Athletes in dark places: Sarah Taylor
In many sports age thirty and the years around it are considered the peak of a career. It’s the age at which Lewis Hamilton won his third Formula One World Championship, Chris Froome took his second of four Tour de France titles, and Paula Radcliffe set the women’s marathon world record, which she holds to this day (okay, you got me, she was still just 29). But for Sarah Taylor – described by many as one of the world’s greatest ever wicketkeepers in women’s cricket – it was the age at which she recently retired from international duty. The reason? Crippling anxiety.
Despite her incredible talents behind the stumps and with the bat (which she holds records for), Taylor would suffer before almost every game; sometimes to the extent that she would have panic attacks or was physically sick before walking out onto the field. Because anxiety disorder is more than feeling apprehensive about something; it can be a debilitating fear that affects the body as well as the mind. Notwithstanding the fact she’s been revered throughout her career and was part of the England team that won the 2017 World Cup, it’s something Taylor has struggled with for a long time. But while anxiety issues would only be exacerbated by the pressures of representing a nation, most of the pressure and expectation was put on her by herself, she admits in the interviews you can find in the link below. This is so often the reality in cases of people suffering from anxiety. It can be such an inward problem that its hard to take stock of your achievements and make realistic goals. Talking to people you trust and who understand you can play a huge part in restricting anxiety’s incapacitating hold over the body. As is the case for Sarah Taylor.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) plays a massive part in her keeping on top of anxiety now. It’s really important to find people who support you and have your best interests at heart. But another important take-home point from Taylor’s story is that sometimes, when a circumstance is affecting your health, you have to remove yourself from that circumstance. For Taylor, this was the pressure of representing a nation. For others it could be anything – a job, the place you live, or social pressures.
For many people a huge cause of anxiety is grades and exams. The educational system in the UK is a massive contributor to mental health issues in young people. Schools, colleges, and universities are keen to present themselves as having good students for various reasons, including funding, and the way they show this is often through final grades from exam results. It’s usually not at all the teachers’ fault, but the system itself which has a dehumanising influence. Education is an industry that, in my opinion, should not be based on competition, and yet students year on year feel immense pressure to perform at their best, often without fully knowing why. I’m not saying people should remove themselves from this situation and drop out, but if you are suffering from anxiety, find help. There is no shame whatsoever in doing this. In fact, it’s a really admirable thing to do. Just look at England cricket legend Sarah Taylor. And while there are some professions – law, accounting, and others – which require certain exams to be passed in order to be accepted into jobs in those industries, for the most part, exam results are overexaggerated. As a friend of mine said soon after recently graduating, “I spent years worrying about getting a 59 or 69 instead of a 60 or 70. You become so miserable and trapped thinking about it, but looking back it should never have been made to seem as big as it did, and shouldn’t make you feel the way it does.” They added, “In the real world it doesn’t matter as much as I thought it would.”
Make time to regularly talk to supportive people – this is a good way to keep on top of anxiety but also good practice for anyone as a way of keeping on top of your mental health – and try taking stock of your achievements (talking to them will naturally do this) and what’s really important. Above all it’s your relationships with people and your health.
Huge respect to Sarah Taylor for being so open about this. She’s also cofounder of mental health charity Awesome Minds, which she plans to devote more of her time to now she’s away from the international game. Taylor’s story is still a fresh topic, with The Times publishing an article on it just three days ago. Find out more through the links below. There’s also a Youtube link down there for her unbelievable catch against Australia in the 2013 Ashes. Enjoy!