Returning service: tennis and bipolar

Returning service: tennis and bipolar

I’ve been in love with tennis since the age of 10. It’s my passion, my life and my career — I’ve been the head tennis coach at Brooklands Sports Club in Sale since 2009.

I’ve also lived with bipolar for the last 12 years, but was only diagnosed three years ago during a particularly crippling bout of depression. I was at my very lowest point and came close to suicide several times.

Prior to being diagnosed, my symptoms were on occasion manageable, and sometimes they weren’t. When I was feeling low, I self-medicated. I knew this was a poor idea at the time, but it seemed to be the only way that I could make the feelings disappear for a few hours – a very welcome break, but they soon returned the next day with a vengeance.

When I was in the realms of stability but still suffering from symptoms, my coping mechanism was to throw myself into exercise. On reflection, I over-exercised back then, and possibly burnt myself out physically. I learnt to keep a keen eye on the amount of exercise done and the energy expended. However – the positive benefits of sport and exercise far outweigh the negatives.

Since my diagnosis I’ve taken different medication. I started with a combination of an antipsychotic and an antidepressant (Quetiapine and Fluoxetine), but with a change of psychiatrist, I’m now taking lithium, which has given me the longest period of mental stability over the last six years, and a very positive outlook on life and excitement for the future.

Sport and exercise have had a big role to play. Being active makes your body release endorphins, our natural, mood-lifting chemicals. Endorphins restrict the body’s pain signal transmission, and they create a feeling of euphoria, commonly known to us as ‘happiness’ :-). So every time you go for a run, swim, row, walk or gym session, you are quite literally giving your body and brain a better chance to feel much better.

Exercise is not a cure-all for mental health problems, but it can go a long way towards helping you maintain control of symptoms – certainly depressive symptoms.

I’ve received a huge amount of support from the Lawn Tennis Association – they’re the people who run the sport in the UK – and everybody connected with my club.  My openness has also prompted several people to talk to me about their own mental health problems that I was not previously aware of – powerful stuff! Being able to talk about mental health is just the start and often helps considerably.

How tennis can help:

  • You’ll get a good cardio workout, which can be a great stress buster
  • Tennis is a social sport so ask a friend to be your partner
  • Joining a club can be a great way to make new friends
  • It’s popular too, so you should be able to find a court at your local park that won’t cost the earth