Why has Jonathan Trott gone home from the Ashes?

Most of Jonathan Trott's face and a bit of his helmet

For all that we’re meant to be enlightened, modern folk who are au fait with mental health issues, there’s an odd reluctance to enter into specifics when someone is suffering ‘a stress-related illness’.

Physical v mental

In a sense, medical problems are nobody’s business but the sportsman in question. It seems invasive when we learn of Shoaib Akhtar’s genital warts or the problems Tom Boonen’s been having with his barse. But yet we’ll hear all the details about a hamstring strain or knee problem. We’ll hear too many details. We’ll hear medical jargon most of us are ill-equipped to comprehend.

But with stress, we don’t get a clear picture. Apparently that would be prying in a way in which providing the details about a physical injury would not. That’s probably correct, but as readers we’ve become conditioned to expect detail. The absence breeds conjecture.

Depressive illness

‘Stress-related illness’ is a vague slice of the depression spectrum. There’s mild anxiety at one end and suicide at the other. There are many different symptoms – such as pessimism, destructive thought patterns, persistent elevated heart rate, insomnia and self-harm – and different people will experience different combinations to different degrees.

Everything we experience goes through the brain. When that’s fucked, you can’t shrug it off. It’s all-consuming; a muddied bottleneck which soils everything that passes through it. This is why modern society is increasingly sympathetic to sportsmen who are struggling – because more and more people understand, or, unfortunately, have experience of depression.

So why so few details?

A sportsman’s personal identity and sense of self worth are invariably closely linked to performance. For a batsman, that is something intrinsically fickle and fragile. Most of us therefore understand that depression is a very real occupational hazard. Why then is the information provided to the press so vague?

Perhaps mental fragility is considered a professional weakness and therefore somehow ‘off limits’ to the press, but Michael Clarke’s bad back is a professional weakness to which endless column inches have been devoted in recent months. What’s the difference?

Is it that detailing the problem might pile extra pressure on the player who is suffering? A counter argument would be that getting things out in the open has been shown to lighten the mental load for a number of people in a similar position. Men are particularly prone to crippling themselves with their attempts to conceal their struggles and no men attempt to be men’s men like sportsmen.

You’d hope we aren’t seeing an aspect of the kind of institutional warrior culture so spectacularly eviscerated by Brian Phillips writing about the Miami Dolphins bullying scandal, but you suspect we might be.

So what of Jonathan Trott?

Is it related to his struggles in the first Test? Probably to a degree, because as we said above, personal identity is likely to be entwined with professional performance. However, it will certainly have been something that’s been slowly building rather than a direct response. In that sense, his second innings at the Gabba could be seen as a symptom, rather than a cause.

Inevitably, there will be talk of weakness. Invariably, it will be from people who aren’t worth listening to. Some Australians have a propensity to stereotype their compatriots as mentally tough, physically tough hardcases and a corollary of this is that they see the English as mentally flimsy big girl’s blouses. They will take Trott’s departure as vindication of their prejudices.

However, they might like to ponder something first. The man they perceive to have crushed Jonathan Trott is Mitchell Johnson. Johnson sought counselling as a result of the baiting he has received at the hands of a large number of England fans. He isn’t the first Aussie quick to show mental fragility either. Shaun Tait has been open about experiencing bouts of depression. It can happen to anyone – although it’s pretty obvious that it’s more likely to happen to cricketers.

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45 Appeals

  1. Best of luck to Trott, hopefully he’ll make a full recovery and continue to grind bowlers down like he did in the old days.

    Makes Warner look like an even bigger plonker though. Silver linings (however slight) and all that.

    • I honestly don’t think it’s possible for Warner to look even more idiotic.

      Real shame about Trott. Had my own issues with this sort of thing in recent years. It’s not fun.

  2. Great piece from Ed Cowan going in to why it’s more likely to happen to cricketers. The “black and white of failure” in cricket.

    http://www.espncricinfo.com/magazine/content/story/524905.html

  3. “Some Australians have a propensity to stereotype their compatriots as mentally tough, physically tough hardcases and a corollary of this is that they see the English as mentally flimsy big girl’s blouses.”

    Not since we got Shane Watson, the ultimate big girl’s blouse as a permanent fixture. You can bet that at this moment Watto is not thinking of Trott. He’s wondering if he IS Trott.

    • King Cricket

      November 25, 2013 at 11:53 am

      No, not most of you – but some.

    • King Cricket

      November 25, 2013 at 12:12 pm

      In fact someone just tweeted us to say “because he’s a fucking pussy” in answer to the title of this article.

      They aren’t joking.

    • Seems like an unnecessary jab at Australians while trying to qualify it by saying ‘some’.

      You can apply it to any nation, any sporting team’s supporters. Or their cricketers – look at what Gulam Bodi has said: http://www.heraldsun.com.au/sport/cricket/south-african-gulam-bodi-makes-light-of-jonathan-trotts-decision-to-leave-ashes/story-fni2usfi-1226768179515

    • King Cricket

      November 25, 2013 at 12:44 pm

      We weren’t trying to qualify it. We WERE qualifying it.

