As we come to the end of Mental Health Week, winger George Wilson speaks openly about his battle with mental health issues and how it affected his game and personal life.
The night before any away game I’d spend hours mentally obsessing over everything that could possibly go wrong. Showing up to the wrong ground, walking into the wrong changing room, getting lost, getting stuck in traffic, forgetting an item of kit, getting the wrong time. The remedy to this would be checking with multiple people for the meet time, checking the route, packing and then pulling everything back out to make sure I had all my kit, sitting in my car until I see a familiar face (this would cost me in a fine one game day for being late). This amounted to an exhausting routine which would mentally drain me. I’d never show it or talk to anyone about it though. To mask it, you act confident, loud and get involved. It took 25 years to be told that this was all down to having Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Obsessions are unwelcome thoughts, images, urges, worries or doubts that repeatedly appear in your mind. They can make you feel very anxious and they cause a lot of distress. Compulsions are repetitive activities that you do to reduce the anxiety caused by the obsession. It could be something like repeatedly checking a door is locked, over washing or repeating a specific phrase in your head. It's not always about being tidy, it's about having no control over your negative thoughts and trying to relieve them.
Obsessing over away games was only a tiny part of what my OCD would bring up. The rest of the time it would be filled with ‘this teammate doesn’t like you’ so you look for evidence in the way they act when you next see them, ‘you physically hurt someone on a night out’ so you drive past the place you were drinking the next day to make sure there was no police tape, ‘you’re going to get seriously hurt’ so you decline to go on that rugby tour or rejecting a second invitation to Sussex trials because I didn't think I was good enough and having to drive somewhere new with people I didn't know again petrified me.
The one thing I did have that cleared my head was playing rugby. When ever I’m on the pitch, 100% of my focus is on the game and nothing else mattered for the next 80 minutes. Rugby was such a huge relief for me, to be around teammates, having a laugh and enjoying Saturdays was a big welcome distraction however once it all ended, the cycle would begin again. After a bad episode in 2018, I found myself on a bridge considering letting go. After 40 minutes, I turned back and found my self at the Social Club for an Anthony Joshua boxing fight greeted with hugs and rounds of drinks in a packed club. Once I sat down, one thing that hit me was a few hours ago I was on the edge and no one sitting with me knows. I caught myself thinking ‘I wonder how many other people in here are suffering from mental health problems in silence’. As soon as I got home the horror of what I nearly did hit me and I had a break down in front of my parents. All of the anger and anxiety I had held in suddenly came out and I was completely vulnerable for the first time. The 'I'm absolutely fine, nothings wrong' front fell apart. This is why I decided to visit my GP and speak about what had been happening. I was quickly referred to the incredible and compassionate team at Time to Talk who helped me understand what was going on and that's when I heard for the first time I had OCD and that I had suffered with it for most of my life. Hearing that was liberating because it meant I now knew what I was facing and that there was something wrong, I'm not such a terrible person. After three years I decided to use my experience to help others which is why I decided to talk openly about my fight with OCD. The feedback from teammates, friends and family have been overwhelming with several friends stepping forward to talk about their own troubles. To hear Joe Marler and Johnny Wilkinson open up in pubic about their struggles with mental health was a big boost to my confidence, allowed me to speak more and made me not feel like such a burden on myself and others.
OCD has taken away so much from me and continues to affect me but with amazing support I'm on the long road to recovery. With rugby starting again soon and lockdown lifting there is lots to look forward to and I’m in a much better place than in 2018. If you ever find yourself in a pit, speak up about it and don’t suffer in silence. Check in on your friends, reach out to people you’re concerned about and continue the conversation. The moment you decide to take positive action is the moment you take back control of your life. If you feel you need to speak to someone, talk to your GP or reach out to any of the groups below.