It’s official. The whole world has gone bonkers. And I don’t care whether it’s politically correct to say the word ‘bonkers’ or not.
Disclaimer: no bonkers people were harmed in the writing of this blog post.
Sky aired a programme called ‘Burnout’ at the weekend that focused on Jonathan Trott’s battle with what the ECB, not Trott himself, called a ‘stress related illness’.
In extensive interviews with Ian Ward, who set an all time record for smiling in a documentary about mental torment, Trott revealed some good news: he’s fine! What’s more, he thinks he’s ready to play for England again. He even said he’d love to tour – if only because, oddly enough, he loves planes an unhealthy amount.
However, rather than celebrating Trott’s apparent recovery, a storm has developed over the precise nature of his ‘stress related illness’ and whether his problems were exaggerated.
Michael Vaughan, in what was (for him) a rare departure from sanity, reacted with fury to the news that a centrally contracted England cricketer was not in fact suffering from a severe mental health problem.
Writing in the Telegraph, Vaughan angrily suggested we’d all been misled about Trott’s condition, and claimed England’s number three left the Ashes tour for ‘cricketing reasons’ rather than mental health ones.
Thanks for your analysis Doctor Mike. Next time I’m feeling down in the dumps, I’ll book myself an appointment at your amateur psychology clinic.
Meanwhile, the Telegraph has stirred things up even more by reporting today that the ECB, those purveyors of fine logic, plan to ask England’s players whether they’ll actually accept Trott back into the team – the implication being that Trott somehow betrayed them all by deserting England and their Barmy Army (is it ok to say ‘Barmy’?) after the Brisbane Test. One wonders whether they’ll cut off Graeme Swann’s balls when they see him too.
Although I can’t exactly claim to be an expert, I do have some experience of anxiety related issues. What I can tell you, definitively, is that Jonathan Trott was indeed suffering some form of mental illness during the Ashes. I know the symptoms all too well.
In his interview on Sky, Trott talked at length about the high standards he sets himself, his fear of letting down his teammates, and the problems he encountered simply getting dressed in his cricket gear in the morning (let alone turning up at the ground).
With genuine tears in his eyes, he recalled how he couldn’t sit with the rest of the team at breakfast, and instead sat on his own with his cap pulled over his face. There is no doubt, whatsoever, that Trott was in a dark place mentally and staying on the tour would have done him no good at all.
Those who have watched Trott develop as a cricketer over the years know that he’s a very intense character. His mannerisms at the crease (all that repetitive scratching) suggest an idiosyncratic and obsessive nature. I tentatively suggest that he’s susceptible to anxiety. This isn’t the same as dealing with depression, but it’s still pretty horrible. The mind can develop negative vicious circles that make life almost unbearable at times.
Furthermore, problems with anxiety are exacerbated by mental fatigue. Did you know that Trott only had four days off before the Ashes tour? After his struggles in the ODI series in September, he had numerous intensive net sessions with Graham Gooch rather than recharging his batteries. Overall, he had played 500 days of professional cricket in four years. It’s no surprise that problems eventually arose.
Trott is not a machine. He simply reached a physical and mental breaking point. Whether we call this ‘burnout’, ‘anxiety’, ‘depression’ or ‘stress’ doesn’t matter. The point is that he was mentally shot, not feeling right in the head, and needed a break.
All criticism of Trott is therefore unwarranted and totally unfair. What’s more, it wasn’t Trott who defined his problem as a ‘stress related illness’. It was the ECB. With all the criticism they get for creating packed schedules, which treat the players with contempt, the last word they wanted disseminated to the media was ‘burnout’.
It should be noted that the ECB opposed Trott’s interview with Sky, and prevented their medical team from taking part in a BBC programme about Trott’s issues. They didn’t want Trott to tell everyone what was really going on: the fact they’ve flogged yet another England cricketer into an unhealthy state. Trott is just the latest name on a list that includes (from recent times) Marcus Trescothick, Andrew Flintoff, Steve Harmison and Matthew Hoggard.
Criticism of Trott for using the phrases like ‘I’m not crazy’ in his interview with Ward are also way, way off the mark. They’ve been taken totally out of context. At no point did he say “I’m not one of those loopy nutters who really do have mental health issues” (which is what some would have us believe he said).
Trott was simply referring to common misconceptions that many people have about illnesses like depression and anxiety. He didn’t want to be tarnished by the same ignorant labels. Mentioning these labels does not mean he endorses them.
The big question now, of course, is whether Trott will return to the England team this summer. Indeed, some are now asking whether he should return to the team, given that he allegedly left his teammates in the lurch and there was nothing actually wrong with him. Some people on Twitter have even suggested that David Warner was right after all (although we won’t dignify these comments by discussing them).
My personal view is that the mental health professionals should decide. The worry, in my opinion, is that Trotty is probably pre-disposed to this kind of episode; therefore similar problems could reoccur in the future (no matter how well he feels now). As those with mental health issues know, anxiety is a recurrent problem that can be managed but never really goes away.
Having said that, Trott wouldn’t be the first sportsman to go through tough times and re-emerge as a champion. A certain Jonny Wilkinson, who’s also a worrier and a perfectionist with an obsessive streak, hasn’t done too badly for himself.
However, I fear this could all be moot. By going public about his problems against the ECB’s wishes, and making affectionate references to Kevin Pietersen in his interview with Ward, it’s possible that Trotty has blotted his copybook.
It could be a long way back.