#MHAW: Tom Daley on PTSD, anxiety and body image
Tom Daley has it all: husband, baby, thriving career as one of Britain’s most beloved sportspeople.
But he’s had his struggles, as he reveals to BALANCE in this chat as part of Mental Health Awareness Week. The 2012 Olympics didn’t pan out as Tom had planned and the subsequent months were troubling.
Thankfully, at 24, he’s currently in the form of his life, and we caught up with a young man who’s thriving…
HUGE CONGRATULATIONS WITH EVERYTHING BECAUSE YOU MUST BE THRILLED WITH HOW THE LAST FEW WEEKS ARE GOING, AND INDEED HOW THE FUTURE IS SHAPING UP.
It’s been a whirlwind of a year. If I think back to last year: I was sick, I was injured and everything was a struggle and I didn’t think I was gonna be able to make it through to Tokyo (Olympics). I took a break; it was something that was good for my mind and body, like just being able to switch off.
Sometimes the body and your mind have had enough. And now being a parent has been the best thing ever and it’s changed so many perspectives of the way that I think about things and how things are, and now coming back and being able to find my form again, it’s been a great year so far.
A LOT OF PEOPLE LIKE THE IDEA OF TAKING A BREAK TO RECHARGE AND RESET, AND THEN THEY DON’T GO THROUGH WITH IT…
With my profession, it was something that I’ve been doing since I was seven years old, so by the time I got to 23 it was like, “OK, my body needs a little bit of a break, my shins are starting to crack, my hips are sore, my back’s sore, I’m getting sick all the time, I just needed to be able to switch off a bit.” I took a few months where I was just able to really unwind and be able take some time to be able to focus on getting better and focus on making sure that I was healthy and fit and getting ready to go back into the sport…
The idea of recovery is just completely underrated, people don’t focus on it enough. Even when I’m training every single day, the importance of being able to recover immediately after the training session and get that 20g of protein within 20 minutes, people do work out every day and they work so hard in the gym and they forget about the most important thing which is recovering and replenishing your muscles so they can adapt and grow and be able to see the benefits of the workouts that you’ve been doing.
YOU’VE BEEN A REAL ADVOCATE OF MENTAL HEALTH. MALE MENTAL HEALTH IS SOMETHING THAT’S OFTEN IN THE NEWS, WHAT CAN WE AS MEN DO BETTER TO MOVE THINGS FORWARD?
Talk about it! Don’t be British about it! It’s about being able to ask: “He doesn’t look like he’s okay, I’m gonna ask if he’s OK. How are you doing? How’s everything going? How are you feeling?” Being able to talk about our feelings and emotions, and being able to talk about when it’s not OK, and knowing that it’s OK to ask for some help, and it’s OK to ask for a support network around you if you need it.
SOMETHING YOU’VE ALWAYS TALKED ABOUT IS MEDITATION BUT LOT’S OF PEOPLE LIKE THE IDEA OF IT BUT CAN’T GET THEMSELVES TO ACT. NOW, I KNOW YOU’RE AN ADVOCATE OF MEDITATION – WHAT ARE WE ALL MISSING OUT ON?
Yeah, when I first learned about meditation I just thought yeah, right, whatever, like this, isn’t gonna work, let’s be real, whatever. It wasn’t until I met Lance and thought, you know what, let’s do it together. We’ll sit down every morning, we’ll have our breakfast and afterwards, we’ll do ten minutes of meditation together and we just got into the habit of doing this every single day.
For the first few days, I couldn’t count to ten, breathe and count my breaths without thinking about something else or what have I got to do next.
Ten minutes isn’t actually that much time out of your day. When you wake up in the morning, most people roll over, look at their phone and spend ten minutes checking Instagram before they even get out of bed.
Making time to look after yourself is really important. We spend so much time rushing around but being able to take ten minutes out your day to sit down and focus on yourself and help yourself is important. Practising mindfulness and meditation techniques can help you with so many aspects of your day. If you’re having a stressful moment at work, at school or if you’re under pressure – being able to just bring it all back to your breathing is just such a powerful technique to have.
WHAT IMPACT HAS IT HAD ON YOU TOM – NOT JUST WHEN IT COMES TO DIVING BUT WHEN IT COMES TO THE FULL GARRET OF LIFE?
Now that I’m a parent, when I’m on a plane sometimes I can get a little bit worried or a little bit panicked. That’s when I just focus on my breathing. Or if I’m running late for something, when I get there I just take a moment to compose myself. There’s so many things that you can use mindfulness and meditation for, to bring yourself back into the moment.