      But you’re right. It is true that there will be those in other nations saying similar things – there will be a large number of people in the UK doing so. It’s just that mental toughness isn’t quite so bound up with national identity here as it is in Australia.

      Of course national identity is a pretty broad, clumsily generalising thing in itself. Perhaps it’s more that we felt that Australians would be more likely to respond like that at this specific moment. There seems to have been a swell of “we’re showing a bit of mongrel again” triumphalism following victory in the first Test and there will inevitably some who don’t see the blurred line.

    • The person who tweeted the pussy remark is quite obviously a Grade A No. 1 Asshole. As if the tweet wasn’t ample evidence, just look at the wanker’s background pic (only guys who can’t get laid put up shite like that) and other tweets. Beneath contempt, but not worth wasting my time on, so I just blocked the twat.

      Far be it from me to tell you what to do, but you can block this worthless sub-human from following you, King.

  4. Nice piece, KC. Hard to know what to say when this kind of thing happens. I think England seem to have handled it well, but you’re right that the phrase “stress-related illness” is vague. Probably intentionally so.

    That Brian Phillips piece is also excellent.

  5. The comparison with Clarke’s back is a valid one. If a person suffers from heart disease, say, people are understanding & sympathetic, but if something goes wrong with the brain (which is just organic matter also) then they are treated dismissively & even abused. Good luck to Trotty, clearly struggling for some time & brave enough to say “I can’t do my job, I need some help” before the damage became impossible to treat or alleviate.

  6. A very good piece, with the possible exception of:

    “Perhaps mental fragility is considered a professional weakness and therefore somehow ‘off limits’ to the press, but Michael Clarke’s bad back is a professional weakness to which endless column inches have been devoted in recent months. What’s the difference?

    Is it that detailing the problem might pile extra pressure on the player who is suffering? A counter argument would be that getting things out in the open has been shown to lighten the mental load for a number of people in a similar position.”

    I have no doubt that it does, but I would suggest that is on either a one-to-one basis with a psychologist or amongst close friends and family. I very much doubt this extends to every person with access to the internet. A bad back heals regardless of what is written in the national press about it, a sick mind almost certainly does not. I doubt a player would care if everyone knew what grade hamstring tear they had, but we want to know because its interesting to know how long they are out for. I’m sure Jonathan Trott doesn’t want everyone to know exactly what it is he is stressed about, and all we really need to know is that he is going to be OK (regardless of what level cricket he plays again).

    The important thing is the progress that has been made even over the past couple of years. I remember the first time Trescothick went home it was brushed under the carpet as a flu or something similarly as unlikely. At least it is actually being reported why Trott has gone home.

    As an aside, Warner isnt any more of a twat now than he was 2 days ago. All thats been highlighted is why he was a twat in the first place.

    • King Cricket

      November 25, 2013 at 1:26 pm

      We were very much asking the question with whether or not ‘getting it out in the open’ would help.

      We actually suspect it wouldn’t in Trott’s case. He strikes us as being almost entirely self-contained. We doubt his troubles are anything to do with anything external and more likely stem from his own self-perception.

      He has demonstrated time and again that he doesn’t give a toss what anyone thinks about his batting. All that matters is what HE thinks about his batting and what he therefore thinks about himself.

  7. Who the fuck is Gulam Bodi?

  8. Maybe this is a little callous of me, but I have to ask: if the England management including Flower knew about this, why was nothing done to help Trott at an earlier stage? Surely no one wants to get to a stage where they need to exit a tour with the reasons laid bare for everyone to see.

    But maybe they did help, and that’s why Trott’s been able to manage it for so long? What ever the case might be, I wish him well.

    • The problem with that approach is that when it’ said long term, persistent issue there can be no good or bad time to say “go home, you need the time off”.

      In Trott’s case it could be that he said he was fine and genuinely believed he was (to within a given definition of the word fine). If management had no reason to disbelieve him, they did the right thing in selecting him.

    • Alec is right on but I thought I’d chime in: as someone who’s lived with depression for my entire adult live, it can very much rise up very suddenly. like one day I’ll be absolutely fine and the next the weight of all my obligations that I am currently neglecting crashes down on my shoulders and I can’t do anything at all.

      in other words, you can be fine until suddenly you’re not.

      alternately, you can lie and say you’re fine when you’re really not, and only when it becomes even worse (or maybe never!) do you actually do something about it. it’s quite easy to hide a chronic mental illness.

      best wishes to Trott, of course. hope he gets well and I’d love to see him return to international cricket if he can.

    • Dan – been there, done that, still have too many t-shirts (including a vintage Happy Mondays’ one that is falling apart).

    • King Cricket

      November 25, 2013 at 7:07 pm

      Bet it’s the Wrote For Luck one which doesn’t actually say ‘Wrote For Luck’ anywhere on it.

  9. …and the reason that David Warner proceeds without censure despite clearly breaking the ICC Code, by referring to another player specifically, is…?

