Football has always served as a means of escape. So it's been a struggle for many of us, not to be able to detach ourselves momentarily and exercise that ability to 'let off some steam'
It’s been a difficult year. 2020 will live on in memory for a long time but its consequences will continue to influence us in the present day, in terms of how we live our lives. It will also continue to have a disparaging impact, especially with regards to work and our well being.
Football has always served as a means of escape. So it’s been a struggle for many of us, not to be able to detach ourselves momentarily and exercise that ability to ‘let off some steam’ in amongst friends in one of the most vibrant social gatherings a person can enjoy. We all need that release. The pandemic and lockdown has left us sat indoors for the most part and football – a sport for spectators – has also isolated itself from its main functioning element: the fans.
It’s a positive sign of the times though that I can speak about mental health and depression and tie it into football. We are now thankfully far more open and receptive to discussions and awareness. The digital age is often maligned for the way information is misused, but it has amplified the stigma that ‘men don’t talk’ and has opened it up to the public domain. To the point where men do talk and do inspire others to do the same.
But still, many don’t. And suicide remains the biggest killer of men aged under 45 in the UK.
In the five or so years leading up to 2006 I was fighting something I didn’t understand or wish to ask others for help on. That was the first problem. I wasn’t a naturally not an open person. I didn’t tend to make very good first impressions and it took me a while to find that comfort zone to be relaxed and myself. But even then, I probably wouldn’t have shared anything with you that sat outside socialising, music, football etc.
I didn’t open up to family and friends – even best friends – so if there was something wrong, nobody would know. So in those five years I continued this pretence that my head was screwed on when it wasn’t. When surrounded by people I knew I could act it out, when alone I had to find things to do to keep me occupied.
Travelling with the Spurs away support and going to the football was a crutch but ultimately it prolonged and distracted me from dealing head on with the issues at hand. But in a paradoxical way, it also reminded me that I was surrounded by friends and that for all I knew, they might also be going through similar problems. That we are all caught up in a pretence and social expectation to behave a certain way and not talk about certain things.
The essence of being part of a tribe (in football) was the epiphany I needed.
I asked myself, what are the signs of depression in men? I knew that I would know this because I was going through it and being around people meant I could see it in others too. I realised that talking about it to others, friends and family, would not just help me but it would help others too. It will allow that stigma to breakdown and disappear.
Depression never just goes away, you learn to live with it, manage it. Box it away in a corner of your mind, knowing you have conquered it. But it’s there and you’ve survived. I spent too long doing that cliched thing, not opening up and talking about it. Cliched and yet the universal default for so many people, especially men.
We don’t talk about our problems. I would not want anyone to experience the depths I found myself in. Reaching out saved me. It also educated those that had believed that men should ‘man up’ and that depression wasn’t something anyone would dare admit to.
All sounds dramatic, right? It was and I could have made it easier if I attempted to fight back sooner. Easy to say that now. As difficult as it was, opening up was an incredible release. Maybe I was very lucky that I fell on my feet (had a few more bumps along the way) but I’m grateful for those that supported me to take back control.
One or two reading this might cringe, might think it’s a bit awkward. That’s the problem. Depression is a disease, admitting you have it is deemed by many as a weakness. Some dismiss it because they feel strong enough they won’t ever suffer it. Talking about it is still taboo for many. So please talk about it. It’s something that impacts so many lives, especially in these unprecedented times.