Williams: I struggled with my mental health

16 Aug 2021
  • England’s most-capped player retired after developing a kidney condition

  • The treatment for nephrotic syndrome affected her mental and physical health

  • "I needed to talk, I wanted to talk, but I needed somebody to initiate that for me.”

With 172 appearances, Fara Williams is England’s most-capped international of all time and, until recently, still had big hopes and objectives for her future. The hugely talented Reading midfielder had long established herself as one of the leading players in the women’s game – and felt as if she had much more to give.

Following surgery to repair a thigh problem in March last year, however, the 37-year-old was diagnosed with a kidney condition - nephrotic syndrome - after noticing swelling in her hands, legs and face during the final stages of her rehabilitation. The treatment’s effects upon her physical – and mental – health sadly forced her decision to retire.

“Physically I was leaking protein from the kidney into my body and it certainly played a massive part in my decision to retire,” Williams told FIFA.com. “I was put on a very high dosage of steroids and I must have put on eight or nine kilos in weight. I found training very difficult because of how I looked, and playing games was ten times [worse].

“It got to a point where I nearly broke just before Christmas, six months into the illness, I accepted that I was ill and mentally really struggling. It took me a while, and on reflection I wish I had accepted it earlier.”

Williams is no stranger to adversity – she overcame the struggles of finding herself homeless for more than six years, estranged from her family in Battersea at the age of 17, crediting football as her way out.

The dynamic goal-scorer who was clinical from set-play evolved. She was England’s top scorer in the FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011™, and then scoring in England’s historic victory over Germany at the competition in 2015 – lifting the Lionesses to third place, their best-ever finish at a Women’s World Cup.

Now, as she reflects on a career glittering with achievements, she considers the sacrifices she made. "I spoke about [how] showing resilience and mental toughness was what I felt, in the early stage, really helped me to progress and develop,” Williams explains, “and it was the same in the early stages of the illness, where I couldn’t accept it and I needed in those moments to show vulnerability.

“Talking with people and being open about things, rather than keeping everything closed, helped me to be more in touch with it.

“The acceptance of needing to talk to someone is difficult. I guess I was crying out, through my actions, when I was ill that I needed to talk, I wanted to talk, but I needed somebody to initiate that for me.”

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