But I started this blog to write about life in retirement from footy, and to give an insight into the challenges sportsmen and women face when the full-time whistle is blown on their sporting careers.
Challenges can vary from player to player, but there are some common obstacles anyone retiring young faces.
Whether it be retiring from a sport, the military, or just figuring out what you want to do next in life, the transition is tough and I didn’t decide to retire until the day before I announced it.
Maybe I was in denial, but a few things happened that made my decision to retire a straight forward one, and while I’ll keep saying the word “retiring”, what I really mean to say is “transitioning to what’s next”.
I am in no way a psychologist and what I will talk about has come from my own experience.
If you’re struggling, please reach out to a mate or seek professional help.
I love YouTube and could spend days going down a rabbit hole (a series of videos) on a topic, and while I was playing my favourite rabbit hole was one about “chemicals in the brain” and how they make us tick.
I’d also read any articles I saw about a retired athletes suffering from depression, and when former teammate Dan Vickerman sadly took his own life, I thought “Maybe the same could happen to me?”
But after watching hours of videos and learning the role these chemicals (Endorphins and Serotonin in-particular) play on how we think and feel, I became confident that I would be ok when the time came to retire.
I was fascinated learning how they worked, as I use to think that describing depression as a “chemical imbalance in the brain” was just a load of sooky nonsense.
But boy could I have not been more wrong!
While I didn’t play a huge amount of footy with Big V, the two of us bonded during the 2011 Rugby World Cup as parts of the Wallabies engine room.
We’d both badly broken our legs in that past and required metal poles to be inserted inside our Tibias (shin bone), and he’d regularly ask me about my recovery.
I was lucky that I’d suffered the injury early in my career and made a full recovery once the pole was removed. But Big V courageously powered on during that World Cup with the pole inside his leg, causing him tremendous pain.
I’d only played one season with a pole in my leg, but I remember the pain being so intense after training sessions that I would have to crawl up the stairs to make it to my bed.
I last spoke to Big V after a Brumbies/Waratahs match when he stormed into the Dock as part of a past player catch up, and I wish I said something helpful.
With the benefit of hindsight, there where some warning signs that night and it wasn’t the first time I’d been unable to help him, as a conversation we had after we our semi final loss to the All Blacks is one I’ll never forget.
While drowning our sorrows on my hotel room balcony, Vicks turned to me and said:
“I can’t do this anymore”.
I didn’t know what to say and I remember thinking “mate… you played unbelievable” as he’d been one of our best.
I’ll never know exactly what he was referring to, and thought he might have been hinting to the pressure of representing your country on the world stage. A pressure I know I struggled to cope with.
But now I think he was hinting to the agony of playing with such a painful injury, and that he would soon hang up his boots for good, and I hope that by sharing this someone may be able to help someone they know. Someone they know who might be struggling, as I believe this difficult topic isn’t talked about enough.
Suicide has been the biggest killer of people I know.
It’s robbed my Nana of her brother, my mother-in-law of her father, me of friends, and to hear of recent suicides during the lockdown is heartbreaking.
I don’t think Big V ever fully recovered from his injury, and to think of how he must of been feeling in the weeks before his death is tough.
I hope everyone believes me when I say that while I’ve never had any suicidal thoughts, I have had some tough patches, and the first was when I had a double whammy of retirement and the death of my grandmother, in the space of a few weeks.
My brain became foggy and I had no energy, as the combination of coming to terms with a loved one’s passing and the huge shift to my weekly routine knocked me for six.
After 10 years of being told what to do, I was now responsible for my daily schedule and never fully appreciated just how important routine is for feeling good.
But what got me through that tough patch was exercise… and my mates.
EXERCISE WITH MATES
YouTube helped me realise that in order to get my daily dose of Endorphins and Serotonin, all I had to do was to turn up to training and do what I was told.
In other words, the professional Rugby environment is just running around all day with your mates, while getting drenched in happy brain chemicals!
And it’s no wonder players feel sad when that stops and may turn to other things to make them feel better.
But it doesn't have to be the case.
After learning the importance these chemicals and how to get them, I realised that I had to make a conscious effort to schedule a time for exercise with mates into my week, because when I tried to exercise on my own… it very rarely happened.
During my career when I’d have my end of season holiday, after a week or two away from training, I started to feel off and would force me to return to team training a week earlier than required, misleading people to think I was dedicated.
But the truth was I just needed to get back exercising with my mates.
Getting to spend time with friends is the carrot I needed to get my shoes on and my arse out the door, and I still struggle to get a sweat up if I’m left to do it on my own.
A big dose of happy brain chemicals and caffeine! The perfect morning cocktail!
And while that delicious morning cocktail doesn’t solve all my problems… it gives me energy and puts me in the right frame of mind to keep working through them.
And long may it continue!
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