Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Should We Still Be Clapping For Trotty?

I am not a mental health professional. The only factual information I know of Jonathan Trott and his withdrawal from the Ashes Tour in Australia is what I read and what I see and what I listen to.

I have bipolar disorder. I am well read and even better experienced in the area of mental health. I have been trained by a highly credible organisation to talk about disorders of mood, including depression, with the community.

Those two paragraphs, as introduction, should allow you to decide what credit you choose to place on my opinions on what is becoming the Saga of Jonathan Trott.

When Trott left the English tourists in late November, as England were crashing to the first of five defeats in Australia - spectacular in the completely one-sided dominance of the Australians, the completely unexpected magnitude of the defeats and spectacular in the manner in which the English team disintegrated - Trott's unfortunate circumstances were clearly implied to be as a consequence of depression.

Four months later, the man himself, has denied that diagnosis during an interview on British television with Sky's Ian Ward, where he at times laughed, at other times clearly struggled not to cry. Its not depression, its burn out was his emphatic message.

If the interview was intended by Trott and his management team to clear away suspicion and rumour and innuendo and put him back on a footing that may lead to a quick return to the Test team, then it has almost certainly failed. It failed not just because of the criticism his comments have drawn from former skipper Michael Vaughan and former opening bowler and depression sufferer Matthew Hoggard. Both were scathing of his use of the words "crazy" and "nutcase" as being offensive to sufferers of mental illness generally and mood disorders specifically. It wasn't Vaughan's major beef with the man who replaced him after England had experimented with Ian Bell and Ravi Bopara at three. If this was burn out, said Vaughan, then its interesting how many times sportsmen use the term to describe what is really a loss of form and an inability to manage the stresses of intense competition.

In fact, the interview really failed because it created more questions than it answered and answered dissatisfactorily the questions which have hung in the air since Trott slept the eight hours to Hong Kong before England's team management announced his departure and took a swing at David Warner. That worked out well too, didn't it.

These were questions no journalist wanted to ask. They have sat uncomfortably among the cricket media as if one of them had passed wind but all were too polite to acknowledge the fact.

When England announced the difficulties Trott had found himself in, thecricketragics was supportive of his plight and spoke out about mental health in sport in We Are All Clapping Trotty

The interview has thrown up ponderings which don't add up. If what Trott says is true, then the ECB has lied and how does that gel with statements made about the nature of his problems. If what he says is untrue - most likely because of his inability to accept a diagnosis of depression - the ECB is lying or at least condoning a lie. Trott's interview and the topics for discussion during the interview would have been vetted and approved under his ECB contract.

thecricketragics watched the interview with perhaps more practised eyes than many. Notable moments included:
  • the repetitive telling of his inability to face his team mates at breakfast and his dilemma of how he might be at the ground because of a fear of "not being able to handle it". It seems clear he was concerned he might cry. Each retelling of this story created the strongest emotional responses and his eyes welled with tears
  • the number of times he mentions "hard work", as being his way of fixing, coping, succeeding
  • the hives which broke out on his skin in both the first and second half of the extended interview immediately following the most emotional responses. That's an anxiety response
  • during one point in the interview, he talks about anxiety responses and then cuts dead and changes tact
  • the nervous and often inappropriate laughter
  • his description of his state in Brisbane as being "physically and emotionally spent"
  • the conflict between guilt and relief when watching the Adelaide Test
The interview left me with the clear conclusion that Jonathan Trott was and still is suffering with depression and most likely an associated anxiety disorder. Research will tell you that the symptoms for depression and burn out are almost identical. The difference lies in the fact that depression is recurring and external factors are not determinate, rather how the sufferer reacts to those external factors. I don't recognise these things through medical training but they stand out like Rover's undercarriage on the basis of personal experience.

At the time of the Brisbane Ashes Test and in the interview, team management (eventually) and now Trott have said Warner's words and Johnson's thunderbolts were not a factor. Both parties have also said his problems were ongoing and had occurred before. That's how depression works.

Burn out, by comparison, rarely recurs, mostly because the causal factors are external. Therefore, if it was burn out, Warner and Johnson would have been factors.

Warner was right. There was fear in Trott's eyes but not of facing the Australians. Trott, with all his high standards and impeccable work ethic was frightened of failure.

None of this makes him weak. None of this makes him deserve the clumsy way in which Michael Vaughan has attacked him. Vaughan has his own issues but his willingness to stand up for those suffering with depression is to be commended. Some of it makes Trott a patsy for the spin doctors who have fed him the story line when he insisted on speaking. It probably means he wants to put it all behind him. To work hard, as is his way but that won't be enough. All of it screams he is not ready to return and his only goal should be turning out for Warwickshire. Any talk of that 50th Test cap is premature.

Should we stop clapping for Trotty?

Not at all. He's living in a confused world and the interview at least establishes he's trying to make order of it. Recognising faults in his past approach and the need for a more balanced manner which might change cricket from being his life - watch old interviews - to it being his career, are both signs of a mending mind. While he is tempted by a return against the much easier attacks of Sri Lanka and India, it might be that other dangers are lurking yet. Apart from unrecognised demons, the reaction of team mates and especially his captain might cause the selectors some doubt about his immediate return.

Intent is to be admired. Just get well first Trotty.