Tom English: The Black Dog Doesn't Discriminate
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By Pete Fairbairn, 16.06.17

This article was written by Melbourne Rebels player Tom English on his website Open My Brain, and has been re-published here with his permission. The original can be viewed here.

I remember the time quite clearly, how could I forget? It was the year 2015; we were halfway through the season. Things on the field weren’t exactly great. No matter how hard I applied myself to training and playing, I couldn’t catch a break. I wasn’t turning out terrible performances, but wasn’t exactly setting the world alight either. I was mediocre. Coming off two strong seasons and a Wallabies tour, my expectations for myself were much higher than what I was producing on the field. I was frustrated.

Off the field my partner had recently moved down to Melbourne. Moving interstate into an unknown environment, workplace and social circle was a daunting experience for her, accompanied by anxiety and homesickness. These feelings would often become the topic of conversation. I do admire her ability to speak her mind. We are a team and what better way to work out your feelings than confiding in your partner. Whilst this worked for her it had the adverse effect on myself. I was never great at talking about my feelings.

My first solution was to throw myself at what I thought was the problem, Rugby. I thought if I started to play better all these feelings of anger, frustration, uncertainty and sadness would be drowned out by my potential success. I immersed myself in all aspects of the game; weights, analysis, fitness, you name it. After some inconsistent performances I found myself in the grandstands watching my team defeat the Blues. I was ecstatic for the boys and the club but deep down I was sad. The boys did it without me they didn’t need me anymore. I was useless.

As the year progressed my suppressed feelings started to influence my moods. I was constantly getting annoyed at trivial things, spending more time alone and felt useless as my team was battling away and I was sitting on the sidelines contributing little. I began to resent the game. How could I be so heavily invested and receive so little in return? This resentment would follow me home. The smile I walked into training with was removed the instant I walked through my front door. I was of the belief that my partner wouldn’t understand what I was going though. She couldn’t possibly understand, as she didn’t play professional sport. For that reason I would never talk about my feelings or issues. Instead I would listen to her and offer advice, all the while feeling increasingly angry at myself and those around me for not being able to find a solution to this slump I was in.

A few weeks later as a result of injury I found my way back into the squad. It was the same old story. I didn’t take my opportunity. I was tentative and anxious and this reflected in my performance. The next day I remember having a conversation with my dad and brother about the game. Some comments I recall were along the lines of, “you’re a safe player” and “It looks like your playing to avoid a mistake rather than trying something new”. Now, I love my dad and brother and respect their opinions, but at the time I remember reacting defensively listing a number of reasons for my ordinary performances be it coaching or game plan etc. I don’t know if it was my failure to recognise the why, or I was too proud to admit it, but upon hanging up the phone I knew I was only kidding myself.

All these feelings and frustrations came to a head one evening at home. I was cooking dinner for my girlfriend and flatmates. We were having a heated argument over whether the ingredients had expired (and by ‘we’ I mean myself against the other three). Looking back it was stupid. Why was it even an issue? Later that night, reflecting upon the last few months as we were laying in bed I started crying. I couldn’t keep it to myself anymore. I turned to my partner and told her I thought I was depressed. How could someone with everything he could ever want be depressed? I guess the black dog doesn’t discriminate.

In light of my experience with depression what I have learnt is that it comes in many forms and as they say ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’. It is important that you talk to others in your support network or even to myself here on OMB. This may not be the final solution but it sure as hell goes a long way. For more advice check out headfirst.co.nz. It’s good to see our brothers across the ditch flying the flag around mental well-being.

What helps me now?

Talking About It – Talking about my feelings not only gives me the opportunity to share problems but makes me feel better about myself. Being in touch and true to these emotions enables me to be fully engaged when spending time with others. By no means have I perfected this, but practice is the key.

Balance – Having multiple interests provides me with alternative outlets to feel successful about particularly when one or two elements of my life seem futile and chaotic. For me this includes things such as fishing, surfing and Open My Brain to name a few.

Finding a ‘Why’ –  Looking back on my middle years of rugby (to date), I lost the enjoyment that I came into this sport with. Asking “why?”, not only reinforces what i’m doing but also reminds me of all the great things my chosen direction provides. When we adopt a positive mindset focused on the “means” over the “ends”, we not only enjoy ourselves but experience better results.

RUPA encourages all players to speak up about wellbeing challenges which are affecting them. You can speak with your Player Development Manager (PDM), friends, family, or through confidential counselling you can access through RUPA.

RUPA employs six Player Development Managers, who sit full time within the High Performance Units of the five Super Rugby teams and the Australian Men’s and Women’s Rugby Sevens programs. Their roles focus around Career & Education, Wellbeing, Financial Management, Personal Development, Cultural Diversity & Integrity/obligations.

16.06.17
Pete Fairbairn
Communications Manager
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