Thursday 8th September is RUOK day where Aussies are encouraged to meaningfully connect with those around them and support anyone struggling with life. This comes as a timely reminder after the recent shock wave sent through the world of cycling and sport after Michael Gallagher was sent home from Rio for testing positive to EPO.
Mick, or MG, has publically announced his battle with depression, the pressure he has faced as an elite athlete within sport, and his financial struggles. The pure honesty and courage included in MG’s post have touched many, and the overwhelming support that is flowing in on social media brings tears to my eyes.
In his statement, MG has taken full accountability for his actions and the consequences that will follow as a result. Yes there will be a number of repercussions for his actions that affect him, his beautiful wife Annina, family, friends, athletes that he has coached (including myself), his support network of the Victorian Institute of Sport, Cycling Victoria, Cycling Australia, the Australian Paralympic Committee, his sponsors, the cycling world, and many others. If you ask anyone within the cycling community, Mick is the hardest worker out there, and combined with the perceived pressure to “live up to past performances” he did not reach out for help and took an illegal pathway to help him “stay motivated to do the training I was never going to be able to do in my mental state”.
There are a number of themes evidenced in MG’s story that are unfortunately common and faced by many athletes. These include the extreme amounts of pressure that you put yourself under to perform, incredibly high expectations, perfectionism, the taboo nature of mental illness within sport that this is STILL a massive issue, the macho ‘HTF*’ culture = not feeling able to ask for help, financial struggles for ‘non-professional’ elite athletes, and the trap of creating a big part of your identity around being an athlete. All of these negatively impact upon athlete well-being and mental health – a topic that we know I am passionate about and have dedicated the past 4 years of my life to studying.
MG stated that “complete honesty is my first road to recovery”. Taking ownership and accountability of our actions and decisions is definitely needed. The strong advice from most who have posted comments is to seek support. Ask for help. Remember that we are all human, we are not machines, we are vulnerable and we do make mistakes. RUOK suggests the following if someone is not ok:
1. Listen to what they have to say
2. Don’t judge them or rush the conversation
3. Encourage them to think about things they might do to manage the load
4. Be sure to check in with them again soon
5. If they need expert support, visit ruok.org.au and click “Find help”
It has been a roller coaster few days for many people, and I would like to say thank-you to all those who have asked me ‘RUOK’ – we all know that change is guaranteed in life (except from the dam vending machine), and there will be a number of changes made over the coming months for me personally and those close to me. Personally I find that writing, and talking out how I am feeling to others, to be extremely beneficial in the healing process. As Garrison Keilor said, “We ourselves do not know what we think until we put it into words”. I think at times like these other helpful activities and needs are a whole heaping of compassion (including self-compassion), hugs, sleep, taking it one breath at a time, and a reminder of why we do the important things in our life. Find your meaning, learn from your mistakes, help others, and make the most of every day that we are blessed to have.
Until next time,
Ride with a purpose, ride with a smile, ride in the moment,