As I sat on the train home from London today, staring out of the window as though I was in the music video for a crappy early ’00s song, I realised that during this week had been the anniversary of my grandmother’s funeral. To be honest it sometimes feels as though barely any time has passed at all.
In that moment, I saw how far I have come in a year. Yes, I know it sounds cliched, but I started to reflect on how I was at this stage last year compared to today. Generally, most people would probably think I haven’t changed at all – since starting my job out in the field in 2015, I am far happier with what I do and I was looking forward to a year full of multiple celebrations. But mentally, things are much different.
For a few months, I was depressed. Things seemed to keep going from bad to worse. I was even more argumentative over silly little things than usual, then quieter, generally sadder. I tried to put on a brave face, to see the exciting times I had ahead as the light at the end of the tunnel. It worked, and I had a fantastic latter half of 2016, but sitting on the train, I had an epiphany: my terrible state of mind at the beginning of last year was the reason my shooting suffered.
As I explained in my first blog, I had already started to wonder why I had even bothered trying to shoot sporting competitively. I didn’t have the money to train enough to make it into the big leagues, couldn’t afford to take time off to travel away and enter the big competitions, and now my shooting was turning so terrible that I would never have a chance even if I could. I lost all confidence in the one sport I had ever been any good at, and for the life of me couldn’t identify why.
I tried changing my gun, my stance, whatever I could possibly think of to change what was going wrong. Nothing worked. And so, in spite of everything else in my life taking a turn for the better, my shooting would not go back to ‘normal’. Admittedly, I expect that had it done so, I would not have attended the British Shooting Talent Identification Day seeking a change of pace, and I would probably not be in the position I am now. That’s naughty, as a historian and archaeologist I shouldn’t be speculating … but it is more than likely that I would have stuck with sporting. Anyway, all of that is irrelevant, as even when I was offered a place on the programme and decided to give up sporting competitively, I still didn’t improve back to my pre-February 16 scores during practice.
I gave up speculating the causes of my unmitigated failure over Christmas as I was beating, loading and waiting for my new gun. I reasoned with myself that I was starting something new, fresh discipline, fresh start – but I don’t think, at the back of my mind, I ever really believed the ‘truth’ I was forcing upon myself.
The revelation actually came yesterday, during my spinning class, although it didn’t really fully sink in until this afternoon. As we were doing our cool down routine, our instructor told us that there are five elements to health, and that the first and foremost you must concentrate on is your mental health. And she wasn’t just talking about depression, anxiety, eating disorders – as terrible and difficult as those all are to tackle – but the most basic ways you think and feel about yourself. Mental and physical fitness are complimentary; being at the peak of one requires being at the peak of the other. Whatever is normal mental health for you personally contributes massively to your physical well-being, and vice versa.
I had noticed a correlation between my shooting and physical fitness previously. Being physically fitter gave me a far better mental state; I was more confident, happier within myself, and I was shooting better as a result. After spinning yesterday, I decided that this time I would stick to a fitness regime permanently to ensure my mental health would be maintained.
On the train, thinking about all of these things in context of the last year, I came to the conclusion that the reason my shooting went downhill was because all of the stress I was enduring at that time – no matter how far I pushed it to the back of my mind – always affected my confidence, my concentration. I hadn’t made my peace with a variety of issues, I was worried about upcoming events; in short, I was permanently distracted, even if I didn’t realise it.
So now I have made my peace with most of those issues, working on the last little niggling ones. As I look forward to starting my training in the next phase of my shooting career, I am establishing a new regime for health and welfare – psychological as well as physical.
I wanted to share this with you because I know how it feels to doubt yourself, to hit a slump in your sport and take it hard, not knowing why you are doing badly at something you used to do well at. I know how it feels to put yourself under pressure to succeed, only for that pressure to make it so much more difficult to do that. (Believe me, I’m an overachiever, I always pressurise myself to do well!) If you ever experience this, or are experiencing it now, just know that it is only temporary. Change the way you feel about yourself and see how that works.
I took up a new discipline, and with a fresh outlook on something I love it seems to be working – I shot an 82/100 on NSSA (American Skeet) last weekend on my first time at the clays with my new gun, which, given my abysmal performance on beaters’ day, was relatively decent!
Anyway, my point is simply this: perhaps all you need is a new direction.