Rob Walker had a successful career, a marriage and a home. However, the pace he had set himself was not good for him – by his own admission. “I was all work and no play and it was I believe making me a dull boy; it just wasn't sustainable but I realised too late, mental health first aid wasn't available back in 1988.” The crash came as Rob was diagnosed with anxiety & depression. He lost his career and status in society, his marriage broke down. He had gone from an award winning salesman described as a “High flyer” to, as he puts it, “becoming unstuck, rock bottom.”
It was 2009, at the peak of his issues, when one of his friends persuaded Rob to join him for a casual game of badminton at a local leisure centre. Given what he was going through, he was reluctant to attend. “I had become socially isolated and was displaying avoidant behaviour and post traumatic stress, but it was nice to go somewhere to take my mind off things, so I carried on going.” Having played racquet sports previously, including squash, Rob picked up the game quickly.
The informal meeting on the court morphed into the Sandbach Badders Boys Badminton Club. The positive impacts on Rob’s life were immense. “I have built up friendships and it is now my main friendship group. They know when I am not doing great and support me, and vice versa.” The team enjoys each other’s company away from badminton too, enjoying regular trips to the pub for a chat. For someone suffering from Rob’s problems, it was invaluable. He enjoys organising social trips, organising team trips to classic car shows, as well as pub quizzes for local Cheshire charities. He encourages people to join the club – regardless of their technical ability. “There was someone I know from the local community that was caring for his wife and was struggling, so I encouraged him to come to down and join us for a drink after we had played badminton. He probably isn’t ever going to play, but he is still part of the group”.
That support element is one of the major benefits of joining a club. Rob went through cancer treatment in 2014, coming out of hospital just before Christmas. Poignantly, his club mates came over on Christmas Day itself to see him. “I will never forget that. That just shows how important badminton and that club is to all of us.”
The club is casual, but who doesn’t love to enjoy success too? Rob and his playing partner began to enjoy notable victories. “We do have a competitive edge, myself and my playing partner Andy won the South Cheshire men’s doubles in 2011 and that was brilliant and such a good confidence boost for myself”.
Of course, the physical benefits on mental health should not be overlooked. As Rob himself says, the thought processes and concentration required for badminton take his mind away from external problems. “For me, badminton is better than any pills or potions, which can really impact on other areas of your life and not make you feel yourself. Playing badminton is my medication.” Badminton has been the vehicle that has enabled Rob to self-manage his complex mental health issues and in his own words get his life ‘back on track’.
Now 64 and still based in Cheshire, Rob’s new confidence and support network encouraged him to launch his own business. Changes Plus (www.changesplus.co.uk ) brings together expertise from various areas of healthcare to enhance the learning of university students.
Rob explains his change of attitude quite simply. “I now always look at the positive side of things and, whilst my friends have helped get me here, the most important ingredient that has changed my life for the better is badminton”.