Following on from two brilliant and brave blogs by Ruth Fox about her battles with depression so far in her young life, we throw some questions at Ruth about how football fits into her life and alongside her mental health and how her life and mental health fit around football…
Ruth, thank you for bravely sharing your pain and experiences and ultimately your inspiring positivity. We’ve met the ‘Ruth that has struggled with her mental health’ on more than one occasion, can we talk a little bit more about ‘Ruth the footballer’? Here’s some of our nosey questions…
SK: How did you get into football and at what age?
RF: Football has been a pivotal part of my life since I was about 6. Me and my dad would go down to the field and kick a ball about and it never bugged me that many of my female class mates didn’t play. I joined a boys team aged 7 and started off in goal because they didn’t believe that I could play on the pitch!
SK: Have you continued to play football all the way through the very tough times?
RF: No….there was a time at the end of 2014 that I had to take a step back. Significant weight loss meant I was constantly shoved off the ball, and I hated being weak and just didn’t enjoy it anymore. The social aspects of training were also difficult for me during that time. I was lucky enough to travel to St. Georges Park with the England Independent Schools FA in December 2014 but I quit as soon as I came home. I truly thought this was the last thing I would do in my playing career. Luckily, I started playing again in the summer of 2016 and haven’t looked back.
SK: There must have been some good times playing football?
RF: Of course! A highlight for me was scoring the winning goal in the final of our local tournament. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the feeling of scoring a ‘worldy’, captaining the side and holding the trophy-was something special! At a higher level, representing England Independent Schools FA in 2014 and 2016 is a big achievement for me, and playing at St. George’s Park, where many England greats have trained, was a real privilege.
SK: Above, we sort of separated ‘Ruth who has suffered from depression’ from ‘Ruth the footballer’, is that way too simplistic to do? Do you ever see the two as separate (can football help, for example) or are they totally entwined?
RF: I have a good analogy for this. The footballing Ruth; the one who gives 110% in every game, who encourages teammates, is a leader, is committed, resilient, motivated and determined, is the person I aspire to be in everyday life. Depression makes each one of those qualities difficult; the struggling me is quiet, unsociable, introverted, lacks motivation and finds even the simplest tasks difficult. The thing to remember is they are the same person, and no matter how bad my day is (whether I got back that morning from A&E at 4am and had a game at 2pm) I will always remain focused and level-headed on the pitch. That is my release and that is my safe place. Mental illness does not define you, it is incredibly important to remember that.
“I will always remain focused and level-headed on the pitch. That is my release and that is my safe place. Mental illness does not define you, it is incredibly important to remember that.”
SK: How can football or being part of a team help someone suffering from depression, in your experience?
RF: Games are incredibly intense and require a game plan and focus throughout. If you switch off, and start thinking about your personal life, you could easily give the ball away and cost your team. As soon as I leave my house for a game, I forget about everything and focus on the task on hand. I know the pitch is the place where I can be myself and reach my full potential, as well as releasing any frustrations. Teammates will help carry you through, however you are feeling.
SK: How might playing football be part of the problem or become more difficult for someone in a similar position to you? (Both mentally, and physically, and during treatment/recovery too?)
RF: Pressure is a major factor in mental heath issues. Many people are overly critical of themselves and their abilities and I can see how one bad game or a mistake could cause a build up of negative thoughts. I think it’s hard for anyone struggling with depression or anxiety to step outside and continue participating in their hobbies. Every nerve in your body is telling you not to so it becomes very easy to exclude yourself. However, what you’ve got to remember is those hobbies are what makes you YOU, so by stopping that, you are letting it get the best of you (so much easier said than done, I truly appreciate that!). Some aspects of recovery such as medication can also impair your performance, as many antidepressants are selective serotonin reabsorption inhibitors, therefore can mess with your hormones (causing varying hunger and tiredness levels)
SK: Do you talk openly about your experiences with your team mates (have you always done)? Should everyone?Or is sometimes good to have somewhere to not be ‘Ruth who has been poorly’?
RF: Talking to anyone is always a bonus, it doesn’t matter who it is. Yes, the more in touch and accepting I’ve been with my mental illness the more teammates and coaches I’ve spoken to about it. I think it’s important to utilise the broad experiences of your team, and the relationships you build are often stronger than that of teachers or class mates as you go through an awful lot more emotionally with them (think cup final loss). I’d say just talk to whoever you feel most comfortable talking to; it might be your coach, teacher, sister…anyone. The main message is DON’T DO IT ALONE!
SK: What would you advise to coaches or players who may be worried about a team mate or who have a player/friend who is going through very tough times with their mental health?
RF: Listen. There is nothing more valuable when you are struggling than to be heard. Obviously if you think things are beyond your capabilities, or there is risk involved, make sure you help them to get the relevant help and support they need. Also respect that football might be their time to forget about everything else, so if they want to talk they can talk, otherwise just continuing to play will relieve a little bit of their troubles.
“Remember that tough times don’t last, tough people do.”
SK: And what about, for example, someone reading this who is very worried about themselves or struggling with their mental health?
RF: I don’t want to say “don’t worry, everything will be ok” because from personal experience that’s not what you want to hear (even though it’s true!). However, what I would say is have faith, talk to people, don’t do it alone and above all don’t give up. Get relevant help if you feel you need it, look at all the options before making a decision though, as there’s nothing worse than thinking something’s going to help you and it doesn’t. Remember that tough times don’t last, tough people do, and that you will develop a strength and resilience that very few people have. There is ALWAYS a silver lining, sometimes you’ve just got to look a little further to find it.
SK: Now you are older and understand yourself a little more, can you manage yourself, prevent problems, know when to ask for help or at least recognise triggers?
RF: Yes. I think the more experience you have of mental health issues, the easier it is to notice warning signs in yourself. Even better, you recognise triggers and can then put in coping strategies to help you handle it. It’s worth noting that this is a long process and I think some things are unfortunately unavoidable, but we can only try!
SK: And how will football stay a part of your life going forward?
RF: I hope that it becomes more and more important as I progress. I am currently playing for Cambridge United Women’s FC and also Hertfordshire Uni 1st team, but I will always strive to play at the highest level I can so watch this space. I would love to get into coaching or PE teaching after University and have an impact on young people through our shared love for the beautiful game!
Follow Ruth on Twitter: @FoxInTheBox05