Jak Willcox lost his love of cricket. He lost his love of living and at his lowest considered taking his own life.
Until a text message from a Ginninderra Tigers teammate changed everything when he needed it most. He had taken himself to hospital and soon after his phone buzzed.
It was his Ginninderra skipper Rhys Healy. "I’ll love you no matter what," the message said. "You can get through this. We’ll get through it together if you need any help."
Those simple words gave Willcox hope. He'd hidden his mental demons for so long and didn't know how his teammates would react if they found out.
But Healy's message was just the start. The Tigers have embraced Willcox so much that he now wants to explore the possibility of having a cricket all stars game in Canberra to raise awareness for mental health.
Willcox has opened up for the first time about his personal struggles. He had been fighting in silence for a long time, and now he knows he needn't suffer alone.
Willcox wanted to go.
Something had been growing in the back of his mind since he was in year 12 and it wasn't going away. His drive was gone. He was asking himself 'What am I doing? Where am I going with my life?'
"It seemed to grow as this thing that just kept eating away at me as a person and sent me into a hole and I became a person I didn’t want to become," Willcox said.
Cricket lost its lustre. No longer the outlet it once was, every bad ball was another weight on the Ginninderra fast bowler's shoulders, nagging away. When 23-year-old Willcox lost cricket, he thought he had lost everything.
"I wanted to call it quits, I had nothing left in me to keep going," Willcox said.
"My competitive nature had folded. I lost the desire to just put in effort in every aspect of my life. Cricket was obviously tough at the time, I missed a few opportunities by trying to go down to Melbourne and take something on, and that was in the back of my mind.
"I felt like everything was against me. I’d been thinking ‘what am I doing and where am I going with my life?’
"Cricket had always been this one big thing for me to try and make it as far as I can, and I had lost that. Mental health had taken cricket out of my life, the way it was taking a toll on me.
"That affected the way I was becoming outside cricket as well. It affected my relationships, work and everything like that.
"I had that lightbulb moment and did want to go."
He couldn't handle it anymore. But instead of giving in, something from within told Willcox to take himself to hospital.
It was a simple text message, but one Willcox might not have made it through without.
Healy knew something was off when he tried to track down Willcox and couldn't. He was quickly filled in by the family and knew he had to do something - and so came the message.
"He’s a guy I’ve known since the early days in primary school, I’m obviously pretty close with him and share a lot of memories with him. It probably wasn’t the greatest time for either for us," Healy said.
"It was like he didn’t want to let me and his other close friends down by opening up. I told him he’s letting us down is he is not chatting to us. I’d rather know if he is going through something bad than him sheltering it."
That message showed Willcox he could still turn himself into the man he wanted to be, and that meant turning his back on cricket. The performances by which Willcox once defined himself no longer mattered.
Stepping away from the game was incredibly difficult. Having to tell Healy and Tigers coach Mick Delaney that his one-day uniform was staying in the wardrobe while his teammates took to the field was "heartbreaking".
Willcox feared how Healy would take the news given he had just taken on the club captaincy. His response summed up the man the Ginninderra club has quickly come to love.
"Listen, you’re getting back on the path and I will do anything I can to make sure you are personally okay before you get your sport back on track," Healy said.
Willcox woke up on Saturday mornings and seemed lost. Cricket was all he had known, but he knew stepping away from the game would help to relieve the burden which had weighed him down for five years.
Telling his father was always going to be difficult.
Willcox still remembers spending countless Saturdays as a kid cheering on his dad Dave and uncle Andy - two of the club's all-time leading wicket takers. He was down there sitting on a blanket before he could even walk.
Of course, Willcox needn't have worried - his father was always going to support him. The Saturdays they spent together on the golf course are now some of his most prized memories.
After spending countless hours with his old man and former teammate Brendan Roweth, Willcox "got back to realising what life is all about, just to keep pushing through with the people around you".
Sitting in the rooms at Kippax Oval like he had done countless times before, the butterflies just wouldn't go away.
Today was the day Willcox would return to cricket. Hours later he retreated to the same spot in the dressing room with figures of 0-48 on day one of Ginninderra's Douglas Cup clash with Cricket ACT powerhouse Tuggeranong.
Willcox's own high standards in the past would have meant those figures were almost unacceptable - but this time it was different.
"Walking out last week on the field, it wasn’t about wickets, it wasn’t about how well the day had gone, it was just about being out with the boys, especially Mick and Rhys, after the way they have supported me through the last three years," Willcox said.
Fixed? Not quite. Willcox believes he will face more dark times in the future.
The hardest thing for Willcox was to accept he had depression and tell his mum and dad about it. Fearful of shifting the burden onto their shoulders, he was afraid people would look at him differently.
The same family and friends he was once scared to speak to are the ones Willcox is now forever thankful for.
"It made me realise that it doesn’t matter how tough you’re going through, if you do speak up it shows how much close family and close friends do care about you," Willcox said.
"I was wondering myself where I was to go, l but when I did realise there was resources out there to help, I did make some very big steps. I have a very close relationship with my psychologist, who has been fantastic for me.
"If anything out of this, I would really love to get out there and help as many people as possible. That is my plan in the future, to get out there and speak to kids that are going through it, to say that speaking up is definitely the hardest thing, but it’s the best thing you can ever do.
"Until you have spoken up you don’t realise how supportive your mates and family really are."
Willcox has already set his sights on launching an 'North versus South All-Stars' charity match between Cricket ACT's cream of the crop to raise awareness for mental health.
He knows this isn't just a game. There are deeper issues at play, and one should not go it alone.
Lifeline 13 11 14; Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636
CRICKET ACT ROUND NINE
Saturday: Douglas Cup - Ginninderra v Tuggeranong Valley at Kippax Oval, Weston Creek Molonglo v ANU at Stirling Oval, Eastlake v North Canberra-Gungahlin at Kingston Oval, Western District-UC v Queanbeyan at Jamison Oval. All games start at 11am.