Bristol & England Rugby player and GiveBack athlete Sasha Acheson is no stranger to the limelight having played at both premiership club and country level. Sasha saw her dream of starring at 2014's Women's World Cup tragically dashed after suffering a serious injury. Known amongst the athlete community and her circle of friends as the life and soul of the party, Sasha lifts the lid on her untold experience of a mental health disorder following the life-changing incident.

First of all – I don’t like the phrase ‘illness’.Sasha Rugby

Having been asked to open up about this, I felt reserved, but if it encourages others to speak up, it’s worth it. I went through what I did as a direct result of a long-term injury. I am now out the other side and better in every respect for it.

I was 22 and playing rugby at the level I had always dreamed of: I had earned five caps and I was in contention for a World Cup selection – an absolute dream come true place to be. I was, at the time, the fittest I’d ever been and playing the best rugby I ever had. My final tournament to round off what, thus far, had been as close to a perfect season for club, country and university – I was sprinting towards the try line in a semi-final fixture, and I was tackled from behind, and my knee literally snapped horizontally.

Prior to this, I felt pretty - and probably arrogantly - indestructible. I wasn’t afraid of anything and was never one to cry. I knew what I wanted out of that season and I was trying to do everything I could to get there. I was addicted to rugby. My friends are mostly from rugby, my life choices based around it – rugby is my output and a huge part of my identity. It was my dream to play in the 2014 World Cup since I was 14 when selected into the Talent Development Group. I’d grown up playing, learning lessons and my best memories were rugby orientated.

Because of the amount of damage I had incurred, my surgeon originally said: “There is a real reality you won’t play rugby or run again. This will be a two year recovery post operation and we’re going to build you a knee for life, not for sport.”

I went white, couldn’t stop sweating, and absolutely bawled my eyes out. But I was in denial and I knew with my stubborn nature that I couldn’t let that be a possibility.

I used to be quite an impatient person – I didn’t understand the concept of being injured, I didn’t get it… and I didn’t want to get it. I wanted to play rugby, I wanted to be ‘normal’, and I wanted to be seen to be absolutely fine and able bodied.

I moved into my first flat on my own so I could live near to where my physiotherapy and surgeon was for pre-operation rehab. I had a close friend and some amazing people around me. I constantly wanted to affirm that I was absolutely fine, but I started to shut myself off.  Even though I became distant, I wanted to hold myself accountable, so as a visual person, I got myself a wall chart. I made my own ‘key’ so when I ate well, trained and rehabbed I could see the days build up and knew I was "controlling my controllables" and doing all I could.  All well and good in the daytime, but it didn’t help at night. For a year and a half, I was either woken up in my sleep because I was sleep talking about my knee, or I would wake up crying –  every single day for a year and a half.

The body is amazing, because given time, and doing exactly, word for word what I was told – it would heal, but the mental strain an injury puts on you is the hardest aspect of all. For someone who is an extrovert and wants to be seen as constantly strong, that was the hardest thing to get over: being patient and positive in the eight hours a day when you’re either on your own or sleeping. I had nightmares- that’s what wound me up the most, because remaining positive and upbeat consciously I found relatively doable, but the same nightmare over and over again became draining.

One day I just snapped. I was crying, again and called my England manager to say: “I think I need to see a sports psychologist”. She asked me what was wrong and I told her:  “I can’t do this any more, I just need some help”. That moment of utter relief- telling someone who could help me was my second major turning point.

Outwardly, I was managing my team and was training, but I felt myself change and, more than anything I did not want to be a burden, so I started shutting myself off.

(At this point, I still didn’t know that anything was actually going on with me, apart from my knee – I just wanted to not have nightmares any more.)

Read the rest of Sasha's story on her road to recovery here.