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The road to recovery after a stress related illness

Jonathan Trott is a former England Test cricketer who was ICC and ECB Cricketer of the Year in 2011 and was a key figure during one of the most successful periods in the team’s history – he scored a century on debut to clinch the Ashes in 2009, and cemented his position as their pivotal batsman up to and beyond the team’s ascendancy to the number 1 ranked test team two years later. Yet shortly after reaching those heights, he started to falter, and famously left the 2012-13 Ashes tour of Australia suffering from a stress-related illness. In this extract from his autobiography Unguarded, he talks about a pivotal moment on his road to recovery.

 

 

The road to recovery, for me, was the A520. That was the road that took me into the Peak District and to the home of [psychiatrist] Steve Peters.

It was, in every way, new territory for me. I had never visited the Peak District before – why would I? They don’t play first-class cricket there, so I had no idea how beautiful and unspoilt the countryside remained. And, at the same time, I had never met anyone like Steve before.

Seeing him was my last throw of the dice. I had all but given up any hope of playing again, so I went into the process open-minded and prepared to try anything he suggested. It felt as if I’d tried everything else.

Within minutes of my arrival, I knew Steve was going to help. I felt something I had not felt for a while: hope. He spoke with the insight of someone who understood and the confidence of someone who knew the solution. Within ninety minutes of the first session I felt the clouds of confusion clear and the burden of pressure lift.

‘You’re going to be fine,’ he told me on that first day. ‘It clearly isn’t depression you’ve been suffering from. You are suffering from situation-based anxiety.’

I called Abi on my way home after that visit. ‘I’m going to be fine now,’ I told her.

I know that probably sounds naive. And I know I had felt optimistic before. It may even sound as if I were still in a state of denial as to the extent of my problems and looking to fool myself that a quick solution could magically help me recover my former powers of concentration and level of performance.

But this really did feel different. It really did feel as if Steve understood and, with his track record with sports people and his confidence in his method, it felt as if the storm was passing. By and large it was, too.

The diagnosis felt important. If you know what you are battling, you have a much better chance of defeating it, I reasoned, and Steve had offered clarity and, by doing so, reassurance. By telling me what I was suffering from and providing a programme for recovery, Steve was giving me something I could understand and could work at to help me overcome. I was flooded with relief. I now had a direction to go in.

And, yes, there was some relief that he didn’t think I was suffering from depression. From what I knew at the time – and I accept that I was hugely lacking in awareness – depression was, in many ways, an irrational problem that could strike at any time and, as a consequence, didn’t come with any obvious ‘cure’. Naively, I thought that this alternative diagnosis of ‘situational anxiety’ might mean a more straightforward solution. And being able to give the illness a name suggested a game plan for recovery. I wanted to tackle this in same way I tackled challenges on the pitch. It felt more like a journey which I could complete with time and hard work.

I bought a copy of Steve’s book, The Chimp Paradox. It blew me away with its insight and accuracy. It felt as if he were writing about me. At last someone understood. ‘It’s like he knows me,’ I kept saying to Abi as I read it. ‘It’s like he’s writing about me.’

For the first time in a while, I felt normal. My behaviour had an explanation. I wasn’t the only one struggling with pressure and responsibility. I wasn’t the only one suffering with this anxiety. For the first time in months, I didn’t feel alone. Psychologists describe this as ‘validation’, I think. I can see that.

Over the next few weeks, I became a regular visitor to Steve’s place. Eventually, even the drive up to see him became calming. Giving myself the time to appreciate the qualities of the countryside was, I’m sure, beneficial. Comforting and familiar. At times when either one of us was unavailable, I would talk to him by Skype.

‘I’m not really looking at you as a person,’ he told me. ‘I see a machine that needs fixing.’

I could relate to that imagery. And I liked the idea that there was something akin to a repair manual that we could follow as it hinted at a complete fix. Had he talked about therapy and dialogue, I would have thought – on some level, at least – that I was in for a long haul; that there was no obvious solution; that it was a bit wishy-washy and rubbish.

But I could understand that machines break down. And I could understand that there are steps you take to mend them and that they require maintenance in the same way that the body requires exercise and healthy food. It all made sense.

The whole experience suddenly seemed more manageable, less shameful – and yes, I know that is not a healthy way to have seen things – and, most of all, more hopeful. I could, at last, start to understand what was happening and explain it to those around me.

I suppose I had always had quite a literal mind growing up. I remember reading about Winston Churchill suffering from what he referred to as ‘the black dog’. ‘The black dog is upon me again,’ he would write. Or ‘The black dog is plaguing me again.’ That sort of thing.

I now know he was using it to symbolise his depression. But, at the time, I had an image of an actual dog – a Hound of the Baskervilles-type creature – running around Downing Street, humping his leg, distracting him from his work and generally causing chaos. I wondered why a man so powerful couldn’t ensure the dog was kept in a kennel or properly trained. I bet Hitler didn’t have to deal with that sort of thing.

 

 

You can read more about Jonathan Trott’s road to recovery in his autobiography Unguarded, out in paperback now.