Inside cricketer Jonathan Trott’s head: how depression causes brain freeze

ALAN STOKES November 27, 2013

As Jonathan Trott quits the Ashes due to ‘stress-related illness’, there is hope he may help potential sufferers see the warning signs. Photo: Patrick Hamilton

What was going on inside Jonathan Trott’s head before he quit the Ashes series? Only he knows for sure.

But as someone who has been there, done that, bought the T-shirt, self-medicated on the booze, taken the red pills yet still struggles to see the light, I’ll take a well-educated guess.

With luck, it might help sufferers and potential sufferers see the warning signs.

Former England cricket captain Nasser Hussain explained the pressure on Trott like this: ”Being a professional sportsman is like taking an exam every day with the whole world watching.”

With respect, clinical depression knows no occupation, and sitting an exam every day – be it on the subject of cricket, chimney sweeping or accounting – is barely the half of it.

When suffering depression, every day means sitting an exam that you have set yourself.

You must get 100 per cent every time or you have failed. But every day, before you sit that test, you wake up in a hangover-like stupor in a miserably cold and wet hut at the bottom of Mount Everest. You can barely sense anyone else there.

You don’t want to get out of bed. Eventually, you do. It’s out of duty to family and workmates, or the need to relentlessly pursue relief, or a self-preservation drive to protect your ego.

So you pull on your lead boots, put on your game face and look to the heavens. Before you stands the most daunting thing you’ve ever seen. Terrified, you begin to trek up the mountainside trail, clinging desperately to the rock wall, knowing that if you don’t, you will plunge over the cliff. You need to focus so intently on survival that you cannot tolerate distractions or changes in routine. You blow the smallest problems out of proportion.

You cannot see more than a metre in front of you, but you can see 10 years hence and are convinced nothing good will happen between now and then. When you look back, all you can see is how little progress you have made.

As the oxygen thins, every step up the trail saps proportionally more of your limited energy.

When you reach the peak, the ground is covered with icy black mush and your brain is 95 per cent full of it. An exam paper is on a desk before you – except there’s no chair and no pencil.

While only 5 per cent of your brain is available for you to use, you’ve learnt to apply it well enough to look normal. So you sit on the ice, in your own little snow-dome, and you complete that test, using a finger dipped in your own icy black mushy tears.

You know you have passed. You know you have failed.

Then you walk to the edge of the peak and, in a rush of immense relief, you jump off.

If you are lucky, you land on the glacier and slide down, grabbing a beer or worse along the way, as unsuspecting loved ones cheer you on as you speed past the ever-widening crevasses.

When you hit rock bottom, you open the door to the hut. It’s the same dank and musty place you left that morning. You go to bed, knowing you must climb again tomorrow.

But you will sleep ever longer. You will become ever more tired.

Then one day you trek up to the peak only to find the icy dark mush has spread beyond 95 per cent of your brain. You cannot complete the test you set yourself. There can be no rush of relief. You are frozen.

Trott was frozen. Faced with a terrible option and a painful one, he did the most courageous thing anyone can do when feeling like he did. He chose the hard path back to life and back to his family.

For him, leaving cricket will be like losing a loved one. As a high achiever who sets very tough exams, he will need to lower the pass mark. He will have to find positive things to replace the destructive ones that filled his brain.

Trott has trekked so far. Yet his journey has barely begun. Godspeed.

Such is life.


Miss Tammy responds ..

Of course we wouldn’t be Astrayan if we didn’t kick the guy when he was down, and i’ve heard plenty of that today. An article like this is somewhat helpfull, because no matter what Beyond Blue and ‘R U okay’ say, the stigma and judgement towards and against mental illness is still astounding.

Probably because outwardly we’re not exposing a huge, gaping, pus filled infected wound to show the utter trauma and disability depression causes, to the point where your body can fail and shut down. I recently was forced to take leave from work to try help me basically function, my clinician asked me ‘How should we word this for work?’ because he knows the reality of exposing yourself to this judgement, in the end I said ‘Fuck it, say it how it really is, clinical depression’.

In recent weeks I’ve lost a best friend to suicide, the fourth of my best friends lost to this, that is not counting family, neighbors and acquaintances, (thankfully) I’ve lost nowhere near that number, if any to illness, accident or misadventure, but none of those incidents would have the specter of judgement and misunderstand about them, and to try and explain depression is the hardest thing in the world, its a pain like no other, so the sufferer most often stays silent, if even a big mouth like me cant describe it, what hope do the more silent have.

What’s the answer?, is there one?, I don’t know, but one thing is for sure, I’m a lot more careful these days of who, what, and when I judge* (* Caveat emptor, this does not, and never will include a Liberal government).

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