Fans Mental Health

Speaking up was the best way to help hidden mental battle

This story was originally published in the Geelong Advertiser.

Every year there are stories that arise and command headlines for weeks at a time in the football world — scandals, tragedies, feel-good stories, so on.

The headlines in the past couple of weeks in the AFL have been about mental health.

Recently, Alex Fasolo came out publicly and announced he was battling with depression.

This came as a massive surprise to most in the footy public as he is known as a happy-go-lucky guy, but to myself and Patrick Dangerfield for that matter, it wasn’t a surprise.

We read Danger’s article about when he struggled playing in Adelaide, in which he explains the importance of opening up and talking to someone about his struggles.

Hamish Hartlett is another who came out and spoke about the huge impact social media can have nowadays with the amount of media coverage.

Wayne Schwass, who battled depression and is such a strong advocate for it in society, and is a leading role model for many sufferers, has spoken publicly about the battles and setbacks.

But we have also had people come out and say the wrong things, unaware at the time of the damage of their actions and more importantly their words on the topic.

What Alex did was brave to put himself out there and make a decision that will put him in the spotlight for public opinion.

It also is something that I imagine he has battled with for a little while now.

The other thing that Alex has done is bring this important matter to the surface in football, but more importantly, everyday life.

Depression and anxiety are something that unfortunately a lot of people will experience in their lifetime.

It’s something that personally, when I am having a bad day or think that I am having a bad day, I just remember back to my most difficult times, when I struggled most, which brings back perspective and reminds me that today is nothing on my worst days.

Hamish’s article touched on all the forums around from Facebook, to Twitter to Instagram — there are so many platforms where people can put their opinion across and unfortunately with that, where people can hide behind profiles and write derogatory comments to people with no consequences.

Deleting Twitter and these forms of social media is much easier as you don’t have to put up with, or read, the negative comments, but it shouldn’t come to that.

I have had so much support from the football public that I believe in taking the good with the bad and so only occasionally get negative and disparaging comments.

But it makes me contemplate. I would hate to think about what other players must deal with daily, footballers who might not have the support, the whipping boys of the team, often guys struggling with consistency, what they would have to endure.

The thing I loved about Danger’s article was that he touched on the point that he didn’t open up to his mum and dad, to his teammates and to others because he didn’t want to burden them.

I went through stints of depression throughout my rehabs and this was one of my biggest concerns and reasons why I didn’t communicate and get help from others until my third and fourth ACL rehabs.

It took me more than two full ACL rehabs to understand what I was going through and how others could help me.

I also didn’t want to show weakness to anyone, that this was getting the better of me at times and that I was struggling.

But, just as much, I also didn’t want to bring anyone else down with me. I realised how much it hurt me to struggle every day and so I didn’t want anyone else to have to take that on, to have to deal with what I was going through.

I remember being emotional and thinking numerous times ‘why does this hurt me so much?’, ‘why do I care so much?, ‘I don’t want anyone else to have to go through this’.

One day, it did hit me, I broke down in front of my welfare manager and teammates when I was struggling through my fourth ACL.

I was about to rule out my third consecutive season, and the pressure got to me, it had built up so much I was just hanging on and in talking to some teammates about it, it kicked me over the edge.

I’d had moments in the past where I’d spoken to teammates, family and others about some battles, but had never really opened up properly. I’d kept my cards close to my chest.

On that day, teammate Andrew Mackie said to me “we can’t help you if we don’t know mate, you have to tell us what’s going on”.

This breakdown and comment hit me right where I needed it that day and it has stuck with me ever since.

Of course, they can’t help you, no one can help you if they don’t know. It really explained to me and helped me understand that in telling the people who care about you, what you are really struggling with, you are not burdening them, they don’t think you are weak, they don’t think any less of you. What they actually have is a sense of pride.

After the initial shock and surprise, they are glad that you had the courage to open up to them and they realise how difficult that must have been, how hard it must be for you currently and so now that they truly know, they feel like they can make a difference.

You’ve opened yourself up and they now feel comfortable to try to help you going forward, to have the conversation, to tackle the problems rather than hiding or avoiding them. After breaking down and realising how much this had taken a toll on me, I decided to speak to my teammates and footy club.

I went out the front one day in a team meeting and explained to the whole playing group and our coaching staff, firstly, how I would be out for another season, but then that I would battle through being depressed, bitter, sad and an array of emotions at times, which would not be how I truly felt or wanted to feel about those close to me, and basically just asked for their help.

Initially, I was very nervous to do this, but quickly realised that putting myself out there to a few people closer to me helped lift the pressure off my shoulders, which then amplified when I opened up to the whole group, as I felt the sense of relief and then re-energised as I now felt like I was getting on top of it.

It also helped others understand my struggles better and changed the conversation at least internally just subtly from ‘how is your knee?’ to ‘how are you going?’

Ever since that day, since talking with other people at the club and those that are close to me, we put plans in place, I went and saw another psychologist to talk to about it, and I started opening up honestly to those around me and I really feel like I haven’t looked back.

For the rest of my rehab — another year on the sidelines before I made my comeback — I was so much happier.

I felt like a massive weight was lifted from my shoulders. I would come into the club and instead of walk around corners and hope that no one was on the other side or hope that no one would see me, I would be energised and ready to attack my rehab again.

I have no doubt that it played a role in my recovery, aiding my body’s healing process and on the whole, it increased my general happiness, which came out in training through my positive energy.

For me, I had previously spoken to psychologists in the past, some that worked, some might not have, but the important thing I learnt is that you should open up to someone.

It doesn’t have to be a professional and in my case, initially, it wasn’t. It was my friends and my teammates who were around me every day.

My story is a little bit unique and different to most, and so not everyone is going to tell their whole playing group or open up as much as they should or would like to.

But I guess what I am imploring is for those out there who do struggle, who are struggling, open up and let those who care about you, help you.

Everyone is different and responds differently, so it could be a psychologist, it could be a family member, it could be just one friend, but just know that they will want to help you.

If they don’t, then they clearly don’t care about you, but I guarantee they will and at very worst, even if they can’t help you to the magnitude you would like, at very worst it will help lift off some of the pressure of having to deal with your struggles in isolation.


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