“If you don’t speak out about the head noise, it will literally eat away at you.” That’s what Rob McCarthy learnt after keeping his depression to himself for three years.
McCarthy, who represented the Roosters and formerly the Knights in the NRL Touch Premiership, started suffering from depression around 2012-2013. “I found the pressure of overloading myself at school, sport and, once I left school, work, gave me an uneven balance within my life. I also had some attributes that caused a compounding effect on my mental health.
“I was about 18 when I first started feeling particularly bad. I felt at times the real me was slowly starting to disappear and this new person was evolving. Anxiety, isolation and overthinking started to creep into my life.
“No one knew what I was going through. Finally in 2016, a great mentor and friend, [Touch Football player] Matt Tope was giving me the annual Wollongong chat of how we would prepare for Vawdon and State Cups. This was the first time I came clean and basically nearly broke down trying to tell him I just couldn’t do it.
“Everything at that point had been bottled up for nearly three years. The one-and-a-half hour chat we had about it is something I’ll always remember.
“Anyone who knows me will tell you I never like the limelight or talking about myself. This was the hardest thing, trying to open up about my issues. But once I was open about it with those closest to me, everyone was great. I had great support within the ACT and Wollongong Touch Football communities, in particular from Doug Witt and also Ange Goodwin (wife of Danny Goodwin). Both of them even now regularly check in on me.
As well as opening up, McCarthy found that seeking balance and giving himself time out are the most important things for keeping his head in check – the same things a lot of us have discovered during this pandemic.
“I tried counselling and parts of the sessions did helped, other times it didn’t. What I found most effective was getting my work/life balance in order which had a direct positive reaction on my mindset.
“I started being able to establish when I’m at breaking point and need to rest. I’ve also accepted that in some cases not everything I do can be done at 100 percent.”
Although McCarthy says exercise was good for his mental state, competitive sport is not currently for him while he strives for balance.
“The team bonding and having the boys around me gave me a great buzz. Unfortunately the playing side of things didn’t eventually – I became really negative and lost a lot of confidence in my own ability. I’ll never use this as an excuse to not making teams or playing badly, but it seriously impacted me as I transferred from Youth to Opens.
“I’ve been very fortunate to have the path I’ve had in the sport. It’s been such an incredible ride from playing with ACT, Wollongong then onto State of Origin and international teams. From making my first Youth Trans-Tasman team in 2013, to flagbearer for the 2015 Youth Trans-Tasman, then add Elite 8 in there. It’s been a wild but great ride. Playing in the Roosters NRL Touch Premiership side and getting the chance to captain them early on was awesome.
“Sure it was tough coming from outside New South Wales or Queensland but I didn’t let that hold me back. I was never a world beater or regarded myself as gun or anything, I just went about my business and was happy to be a quiet achiever.
“But after nearly 10 years of travelling up the Hume Highway or, more recently, flying from Victoria where I live now, it’s time I refresh myself, slow down a bit and get that balance in check. At the current time the boots are hanging up on the wall at home. I wouldn’t say I’m officially done, but for the meantime I am. I’ll be forever grateful for the people I’ve met, played with or against and most importantly the memories.
“For now this plumber turned truckie has a few goals to get – hopefully completing my semi licence within the next few months and continuing to hit the road in the quarry game here in Victoria.”
McCarthy and his girlfriend, Touch player Emily Reid, bought a home in regional Victoria. “Now with the small edition of our pup we are really enjoying life. To her credit, Emily’s incredible and I’m very lucky to have her.”
McCarthy believes he’s become stronger through all of this. “I’ve always had a strong determination and every team mate or coach I’ve had will agree on that. I don’t like being beaten and this illness that has controlled me now for the best part of seven years won’t be the end of me.
“I’ve been faced with adversity and hardship but here I am, still alive, fit and healthy. I won’t lie, at times I wasn’t sure if there was a light at the end of the tunnel or if I could fight my way out of this, but here I am. In a good way it’s shaped the young man I am today."
What age did you start playing Touch? “12.”
First affiliate? “Tuggeranong, ACT.”
Best game-improving tip? “Do the small things right and the rest will take care of itself.”
Best thing about Touch? “Mateship”
Favourite way to relax? “Water skiing has been my escape to get away from everything.”
Life mantra? “If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you. That’s the quote I live my life by.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with anxiety, depression or other issues, reach out to Beyond Blue by calling 1300 22 4636.