How Retirement Nearly Killed Me

About 4 minutes to read

I don't pretend that I have majorly struggled myself when it comes to mental health, especially compared with a lot of people. The idea for JCADE has come much more out of seeing other people’s struggles, and wanting to help them, than it has from a personal battle of my own. However, with that being said, for the first post I felt I should share with you my own journey and how I/JCADE got to this point. At least this way, when I ask other people to share personally, I am not asking anything I am not willing to first do myself.   

I wanted to play professional rugby ever since I first started playing aged 9. So, when it came to making a decision between either going to university or pursuing rugby, after I finished school, I felt it was an easy decision to make. A decision which thankfully turned out to be a good one. I spent 3 years playing semi-professionally before being offered my first full time contract at Bedford. It was an unbelievable feeling and a dream come true. However, sadly it was not to be. Issues with my back, which lead on to knee problems meant that my career stopped before it ever really got started. Following a year and half of playing professionally and countless different attempts to solve the problem it became clear that it wasn’t going to work.

Now I could say lots about this period in my life; the lessons I learnt, the internal battles I faced and so on. But, what I want to share is what happened directly after finishing playing. My body was feeling pretty broken and even though I hadn’t played much I was still training and working out full time. So, after finishing I stopped exercising completely to give my body what I thought it needed, which was a nice long rest. Now in ways this was true, my body did need to recover, but stopping exercise was definitely not the answer. And actually, it was this stopping of exercise that nearly killed me. 

Testosterone is a vital hormone involved in sport and especially in high intensity sports like rugby. It is the hormone that allows players to do the things they do, without it, sport simply wouldn’t be possible. Another key thing is that the more you exercise and work out, the more your body produces. This means that full time athletes have on average much higher testosterone levels than a normal person, which can cause a number of other issues. None more so than when it comes to finishing playing. When I stopped exercising, I didn’t just automatically switch to producing normal hormone levels, my body continued to pump itself with the same high levels of testosterone it had been doing for so many years. 

This caused a number of major issues; I was completely restless. I couldn’t sit still. I couldn’t concentrate. I constantly felt anxious and on edge. It affected the way I slept, how I interacted with people and how I felt every minute of the day. The worst thing of all was that I didn’t have a clue what was going on. I remember going for a walk one day to try and clear my head following a frustrating argument I had just had, an argument which was solely down to this internal battle. I felt so caged in that, for the first time ever in my life, I had a genuine suicidal thought. Now thankfully that was all it was, a brief thought, but it was enough for me to realise the seriousness of the circumstances I was in. Thankfully I was very close to finding the solution to my problems. 

I went to see a physio about some of my ongoing back issues I was having, and it was here that everything started to make sense. I went to see her because my back issues were getting worse and not better. “Your body has got used to being strong, you need to start working out again”, she explained to me. The reason why my back was getting worse was because I had lost a lot of muscle mass, partly due to the lack of exercise and also due to reducing my diet (I had dropped 12kg in a matter of weeks). So, a lot of the muscles which were fundamental for supporting my body were shrinking and therefore the problems were obviously following. This made me question for the first time whether the issues I was facing physically were the same issues I was facing mentally. Which, on reflection, clearly were. 

By suddenly stopping exercising it gave the testosterone in my system nowhere to go apart from to bounce around inside me like a can of fizzy coke. This obviously was causing all manner of internal issues and actually as soon as I started to exercise regularly again, they all went away. I was lucky enough to work this out before it got too late but this sadly isn’t the same for everyone. This is why I wanted to launch JCADE. I thought there was something deeply wrong with me, which could easily have led me to do any number of disastrous things. But there wasn’t, I was just going through a perfectly natural experience that was the logical outworking of my lifestyle changes. Also, it was a problem that had a simple solution. A lot of the battles we face have simple solutions, it is finding those solutions that is difficult and complex. I want more than anything to help people find those answers and that is why I have created JCADE, to be that help. 

So, thank you for reading. Hopefully it might help people avoid making the same mistakes I made. I am looking forward to sharing with you, on this blog, many other people’s stories, their struggles, and how they came out the other side. If you have a story you would like to share please get in contact with us, we would love to hear from you. 

Jim Wigglesworth


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