Lockdown has totally transformed my life. As a professional sportsman, I am one of surprisingly few professions that find it totally impossible to do their jobs at home. You could argue that this isn’t actually true: my job is to train, which I can do, rather than play, which I can’t. But people don’t want to watch rugby players push weights around and run up and down lanes. Sport’s absence from the corona-world, so keenly felt by so many spectators, has had an even more drastic impact on its players.
You might expect, therefore, that being stuck at home twiddling my thumbs is conducive to absolutely losing the plot. To be honest, you’d be half right. My family haven’t spent an extended period of time together for as long as I can remember, we live in the countryside, and I am unable to provide much in the way of structure to a day that, by definition, can’t simply substitute an office space for a 9-5 presence on Zoom in my bedroom. A lot of a sportsman’s life is spent constantly striving for the one percenters that mark out improvement, perfecting a skill in training or synchronising perfectly with your team in an exceptional session, and there is certainly a part of me that misses those opportunities to better myself.
In a lot of ways, though, lockdown has become somewhat of a sanctuary for me. I have struggled with depression for the last 18 months, and I firmly believe that this is in no small part due to a total lack of release from a permanently pressurised situation. Professional sport is, by its nature, competition personified: we compete against rival teams at the weekend, and then we compete against our teammates throughout the week to keep, or regain, spots in the team. I spent much of last year injured, in a personal battle against myself to find extras to do and come back stronger, and forwent my summer break to seek out more game time in South Africa, so I have not really had a break from this relentless train since I started professional rugby nearly two years ago.
“In lockdown, however, I am only ‘competing’ with myself (still a formidable opponent for me), which I believe to be a much healthier recipe.”
Lockdown has provided me, I think, with exactly the sort of space I need to try and get my head right. Various strategies presented themselves to me as coping mechanisms while playing this season, from writing daily goals down in a book and ticking them off, to daily meditation sessions upon waking up and before going to sleep. Switching off from the competitive environment completely was extremely difficult: despite finding my moments of stillness, I would then flip it completely on its head the next time I arrived at training. In lockdown, however, I am only ‘competing’ with myself (still a formidable opponent for me), which I believe to be a much healthier recipe.
Having more time to invest in myself and my mental well-being is something I am celebrating about the new status quo. Obviously, I miss my friends and personal contact deeply, and I can also confirm lockdown is not a good time to be single, but I find myself increasingly feeling ‘normal’ again after so long battling with myself on a daily basis. More time to meditate and do yoga has helped, as has having total control over my own schedule (something professional rugby is notoriously terrible at week to week). Nonetheless, taking a step back from worrying thoughts concerning work is a rare and celebrated side effect of our enforced quarantine, and I almost find myself wishing it will continue!
So I would say to anyone who finds themselves furloughed, stuck at home, or just bored, have a dig around inside your head and investigate what has changed about their lives in quarantine. Are there things that make you feel better, or worse, and can you identify them effectively? Not only will it lead to a greater sense of self-awareness and understanding, but it will also hopefully allow you to recognise what makes you happy, and what makes you tick. Applying these principles to my work, when life finally returns to normal, is something I am genuinely excited about. I wouldn’t have had this time to reflect were it not for this lockdown, and while I am obviously aware of the vast damages it is doing to many facets of society, I fervently hope that those who read this can find something in their time away from the hectic pace of life to benefit them as individuals.
By Will Wilson