It’s funny looking back now, the last thing you’d likely recommend someone suffering from a mental-health illness do is watch 4 hours of Tottenham each week, but there I was.
This article is predominantly about mental illness and has some mentions of suicide. If you are struggling with persistent low mood, depression, or thoughts of suicide, please consider contacting someone. The CALM helpline is: 0800 58 58 58 and is open from 5pm – midnight, seven days a week. Their website address is: CALM – Campaign Against Living Miserably
I was diagnosed with depression late in the summer of 2015, having recently moved back in with my parents after graduating from university. Back then, I had no real idea of what I wanted to do next, let alone any conviction to fulfil those non-ideas. In truth, over the course of the previous year I had been having feelings of intense doubt and worry about what my future would look like after university. During that time, I distinctly remember describing it to my parents as though there was a black hole waiting to swallow me at the end of my final term.
When my third year rolled around it felt like I didn’t really have time to worry about what the future held for me after university. I was just about managing to keep my head above water, whilst becoming ever more stressed about my dissertation and other final modules.
I don’t think there was a root cause of my depression, but over the course of that year my daily routine fell apart; eating healthily, doing any sort of exercise, or even just getting out of the house in general. This all got pushed aside as I got bogged down in course work. Even getting outside for 10 minutes a day would have helped me keep a structure, but anything I deemed non-essential to finishing my degree, at the detriment to my own health, fell by the wayside.
My behaviour started to change; I didn’t want to meet up with friends or family. I became increasingly irritable or tearful to inconsequential matters. I started to isolate myself from the outside world; during one stretch I genuinely think I didn’t leave the house for nearly a week, with no physical human contact for that same amount of time. It became a vicious cycle, with no end in sight.
In hindsight, it’s easy to see that I should have noticed something was wrong, but at the time my judgement and decision-making were completely clouded. In cold truth, though, I think I just didn’t want to admit something was wrong.
University deadlines came and went. Term finished. I moved out of my student house. Graduation day. Then back home to my parent’s house, and then… nothing. No more lectures, no more seminars, no more deadlines, no stressing over word count and whether what I was writing actually made any sense. But being back home brought my initial worry hurtling to the fore:
I didn’t know. That was tomorrow’s problem. Always tomorrow’s problem. Tomorrow came and went many times over before what now? evolved into:
What’s the point of it all?
I don’t know what I was actually questioning: University? What to do now? Life itself?
Like a thick mist rolling in over moorland, that question fogged my mind. It became the full-stop to any creative pursuits, any life goals; it doused any aspirations before they formed into anything more than just embryonic sparks.
Without the structure and routine of university and with no clear life-plan in my head, I started to waste whole days away. I stopped leaving the house, and after a while I only left my room to eat, brush my teeth, or go to the toilet. Even daily showering became a task of seemingly Everest-like proportions. I began to spend entire days in bed, often with the curtains fully closed, not wanting to see the outside world, which I felt like I was no longer a part of.
I became a shadow of myself. I didn’t want to talk to anyone, even my own family, and when I did talk my voice would often be barely audible. If I walked into a room I would physically shrink, embarrassed by merely existing.
There were only two times of day that I got a glimmer of relief: dawn, when it felt like I was the only person on Earth, and the wave of shame, guilt and self-loathing hadn’t broken yet. And dusk, when I could justify trying to get another broken-night’s sleep, in an attempt to not feel the crushing weight of nothingness that had become my life.
This continued into the autumn months, when the original thought of, what’s the point of it all? became, why not just end it all?
In the way that thoughts do, once they appear in your head for the first time, it took a hold and rooted itself in my mind. It germinated from an almost-subconscious fleeting second, into a somewhat-formed plan. I played out different How? Where? When? scenarios in my head, giving serious consideration to each.
That was the lowest I have ever been in my life. I can thankfully say that it never went further than that, and I didn’t try to take my own life, but by that point, in my mind, suicide was fast becoming the only logical way out.
The path to recovery started with my mum taking me to the doctors. I don’t know if I had told her how bad it was in my head, but it was obvious I wasn’t getting better on my own. I sat across from the doctor, not once making eye contact, relaying the turmoil of my mind to him in what was barely a whisper. I was embarrassed of myself, and the shame of telling a stranger what was happening to me caused me to burst into tears, which only worsened my self-hatred.
He prescribed me a course of anti-depressants; a small dose to start, with a view to increase it after 2-3 weeks. He also recommended Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and gave me information on the different types, advising that I start the process now as the waiting time was another 6 weeks before I could get an appointment. With persistence from my mum, I signed up to see a therapist.
Six weeks passed. On my doctor’s guidance, I increased the dose of the anti-depressants. I was still struggling to sleep, still staying in my room all day, still the thought of suicide swam round and round in my head.
The appointment with the therapist came, and I filled in one of those forms that attempts to gauge what sort of condition you’re in by asking questions along the lines of: How do you feel? 1 = good, 5 = bad. Then rating your answers by totalling up your scores for each question – the higher the score, the more serious the condition. It was no surprise that I scored pretty high. I began seeing the therapist once a week, starting a course of CBT that centred around setting goals and building a weekly routine, as a way of bringing me back to normal life. All I had to do now was fill out that routine.
Getting better from the state that I had found myself in was an exhausting and arduous process. There was no singular thing that helped me get better, but in aiming to fill out a weekly routine, Tottenham become a vital part of that. Before I got ill, I had interests, friendships, worries, work, all the usual things that make up daily life. When my mental health deteriorated, I lost a lot of those daily components. I lost pretty much all meaning of what normal life was. I was grasping out for a lifeline to cling to, and Spurs became that lifeline.
