"Football has always been my outlet and my place where I feel at home."
I’ve always been incredibly sporty; I played county hockey, football and ran cross-country as well as somehow getting trials for England Rounders too. Sport, and in particular football, has always been my outlet and my place where I feel at home for as long as I can remember. I joined a boy’s football team at 7 and it never daunted me that I was the only girl. I just played and loved it.
At 14 years of age and with increased school pressures, hormone changes and a family re-arrange, little did I know how much a minor tear to my upper back would impact my day to day life as I couldn’t play the sport which had shaped my childhood. In October 2013, I was diagnosed with depression, put on medication and referred for therapy. I’ve never been so confused in what I was feeling; the ongoing crying that ceased to stop, the rapid weight-loss and obsession over healthy eating, the feeling of a deep emptiness and lack of worth that I’d never experienced in my life before. I was forced to quit football, despite recovering physically from my injury, as the emotional, social and mental strain I was under prevented me from being able to join in with the camaraderie of my team and it hurt. A lot. I felt lost without it.
Having such a huge part of my life taken away from me was tough, but I trained in the gym to fill this void. Although this was never the same as playing the beautiful game, I enjoyed improving weekly and getting physically as well as mentally stronger every day. I increased my strength massively and lift some pretty heavy weights (120kg deadlift!). Lifting weights doesn’t make you ‘bulky’, it makes you strong.
I decided to make a return to football in 2015, having taken a 2-year break. I was off antidepressants, receiving no therapy, and achieving straight A’s and A*’s in my GCSES. I felt like I had overcome my depression using the power of sport, and I had.
However, in my final and most important year of school, I relapsed and could never have imagined it could get as tough as it did. Through the blurs of hospital visits, self-harming, vivid suicidal thoughts, 4 different medications and dozens of mental health professionals, one entity remained constant throughout this darkness and chaos, and that was football. I made a promise to myself that I would continue playing this sport, that I would not allow my mental illness to take away my passion for a second time. I had several times where I’d come home from A&E at 4am because of self-harm or suicidal thoughts, but I’d still be out on the pitch the following day. Even in a mental health hospital in November 2017, I was able to kick a ball in the garden. This truly kept me going.
Sport has always played a huge part in my life, but little did I know that it would also save it. Now, I am a mental health advocate, author and public speaker. I use my experiences to try and stop someone else from going through what I’ve been through. Sport can be a lifeline for so many people, it was for me, and it continues to be.
If you would like to talk to someone about depression, please contact your GP or Mind, the mental health charity. If you need to speak to someone urgently, you can call the Samaritans on 116 123 or visit their website.