Anonymous: dealing with demons past and present

athlete demons


Name:  Anonymous. Age: 28 Country: UK

Sport: Aquatic sport. Retired at 22

Why did you retire?

I lost the passion. Over training before the Olympics and a real negative environment with a mean coach and team mates who bullied me pretty badly.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in retirement?

Trying to determine what to do next. To find that new passion/ goal/ desire- I’m still not sure if I’ve found it. I tend to hop from one thing to the next and get bored very easily. I also don’t really like committing to things any more seeing as I committed to swimming for so long- even in the end when I hated it.  Oh and also body issue/ diet stuff. I definitely have an eating disorder/ addiction which I’m struggling with. Not knowing who I was as a person- I’d been an athlete all my life chasing this goal and I was like “now what?” Who am I? Trying to find something to replace my sport.

Are you still faced with these challenges?

Yes- totally. I still don’t really know who I am and what I want to do with my life. I love the start-up world as it is very intense, fast paced and future oriented but I’m worried that I’ll become over obsessive with it too and end up burning out again. I really just want to do something that’s stimulating where I can help people, and where I can have fun. Also, I’ve become totally insecure with myself and shy- like I want to hide away. I treat my sports career like my former life and I don’t like people bringing it up as for one thing they categorise me without knowing me and for the other it brings back all those bad associations from the last two years.

Are things getting better with time? And what is the biggest struggle?

No- I still feel like I’m in the transition period (and it’s been almost two years).

Who I am and what I want to do with my life. Making a choice rather than throwing myself into a million different projects that don’t pay.  I thought it would mostly just be about finding a job and that was it. I had no idea there would be an identity crisis. I kind of feel like I’m going through the emotional turmoil that teenagers go through (because I definitely didn’t have any of that when I was a teenager). But I also had hormone issues as a result of my sport so it could just be that my hormones are at a normal level for the first time and that’s why I’m going through this now as opposed to earlier?

What kind of support did you receive from your sporting body?

They gave me four sessions with a psychologist to help me deal with the bullying from my coach and team mates. A kind of programme or something would have been heaps better though and like a support group which you can go to for ages afterwards (not just 6 months after you retire). I do feel they would help if I reached out to them but I kind of feel like I’d rather stay away from that ‘crowd’. So maybe a support group different from the people I dealt with as an athlete would be good.

Who or what helped you the most?

Two of my friends (ex-athletes) were awesome. I didn’t have any contact with anyone else. The psychologist was also helpful but I don’t think I got enough sessions for it to make much of a difference.

How did your retirement impact your family?

Hard definitely but they were pretty understanding. Except my sister did say that I could no longer get privileges as I wasn’t an athlete anymore which really hurt. At the beginning I was not in a good space at all- very moody and I kind of started treating one of my sisters as one of my competitors (cause there’d always been someone I’d been competing against/ measuring myself against most of my career- so there were a lot of arguments and emotional dramas). I still don’t feel like our relationship is back to the way it was before which really sucks and I still kind of feel like I’m trying to find people to compare against.

What was it like getting a new job?

It sucked! I was so ready to give 200% and they just didn’t ask it from me. I’ve hopped around a few jobs now- was at a big corporate a while ago and was so under challenged/ stimulated i would cry at the end of the day. I’m a lot more stimulated in the start-up world but again I’m worried that I’m turning into a new obsession.

Did you find that getting a job was enough to satisfy you?

No.  I couldn’t figure out the work life balance because I was so used to having swimming be my life. That’s why the startup world is good. It becomes your life.

What are the positive aspects of your retirement?

Maybe I am stronger for it. I don’t know.

How would you advise a current athlete to prepare for retirement?

I don’t know if there’s anything you can do to prepare. Maybe really go in depth with a psychologist and understand what your values are and what it is you want from your life. That way- when they reach their goals or get to the end of their career they’re confident in who they are as a person and they don’t need to look for something to fill that whole (as their sport wasn’t part of who they are it was an avenue to let them do what they wanted to do).  A programme to go through that touches on the things I mentioned and a support group where you can let it all out with people that get it and have faced similar things (which lasts for like 5 years or so).


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