This year, 2015, is my fourth year as a player at Old Trinity Grammarians Amateur Football Club (OTGAFC). During the beginning of 2012 (my first year as an U19), I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
Each day before preseason training, I was experiencing anxiety, panic and general unhappiness. Going to footy was one of the only times that I felt “normal.” It provided me with a couple of hours of relief from challenges I’d encounter during the day- there were even moments where I completely forgot I had a mental illness. OTGAFC become a safe place for me (I was able to focus on something I loved with the support of my mates).
I began work for headspace in the same year and decided to do some public speaking about my experiences. The hardest chat I ever had to give was last year- I’d previously spoken to rooms full of complete strangers (300+ people), but I was asked by the club president after training one night if I’d feel comfortable talking about mental health/illness on a Thursday night dinner to the boys. The day of the talk, I’m pretty sure I spent over seven hours pacing the kitchen. I can vividly remember my whole body shaking as I began to open my mouth.
There were about 90 players there (from all teams) staring at me intently. I had told myself going into the talk that this would be one of the most important things I’d ever do. The chat went way longer than we’d agreed, but there was dead silence in the room the whole time. I decided to tell the boys everything about what I’d experienced- moments of weakness, crying uncontrollably to my parents and my sessions with a clinical psychiatrist. I had absolutely no idea what the response would be. I just knew that I had to get it out there because people my age don’t usually talk about this kind of stuff.
To date, it’s probably the proudest achievement I’ve ever accomplished. After my chat, I asked everyone in the room to put their hand up (if they felt comfortable) if they’d also experienced something like what I had. There were over 10 players, senior coaching staff and even the club president who acknowledged that they had also battled with a mental illness. Every single person in the room came up, shook my hand and thanked me for sharing my story.
That night, I received countless Facebook messages from teammates who said they also had their own personal demons and felt relieved knowing they weren’t the only person in the world who carried this burden- some even said they were booking appointments to go and see someone at headspace.
My dad (a team manager for the U19’s) also came to hear me speak that night- it was the first time he’d ever heard me talk openly about my illness. I can’t stress enough how important this partnership is. Mental health and illness is so prevalent in this day and age- and we’re ready to tackle it head on. I’m so excited about the prospect of my two passions combining to hopefully achieve something pretty special- footy is just a game. Looking after ourselves and each other is perhaps the most important thing of all.
Nick Pearce works at Headpspace and is a player at Old Trinity. He is also part of the VAFA players initiative Thick and Thin. You can see Nick’s story here and read more about Thick and Thin’s campaign to #StartTheConvo here.