‘Kicking Through Mental Health’ with Natasha Thomas (Ipswich Town)

Welcome to a series of interviews which lift the lid on some of the obstacles and troubles that top players have learned to battle against, control and overcome to continue to perform at the highest level in the women’s game. The idea is to share so that we all (be it me, you, parent, coach, team mate, teacher, fan etc) remember that we are not alone, that even if it might not seem like it, so many of us have our struggles. And there is hope. Remi Allen (Reading) has made this happen but so have these equally brave and honest women. I will share Remi’s words to remind you why she and her friends in the game decided to do this, because she does it better than me. These women are inspiring. These are their stories. JEN O’N (SK Ed)

Reading’s Remi Allen

REMI EXPLAINS: It is something I have wanted to do for a while. It’s not one of those things like ‘I want you to know my business and to know how I have struggled’. It was on ‘World Mental Health Day’ and I was on social media seeing so many people coming out and saying how they know people who are struggling or that they are struggling, or their daughters, sons, whomever. As female footballers, we have a powerful influence and can be huge role models, especially to children. I thought, if I can share my experience and I can get other players to share their own, then potentially, how much difference could we make? Whether it is one person, or a lot of people, if we can just get youngsters and adults to know that it’s okay not to be okay and that it is also okay to speak out. Read Remi’s story HERE…

NATASHA THOMAS is a popular forward for IPSWICH TOWN LADIES, she has showed her quality and picked up player of the year awards in the past two seasons but it has so often been a struggle for her, with the pressures of work, paying for travel, training and simply wanting to do and be her best for others, really weighing her down… 

HERE IS NATASHA’S STORY:

Does training and/or playing stress you out or make you unhappy or anxious? Has it in the past?

Training is a big part of development within a player’s career and this is one of the biggest issues that affects me and my development within the game. The fact I want to better my self and be at every single training session possible means that money and time is a big factor in worrying … wanting to be at training as much as you can but living over an hour away from training can be very draining after a nine hour shift at work and knowing you have to wake up at 7am in the morning and do it all over again. The crazy thing is, once you are at training all the worries fly away until you get back into that car and drive home. Of course, it’s hard to have a full-time job and having to play football on your days off but when it’s your happy place you find the time and you find the energy to make sure you have that ball at your feet and fight all of those thoughts away. 

Has something outside of football or outside of your control affected your training and/or playing?

Working a full-time job and having to be at two training sessions a week and a game on the weekend, my life evolves around it all, but if I was to hang the boots up that would be my happy place gone, so I just deal with it as it comes.

My mental well-being does affect how I think and how I feel. If I miss training I’ll save some money here and there and then I can go to training the next week or maybe the week after. 

What are the problem/problems, if you can explain?

Biggest problem is travel. Like I say, working full-time, feeling drained and tired and not knowing why I’m down and upset – I worry if I’m going to mess up or not turn up! I fear failure and I fear letting people down.

How does it affect your football? Does it affect how you felt, how you acted and/or how you were able to perform?

I’m one of those players that if I’m not happy you can see that but on the other hand if I’m in the best possible mindset there’s no stopping me! I worry what people will think, I’ll worry people will say I’m just being stupid and to just get on with it… sometimes people will ask me, “What’s up are you okay?” I simply just don’t have any answer to that because in my mind, in myself, I have no idea what’s wrong with me, thinking: “Why am I feeling like this? How can I make it stop?”

Did it happen ‘overnight’ or build slowly?

It slowly built up in me as my confidence had been knocked before moving to the club I’m with now. It felt as if I wasn’t good enough, not just in football but not good enough for people to want to make effort with me, or my family to just pop round my house, even just for a cuppa or a catch up. 

How long did it take for you to realise this was a problem and how long did it take for you to try and do something about it?

I always knew it was a problem. I’d worry and think, “When is it going to happen again?” because it frightened me, because I always want to make people smile, play my best game and support my team mates but when I’m in that state of mind I need someone like my best friend to get me out of it. When they do it’s the best feeling ever and I’m sure everyone knows that’s when I play my best football, when I have no worries. I’ve got a few good friends around me which I’d always go to or they would always know that I’m not myself…keep those kinda people close, no matter how much you think they don’t care, they really do! 

Did you tell your coach or team mates?

I told those who I believe will understand, those people are now supporting me, helping me to be my best, from family to friends, my partner and sponsors – they really have made my life a lot easier. I realised holding it in is no good and there’s always going to be someone to talk to, even if it’s someone you’ve just met, or someone you’ve known for years! YOU’RE NOT ALONE.

If yes, what happened?

Support financially and if I couldn’t make training it wouldn’t affect my place in the team. I found that life balance from work, football and social life. 

What did you do or do you do about to manage it or make it better?

I make sure I spend time with those I love, I think more positively, instead of worrying ‘what if? The support from the club, my friends, partner and family have really brought me to life and the fact I have them behind me really helps in my development. From the girls in the first team to the girls in the under 21’s, from coaches to physios … you’ve really brought out the best in me, although some days you’ll see my head down you’ve certainly made that less likely to happen! One team, one goal, you are all my family. 

I try and speak to my friends more and stop worrying whether people like me or not and doing more for myself because once I had done that and started to learn to love myself first, everything else just starts to fall into place. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly so still have my bad days but I’ve got the right resources and people around me to pick me back up.

Is there something you wish you had done differently? What would that be and what would you say to someone who is facing the same issues?

I wish I had been more open about it before. I wish I’d have gotten more support before I missed a game or missed a training session. It makes me wonder where I could be now if I was stronger!? 

I’d say tell someone, get the help you deserve and ask that question. Ask for help, you’re not silly to do so. 

How do you think having these issues/problems have affected you as a player and as a person?

I feel that they have affected me massively, missing game opportunities because I’ve felt like I’m not wanted or that I couldn’t afford to get to places/worrying about if I’ll be tired for work or if I’ll be good enough to play. I feel as if people wouldn’t understand this and say I’m being stupid. I’d think it was stupid but I simply couldn’t help it. 

Do you or did you feel embarrassed, guilty or weak? How/why?

I do feel weak and guilty because I feel as if I’m a burden – moaning about silly little things – although they’re very big in my mind and how it makes me feel. It’s as if I’m empty sometimes and I have nowhere to go but to keep it to myself. 

Any other advice or suggestions you can offer?

You’re not alone and it’s okay not to be okay. Just make sure you don’t stand alone and take that chat you’ve been offered, don’t miss out on the amazing support those close to you can offer, it’s the best medicine around. SPEAK UP!

Follow Natasha on Twitter: @NatashaThomas_7

NEXT WEEK another player will share their story & tell you that it’s OK not to be OK.

WHAT NEXT FOR YOU? WANT TO SPEAK TO SOMEONE OR SIMPLY NEED MORE INFO?

There are some amazing charities & people out there (these are just a few) if you don’t know who to reach out to:

https://www.mind.org.uk/workplace/mental-health-awareness-week-2018/

https://www.ifucareshare.co.uk

https://www.rethink.org

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