Depression is far more common in sport than one would think. It's a good thing good that we are starting to talk about it. But do I really need to add my two cents?
I don't know, but in the meantime I think you can't talk about it often enough. Especially when you are in a process of processing and healing. Where did it all start?
It's not that there was some kind of Reichskristallnacht in my life, a traumatic event, a certain point where everything began to get out of hands. I think I am like many others. All of a sudden it was just there, this feeling that is very, very hard to describe. Not only because it is difficult to talk about it, but also because everyone affected by it perceives it completely different in the end.
Empty. Loose. Rootless. Dead inside. Unworthy, unlovable, unattractive, repulsive... not good enough. Bad, unfit, incapable. A joke.
It had started rather subtly, though. I had moved, together with my girlfriend, into a wonderful old farmhouse in the countryside. We had invested months to turn the ramshackle place into a really nice flat. Our cat felt at home and I... well, I kept on commuting from day one just as I had done before. 200km across half of Switzerland, once a week heading east, once back.
I had done the same in the previous four years, driving to my girlfriend's once a week, what difference would it make?
A big one.
We moved in December. On January 1st we woke up for the first time in the new house. The month went by like you spend a first month in a new place: you settle in, argue a lot and, in my case, spend about 500km a week in the car. Tiring. Then two training camps followed, I was hardly "at home" and that it didn't feel like it when I was there, I put down to the fact that after more than twenty years in a place where I was somehow deeply rooted, I simply had to start everything all over again.
My social environment had remained in the "East". My clients too. I did not and still do not get along with the people here. This could be because I am an arrogant snob or simply because different areas produce different environments. I had a hard time with a place where I soon didn't know what was worse: My Austrian passport or the non-Cantonal licence plate of my car.
I have always been sensitive about my surroundings. People too, of course, but even more so the nature in which I moved.
I had been bullied in primary school. Of course, many others felt the same way, but I dare to say that what went on every day at the Rudolf Steiner School in Wil went beyond even the more tolerant frames. It was not uncommon for my comrades to gather around me during the big break, commenting on my every move and egging each other on until the first one struck a blow. But they didn't leave it at that, they incited the kindergarten kids to do so as well. Again and again and more and more often. They quickly dared to kick, insult and spit at the strange guy with the long hair, because they were protected. Once I defended myself. The whole thing escalated in the fifteen minutes of the break to such an extent that I wanted to run away, but two of my classmates threw me to the ground. Then I was dragged by my hair across the sharp gravel to the big square, where they lifted me up, put me on their shoulders and carried me across that square, but only to throw me at the other end onto the compost heaps wating there. When I had climbed down again, I punched the first person who was standing nearby and laughed at me in the face, which caused our class teacher, who had witnessed everything, to grab me by the collar, shake me and shout at me not half a minute later. He asked me if I was out of my mind to treat my colleagues so brutally.
Later, in highschool, it was the sports teacher and the headmaster himself who couldn't stand me. My sports teacher was at least very honest and made me understand that she couldn't stand me in the first place because I was a man. My headmaster just thought I was stupid and wanted to bully me.
Why do I know this? Well... it wasn't long before the PE teacher's attacks hit me at a level that I found myself on the couch of a psychiatric consultation. The subsequent certificate from my doctor, which was supposed to exempt me from the sports classes, was followed by a trench war with the school administration that could easily have been sold to television for script. The muppet show ended with me being forced, at the age of just 19, to take legal action against one of the most prestigious schools in Switzerland. When that too was ignored, I simply left.
"Listening to all this, one can't help but wonder why you never became violent," a good friend of my mother's who is a psychologist once told me. "Or just depressed".
Who knows if I didn't already have a depression back then? I dressed in black, listened to the hardest music I could find and was totally okay with supporting bands like Mayhem, Burzum and Marduk by buying their CD's and wearing t-shirts with an explicit depiction of a busty woman about to insert a crucifix. Fuck me, Jesus. (Okay, I still don't have a problem with that per se today, but the days when I wore these clothes boldly are rather over). I did not want to provoke. But I wanted to prevent at all costs that anyone even came close to me. I didn't want what was boiling inside me to get an outlet.
Nevertheless, I found one: sport. And here we come full circle: during all those years, the forests and the hills of my home were the place where I could get rid of my pains, my fears, my sadness and the feeling of being worth nothing.
As a child, I ran along the small trails known only to me and a few wild animals, watched birds, visited the foxes at their den. I was Indiana Jones, John McClane, Bilbo Baggins. Yes, I read, very much and very gladly. That allowed me to create my own fantasy world where I could, well... be. That's where people liked me. That's where I was strong.
Then, as a teenager, I discovered triathlon and realised for the first time in my life what it felt like to be able to do something. Really could. Despite asthma and everything that had been laid in my cradle at birth, I could swim well, run well and cycle well. So well, in fact, that after leaving highschool I was able to embark on a modest but nevertheless real long-distance career.
And so, over the years, the hills and woods in my area became soaked with so much of my sweat and spit, sometimes my vomit, that they eventually contained more of my DNA than anything else. They became my hills. My forests. The places where I drew energy. And found inner peace.
Is it any wonder that I still feel at home and safe here? That there is actually nowhere I would rather be than here? That I was drawn back here again this February?
I am aware that there are people who disagree with me and who believe that in life you have to endure something that is not so pleasant from time to time. I don't disagree with that. Hey, Ironman right here. But "feeling a bit unwell" and "considering whether it wouldn't be easier to drive full throttle into the nearest tree" are two different things for me...
Time heals. And I must and will take it.