  10. Personally I say good luck to Trott. Hope he sorts it all out. Screw the cricket, not important.

  11. Having dealt with anxiety since my teens the hardest part to get people to understand is that mental disorders can cause actual physical symptoms.

    Chest pains, headaches (including massive pain in my eyes), elevated blood pressure to say nothing of the injuries that can come with scissors and match heads.

    Most of the time it can all be lived with but when it gets too bad you need to make a serious change to your lifestyle. The change is scary but not as scary as the thought of things going on as they are.

    • Alec! Great to see you here as well. Although I agonize over how little money I make, and that perhaps my skills and experience are a bit wasted, right now I can honestly say I’m happy with my Trescothick-ish decision to keep myself in county cricket work-wise, so to speak.

      If I’d suffered two severe physical injuries in two years, the sympathy would have been piled on. Now I realize that in the same period of time I suffered two nervous breakdowns. I needed time to heal, just as if the injuries were physical – yet there was no disability scheme to cover me.

      I made it through the best I could, managed to avert financial disaster, and now things may really be improving, in many ways. I’m in a better place, not only for myself, but for my son.

      Was Trott the one who is almost OCD about the neatness of his gear? Not that it matters. I wish him all the best.

  12. You need to be mentally tough to bat as Jonathan Trott does, and perhaps he’s mentally tough to have sustained his career thus far.

    As for Warner… I doubt he has anything to do with it. Blaming him would be about as stupid as his comments in the first place.

    • Mental toughness can often make the problem worse. You’re convinced you can deal with it yourself, without help, and just end up making it worse in the process.

  13. In any other workplace a consistent barage of verbal abuse would be considered bullying… just throwing it out there but perhaps some sort of workplace safety investigation is in order?
    I’m not being entirely facetious here either – some of my countrymen consider a stream of invective to be ‘sledging’.

    • Personally I want to see sledging banished from the game entirely. Hurling abuse at a player isn’t sport for me. Whilst you do get some funny ones, most of it just smacks of attempted bullying, something I had bitter experience of at school, and something I thus loathe.

  14. Just to lighten this thread up, apropos to nothing that is going on around here…

    …these last few days a gang of old mates from my teenage years have set up a Facebook group and are swapping photos and stories from the old days.

    This evening, I had a trawl through my diary from “that summer”, the year I turned 17, to revive some of those memories and to answer some of the questions coming up on FB.

    On the weekend pages, I was surprised to see my openness about my love life in those diaries. In particular, the word “scored” comes up on quite a few Saturdays.

    Then I realised, that word meant that I hadn’t made the cricket team and was 12th man scorer that afternoon. Later on some of those same pages was a short note on where I went that evening, followed by some hieroglyphics to describe the extent to which, if at all, I “scored” that night.

    I have hated scoring (cricket) ever since that summer. As for the other type of scoring, I think I have got the hang of it a little better now. What was I thinking of, back then?

  15. at the risk of jumping on a “stresswagon” here, i too have had problems of this nature… i wish trotty all the best for getting himself back together

  16. Funny how people are all assuming a stress-related illness correlates with a mental fragility. Without even vaguely suggesting that soldiers and cricketers live under the same pressures, some of the mentally-toughest soldiers get PTSD. Any one under enormous pressure, mental, physical or emotional, will experience times when they can’t manage it but still develop inner fortitude. The human mind is very complex and people are very quick to jump in and use the mental illness label, nicely tie it up in a package as if every individual isn’t different to the next.

    Also using Clarke’s back as an analogy is also misleading. Chronic physical pain leads to mental and emotional pain as well. You have no idea what stresses Clarke is under, just cos his problem is labelled “physical”. I don’t much like the guy, but I know that long-term chronic pain, especially back pain, even with all the best medical help, is slowly debilitating at all levels. Not all backs heal, as someone here suggests, not when the damage is permanent and getting worse, as in Clarke’s case. All you can do is manage the pain.

  17. I’ll just leave these here, since several people have mentioned their own issues with stress/depression.

    http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2011/10/adventures-in-depression.html
    http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2013/05/depression-part-two.html

  18. Was it just some Aussies saying it was Trott’s fault then? That’s a common symptom of mental illness, isn’t it – thinking it’s your fault when it isn’t.

  19. The fact that Trott has built his career despite a long-term problem of this type is testimony to his mental toughness. But, as some have said, being strong-minded does not mean you can function properly when the disorder is in an acute phase.

    It appeared to this onlooker that failing to cope with Johnson really had little to do with short-pitched fast bowling, as such, but much to do with being mentally slowed down, and perhaps a sense of being distanced from his own actions.

    There isn’t actually a lot wrong with the approach that Trott had evidently been rehearsing in the nets for weeks; move across to the off, watch the ball, decide whether to play it. When the mind is frozen, there isn’t time to do the last of these properly.

    If the reports are right, Trott has managed to overcome previous crises, so there is the more hope that he will come through this one. He deserves all sympathy. As for the idiot Warner…

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