Former Wallaby Drew Mitchell managed to live his childhood dream by playing the sport he loved, but the day his career ended he faced a new challenge: anxiety.
Mitchell earned 71 caps for Australia, played 112 Super Rugby matches across three clubs and starred in a further 82 matches for Toulon in France.
Now he has opened up to Daily Mail Australia about the extreme lows that followed his retirement and how medicinal cannabis has helped him get his life back.
It began in 2017 when Mitchell hung up his boots for the last time and began to feel anxiety symptoms manifesting in simple moments like meeting friends for dinner.
“Anxiety began to occur in social settings, I would get very anxious when arriving at a restaurant, if my friends were not there I no longer wanted to enter a restaurant first in case there was no table for me.” go to,” she said.
‘Little things that normally wouldn’t have worried me started to become problems for me.
“That started to show up in the form of anxiety and then from there it started to show up in other parts of my life as well.
“So it wasn’t just the social environments, but it started to affect my everyday life.”
Mitchell lived his childhood dream, playing Super Rugby, a club rugby in France, and representing his country with the Wallabies.
The football star enjoyed a long and distinguished career in the sport before hanging up his boots in 2017 to take on new challenges.
Mitchell has enjoyed his time as a media personality on television, podcasts and more during his retirement and has always presented himself as engaging and funny.
Anxiety began to invade every corner of Mitchell’s life, including sleep, as she felt a debilitating sensation in her legs.
Known as restless legs syndrome, this incurable disease causes sufferers to experience a strong urge to move their legs when they would prefer to be still.
‘Is that gelatinous leg feeling? “People talk about doing kung fu in the sheets… there’s no peace in it,” she said.
‘I also think too much, so sometimes my mind races, which affects my sleep when I go to bed at night.
‘Even though I’m exhausted, I can’t seem to turn my mind off.
“Other times I would get physically sick if I go somewhere and the anxiety is too much, I’ll have to excuse myself to go to the bathroom to be sick,” he said.
One time in particular I had to stop the car and I was crying a lot. “I just felt overwhelmed by everything.”
‘On the severe end, there have been a couple of occasions where one time in particular I had to stop the car and I was crying a lot.
“I just felt overwhelmed by everything.”
Mitchell knew he needed a change and has worked in a variety of corporate and media roles since his retirement, while also enjoying talking about sports on podcasts.
However, he admitted he lacked the direction, focus and discipline that comes with professional rugby, which did nothing to ease his growing anxiety.
“When the anxiety set in, I think it was no coincidence that it was when I retired from football,” he said.
‘For a long time I had a purpose, I felt comfortable in my own environment, I had goals to go out and pursue.
‘I knew what my next year would be like, five years, 10 years or whatever it was until I retired.
‘I’m in this new space now where I had to find a new career, a new passion.
‘Finding a new passion when you’ve literally been able to live your dream for the last 15 years is pretty difficult.
“So anything you get involved in always seems to pale in comparison to how much you care about it and how much it means to you.
‘That then gives me a bit of doubt: am I going to find something that excites me so much? How challenged with? All that kind of stuff I was with my rugby.
Behind the smile, Mitchell was struggling with anxiety behind the scenes and sought medical intervention to help.
Because Mitchell had been in a professional environment since he was very young, he found it difficult to adjust to life after football.
So Mitchell sought conventional medical intervention, which worked for a while.
He overcame the stigma that comes with seeking help from a therapist and found a guiding light in someone he considers his personal life coach.
“I always thought that in life you have a teacher and a coach in everything, crawling, walking, alphabet, 123, for me passing a soccer ball when I was a junior, or whatever.
‘But I never really had a lifelong teacher or coach who wasn’t my nearest and dearest person.
“But often the feedback I received from my nearest and dearest was always biased, wasn’t as brutal as I needed it to be, or maybe they weren’t equipped with the tools I needed to overcome whatever situation I found myself in.
‘To overcome that, I initially thought of my therapist as a kind of life coach, which helped me overcome the stigma associated with sitting on the couch and opening up.
“That certainly helped to some extent, but of course, life is hard sometimes. Sometimes it surpasses you.
Mitchell discovered that pharmaceuticals like antidepressants were not the solution for him because they dulled his feelings of joy and anxiety.
The former Wallabies star decided to seek alternative treatment and partnered with Medibis to undergo a clinical trial of medicinal cannabis to treat his anxiety.
The next step was medication, but pharmaceuticals did not sit well with the former Wallaby, who found that the pills dulled his anxiety but also dulled the moments that filled him with joy.
That’s when he explored the option of medicinal cannabis, which is widely used to help treat a number of conditions such as inflammation, insomnia, eating disorders and anxiety.
That’s why it partnered with leading Australian medical cannabis innovator, Medibis, to participate in a groundbreaking clinical trial using a cannabis formulation as an effective treatment for anxiety.
“I kept seeing medical cannabis come up, whether it was in the news, newspapers or social media, whatever it was,” Mitchell said.
‘So I started looking into it a bit more and ended up meeting the Medibis team.
‘That’s when I thought, you know what? Let’s try the doctor’s consultation.
‘So I did my query, I talked in a little more depth about a lot of the things we’ve talked about now.
‘From there I was prescribed some CBD (cannabidiol) oils. I’ve tried CBD before, but at this doctor’s appointment I was able to write a script for a mixture of CBD and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana).’
It was a big step for Mitchell, who came from a life as a professional athlete and had never tried recreational marijuana before.
Since taking on the treatment plan, Mitchell has regained her life, is able to sleep better, and is enjoying a variety of positive impacts.
What he found surprised him. The products did not produce a high like recreational cannabis, but rather gave him a natural sense of calm that allowed him to get his life back.
“At first I had some reservations on my part because marijuana also carries a stigma,” he said.
‘I had never participated in it before. I just wanted to learn a little more about it and then once it was prescribed, understand the correct dosage.
‘I only take it in oil form or CBD gummies.
“I just felt like I had a bit more of an immediate impact, it was kind of a much more calming influence on me.”
“I could still feel those emotions and those joys, but sometimes I felt like I wasn’t as out of control as before.”
“I’ve had some really positive effects and I’m enjoying what’s helping me right now.”