Photo courtesy of R U OK? Team
I played rugby for 14 years professionally; 136 matches for the NSW Waratahs and 79 test matches for the Wallabies. One of the good things about having a background where people may recognise or know you, is you’re always thinking ‘what can I do to assist?’ I’ve been on the journey as an ambassador of R U OK? since its establishment. I’m a big fan of what it stands for; it’s relatable, a simple concept that raises awareness and encourages regular, meaningful conversations.
Everyone is battling different challenges. Everyone’s ‘normal’ is different. Something I may think is normal, may not be for someone else and vice versa. Often we judge peoples circumstances too early. We need to be observant towards any change in behaviour or change in patterns. When I think of the R U OK? campaign, I think about inclusion. We can reduce the feeling of loneliness and depression wherever we can; your family, friends and broader society. Mental illness is something some people face every minute of every day, of every year. The least I can do is devote my time and raise awareness.
‘Reconnection’ for me, is about reaching out to people that perhaps we haven’t spoken to for a while. People you think about and for whatever reason you haven’t touched base with. It’s so easy these days to reach out; a phone call, a text message or even via social media. But in some ways social media can also be quite isolating. When people are seeing how ‘fantastic’ other peoples’ lives are through photos and posts, they start to feel inadequate, or start to doubt themselves.
The longer you haven’t spoken to someone, the more likely you are not to speak to them. We need to change that and let people know we’re thinking of them rather than the ‘they’ll be right’ mentality. When someone connects with you, you do get a buzz out of it. It’s such a small and easy thing to do and when you’re the recipient of it you feel wrapped.
To me, R U OK? is about connectivity. It’s checking in with your mates, checking in with your loved ones, meeting up. It’s the simplicity of proactively reaching out to someone.
Don’t feel ashamed if you’re not feeling quite right. Professional athletes go through tough times mentally too; even the big fellas on the footy field. For athletes, we struggle mentally with injuries and many find it hard to make that transition from the sport we love, in to retirement. We go from one extreme to another; being the best in the world to feeling like you’re the rookie in a new field. You go from a very tight knit family for so many years, to feeling as though your contribution to that family is ‘no longer needed or recognised’ and regardless of whether that’s perception or reality, that’s how you feel. That’s the world of professional sport and while a lot of people envy and admire the lifestyle, even the tough guys can be quite fragile too.
If you’re struggling, it’s OK to reach out and ask questions, ask for advice or ask for a favour. There are so many people out there that are willing to help out. At the same time, we can all play a part in connecting with each other and making sure the door is always open.
Phil Waugh is an R U OK? Ambassador and has played rugby for 14 years professionally; 136 matches for the NSW Waratahs and 79 test matches for the Wallabies.