March 2nd, 2012
12:02 PM ET

In too deep: A swimmer's battle with depression

British swimmer Katy Sexton battled depression following the Athens Olympics in 2004. (Edelman)
British swimmer Katy Sexton battled depression following the Athens Olympics in 2004. (Edelman)

The trials for the British Olympic swimming team start this weekend, and training has been going really well. It’s not so intensive, it’s more recovery work and fine-tuning skills - so it’s nice to not be feeling tired all the time!

The big moment, when I find out if I have qualified for my home Games, is now just a matter of days away after what feels like years and years of preparation.

Having watched some of the cycling world championships at the Olympic velodrome recently, and having seen the enthusiasm and support from the crowd, the excitement ahead of London 2012 is really snowballing now.

Even the British public wants a piece of somebody or something that’s going to be at the Games. It feels more pressurized this time around, but it is about turning pressure into positive energy.

Handling the pressure is tricky for me, having had a bout of depression in the last four or five years. It is now about rediscovering my confidence in competitive situations.

Looking back, the depression probably began after the Athens Games in 2004. When you get to the pinnacle of your sport, as I did in becoming a world champion the year before, there isn’t much in place to help you if it all goes wrong.

You deal with psychologists, but they only deal with you as an athlete rather than as a person. I beat myself up and fell deeper and deeper before family problems meant it all came to a head at the end of 2008.

Missing out on Beijing 2008 was a significant factor. In swimming especially, you work for the Olympics. It’s the pinnacle of your career, like a footballer working towards the World Cup. You train for four years and to fall at the last hurdle is gut-wrenching.

You get to a point where everything comes to a head. You think, “I can’t take this anymore,” and you crack. The way you deal with it dictates which way your life goes.

As soon as you recognize there is a problem, you can seek help for it. You have to reconnect with who you are and what you want to do. Like with addiction, once you accept there is something wrong then you can tackle it.

Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I’m approaching everything I do now in a different way to before. I feel like a different person heading into the trials, I feel like I’m experiencing it for the first time.

I have found myself again. I will be intrigued as to how I compete, because it has been a while since I have been in a good position mentally.

I don’t know what I am capable of doing. Everything in my life has been different since dealing with depression, including my training. I have tried to keep a better balance in my life and I think that has helped.

I have given myself the best chance I can of qualifying for London given the budget I have and everything else that has been going on. When I get to the trials, I will give 110% in everything I do. Only time will tell what results come out of that.

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Filed under:  Olympics
soundoff (9 Responses)
  1. Kathy Ewing

    Bless Katy for being honest enough to highlight this world-wide plight (of depression). It doesn't matter if you flip burgers for a living or are a world-class athlete: depression can body-slam you even when you are doing "everything right." Solutions are only simplistic from those who've never experienced this debilitating ailment. And trust me: people you LEAST suspect would be depressed can be in the depths of depression, so don't assume behaviour indicates signs of depression. I'll be rooting for you, Katy, though you're not representing my country!

    March 2, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Reply
  2. Rob

    I sympathize with Katy Sexton, but the very fact that someone can depressed because one doesn't end up as number one, two, or three in the world is mindboggling and by itself an indication of something not being as it should mentally. I guess there is a fine line between such a twisted view of reality (obviously, not everyone can be the best, and it is therefore nearly impossible to be the best), and a top athlete's strong psyche of not wanting to quit in order to try to become the best. Having said that, it was brave to write this article, and I wish Katy Sexton the best of luck in her future.

    March 2, 2012 at 8:07 pm | Reply
  3. RealRuralHousewife

    As someone who's struggled w/clinical depression for two decades, I had hoped this article/blog would've been longer... Regardless, good luck Katy & hang in there!

    March 2, 2012 at 8:31 pm | Reply
  4. Graham Cawte

    Good luck Katy, will be cheering you on. Was fantastic swimming with you at Crawley, I'm sure all Southampton masters will be with you this weekend.

    March 3, 2012 at 8:53 am | Reply
  5. david camahin

    go go Bless. Keep on practicing .G o for Gold come 2012 olympics

    March 4, 2012 at 1:15 am | Reply
  6. bob

    Been there, done that... My best advice is for you to just hold your head high and move forward.

    And then, unfortunately, you'll have to learn how to cope with old age and a body and mind that slowly fall apart...

    As it is said: Life's a bit..ch, and then you die.

    I wish you luck in life and in your olympic dream!

    March 14, 2012 at 2:13 pm | Reply
  7. Swan

    It is said that with time it is the Bronze Medalists in the Olympics that end up most satisfied with their performance. Except for the major pro sports, these kids give up their youth for one fleeting moment. And even if you have the talent and the track record for a gold, everything must all come together for that moment.

    That is what makes the games and the people in them incredible.

    Bon chance!

    March 27, 2012 at 2:39 pm | Reply
  8. Bishop Terence Kelshaw

    I hope the OLympics is covered better than the chattering events of the Jubillee! Keep Piers Morgan OUT of it all!

    June 18, 2012 at 6:02 pm | Reply
  9. Steven Bayne

    ...the US men's rep in the vault; Gabby Douglas on the bars... Neither won but both showed great sportsmanship and grace. The US womens' rep in the vault was obnoxious in losing, as much as the young Russian woman that won gold in the uneven bars...their responses to their situations were very de-classe...the American vaulter wouldn't greet the Russian (and barely met the winner); the Russian winner tonight began smirking and celebrating before the final score....manners should be a required skill....

    August 7, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Reply

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