As both an athlete and a coach who suffers from depression and anxiety I feel discussion is vital. For the longest time most of us have suffered in private, thinking that the social thoughts and stigma of mental health deems you an unfit person or damaged. It seems society is finally opening up and starting to be more understanding of mental health. Which is great for not only the sufferers but their loved ones too, getting to understand why people react, act or disappear the way they do.
Bringing this home to how both my personal and professional journeys with triathlon have been scarred by my non understating of my condition for the longest time. Not knowing how I am triggered resulting in heavy lows and scrambles to make up the shortfall from when these lows happen. As an athlete my training has been sporadic for over 20 years as a result, however in the last 10 years with personal understanding, medication, nutrition I have started to have a more stable and enjoyable training experience.
The few things below of my experiences are to try help you the athlete get more from your training experience. Jim Carey said of depression "I believe depression is legitimate. but I also believe that if you don't exercise, eat nutritious food, get sunlight, get enough sleep, consumer positive material, surround yourself with support, then you aren't giving yourself a fighting chance". This is a great quote because I means you have to take responsibility for this journey as well as there is no one thing that will work. It is a balancing act that you have to learn about yourself in order not only to live well in life but to pursue triathlon as it is such a time hungry sport.
The first thing to look at is the training program, as working with a coach you have access to adjusting the volume or workouts, for my athletes they have to learn how to fend for themselves. I mean this in becoming a person who listens to resting heart rate first thing, how does their body feel, how does their head feel, are there feelings of anxiety, feels of depression? All of this data is what you would need to know in order to help yourself but also to ask for help. ie Elevated resting heart rate might mean that you may not have fully recovered from your current load or that the beginnings of a cold are near.
Being an athlete means using the amazing technology we have not just for recording sessions or starve segments but to get an understanding of how the machine that does all that work works. With my depression I have noticed that anxiety comes first, in comes first because I am tried, not recovering as well as hoped, thinking about a race or a training session. The advice here is to back off and look at how you would handle a child in the same situation, the bigger picture, trying to contextualise what is happening. When I do that I immediately have an easy days training or a day off, this gives my mind the clarity and time to dissipate the training stress. So giving yourself the day off or adjusting the program is a necessity, as saving the day to save the week means you are saving the month. By staving off the gradual dragging down into the depressive doldrums you can catch it while it is still only anxiety or a cold, coming out of a depressive episode is another blog all on its own.
There is a nasty stigma and misunderstand and unfortunately for good reason as in the past people with mental health issues were given drugs that did make them zombified, paralytic or dazed. However today there are amazing changes that result in changing just one thing that taken in time and the correct amount have non of these horrible effects. My medication is an SSRI with helps my body regulate the use of SEROTONIN, we can't take serotonin we can only use our own produced by our bowels (the second brain). Having taken this for sometime no I am far more stable and have far fewer depressive episodes. However taking your meds is not enough, you have to be proactive with healthy choices in food and movement. Medication is a staple, get use to taking it and work with your Dr and others you know that can help if the meds are side effects ridden. Its one less thing to think of when you are training.
The last thing I will write about is anxiety, it comes in all shapes and sizes. Massive anxiety can rears it head in agoraphobia or panic attacks that have to medicated in themselves or they can be smaller but feel as big. For us as athletes and myself as a coach there are always questions that are needing answered by ourselves and our psyche too. Will I do well in my next race, will ii drown in the open water, is this training going to work, why are downhills so scary and many many more. The thing here is to calm down in the beginning and get perspective, the worry is not now, it is generally a future thing. You can get to grips with a plan if you calm down and think it through. ie Just about to race and you are scared of the open water, think it through, swim slower and perhaps swim next to a referee or safety Marshall that way you can get the help. So there is a plan, perspective and a plan, this will always give you the way out of the panic.
It is time to talk to each other about our mental health and anguish. As the African thought of UBUNTU "I am because we are"