Former world No 4 Robin Soderling opened up on dealing with mental health issues for the better part of the previous decade in a post on Instagram on Tuesday.
Soderling shot to fame by reaching back-to-back French Open finals in 2009 and 2010. In ‘09, he became the first player to beat 19-time Major winner Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros. The big-hitting Swede subsequently rose to No 4 in the world rankings but didn’t play a single ATP match between 2011 and 2015 while suffering from mononucleosis. In 2015, Soderling announced his retirement aged 31.
Soderling, in his post, spoke about dealing with anxiety for nine years and thanked his wife for standing by him.
“No one gives you information and tools on how you are supposed to handle the pressure both on and off the court,” Soderling wrote.
“...how to take care of yourself mentally just as carefully as you’re taking care of your body. In 2011, I was in the best physical shape of my life – but from one day to another I couldn’t take a step, I couldn’t breathe, I just wanted to crawl out of my skin.
“I am happy and lucky to have come out on the other side now. After fighting anxiety and panic attacks from July 2011, I have been giving my body and mind time to heal, and now finally – nine years later, I feel good again, maybe even better than before. People around me have urged me to speak up about my health journey earlier, but I wanted to wait until I felt ready, and completely healed.”
Soderling also revealed how his playing days came to a grinding halt overnight and wondered if he’d have to cope with anxiety in the years ahead too.
“The first few years after my body forced me to stop playing tennis, I was really worried that I would never feel well or have a normal life again,” he said.
“That was one of the things that triggered my anxiety the most, what if would have to live in this hell my entire life?
“I wish there would’ve been more information available, and that I would have had tools on how to deal with what I was feeling and what I was experiencing – both earlier when I was playing on tour, and after my world came crashing down.
“I was lucky to have my wife and friends that cared for me and helped me. It’s a lonely and awful place to be, and I believe it would have been impossible to go through this on my own.”
The 35-year-old had a warning for fellow athletes and thinks that the stress he’d faced in the past was induced by his quest for perfection.
Soderling added: “Putting pressure on yourself and working very hard can be very rewarding, but if you cross that thin line – if you don’t listen to your body and give it time to recharge and recover, it can ruin your career, and your life.”
“Like myself, most professional athletes are high-achieving perfectionists, dedicating their lives to their sport. Being an athlete can be incredibly challenging for your mental health, and for me, my own strive for perfection, as well as the constant pressure I was putting on myself was in the end almost killing me.
“People around me have urged me to speak about my health journey earlier. But I waited until I felt ready and completely healed.
“It’s time to address mental illness amongst professional athletes, and this time do something about it. Data shows that up to one in three elite athletes suffer from mental health issues which can manifest as stress, eating disorders, burnout, depression and anxiety. We need to start discussing it and make sure that the next generation of athletes will come better prepared than myself.”