AM I RIGHT IN THINKING THAT YOU ACTUALLY USE MINDFULNESS WHEN YOU’RE COMPETING? YOU ACTUALLY DO IT IN THE HERE AND NOW?
Yeah absolutely, at the back of the board in every competition before i go you’ll see me closing my eyes and take ten really big deep breaths – to be able to bring myself back to the present – slow my heart rate down and just feel comfortable calm and collected, and that’s something to do to just get the best out of your competition.
YOU PRACTICE THESE TECHNIQUES AT THE BIGGEST SPORTING EVENTS IMAGINABLE. CAN US MERE MORTALS PRACTICE IT SAY ON THE TRAIN OR TUBE?
You can do it anywhere, whenever you’ve got a ten minute time to sit down. It’s easier when you first start doing it to do in a quiet place, just sit on a sofa at the end of the day or at the beginning of the day to just sit and focus on your breathing. Then once you start getting better at it you can do it anywhere – even if you like find yourself getting stressed out in the middle of the day, being able to just do like 30 seconds here are there is so helpful as well.
I KNOW THAT RIGHT NOW YOU HAVE THE WORLD BY THE TAIL, YET YOU WENT THROUGH TOUGH TIMES AFTER 2012
During 2012 Olympic final, there was an issue with the cameras flashing on one of my dives. And after that, I couldn’t even do the dive, I was standing up on the end, and I was terrified I couldn’t walk on the lines on the pavement, couldn’t eat certain things. And I was just absolutely terrified and had this Lost Move Syndrome, to the point where it was ruining my life enough for me to not want to dive anymore.
I went through all kind of different Post Traumatic Stress Disorder treatments; I know it might sound funny, but it’s something that was so traumatic to me, and it happened in front of 18,000 people in the pool, and then millions of people watching at home, and it just was playing on my mind constantly. It was just a really hard time; London 2012 was all that I was looking to, and then that happened, and I was like ‘What now?” and, you know, I found myself in a bit of a hole.
It took me a while to get out of that and I owe a lot of that to Lance and meeting him. He was someone who really challenged me to think about what I needed to do to move forward. He inspired me because he was great at what he did, and he was at the highest level of his field, and I was like, you know, I wanna be back to that; I wanna get back to enjoying what I’m doing and enjoying what I love to do and all that I’ve known. Slowly I got back into it and remembered why I love doing it in the first place.
THIS IS PERHAPS NOW WHY YOU’RE IN WHAT MANY FEEL IS THE FORM OF YOUR LIFE…
I’ve had the best season of my life. And that comes down to a lot of the things that I’ve been doing: I’ve focused a lot more on my rest and recovery, I’ve focused a lot more on my flexibility and mobility, my post-training recovery, my mindfulness, all of these different techniques that have shifted my perspective and, you know, I guess you could say it comes down to a lot of experience as an elite athlete. I feel like this year is the first year that I’ve finally cracked the code, if you like.
SO, BULK POWDERS, IT’S NOT JUST FOR ELITE ATHLETES. HOW DO WE INCORPORATE BULK PROTEIN INTO OUR EVERYDAY LIVES?
For me, BULK POWDERS embodies so many different styles and lifestyles, and different relationships that people have with fitness. There are so many different types, both vegan and whey. Regardless whether you are an elite athlete, regardless if you’re just doing it for fun or you’re just doing it for working up to a marathon, recovery is key. If there’s one thing that I could try and get people into the habit of doing, it’s having at least 20 grams of protein post-training within 20 minutes.
IT’S MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS WEEK THIS WEEK, THE THEME THIS YEAR IS BODY IMAGE. IS THIS SOMETHING THAT YOU’VE EVER HAD AN ISSUE WITH?
Of course. Standing on a diving board in very minimal clothing – it’s close to being naked. Every time I look in the mirror I find myself catching myself: “Oh gosh, oh no, I shouldn’t have eaten that… Oh, I feel horrible.” You find yourself going into a downward spiral sometimes and you have to catch yourself and realise you’re doing the right thing, you’re eating the right things and you’re doing the right recovery. People’s bodies change all the time, and not everyone’s body is the same, and not everyone is gonna look the same.
Everybody’s different, and people really need to start seeing the value in people’s differences, rather than attacking people for their differences.
To listen to our podcast with Tom, please click here