Landon Donovan was, in his words, so “burned out” after three years of nearly nonstop action that when last season ended, with another MLS Cup triumph for his LA Galaxy, he wasn't sure if he'd play again.
Four months later, Donovan has returned, “excited and committed” to help the Galaxy in their bid for another title and the US national team on its path to Brazil 2014. And he comes armed with strategies to ensure he's never again at the depths he found himself last fall.
“When you're away that long and you have time to reflect, you figure out those kind of answers [on how to avoid burnout],” Donovan said on Thursday in a conference call with reporters. “I'm much better equipped after the last few years and then having this time off to handle and deal with almost anything. And so if those feelings come, I know how to handle it now.
“I was pretty burned out and, in retrospect, there were certainly some situations along the way that I wish I would have handled better," he added. "Should those feelings come again, I think I've learned from it, I've learned from the whole process, and I will deal with it a better way. I certainly feel [energized] now. The hope is I will feel this way for as long as I keep playing. And I think that's a much more likely scenario now that I've had a break.”
There were physical dimensions to his fatigue, of course, but it was primarily mental exhaustion that forced Donovan away from the game, and he argued that society needs to put greater emphasis on the importance of mental health.
“We have a sort of stigma that being in a difficult mental place is not acceptable,” he said. “We should 'pull ourselves up by the bootstraps' and 'fight through it,' and all this, and it's a little peculiar to me, that whole idea, that if someone's physically hurt, we're OK with letting them take the time they need to come back, but if someone's in a difficult time mentally, we're not OK with letting them take the time they need to come back. Hopefully, there's at least a few people out in the world that can relate to this and can somewhat be inspired.
“That doesn't mean that everybody should just be lazy and go take as much time as they need and go do whatever they want in life. Obviously, there's points in your life that's difficult. But if you're really at a place where you're struggling mentally, we need to be more compassionate and understanding of people in all walks of life and understand that they might need time away, too.
“That was certainly the case with me," he said. "I had the added physical element, in that my body was exhausted, but if I didn't take this time off, I would have been useless to everybody this year in a professional setting, and probably a personal setting. I absolutely needed [the break] and am very glad that I did it.”