Two-time Olympic champion Dame Kelly Holmes was in the news the other day.
She spoke to the Guardian about how she suffered with her mental health, despite her career as a world-class athlete.
The article goes:
[In 1997] just as she should have been peaking, she got injured or fell ill, time and again – glandular fever, ruptured calf, torn achilles, on it went.
There was a seven-year period when she never seemed to be fully fit. In 2003, just before the world championships, she got injured again. Her body was betraying her, and she’d had enough. She broke down.
“I thought: ‘Why me? I’m so committed, so dedicated, why me?’ I just looked in the mirror and hated myself. I wanted the floor to open up, I wanted to jump in that space, I wanted it to close and I didn’t want to go back out. I was in such a bad way. Then I started cutting myself.”
Afterwards, she covered up her cuts with makeup so nobody would know.
How long did she self-harm for? “I don’t know. I was in such a state. I was just so annoyed with my body, so annoyed with everything going wrong.
In your head, you’re screaming so loud. That’s what people don’t understand, the scream inside. I was hurting my body because it was really letting me down.”
She never told anybody she was self-harming. She couldn’t – not if she wanted to continue competing.
So how did Dame Kelly manage to turn her situation around?
The key was maintaining a sense of optimism.
“It was all about positive attitudes, reaching the highest levels, staying focused, not looking like you were a weak athlete, not bringing other people around you down.”
Somehow, she continued competing. Even when she was suicidal, she says, she never lost sight of her dream to win a gold medal at the Olympics.
Amazingly, she won two the next year. When she woke up, she touched them, kissed them and cried. Most days, she said, she woke up smiling because she had been vindicated.
By reducing the sense of helplessness that can set in when people feel out of control, optimism helps to motivate us to take constructive action we otherwise would not do.
By making it possible to believe that bad situations can improve, optimism motivates people to change those situations
Although most people are unlikely to have dreams of winning an Olympic medal, there is a lot of value in finding something meaningful to aim for and having the belief that it will happen.
If you’d like to learn more about how to build optimism, we explore it in Module 3 of our Developing Resilience eLearning course.
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