Triple Olympic gold medallist Adam Peaty said he has been in a "self-destructive spiral" due to mental health issues that saw him not selected for the World Aquatics Championships later this year.
The 28-year-old has been in a class of his own in sprint breaststroke events for nearly a decade, winning gold at the Rio and Tokyo Olympics in the 100m as well as the 4x100m mixed medley relay in Tokyo.
But Peaty has spoken previously about periods of depression and problems with alcohol, which he admits worsened last year as he struggled with injury, motivation and the breakdown of his relationship with the mother of his young son.
"It's been an incredibly lonely journey. The devil on my shoulder (says), 'You're missing out on life, you're not good enough, you need a drink, you can't have what you want, you can't be happy'", Peaty told The Times.
"I've been on a self-destructive spiral, which I don't mind saying because I'm human. By saying it, I can start to find the answers.
"I got to a point in my career where I didn't feel like myself – I didn't feel happy swimming, I didn't feel happy racing, my biggest love in the sport.
"I've had my hand hovering over a self-destruct button because if I don't get the result that I want, I self-destruct."
Peaty's world record time in the 100 metres breaststroke is nearly a full second quicker than anyone else has swum and at one point he held the fastest 20 times in history over the distance.
His shock defeat at the Commonwealth Games last year, where he finished fourth after returning from a foot injury, was his first since 2014.
The relentless pursuit of perfection has taken its toll but Peaty insists he does want to chase a third straight 100m Olympic title in Paris in 2024.
"Any sane person knows that 18 years doing the same thing is pretty much crazy," he added. "Trying to find tiny margins year after year, trying to find 0.1 per cent.
"The dedication and sacrifice – weekends and all your time are spent chasing that goal for this one opportunity of Olympic glory. Once made sense, twice was a big ask, and was bigger last time round because that extra Covid year was really hard on all of us.
"A third one? It's very bizarre that we do it, but I'm still here. The only reason that I took a step away from it for now, competitively, is because I don't know why I'm still doing it, to be honest.
"I don't know why I'm still fighting. The positive thing is that I noticed a 'why' there. I'm looking for the answer."