Mental Health Art Exhibition
The Tiles - depression in sport
Matt lowered his head to allow the gold medal to be placed around his neck. After a firm handshake, he stepped up on the podium and touched his medal. He kissed it and acknowledged the crowd as he treasured that moment of glory with his nation and the world. Those 50 seconds of muffled cheering he could hear underwater made him perform and shine. Four years of isolation in a pool was the price Matt had to pay for 50 seconds of thrill and two weeks of glory on the podium, if he was lucky. After which he would return to the loneliness of his pool counting the tiles at the bottom as he practised the perfect stroke.
Matt had named all the tiles in the pool one by one; his internal dialogue with them was now his only company, I’ve chosen the loneliest sport, only myself and the tiles. Matt dived into the water and elegantly took the first stroke. He noticed that the tiles in the centre lane had a few new cracks. There were a few towards the end of the pool that had been replaced recently, they were brighter and newer. They were the ones that stood out, shining among the dull and old ones. He only felt like a glossy tile for a couple of weeks out of four years; the rest of the time he felt like the dull and cracked tile at the bottom of the pool.
Matt studied his stroke and timing on the TV screen. He could predict how the ripples would form once he dived in; he had seen it many times on video, but he felt detached from the figure he looked at. The man everyone saw was strong, confident, and full of life, but that was not how he felt.
Matt envied other professional sportspeople that shared their glory, wins and failures all year round with their fellow teammates; together they cried, and together they celebrated—of course, they were a team. He only had his tiles. The weight of letting down his nation if his timing was wrong, if he wasn’t feeling his best or if his stroke wasn’t perfect, was all on his back. He had hours of solitude in his lane to ponder on that harsh reality.
The demons that visited sportspeople were all the same. Every sportsperson has a narrow window of opportunity to excel and prove what were capable of. From time to time they would come knocking reminding you that time was up and that you must perform before it was too late, and you must not let anyone down. Then when injury strikes, the the road back to finding themselves is long and hard. If their identity lays in the sport they do, then feelings of hopelessness and sense of purpose arise. The sports battlefield spares no one and trying to navigate back to normality is lonely and tiresome.
Matt sat at the edge of the pool and stared at the tiles that were slightly deformed from the rippled water. Each tile had its own story. Each tile voiced their opinion. The shiny new ones told him how great it was to feel alive and full of life, but those gloomy and cracked tiles that he had befriended kept calling out to him insistently.
Matt had had enough; he took off his goggles and wiped his eyes. He sat at the edge of the pool and stared at the tiles. Matt looked closer and noticed that the gloomy and dull ones were fewer than what he thought, yet he had seen so many, and he even refused to acknowledge the shiny ones that were calling out to him; he had not noticed them. Matt wanted to be a shiny tile inside and outside the pool. He set off to buy a new set of goggles and have a chat to his coach. He wasn’t alone after all, he just needed to know where to look and what to look out for.
He turned away from the dull cracked tiles that were ready to retire with no hope or life in them and emulated the bright shiny ones that had been calling out to him all this time. He didn’t want to be a sportsperson, he wanted to be an individual who practiced sport as a job. He knew his new goggles would fit just perfectly!