I can’t really remember the first half of the 2015/16 season – I’m not even sure I was watching much of Spurs during this period – but at that time I had lost all the enjoyment of life, so that’s not really surprising. Watching Tottenham again became part of the routine – if nothing else, watching two football matches a week was a good way of filling roughly 4 hours of time on my schedule. It’s funny looking back now, the last thing you’d likely recommend someone suffering from a mental-health illness do is watch 4 hours of Tottenham each week, but there I was.
It became more than just watching Spurs, though. I also began listening to Spurs-focused podcasts. Listening to them quickly became highlights during my week, almost more so than the actual games. Hearing like-minded fans talk about Tottenham in a similar way that I did became a place of comfort for me. I felt a connection to the normal world, a connection that, for the length of a podcast episode, would transport me out of my lonely existence and make me feel part of something again.
Heading into winter and towards the new year, I started to see signs of progress in my mood and general mental health. Buoyed by my improvement, and with Tottenham’s strong league form and progression into the knockout rounds of the Europa League, me and my Dad started talking about whether we should go to a couple of games. Normally, I would immediately agree to go and watch Spurs with my dad, but with my mental health as it was, I was extremely apprehensive about going. The thought of being amongst that many people, having been so isolated for such a long time, brought on waves of self-doubt.
With reassurance from my parents, and encouragement from my CBT councillor that having something to look forward to was a positive step, me and my dad decided to get tickets for a game: A knock-out Europa League tie against Fiorentina. White Hart Lane under the lights. Not a bad welcome back.
It was strange being back in Tottenham again. Going to White Hart Lane I always get a feeling of complete familiarity, like being home away from home. Yet every time I go, I always feel a childlike rush of excitement, as I’m immediately transported back to my 11-year-old self, seeing the stadium for the very first time. Walking down the High Road from Seven Sisters, it always felt like the ground was just round the next corner, hidden from view until the very last moment, before it would rear up from behind the houses, the criss-cross of stadium roof supports peering out at you. That time, though, it felt as if I was returning with an awful secret, that if discovered would ostracise me completely; that I would be seen as some lone outcast, a complete weirdo who didn’t function like a normal human-being.
I honestly can’t remember much about the actual game, apart from Spurs dominating for long stretches, and the Ryan Mason goal – cutely slotting the ball past the ‘keeper in front in front of the Park Lane. What I do vividly remember, though, was the, “We’re the Park Lane/Shelf Side” chant that rang out for what must have been over ten minutes.
Standing in the Park Lane that night reminded me of the positive impact football can have. I felt a part of something again, like I finally belonged. After having felt so isolated, and so numb from the antidepressants, to feel pure belonging like that nearly brought me to tears, I was shocked that I felt pure happiness again.
The second game me and my Dad went to that season was the 2-2 against Woolwich, just a few weeks later. It was by far the biggest game I had ever been to; a North London Derby at White Hart Lane, Tottenham actually in the title race – and could go top with a win over Woolwich – it was genuinely huge.
In the days leading up to the game, I had a downturn with my depression; I was well on the road to recovery by that point, but I would still frequently have a run of days where I felt hopeless and completely depressed again. On the day of the game, the actual pressure of the match should have been enormous for me: I (like most fans, I imagine) feel absolutely sick on derby days.
Walking out of Seven Sisters tube station, the tension in the air was instantly palpable. There were more police than I had ever seen at a match before; riot vans lined the High Road, three police helicopters circled overhead, groups of mounted police patrolled every street around the ground. There were bottles thrown, and small fights broke out between the two sets of fans. Despite all this, despite the importance of the match, despite the warmth that I had felt at the game against Fiorentina, all I could think about in the build-up to kick-off was, when will people realise? I remember standing in the beer-garden of the Bell and Hare, just looking around and thinking, could people tell? Do they know? Is it not obvious that there’s something wrong with me? That I’m not normal?
The ordeal of the previous nine months had, by that point, stripped me of all self-confidence. Even surrounded by people I shared an obvious common bond with, I still felt completely isolated. I felt like an off-Broadway performance of what normal should be. That it was only a matter of time before the charade was called out for what it was – just an act. In truth, no one gave me a second glance. No, they couldn’t tell, they didn’t even notice. It was all just interior. But that’s what it was like – constantly second guessing myself, constantly at war within my own head.
Sitting on the train home after the match, I replayed the day’s events in my mind. It had been an intense rollercoaster of a day, that was for sure. It proved to be a pivotal result in the title race, with Tottenham failing to capitalise on a golden opportunity to go top of the league. Despite everything, as I sat there contemplating not just the game, but my life in a wider context, I felt oddly at peace. I felt bitter disappointment and frustration at the result, of course, but also a sense of relief that I was feeling something at all.
Depression has many different forms, and the emotions can vary wildly depending on the day. It’s not just feeling intensely sad, there’s a whole plethora of emotions that encircle you, or there are just days of numbing absence, where your emotions have been compressed by the anti-depressants – the lows aren’t so bad, but there are no highs, either.
In the weeks and months after that game I thankfully continued to make progress with my mental health. I got a job, learned to drive, I had my final CBT session, I gradually decreased my dosage of anti-depressants until I came off them completely – I was ready to move on with my life.
I still sometimes wonder now, four years on, if people can tell what’s really going on underneath the surface? In writing this piece, I’ve wondered if I’ve fully come to terms with myself as a person. Whether I’ve fully accepted what I’ve been through, and whether I’ve accepted the likelihood of having to work on my mental health for the rest of my life. Whether I’ve accepted me for being me.
That era of Tottenham brought so much to my life, in a time when I really needed it. White Hart Lane, Pochettino, the players, the podcasts I listened to, the feeling around the club at the time, all of it – it all became an unlikely lifeline to me, a world that not only provided comfort and distraction from an unrelenting torment, but also gave me purpose and motivation again. It reminded me of what football can be, and the power of good that it can do.