Nicole Bolton felt relief and frustration after stepping away from cricket to deal with depression. (ABC News: Hugh Sando)
Nicole Bolton did not know if she would ever play cricket again when she walked away from the sport last year.
- Bolton stepped away after being diagnosed with depression and anxiety
- One of the hardest things was explaining to her family about mental health problems
- She returned to cricket with a plan to prepare for a life after elite sport
Just after Boxing Day last year she found herself lying on her couch, unable to muster the energy to leave her house or go for a walk.
The energetic Perth Scorchers all-rounder had made the decision to step away from cricket.
“It was like my body completely shut down,” she said.
“Even something as simple as going for a walk or going for a run, I simply couldn’t do that.”
Bolton began preparing for a life after elite sport, taking up yoga and doing a barista course. (ABC News: Hugh Sando)
Bolton, one of Australia’s best players, had battled anxiety and depression for several months, but had brushed off the symptoms as “burnout” following a full cricket calendar that included the T20 World Cup.
It was not until a match against the Brisbane Heat that she recognised there was something more serious at play and approached WACA team doctor Tom Hill for help.
“There was just too many signs,” Bolton said.
“I had constant weeks of light crying over I don’t even know what.
“Cricket was the by-product. It wasn’t really the main issue, it was what was going on behind the scenes.
“I think cricket was kind of masking that because when you’re playing well and performing, you feel good about yourself.
“It kind of buries what is going on beneath the surface.”
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Walking away raised more questions
The decision to step away from cricket brought mixed emotions for the 30-year-old.
“It was a feeling of relief and a feeling of ‘why is something wrong with me?’,” she recalled.
The relief stemmed from finally understanding what she was dealing with, but it also brought with it a sense of frustration that she had not tried to deal with her depression earlier.
Bolton says she walked away from cricket feeling “defeated” and unsure if she would return. (ABC News: Hugh Sando)
The most difficult part of the decision for the opening batter was telling her family, who had gathered together for the Christmas period.
“My family are quite black and white, and to have the discussion around mental health and depression, and to get them to understand it, was quite difficult,” Bolton said.
It was the first step in her journey back to feeling like herself, and her family’s support was integral to her return to cricket — something that wasn’t guaranteed.
“I just felt defeated,” she said.
“I just felt like the point I was at, there might not be any coming back from it.
“I didn’t even know what I had to do to get myself back to a place where I felt happy.”
Going back out to the middle
Part of her program to return to elite cricket included making preparations for a life after professional sport.
“I had numerous discussions with my psychologist about am I going to be OK if [a return to cricket] doesn’t eventuate,” she said.
“We spoke about what does life away from cricket look like.”
After returning to cricket, Bolton will suit up for WA and has an eye on the T20 World Cup. (ABC News: Hugh Sando)
She took up yoga and completed a barista course during her six-month break, as she tried to define her identity away from her persona as a cricketer.
While she always wanted to return to cricket, it was not until she decided she would not be defined by her success as a player that she was comfortable returning to the sport.
“The thing is to not judge myself on the runs, enjoying it for what it is and not put too much pressure on myself,” she said.
Bolton eventually returned to the sport she loved, playing in the recent Ashes Tour of England, and is now preparing for another summer for Western Australia with the Women’s National Cricket League beginning this weekend.
She also has an eye on the T20 World Cup next year.
It has been a long journey, but Bolton is finally ready to walk out into the middle with the confidence and calmness she has craved for so long.