Stress-related illness is not a lightning bolt. It is grinding drill. It doesn’t strike suddenly; it works away at you, like storm surf on a weak dam, until something gives way and the waves rush in.
In the wake of Jonathon Trott’s announcement that he is, in fact, suffering from a stress-related illness, and is leaving the Ashes series in Australia and returning home to England, I have been thinking back to my own scrape with stress.
For me it came to a head at work, at what was actually the end of what had been a long and stressful transition which I had been overseeing. There should have been light at the end of the tunnel; instead there was encroaching darkness. I thought I was having a heart attack; I went to my desk and put my feet up for a while, though, and seemed to be OK. It wasn’t a heart attack. But what was it? A trip to the doctor confirmed a serotonin issue. Which was quickly remedied.
That was years ago. Way behind me. Exercise and diet have helped me move on from it. But for Jonathon Trott, I don’t believe it will be that simple. I imagine it will take him quite a long time and effort to overcome this. But I think he will. Just look at the tenacity with which he fought it off for as long as he did. The scraping of then trench; the fiddling with the gloves; the whole routine, all the while everyone (myself included, sometimes) sniped at him about it.
It would be easy for us all to sit here and say that he should never have come on this Ashes trip. Trott knew he had a problem; by making the trip and failing due in no small part to his illness, he has endangered the team’s Ashes retention hopes. But it really isn’t that simple. Having read George Dobell’s excellent piece on this issue, it seems Trott has suffered setbacks due to this illness in the past, and has always been able to overcome them. Why would he think this time would be different?
It is also easy to blame the Aussies and their irresponsible media for, at least in part, contributing to Trott’s latest episode with stress. They should apologize, the thought may go, because they were being jerks to someone who was suffering from problems about which they didn’t know. But what should Trott have done? Announce publicly before he was suffering from a stress-related illness, and telling the media (and others) to leave him alone? Can you imagine the firestorm of ridicule? The headlines? “England Wuss Begs Aussies to Leave Him Alone.” And while my personal opinion is that much of the media and opposition players are guilty of being jerks and bullies, no apology is needed because Trott’s problem is, in the end, not of their making. Yes, Australia, you’ve nothing to do with Trott’s failures. David Warner’s unprofessional comments were just that. Trott’s flare-up could just as easily have been domestic cricket or the upcoming World Cup that would have brought it all to a head. It just happened to happen right now. The problem isn’t Australia: It is the constant demands of a high pressure expectation to perform at the top level, while one’s every move is held under a microscope, combined with other personal, private matters that may also be affecting Trott.
It was the same with my own stress attack those years ago. While the project I was working on was stressful, it was really the result of the waves of stress crashing against me for quite some time. What I was working on was actually quite helpful to the company, a big money-saver, and was having no negative impact on me at all. But it was going on at the time when those waves finally broke through.
So, to those players and media who are being blamed or feeling responsible for Trott’s problems: Before you start either A) strutting around because you’ve broken one of the “Pommie cheats,” or B) feel horrible and apologize, remember that you were fairly irrelevant. That should come as a relief to Aussie media and some players. But it won’t. In fact, unless I am being grossly unfair, it will likely be taken by some of them as the biggest insult delivered in this entire episode.