When I sat down at my desk just now, I intended to write something about Tymal Mills. Then I saw the breaking news: Jonathan Trott has aborted his comeback from cricket and will take an indefinite break from the game. It’s so, so sad.
Mental illness is a bloody awful thing. In many cases it’s worse than physical pain. If you break your leg you put it in plaster and it gets better. If you have a headache you take some asprin. But if your mind is sick, what do you do? Therapy helps, but it’s not a cure. It can be a long road back.
Negative thought patterns are extremely hard to break. You’re basically trying to re-wire your brain, and change the way you’ve thought about things your entire life. This is a tough thing to do for the average person. But when you’re a high profile sportsman, and the public eye is on you, it must be doubly tough.
When you want to have happy thoughts and forget about your problems for a bit, you can’t escape. Maybe you want to get out and take a walk? Good luck with that. People you’ve never met will stare at you. They know all about your problems – well, half the story anyway – and they’ll look at you with sympathy in their eyes.
Well-wishers might even ask you how you’re doing. They mean well, but the last thing you want is to be reminded of your problems.
Then there’s the perception, in unsympathetic circles, that you’re somehow weak. Or a failure. You couldn’t stand the heat so you got out of the kitchen. That kind of rubbish. Professional sportsmen are supposed to be tough, right?
Well, they are tougher than most, but they’re still human.
The lifestyle sportsmen live, doing their job in front of thousands of people, probably means they’re more vulnerable to stress related problems. If you’re predisposed to anxiety or depression, you can’t keep your nose down and live a quiet life managing your problem. Everyone ends up knowing. Mental illness and fame are a dangerous mix.
It is a massive shame that Trott feels unable to manage the two together. Marcus Trescothick was able to return to domestic action – where touring wasn’t required, and the media glare was less intense – but for whatever reason this seems beyond poor Trotty. Perhaps the link between cricket and his anxiety is too strong to be broken. I fear this will be the last we see of him.
I suspect Jonathan just puts too much pressure on himself. His pre-season interview with Sky dismissed his problems as mere burnout. Maybe he was trying to convince himself as much as anyone else?
We doubted it was just burnout at the time, as his symptoms seemed to indicate an anxiety problem, but it’s possible he was in some form of denial – refusing to accept, or recognise, the severity of his problem.
Perhaps he thought: “I just need to get back to cricket, prove to myself and everyone else that I can do it, and all this will go away”. With mental illness, it’s rarely that simple.
My humble advice to Trotty is therefore this …
Forget about cricket mate. It really doesn’t matter in the scheme of things. If you never pick up a cricket bat ever again, who cares? Your wife and daughter are far more important than a game many take too seriously. Just get yourself back on track and start enjoying life again.