My Struggles With Mental Health

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I was planing to pen something all last year, away from my usual Liverpool and Premier League words. It was something I had mentioned to my kickboxing instructor & the gents at Anfield Index. With pre-season only just afoot, I hope this moment can offer something away from the norm, and be accepted (by the readers) for its merits.

In a nutshell, my own past struggles with mental health is something I feel can offer assistance to others. We live in a time where challenges are forever present, and no one can ever be certain when those around us are struggling. Each person can succumb to the pressures of life, and I’ve found the hardest point was most certainly the initial fall, and how best to make others aware.

I’ve found key choices in my life have helped me overcome very low moments, and I know how best to navigate myself away from them. With age comes experience, and wisdom can only ever grow from that experience. Not everyone can or will give themselves the possibility to overcome, and I hope the next few paragraphs can help someone in need.

I’ve been reluctant to start this piece (for months now), and that’s purely down to its very personal nature. For the last two years, I’ve chosen to become a regular provider of articles for the Anfield Index group (the allegiance really is of consequence), and it allowed me to fill a void created by the pandemic. It is from my lowest point some 4 years ago, did I know this work would become a necessity in my life.

It is currently the very start of pre season, and therefore the moment to write something outside the box, and hopefully something the Anfield Index will willingly publish. It is what it is, and despite my reluctance to actually write this piece, it’s something I will try to complete in a respectful manner.

About 4 years ago, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. Many things coincided within a short period, and the stresses of work and the changing dynamic at home nearly consumed me. My profession saw me overseeing a very tense project (Royal Papworth Hospital), and this alone was a daily challenge to overcome. The hours were long, and the confrontational aspects of the role on-going. This also coincided with the birth of our youngest daughter, Alicia, and my decision to step away from grass roots football. The previous 6 years had seen me running a couple of football teams locally, and it wasn’t until I stepped away, did I realise how much I needed that release from the pressures of life. I thought my choice was the adult and responsible one, but little did I know the impact it would contribute to my own mental health.

It’s often easier to ignore the obvious, and remain internally conflicted. I knew something was wrong, but I also knew I needed to be relied upon by various people at both home & work. I’m perhaps from a generation where talking about one’s emotions was still taboo, and stupidity often stems from pride. This moment relates to a specific time when I was instructed by our client to attend a mental health awareness meeting. This was done alongside all other managers of the project. It was the immediate aftermath of this moment that saw me pretty much break down, and the next few hours (though a partial blur), became paramount. I was consumed by the thoughts best not repeated, and the decision to talk to someone directly, is potentially the most crucial moment of my life.

I contacted my sister (who works for the NHS and who I felt could help straight away), and I was given a number and details by which to contact an organisation. This after after saying god knows what. It was this moment that changed everything, and was probably the hardest & lowest moment in my life by which to do it. In the next 24hrs I spoke to my wife, my family, and found the help I needed to deal with what was happening. The fact I couldn’t cope was an embarrassment to me, but luckily I now see that I was nothing more than naive in not seeking help sooner.

Without delving too much into particulars, I needed a continuing release and I simply couldn’t cope with all the things going on in my life. Various conversations with a therapist (and a visit to my GP) resulted in being prescribed anti depressants. I never actually took the medication, choosing the advice (from the therapist) to busy myself away from the stresses of work and home. Stepping away from football had closed the door on a release that was needed, as it was the physical & mental activity that had allowed me to remain level. I did so with best intentions, but soon learned that I needed that release more than ever.

In those few weeks and months that followed, I was able to reset and understand what I needed to function better. I was the sole provider for my family at the time, and I needed to remain intact, and indeed present. To seek help is a sign of courage, and to identity what is needed (and follow through), an absolute must. I shouldn’t have hesitated for so long, and I regret allowing myself to drop so far. Nobody should allow themselves to become so low, and it was at the outset of the pandemic, that I saw the potential pitfalls that could arise.

Once everything shut down (and many of us were confined to our homes), it was a daunting reality that faced us all. I can only imagine the issues that arose countrywide, as the infection rate grew across the world. For me, I knew activity was key, and so a started walking into the countryside on a daily basis. I understood the restrictions, so basically made sure I wandered into the most deserted areas of countryside I could find. I would trek through deserted field after deserted field, with a toddler strapped to my chest, knowing how long the days could become. It got to a point where I would trek 15 miles a day, in order to exhaust my body and occupy my mind. Despite the continual exercise, it was still a trying time for us, and in this I remembered the advice I was once given.

