This week, MyMind Ambassador Brendan Doyle is writing from the Winter Olympics training centre in Lake Placid, NY. Brendan talks about how his dedication to and love of his sport has helped him overcome the anxiety he struggled with every day.
If you’re familiar with my story, you know the experience I’ve had with depression, anxiety and panic attacks.
You might wonder why and how on earth, I am doing a sport which requires me going head first down on an ice track at 145kph.
That’s a question I get asked quite a lot and in this piece, I want to tell you how I used the struggle I’ve had to my advantage.
I’m currently out in Lake Placid in New York on a training week, at a track which is infamously technical. There are lots of places to get it wrong, lots of reasons to get frustrated.
If this was the “old” me, the one who would get anxious at the idea of waking up and getting dressed for work, I would have been a ball of nerves. I wouldn’t have slept, wouldn’t have been able to eat. I would have become totally consumed by these feelings.
Don’t get me wrong, I get butterflies, and I have moments where I think ‘what the flip am I up to?!’
The closer I get to a run, the more I feel those butterflies in my stomach. That’s healthy and it’s all a part of the sport and a part of life.
I’m quite shocked with the level of control I have over it now, especially considering where I’ve come from.
I close my eyes and visualise what I’m about to do. I don’t think about the ‘what ifs’ and don’t let myself think of the possibility of crashing.
I think of getting on the sled, being relaxed, confident, and attacking the course as hard as I can.
I think that’s a really important point to look at. The worst part of anything in life, be it an athlete about to slide down a track, a student about to sit an exam, a person walking to work knowing they’ve a big meeting ahead of them, is the anticipation.
Speaking from personal experience, my mind would always race, and it would always be to this dramatic “worst case scenario”.
That’s why I always struggled when I was in court as a Garda. I would worry about my paper work being okay, I would worry that I’d end up forgetting everything in the witness box. I would think ‘what if they ask me this, or that’.
I would work myself into this ball of nerves where it stopped me from doing what I needed to. There is a sweet irony there, that worrying about messing up, made me mess up. It’s always important to hope for the best and prepare for the worst, but if you’re filling your mind with a million different possible outcomes, you start to lose sight on what you’re there to do.
That’s one thing I’ve learned from doing this sport. Some things in life are just out of your control, sometimes when I’m going down the track, I might miss a steer, or just mess up and I end up having to take the hit on the wall.
No matter how sore it is, I take it, because taking that hit can often be faster than fighting to avoid it, and it can set you back on the right course for the next bend.
Instead of fighting it, I accept that it’s going to happen and I just focus on how I’m going to deal with the track from that point on.
Acceptance, this is something that anyone who suffers with anxiety or panic attacks can really suffer with.
It’s something that has made me better at controlling my racing mind. I accept that there are things in life that, no matter how hard I fight or try to avoid, are just going to happen.
Once you can do that, once you can say to yourself that there will be setbacks, you will mess up and there are going to be hard times, you can adapt your plans.
I found I need to trust myself a little bit more, not be afraid of setbacks, or mistakes but to embrace them.
Talking to coaching staff and other athletes (who I would look up to and think were so much better than me), and finding out they were once hugging walls, crashing out of turns and well, being human, really put things into perspective for me.
Communication is key, talking to someone and telling them how you feel and what’s going on in your mind can often leave you feeling less “broken”. It can be a great source of hope when things feel hopeless. I found it so reassuring talking to other gardai, or other athletes and they all say the same. They worried like I did, they looked up to others like I do and they all said they just wound themselves up.
Sometimes you may feel that what you’re going through in life is taking grasp of you, and that you may need help to understand what’s going on. This may be the time to speak to a professional – someone who is trained in giving you the ability of understanding, coping and moving on from your difficulties. That’s why I urge anyone who is under a lot of pressure to reach out and speak to someone.
MyMind is an incredible example of an organisation that is there to provide accessible, affordable mental health services to people who need it, and they believe fast intervention is key. To tackle the problem before crisis point ever occurs.
I believe in them, they work as hard on providing this service as I do when I train.