so of course I couldn't have any mental health issues or even illness... so I pushed it away and told myself to ’just get on with it’
Of course, none of this is true, and even writing it now I am chuckling to myself and similar comments of how ridiculous this is, from friends over the years, but it's always easier to look back or comment from the outside.
In 2018, getting ready for the Commonwealth Games I had started to realise I was struggling and had reached out to get some help at the GP and with a therapist. Even with the admission to myself of the impact on my mental health I was acutely aware of the enormity and privileged position of traveling out to the Gold Coast, so I gained ‘some’ coping strategies and got through the games and the challenges it faced.
I would have to say, it took me about 3 months to get over the mental strain of that competition last year. Initially proud of my role and what we had achieved at the games, all I did was put on the very well practiced 'face' that I have perfected over the years to the detriment of my own health.
For me, one of the outcomes I have faced through suppressing so much mental health, is a huge impact on my fatigue and ability to exercise. It was this physical symptom, gaining weight and lack of exercise that finally made me realise the extent to which I had pushed my health, body and brain!
Unfortunately events early in 2019 with a fellow physio friend sadly taking his own life and a family bereavement rocked me to my core and I suffered a break down in May this year.
Making Progress and Getting Help
I am please to report that I am now slowly starting to feel better and get on top of things with help from medication, my GP, therapy and support from family and friends.
I am now enjoying a break from elite sport to focus and on my health as I work towards the end of my London adventure and a fresh move North.
However hard for me to write, the process of reflection is important and I am now keen to share my experience with others, as there must be many, many more people that have faced similar feelings on many different levels.
Talking, Advice and Thank You
One of the best things I did was tell and admit to friends and colleagues that I was struggling and just how bad things had become. I instantly had warm messages, phone calls and emails from friends and members of a team I had worked with for 6 years, who offered me so much care, support and understanding, I knew I had done the right thing. For this, I Thank them all very much.
Stepping back from the work that I love has been the hardest thing I have ever had to do, but even after just 2 months, I am calmer, things are simpler and feel like I am slowly, finally starting to get on top of my anxiety.
If I had some advice for anyone in this position, experiencing or living with anxiety, feeling like they can't admit things because of their role or new physios trying to get into the crazy world of sports medicine, it would be the following:
Seek help and Advice
Visit your GP
Take the Meds with Therapy
Allow ALONE TIME from squad
Eat well and drink water
Exercise whilst away
Be honest with yourself
Set realistic therapy times for team
Get a buddy to confined in whilst away
TALK to SOMEONE / colleagues
Set ‘Coping Skills’ and write a plan
Remember you are NOT INVINCIBLE!
The following posts in this blog will vary and include stories and events I have been involved in, how I delt with challenges, good and bad, lessons I leant the hard way and what helped me succeed. How I have started to find comfort in simple things and what has helped me change and manage my anxiety in daily life and how I'm moving forwards.