When I suffered my initial problems, I became aware that I had to busy my mind, as much as humanly possible. This busying of the mind could not be work related of course, and had to be a post work process that would take me away from what had caused the first stumble. The pandemic presented new challenges, and one day I simply contacted Anfield Index, and asked if they would like me to write some bits and pieces. I had spent so much time listening to their content and reading their articles (on my treks), that I wondered if sports writing could be something I could excel in. My walks would often see me irritate a certain group chat, with long worded views on football, so it seemed a reasonable area to explore.

I have always had a desire to write, and though a few of my friends may choose to mock this much needed pastime, it’s importance far outweigh the views of narrow minded people. This venture (alongside the trekking), allowed me to stay level, and very positive. So for that, I can never hold a regret or worry about the misguided thoughts of others. I shut down any issues before they could arise, and despite the odd moment, I was able to keep any mental health issues fully at bay.

Towards the end of my furlough period (and thus my daily treks), I knew I needed something else. I had once again stepped away from football (the veterans league this time), and I had to ensure I was proactive in remaining focused. I don’t like to sit, and I like to keep multiple things present in my mind at all times. People sometimes question why I’m quiet, when in-fact I’m probably just thinking about any number of topics. I work better when I’m busy, and sitting idle thinking about the pressures of work and life, is something I knew could consume me once more if I didn’t act.

This last section is about how I moved onto a completely foreign environment, something not at all football related. I spoke with my best friend (on the phone) about various things during the lock down, and we both agreed we should challenge ourselves to try something new. This present day marks about 18 months since I started martial arts training, and is something that has reinvigorated a 40 year old man to reach new goals. Its always seemed something I had hoped I  could do, but assumed I never would. Now it is something that I look forward to, and the balance is pretty relaxed when considering my home life. I’m very happy to say that my best pal undertook a very similar path, and hopefully we can both continue on our respective paths.

Where I train offers more than I thought it ever could, and I often find it hard to fully explain the benefits to other. What I can say, is that I wish it was something I had chosen to do decades ago, and would encourage anyone to explore such an opportunity. I can walk into the dojo pretty stressed some days, and walk out both exhausted and realigned. The mental health benefits are now a requirement to keep me ticking along, and is something I could never see me stepping away from. I’ve just attained my 5th belt (orange), and look forward to my next grading.

4 years ago was the absolute low point of my life, yet today I wake with purpose and intent each morning. Almost everyday, anyway. The writing (I’m sure) may irritate some, but my mental health only benefits from these scribblings, so that will always outweigh the ignorant thoughts of others. This group of brilliant and dedicated people (at Anfield Index) helped me when I knew I needed something, and for that I will forever be grateful. They allowed me an avenue when I needed it, and I write to repay that each and every week. I have an absolute want to produce written work, and one day I hope I can produce the book I know I can write. My struggles led me to that point (at least in part), and I’m no longer embarrassed to talk of my struggles. The fact my experiences can aid others is more important than manufactured pride, and the needs of those in need is of greater importance.

Ignoring one’s mental health helps no one. Each persons mental health needs can be bespoke, and help is always closer than you think. I walked into a martial arts academy, as the challenge was too great to ignore. I’ve had a few injuries, I’ve had a few moments of frustration, but the pathway has realigned my mind far away from the depths that once were present. That journey for me has only just a begun, and the anticipation of each session keeps me young. I would encourage anyone to undertake this journey, as the mind will only benefit from the challenge and instruction. I want to write more on the journey, but for now, I am just thankful for the experience. I’ve since become a school governor, and that experience has equally begun to show its rewards, in both directions. The writing is something I also couldn’t see myself stepping away from, especially as I scribble these words.

We can all offer assistance beyond that which is easy, even if it is just to one person. I started a group chat recently, of gentlemen I once played football with. I said some words, expressed some home truths, and encouraged a community of aging men to seek help whenever it was needed. Those that suffer in silence simply do not need to, and to be on hand to listen is sometimes all a person will ever need. If I hadn’t of spoken up a few years ago (and found the help I needed), I may not have been here for my family today. That is the biggest and most important thing to take from these words, which will probably be read sparingly. Mental health awareness is nothing to be ashamed of, and steps to improve that key component of life must be seen as vital by all.

Never suffer in silence, as those around you need you more than you’ll ever know.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Great article Ste, especially in the times that we have gone through over the past two years. Depression and anxiety affect most people – a number do not even realise what they are suffering from something can be assisted.

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