When the night is yours alone

REM 2003

It is Mental Health Week in Australia. The ABC has a week of Mental As programs to support mental health research.

Two days ago, I wrote about the place critical friendship might have in supporting those for whom the night is theirs alone. This post is an attempt to deal with some of my unfinished business from that post.

It has taken me back to a remarkable R.E.M. performance at Glastonbury in 2003. Ironically on a night with thousands of people together.

REM 02

It is a performance of Everybody Hurts.

The unfinished business for me is about the enormous pressure we exert on people in sport.

A number of coaches wrote to me after my post appeared two days ago to share in the utmost of confidence their journey into dark places.

Today the ABC’s Drum has a story from an Australian athlete, Leisel Jones. It comes just after the publication of her autobiography, Body Lengths. In it, Leisel discusses her own battle with depression.

She is not alone in being depressed but her book tells her story of being alone.

And so one hollow, grey Tuesday afternoon in Spain, while the snow outside is beginning to whirl and dance, I sit down on the bathroom floor with sleeping tablets and plan how I will steal a paring knife from the hotel kitchen …

Her story shares how, with help, she overcame this dark place. She was able to lean on others. It is chastening to think that a beautiful woman in the pantheon of Australian swimming can feel like this.

This is my unfinished business.

I want to be part of a sport system that values everyone for what they try to be. I want as a parent and coach to help each person flourish in failure as well as success. I want to be supportive of everyone who tries to go beyond the ordinary … and be part of a community that is tolerant of fallibility.

I believe sport is about people rather than podiums.

I understand that there will always be people for whom the night is theirs alone and that awareness campaigns like Mental Health Week and Mental As will help us think about these people … and perhaps act.

We could transform sport into a celebration and not create pressures of expectation that dehumanise the playfulness of sport.

We could make a start on this by contesting the hype created by digital media in pursuit of an audience and by inviting retired sportspeople to engage in a narrative guided by sensitivity.

It could be a non-zero sum world. A place where smiles are smiles rather than camouflage.

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Photo Credits

Frame grabs Everybody Hurts (2003)

Leisel Jones (Eva Rinaldi, CC BY-SA 2.0)

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