Tom English reveals how he put his mental demons on the backburner. Picture: AAP
Tom English reveals how he put his mental demons on the backburner. Picture: AAP

How Rebels leader came back from the dread

Every night Tom English arrives home he thinks of three positive things that happened to him that day.

From a good cup of coffee, a chat with a mate, or a swift run through traffic.

The 28-year-old Melbourne Rebels centre, the most capped player in the club's eight-year history and the club's record try-scorer, jots the three positives in his gratitude journal.

He heads to bed filled with positive thoughts, untainted by the negativity that creeps in to so much of sport and life. Including his own.

English first realised something was wrong in 2015.

He'd had two "excellent" years after signing with the Melbourne Rebels in 2013 and toured Europe with the Wallabies the following year.

But the high wore off.

"I had a flat year. I wasn't diagnosed but I would definitely say I was depressed. I wasn't seeing anyone about it," English said.

"I was getting picked most weeks but I just wasn't performing and you attach a lot of worth to what you do and when it's not going great you, as a footballer or whatever sport you are playing, it can easily put you in a dark space.

"Having alternatives to invest your time in, whether it's hobbies or business ventures or

something else to make you feel good about contributing to something, then it gives you an

alternate route to seek some solace there.

"I invested so heavily in rugby for three years and was not getting a return for it at the time.

I thought the answer was jumping in to it even more. I ended up having quite a tough year.

"It took a few stern words from my fiancé (Bess) to break me out of it. Since then I have been an open book."

 

English became the Rebels leading try-scorer this year. Picture: AAP
English became the Rebels leading try-scorer this year. Picture: AAP

 

That's not a throwaway phrase.

As the club captain at the Rebels, a different role to on-field team captain Dane Haylett-Petty, is happy to discuss his journal.

He conceded some of his club captain duties were more "lovey-dovey" than football focused,

because for English, mental health comes first.

The born and bred Sydneysider, who has made Melbourne home, is as strong an advocate as sport has, albeit one operating under his own banner.

His website "Open My Brain" details his own initial battles with depression, how he handled it then and how he handles it now.

It's an outlet for him and a resource for others. Both elements are extremely important to him.

"For me, something I can invest in and have a positive impact is that mental health side of sport, which is quite often swept under the carpet," English told the Herald Sun.

"It's such a performance based industry and people get paid a lot of money so they should always be performing and living this happy life. It's quite a rollercoaster of emotions with pressure from selection and expectations.

"That's what segued me in to that space, coupled with some of my own experiences when I was younger and navigating through those tough times without being open-minded and seeking help."

English is indeed an open book. Through various posts on his website, under various titles which began with "Why?" and, most recently "Man in the Mirror" he details his experiences, his reactions and how he takes charge of his mental wellbeing.

In the macho world of rugby, it's rare to see such honesty. English knows he took a risk, but the response has been beyond his expectations.

"A lot of players I played with have emailed me or text me with some really heartwarming messages, and relatable messages which has been inspirational, and really good to see it have an impact," he said.

 

Tom English has become a true leader. Picture: AAP
Tom English has become a true leader. Picture: AAP

 

"I just find that if I can put my story online and make it relatable to people then you can break down the stigma around mental wellbeing.

"You spend your days critiquing the opposition in analysis, looking for weakness, and you don't want to present a weakness for other people because that's what an athlete is always protecting, and instead trying to show strength.

"My initial thoughts was it would be perceived as a weakness therefore I wouldn't talk about it. Now it is only helping to knock down the walls.

"It may be brave, but it's more about becoming in touch with how I am feeling and how important it is to recognise your emotions and share your problems. After all, a problem shared is a problem halved."

English has taken that approach to his role as club captain.

 

Tom English busts through the Sunwolves’ defence. Picture: AAP
Tom English busts through the Sunwolves’ defence. Picture: AAP

 

"It's understanding the individuals within the team and how they operate, understanding what to look for when people are feeling down or maybe struggling a little bit, so you can flag that with them or have appropriate conversations," he said.

"It's also when guys have been dropped from the team or struggling at home, it's about knowing what to look for when people are feeling like that so you can go and have conversations and check-in because we are still humans, even though we are athletes.

"Club captain is ensuring we have a great feeling among the group, on and off the field. It's less tactical and more lovey-dovey."

Positive people make positive things happen, in sport, and in life.

It's a philosophy that makes English's gratitude journal, such an easy thing to do, so important in an environment where being "up and about" can actually take a lot of hard work.

"Every night you come home and write three good things that have happened in your day," English said. "It's pretty easy to find them."

News Corp Australia


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