“I’d like people to know…”
Western Eagles footballer James Beasley said “nothing much has changed” when asked what had happened in the five years between winning his first and second Colac Herald MVP awards. It was an off-the-cuff response from someone who wasn’t ready for the question. But the following night, Beasley contacted the Herald and asked to tell the real story. The story of a lengthy, but private, battle with his mental health. A story that he now wants to share to help fight the stigma about talking about mental health.
James Beasley says there were times he considered running his car off the road.
He didn’t know it, but the Western Eagles footballer was in the early stages of a long battle with anxiety and depression.
After finishing school, all of a sudden he was finding it hard to leave the house, and things he once loved doing like playing football and cricket had become a chore.
He didn’t know what was wrong. And he was too afraid to speak to anyone about it.
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“I won’t go into details as to what had happened to cause my mental health issues, but to cut it short I’d been deeply hurt by a close couple of friends on top of some family/friend’s deaths and tragedies,” Beasley said.
“As a result, I found it challenging to make time with friends due to my anxiety,” he said.
“I assumed at the time this was normal, transitioning from school to the work force, resulting in less time to socialise and general fatigue after work.
“But then I got to the point where I’d be driving to work and I’d want to hit something to save me from having to work that day.
“Suicide was never an option for me as I knew the grief death causes family and friends, but obviously having thoughts of crashing cars was unideal.”
Beasley was one of the Colac district’s best young sporting talents growing up.
At 19 he won his first Colac Herald MVP as the Colac District Football Netball League’s top footballer as voted by opposition coaches.
He was also part of the Stoneyford Cricket Club’s dynasty, featuring in five of the club’s past seven premierships.
An unbeaten knock of 200 in 2017 stands as one of his career highlights.
But Beasley’s growing mental health battle was beginning to take its toll.
“This all started a downward spiral for me personally as I started to lose jobs,” he said.
“My hobbies were no longer an activity I wanted to participate in any more which affected my games profoundly.”
“I’M NOT OKAY”
Beasley was the first to admit he had never been good with speaking about his feelings, “I still have a hard time now”.
But his road to recovery began after finally admitting to himself that he was not okay.
He said he had a series of discussions with his mum Lois and partner Karlie Veale, which eventually convinced him to go to see a doctor for a second opinion.
He was then pointed in the direction of a psychologist, which kicked off 10 weeks of therapy.
“I was quite naive and stubborn in thinking I felt ‘normal’,” Beasley said.
“I’d think ‘I don’t need help’ and that ‘I’ll deal with it myself’, but these were lies I’d tell myself to avoid the hard conversations that needed to be had.
“The stigma and toxic masculinity of being weak and a sook also made it difficult and embarrassing at times to tell people.”
He was on the right track, but perhaps his biggest breakthrough came midway through the 2019 Colac district football season.
After a few therapy sessions and some tough conversations with his partner, Beasley decided to tell his football coaches Craig Hardingham and Grant Armistead how he had been feeling.
He also spoke to teammates he considered friends or leaders at the Eagles.
“I’ve never been good at speaking about my feelings and emotions, and I still have a hard time now,” Beasley said.
“But after doing so I found out how amazingly quick I felt a weight off my shoulders, I went on to play the rest of the season playing some of my best games I felt I had played in years.
“(Then I stood up) in front of the club and discussed my troubles, to which I was met with an amazing show of support.”
After treading water with the Eagles in years prior, Beasley was back playing the brand of football that won him the 2015 Colac Herald MVP award.
The release kicked off an incredible run of form; Beasley has ranked among the Eagles’ best players in 18 of his past 19 games since round 11, 2019.
There have been six best-on-ground performances in that time, and a second MVP this season.
THINGS LOOKING UP
These days Beasley feels like he is on top of his battle with his mental health.
He is still dominating with the Eagles, this season as an on-field leader in a side stacked full of young talent.
Beasley has also made the move to the Geelong Cricket Association where he has continued his winning ways, winning a premiership with North Shore last summer.
And in November, he and Karlie are expecting their first child. A little girl.
Beasley said he still had his ups and downs, but his quality of life had improved dramatically since speaking up.
“I’ve obviously had some days that have been hard to deal with but with the helpful advice from my therapist and the support of my family, close friends and my partner I’ve felt more sure and happier about myself than I have in years,” he said.
“I absolutely encourage anyone out there that may be dealing with similar issues to seek out the help they need.
“My quality of life has changed dramatically in the space of two years, and it all started with a good hard look in the mirror and admitting to myself that I was not okay.”
Beasley said he wanted to share his story to help others who might be going through their own battle.
“It was something I’ve thought about for a while and it’s nice to share with a platform that can reach a lot of people,” he said.
“I recently had a conversation with Hards (Eagles coach Craig Hardingham) and he confirmed to me how I’d been feeling.
“He was proud of my progress and I felt the need to share my story in the hopes that anyone out there having a hard time would share their feelings with the ones they trust.”
If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, 24-hour support is available through Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.