You could be the best batter in the business, have several significant records in your name, handle the expectations of a billion fans, and look physically fit on the field. Still, if you ignore your mental health, things around you could come crumbling down. This is Virat Kohli’s advice to upcoming sportspeople who are constantly battling a mountain of pressure when they take the field.
Kohli, who has had a rough patch in the past couple of years, with his previous century recorded in November 2019, urged people to keep in touch with their inner selves. “I personally have experienced times when even in a room full of people who support and love me, I felt alone, and I am sure that this is a feeling that a lot of people can relate to. So, take out time for yourself and reconnect with your core self,” Kohli was quoted as saying by Indian Express.
A celebrity of the stature of Kohli can feel lonely too, despite all the glitz, glamour, family, friends, and fans around him. All rooting for him.
Kohli’s moment of vulnerability that he chose to share in good faith, unfortunately, attracted decriers and vile comments. “No one is forcing you to play. Please leave Indian team,” wrote one Twitter user reacting to the news. “Honestly saying he should take retirement from cricket. Both he and Indian cricket will get relieved.”
“That’s why we believe there won’t be another Sachin,” typed away another.
Sachin Tendulkar, the “god” of cricket, wasn’t immune to mental health woes either. Tendulkar once talked about dealing with pressure. He also opened up about how he suffered from anxiety during the 10-12 years of his playing career. “I felt the anxiety for 10-12 years, had many sleepless nights before a game. Later on I started accepting that it was part of my preparation. Then I made peace with times I was not able to sleep in the night. I would start doing something to keep my mind comfortable.”
An Indian Problem?
When the Ben Stokes and the Glenn Maxwells of the world take time off duty to prioritise their mental health, it is hailed as a healthy move and embraced by cricket fans in our country, as it should be. However, it paints a starkly contrasting picture to how Kohli is treated when he opens up about his mental health. His feeling lonely being brushed under the rug as an “excuse” for his lean performances perhaps shows that we know all the right words around mental health, but are miserly in lending them to men in our own country. At the end of the day, what Indians expect out of their “heroes” is not an image that has evolved.
The absence of empathy is appalling and alarming but it isn’t surprising.
Mental Health and ‘Machismo’
Mental health isn’t gender exclusive. “Deepika,” was one of the reactions by a Twitter user to Kohli’s admission. Men and women face two different lines of shaming when they speak up on mental health. When Deepika speaks on her depression, it’s considered “attention-seeking”. When Kohli speaks on his mental health, it’s considered “unmanly”. While women showing vulnerability is acceptable to the degree that it serves the status quo, for men, it’s almost wholly unacceptable.
Marcus Trescothick, Jonathan Trott, Andrew Flintoff, and Praveen Kumar are some of the other men who struggled with mental health during their careers and chose to make it a priority.
Behind the tattoos, erupting temper and over-the-top antics on the field- all considered traditional markers of masculinity- Kohli is, like the rest of us, human and not a superhero who must submit to hyper-masculine ideals.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), health is defined as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”