“I didn’t really know what my purpose was when I was getting out of bed.”
“I didn’t see any purpose in my life anymore, I’d stopped playing cricket and actually once I stopped playing cricket, life got worse. ”
These are the words of Kate Cross and Sarah Taylor respectively, a pair with many similarities.
As well as being good friends they are also two of England’s finest cricketers in a generation, having smashed boundaries and bowled over their doubters on numerous occasions.
They have also both suffered from crippling anxiety and depression.
It’s no secret that cricket is a sport where mental health is eliciting much debate at the moment. It’s a game like no other, where matches can last for up to five days and athletes often spend more time away from their homes and families than with them each year.
Add into that the constant pressure and expectation placed on their shoulders and it’s no surprising that playing the game can have a serious impact on a person’s wellbeing.
But when Taylor made the announcement she was to take a break from the game in 2016 it came as a huge surprise.
Here was someone with the world at her feet, widely regarded as the best ‘keeper-batter around, a player so good she was being touted as becoming the first woman to play professional cricket alongside men.
And yet while achieving all of this the Sussex player had been undergoing the greatest battle of them all since at least 2013 in complete silence.
I’m not ashamed to suffer with anxiety and no one on this earth should be. I’m still getting by and it’s not stopping me anytime soon. Mental health needs to keep being talked about. So a big thank you to @AlisonMitchell and @BBCStumped for this. https://t.co/wF0rpmVleJ https://t.co/2BR5fM1iKU
— Sarah Taylor (@Sarah_Taylor30) May 3, 2018
Shortly after Taylor took her break, her international team-mate Cross also found herself out of the international picture.
As a keen follower of the game, it was difficult to understand why the Lancashire Thunder fast bowler had seemingly fallen out of favour.
Since making her debut in 2015 Cross had shown she was more than capable of performing well on the international stage and had done nothing to suggest she didn’t deserve to be in the team.
Those questions were answered this week though as Cross admitted in an honest, frank and incredibly brave interview that she had also been suffering with the same mental illnesses as Taylor.
One of the sections that really stood out from Cross’ piece with the BBC was this:
“It was just this sense of emptiness. It’s quite hard to describe if you’ve not been through it, and it probably does sound quite dramatic to people who’ve never felt it.”
As someone who has also had very bad anxiety and depression, this struck a chord. While everyone has their own unique experience of these illnesses, there is one thing that I’ve certainly noticed – it’s so hard to describe how you’re feeling in a way that people can understand and relate to.
While it might be difficult to depict just how you’re suffering, it is certainly possible to educate people into recognising that you are struggling and that is exactly what Cross and Taylor are doing here.
Even just by talking about their experiences they are highlighting to the wider public some of the potential signs of anxiety and depression which we can take into our lives and look out for both in ourselves and our family and friends.
Probably the most important interview I have done. I hope people can read this and see that things can and do get better. Please open up and talk, it really does help.. #ItsNotWeakToSpeak https://t.co/75rZImXBR6
— Kate Cross (@katecross16) August 16, 2018
Mental health is such a complex issue and yet, despite it’s prevalence – it’s estimated 25% of British adults have suffered an illness – we as a society know so little about it.
That’s why it’s so important people like Cross and Taylor are able share their stories and experiences – not only do they have the knowledge to inform people, they are also have the power that they are hugely respected individuals that people will listen to and want to learn from.
Taylor also deserves a special mention for the way she used social media to do this throughout her break and recovery. While she may have wanted to shrink away from the world, she took the brave decision to post about how she was doing and the steps she was making.
As someone coming to the end stages of my recovery at the time, seeing this was so inspirational. Here was someone who was really, really hurting and yet still able to take the time to educate people about what was going on. It really gave me inspiration and is part of the reason I decided to take the step and release my blog piece in May 2017, which you can read here.
It’s not just mental health where athletes have an important voice either. It’s a whole array of issues where much more education is needed in general, from alcoholism and gambling to concussion.
Indeed Rio 2016 hockey gold medallists Shona McCallin and Nic White have also done fantastic work informing people about the latter having both suffered from the injury earlier this year – you can read Shona’s blog which details her battle with concussion here.
It’s fantastic to see both Taylor and Cross back where they belong – on the international stage. Whether they know it or not, they are fantastic role models to so many who have suffered with mental illness and are proof that, no matter how bad things get, they will always get better.
Photo credit: Oldham Chronicle