Dame Kelly Holmes discusses depression and self-harm
Driving Force, which is available On Demand via Sky and NOW TV, explores the making of athletes and the driving forces behind their success; this latest episode focuses on Dame Kelly Holmes and her battle against depression, self-harm and hormonal problems
By Raz Mirza
Last Updated: 10/02/21 8:31am
"On one side of me I was dying, and on the other side, I was living for my dream to be Olympic champion" - Dame Kelly Holmes speaks to Judy Murray about depression, self-harm and major gynaecological issues in the latest episode of Sky Sports' Driving Force.
The year was 2003 and iliotibial band friction syndrome (ITBS) had just been diagnosed in her knee. Another calf tear the season before the Athens Olympics left Holmes completely deflated.
She was preparing for the World Championships, which were being held in Paris that August, but Holmes had hit rock bottom.
"I went into the toilets and just broke down," recalled Holmes. "I literally hated everything about myself because my body was always letting me down. I just tried so hard to keep it going.
"I saw a pair of scissors on the side. I picked them up ended up cutting myself for every day I'd been injured and that had been quite a few days."
- Kelly Holmes: I felt like I was floating, people were silhouettes
- Storey: I was painfully thin and it wasn't a great situation
- Judy Murray leads Sky Sports docuseries Driving Force
"I didn't know about a breakdown, becoming a self-harmer to being depressed. I had no idea what that meant."
Dame Kelly Holmes
Holmes ended the race finishing second behind her training partner, the great Mozambican Olympic and double world champion 800m runner Maria Mutola.
"As a female, you're wearing a crop top and shorts so you end up thinking amongst the black cloud and midst you want to jump into a hole and not see tomorrow, which is exactly what I felt. I'm still getting ready for a world champs and I've got to go out in public so I was putting make-up over scars," she said.
"Mental health is a thing that you don't think about. It just impacts your life like nothing. I was at the depths of despair but I didn't know who to talk to. On one side of me, I was dying and on the other side, I was living for my dream to be Olympic champion.
"I went to those world championships and I got a silver medal but no one knew what was happening."
Her extreme frustration was linked to her physical state.
"You take that personally to yourself and I think it was just a massive outlet of crying without being able to cry to someone," said Holmes.
"I didn't want anyone to know. I didn't want my opposition to know I was weak and back then in 2003 you didn't talk about mental health. I didn't know about a breakdown, becoming a self-harmer to being depressed. I had no idea what that meant."
Driving Force - Featured Athlete Episodes
|Judy Murray OBE||Steph Houghton MBE|
|Victoria Pendleton CBE||Dina Asher-Smith|
|Natasha Jonas||Charlotte Dujardin CBE|
|Rebecca Adlington CBE||Dame Sarah Storey DBE|
|Dame Kelly Holmes DBE||Christine Ohuruogu MBE|
From a stress fracture of the shin in 1996 to rupturing her calf and tearing an Achilles tendon a year later to damaging the femoral nerve in her right leg and then glandular fever in 1999. Two more calf tears followed, which left her at her lowest point.
As well as her catalogue of injury woes, she also suffered gynaecological issues which required five operations between 1993-1998. Holmes had nobody to turn to while her coach Dave Arnold felt helpless.
"I was getting these really bad cramps, it was almost like tearing inside my stomach so I'd have to take muscle relaxants," she explained.
"When you had a male coach as I did, that was the only thing Dave felt helpless with. He didn't know how to deal with it because we never really talked about the hormonal part of being a girl and a female. That's the only thing I think coaches need to understand more about females in sport because we go through so much more.
"I didn't want to tell people all of this because it would look like I was weak and I didn't want my opposition to know. I just dealt with it."
Holmes had won a silver medal in Paris, but she was suffering and ended up being diagnosed with depression. She turned to physiotherapist Alison Rose in order to help keep her injury-free ahead of the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
"What I realised was that if I can get through this journey, all of the injuries, all of the health problems, all of this, I knew I could do what I wanted to do," she said. "It's almost like an empowering thing to me as well as a really bad time of my life.
"I ended up speaking to Alison Rose my physio and I just said 'I need your help, but not psychologically. I need you to keep me injury free'. That's when I went into that year 2004 thinking I can't ever be worse than I am now, I can only get better by showing that I can do it."
And she did. Holmes became a double Olympic gold medallist in the 800m and 1500m.
The full episode of Driving Force with Dame Kelly Holmes is available On Demand via Sky and NOW TV.