This week’s instalment of “I have a story” comes in the form of Rahoul Hore. This bloke plays American Football for the Warwick Wolves. He is a DB, #33 and got in contact through the awesome work from Lifting The Lid in sharing this movement. This is a long one, it is deep and it is an incredible story. Big up Rahoul.
One night, like any normal 22-year-old, I was watching the newest season of Hard Knocks and scrolling through Facebook when I came across a blog post by the former Head Coach of the Bournemouth Bobcats, Charlie Anderson, about the unfortunate mental struggles that he went through this most recent season. The article caught my attention, as a lot of the feelings and thoughts that Coach Anderson described were similar to what I had experienced this past year as a Uni ball player. Therefore, I’ve decided to tell my story from the perspective of a university player in order to help continue opening the dialogue about mental health within our sport and sport as a whole.
My story begins in my 3rdyear at university. Being a languages student, I was required to spend it abroad. For many, they would see this as a great experience and for some, perhaps the best year of their lives; and whilst it was an amazing experience overall for me, it was also arguably where perhaps the deterioration in my mental health began, as being away from my family and friends, a large number of whom were in the Wolves, made me feel quite alone and isolated at times and made me wonder whether with me being away, everybody would move on without me. As well as this, I often felt like there was a sense of regret coming abroad, as I felt that in doing so, I was missing out on opportunities that I really wanted to take, but couldn’t due to being away; such as being in a relationship with a girl that I had met (and admittedly fell for) before going abroad, as well as obtaining an exec position with the Wolves for when I came back. In particular, although I was very happy for my teammates that were elected onto the exec, I was equally devastated about not being elected myself, as there were numerous thoughts that ran through my head over it. Did I not put in enough work into my manifestos and speeches? Did people simply not have enough faith in me? And if they didn’t, were they right to?
These questions started to plant seeds of doubt in my mind of whether I was in fact capable of helping the team in any way. In turn, I thought that maybe if I couldn’t contribute and help the team off the field, I could’ve helped them on it when I came back, and in some ways, I was wanting to prove people who I thought had doubted and forgotten about me wrong. And quite honestly, I actually believed that getting into a dark place worked as it drove me to get into maybe the best shape of my life to that point and thought that with the hard work, I had the chance to come back to a starting job again, something that I had wanted to win back after being benched on and off during my second year.
However, upon reflection, this borderline obsession with transforming myself physically may have to some extent burnt me out mentally even before I came back; in addition, I came to realise that the image that I had created in my head abroad about what I would be returning to was vastly different to the reality; and in fact the feeling that everyone had moved on without me, and therefore the thought that there was no place for me in anyone’s life, be it the team or others, grew larger and larger. As well as this, because of the equally obsessed goal of trying to start and trying to help the team on the field, I had started to grow increasingly frustrated with myself as I would beat myself up (even vocally in front of my teammates and coaches) over the littlest mistakes, even on positive plays. But instead of talking to anyone directly about the reasons for my frustration, I tried to keep that aspect quiet, as I wanted to use any frustration I had to drive me like before. However, it had in fact started to have negative repercussions.
There’s one practice that comes to mind to show this, where I felt so overwhelmed with all sorts of emotions; I was snapping at teammates; during a tackling to ground drill, I took a blow to the head and rather than sit out (despite feeling sick) I said and pretended I was fine and carried on as if nothing happened. And later, during a ball carrier pursuit drill, I refused to sub out because I wanted to carry on running to try and cause myself to pass out. I started to disregard the want that I initially had to help the team to the point that I was willing to lie to my coaches and teammates in order to try and hurt and punish myself, because I thought that I deserved it for failing/not being good enough. In fact, I recall instances where after games, win or lose, I would be crying on the phone to my family for nearly two hours because I truly felt like the team was better off without me and even briefly contemplated leaving the sport and team I loved.
It was only when one of my closest friends outside of the Wolves noticed that something was off about me that she urged me to see a counsellor for help; and in fairness, (along with spending time back home over Christmas and meeting someone romantically) it did help me. Unfortunately, about halfway through the 2ndterm, things started to fall apart for me and the demons that I had from before came back; in fact, they had come back even stronger, as with the pressures of final year, the breakdown of yet another relationship and the end of the season (and the sense of loss over my identity as a Wolf) I started to doubt myself even more than before. I truly felt that in my time at university, I had created a legacy of failure and that a lot of people would’ve been better off without me.
