Winter Solstice 2020: Lauren Jackson on anxiety, depression and a medication haze

LIFE AFTER SPORT: Lauren Jackson and son Harry. The basketball great shared her experience of anxiety and depression at the 2020 virtual Winter Solstice.
LIFE AFTER SPORT: Lauren Jackson and son Harry. The basketball great shared her experience of anxiety and depression at the 2020 virtual Winter Solstice.

From the outside, Lauren Jackson was at the top of her game.

The Albury-born basketballer was travelling the world playing professionally in Europe, South Korea and America.

But internally Lauren said, life "was crumbling around me".

She was in a "vicious cycle" of using prescription medication to train, to recover and to sleep.

The pills helped ease the pain of her chronic injuries, but deteriorate her already poor mental health and left her in a haze.

Anxiety had been part of Jackson's life for decades but how she survived her darkest days, she's still not sure.

LIFE AFTER SPORT: Lauren Jackson and son Harry. The basketball great shared her experience of anxiety and depression at the 2020 virtual Winter Solstice.

LIFE AFTER SPORT: Lauren Jackson and son Harry. The basketball great shared her experience of anxiety and depression at the 2020 virtual Winter Solstice.

In 2008, Jackson had lost 20 kilos, she'd lost a gold medal and after a brief interlude of hope at home she was back overseas, away from family.

To make a living as a professional female athlete Jackson had to constantly be travelling and competing.

"I was at my bottom, I was at rock bottom, I was on antidepressants and just trying to get through," she told the audience at the 2020 Winter Solstice.

"I spent seven months over in Russia that year and I just kept losing weight.

"I was in a really destructive relationship and I've never been that low in my life.

"How I coped, how I got through, I don't know."

Anxiety had been part of Jackson's life since she was a child, in fact it had threatened to end her career before it even started.

"I definitely had to deal with levels of anxiety, high levels of anxiety, when I was a kid that sort of presented more as a bit of separation anxiety from my mum," she said.

"As a I got a little bit older 10, 11,12, and I was touring with representative teams I would really struggle.

"They stopped selecting me for representative teams because I couldn't compete at the level that they needed me to compete at, because quite often I'd be crying myself to sleep on the road if my parents weren't there.

"I'd be just so worked up that I couldn't actually function normally."

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As a child Jackson made a choice to work on herself and address her anxiety before it limited her options.

Decades later, in the middle of a seemingly never-ending winter in Russia, she faced a similar dilemma.

How I coped how I got through, I don't know...

Lauren Jackson

"Living with that kind of depression, and anxiety, it was a time in my life that it could have gone one way or another for me," Jackson said.

"Fortunately I knew once I got out of Russia I needed to start doing some serious work on myself, and be comfortable with myself alone, on our own and that's what I did."

Towards the ends of her career Jackson's body started "breaking down", her world started shrinking and constant medication deteriorated her mental state.

"All I was doing was training, going to bed, getting up, training, going to bed, because my knee was so painful I couldn't do anything else and I didn't want to do anything else," she said.

Footage: NOMAD FILMS

"I got in a bit of a vicious cycle where I was taking prescription medication to train, after training my knee would hurt so I'd take some more prescription medication.

"Then I wouldn't be able to sleep so I'd have to take sleeping pills to go to bed, and then get up and train again."

When Jackson retired in 2016, she stopped the cycle of prescription medication.

"Once I retired, once I made the decision to quit the game because of the injuries I made a decision to quit the prescription medication," she said.

"All of a sudden I was out of this fog I feel like I was in for probably 20 years.

"That for me was a real lesson that for me prescription medication was just a no no."

During her days as an athlete, Jackson felt she couldn't talk about the way she was feeling.

"Especially back then, we didn't talk about this stuff," she said.

"I felt it was a weakness that would impact my contracts, how people saw me, the stigma of mental health but I just couldn't cope and I wasn't doing well."

A doctor for the Australian team saw she was not doing well and made an effort to talk to her and keep talking to her "even when I couldn't even look at myself in the mirror, I couldn't even talk to my closest friends."

But now, she's prepared to be open to help others.

"To be able to talk about it is frightening but I'm glad to be able to share this with you because it wasn't rosy at all," she said.

"That was a time in my life that as much as I get really upset thinking about it and talking about it it actually helped me grow into the person I am today."

The coping mechanisms and the love of her family have helped her succeed post-sport, while becoming a mother allowed her to stop focusing on herself and being perfect.

"Post basketball I had two little boys and they're everything," she said.

"I finally feel complete and feel more complete than I even did as an athlete."

This story 'Vicious cycle' of medication, anxiety and depression left Jackson in a haze first appeared on The Border Mail.