As these thoughts grew stronger, I felt like I couldn’t go back to counselling, as in my mind my issues felt quite trivial and something that everyone went through; and unlike before, since I couldn’t try to wear myself down in football like before, my “comfort eating”, and drinking started to increase more and more. I drank in order to try and not feel anything negative, even if it was a temporary feeling, and it was. From when my issues started to arise again to the end of term, every single night out I went out on, I had a breakdown of some sort. Of those meltdowns, the most significant one was the last one. On a standard sports night, about 40 minutes in, I had yet another meltdown and I was in the club crying for a straight hour and a half, trying to talk to so many different teammates in that time, in the hopes they could help me. When I felt like no one could understand, I left the venue with the intention ending everything, and had my teammates and others close to me not realised, this article may never have been written. This incident unfortunately wouldn’t have been the last time I attempted something, as around exam session the following term, when my mind wasn’t thinking about exams or essays, it was thinking of ways I could hurt myself (or worse.) It was also during this time that some of the sadness I felt from before turned into irrational rage, where I was trying to push those closest to me away in order to try and materialise the narrative that I had created in my head that no one cared about me, because in my mind, if I drove everyone away, there would’ve been no one to stop me if I decided to end everything.
It was only when I had finished exams, I had the time to properly think on my own and try to begin to rest and recover. From there, I started trying to take things a day at a time and eventually build up enough confidence and trust in others to be around people again and having graduated with a 2.1 in July, I am still looking to try and evaluate (as well as re energise) myself before embarking onto the next chapter in my life, whatever that may be.
So you may be wondering as to why I have decided to write this piece. Well in fact there are 3 reasons: the first is to stand in support of people such as Coach Anderson, as well as the many others within the Britball community, such as Andrew Marks, Elliot Walters and Wayne Drew (someone who I’m honoured to have played alongside with at Warwick) for their work in trying to raise awareness about mental health within our sport, whether it be through writing articles or by acts of charity, and for creating a platform where it is becoming easier for people such as myself to talk about their experiences. I also wanted to write this article to thank the many people, be it my family or friends, who reached out to me during this time and for never giving up on me, even when I did. It is also very important to mention that a large number of the friends in this time who reached out to me were Wolves, and this article is not to blame them for what happened or paint them in a negative light whatsoever. I love with all my heart the team and the individuals that comprise/d it and I genuinely believe that the circumstances that affected me could have occurred with any team and the way they stuck by me even when I tried to push them away shows the sense of love and brotherhood that led me to fall in love with the team to begin with.
And finally, I wanted to personally address those who are in a similar position to the one that I was in: I know that right now you feel like you’re in hell and in pain, but please don’t do what I did and keep your negative thoughts in. By keeping them just in your head, you’ll be allowing them to manifest and eventually, you’ll start to see them as your own subjective (and most likely distorted) truth, and that’s where the acts of self-hate come from. It is important to let these negative thoughts out, whether it be talking to someone, or even just writing down what you feel, it’s better than keeping these demons inside your head where they would ultimately look to destroy you from inside, by forcing you to try and use unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as things like excessive drinking or any other forms of self-harm. But in your struggles the most important thing to remember (although it may be so hard to see as the time I didn’t) is that you’re not alone. When you start talking, you begin to realise that there are many others, be it in this sport or in general, that have had this type of fight before; so, in a perverse way, there’s strength in numbers. And whilst you may feel like it’s a weakness to ask for help (like I did), it’s not and there’s no shame in asking for it. Because although getting better may not be a short or even an easy process, having people around you could at times make the process feel shorter, as if maybe you don’t have faith in yourself, they most likely will. And although the process of healing may be tough at times, in the words of Brian Dawkins, one of the greatest and perhaps, toughest defenders to play our sport:
“The majority of success I have had has come on the back end of pain. Pain has pushed me to levels unknown. For me at the time, all I know that was pain but on the other side of it, all of a sudden, I became better in an area […] there’s a purpose for my pain.”
I hope that with this article, I am able to help anyone who is going through with what I went through and that I am able to do Mental Health campaigns such as Lifting the Lid justice, so please keep fighting, keep giving yourself one more day, one more down.
Thanks for reading, Rahoul.