Statistically, 1 in 4 people in the United Kingdom will experience a mental health problem every year, with 1 in 6 reporting a common mental health issue such as anxiety and depression on a weekly basis.
Those are the statistics that tell us what we already know - people struggle to keep on top of their mental health. It affects almost all of us at one point in our lives and it certainly affects me.
In 2017 I had what can only be described as a ‘breakdown’. After years and years of putting my emotions to one side following the death of my Mother when I was 18, things got on top of me, and I turned towards alcohol as a crutch.
Shock twist of events alert!
Alcohol did not help my mental health, it made things worse and as a consequence my anxiety and depression took hold. I set sail (flew on a cheap airline) to Mexico and began a six-month journey through Latin America, which was supposed to destress me and get rid of my mental health problems.
Instead of alleviating my stress, the trip did the exact opposite and I broke down on the second day of my journey, whimpering on a hostel bunk bed. Over the course of the next few days, I cried almost uncontrollably - in the shower, in bed, in the pool and even whilst scuba diving.
It was a horrendous experience, but I managed to find a way through it, and I am happy to say that at the time of writing, whilst my mental health is not 100%, it is a lot closer to that percentage than I could have ever imagined in that dark hostel in Tulum.
Coming to terms with my own mental health issues was difficult, it took a lot of time, soul searching and repeated setbacks to get where I am now. In the early days of my ‘breakdown’, I used Huddersfield Town as a crutch.
When I was writing about Huddersfield I wasn’t spending all of my time consumed by thoughts of guilt, regret, and self-critique. Instead, I was immersed in conveying my thoughts and feelings about Town into words. I spent hours thinking of different perspectives on games and comments from David Wagner. In short, Huddersfield Town provided me with an escape from the torment of my own thoughts.
(Lake Bacalar, Mexico. A stunning lake of seven colours that I could not fully appreciate due to the internal monologue of anxiety in my mind, although there are no excuses for my terrible fashion sense!)
Just a few days after my ‘breakdown’, I woke up early to find a stream of Town’s home game against Leicester City. I watched as Laurent Depoitre skinned Harry Maguire to put us ahead, and in equal measure, I sat in frustration as Jamie Vardy levelled the scores from the spot.
When the football finished I came to the realisation that I had not been anxious or depressed at all that day. The football had consumed my every thought and I had lived, albeit for a few hours, without the shadow of anxiety on my back.
At the time, that thought terrified me because my anxious brain suddenly turned towards fear, nervously anticipating the return of the debilitating anxiety. Writing this now, I realise that it was an incredibly powerful realisation, it was the first time I had identified a healthy escape that wasn’t alcohol or other self-destructive behaviours.
Over the coming months, football continued to be a crutch for me. In my darkest moments, I could always look forward to an upcoming game, rewatch highlights or plan my next blog. I don’t write this lightly, but Huddersfield Town during that period was a lifesaver for me.
I recall trekking up a mountain to a hostel in the North Colombian jungle and keeping the impending anxiety at bay by whistling the Laurent Depoitre song. I remember the days of joy I had after watching Town beat Manchester United 2-1 in Matiox Hostel in Guatemala.
As I passed into Costa Rica from Nicaragua, a fellow traveller approached as she recognised my Huddersfield Town top and we spoke briefly about the amazing start to the season.
All of these things rescued me from bouts of anxiety perked me up and made me feel capable of functioning as a human being in the immediate future.
When I returned from my travels, victory over Watford and draws away to City and Chelsea provided me with further stepping stones to recovery. I am amazed at how powerful football was and how it so positively affected my mood and outlook on life.
I was therefore not shocked when I realised there was a catch six weeks ago. When Town were knocked out of the cup by Lincoln and lost at home to Fulham in the same week I realised what had been missing from my life over the past 12 months.
I had begun to take no enjoyment from football, in fact, it was actively ruining my week as I watched Town lose again, and again, and again. Fortunately, I was strong enough by that point to take enjoyment from other things and stay on top of my mental health.
Town’s win away to Stoke earlier this week was an added bonus in regards to my recent mental health. I no longer look solely to Huddersfield Town for the mental respite I so desperately needed in Latin America. I read I write more and more and I exercise to keep myself upbeat, and in tandem, all of those activities help to keep my mental health in check.
Some people may not have had things like that to keep their minds occupied in the past year though. Some may have been in the position that I was in Mexico, slap bang in the middle of Town’s dreadful run of form.
During moments like that, many may have had absolutely no respite from their own internal battles, with Town certainly not providing one. I am eternally grateful that my mental decline coincided so wonderfully with Town’s rise to the Premier League and moments of sheer football joy.
If it hadn’t, I fear that I would never have escaped my own mental demons, never recovered and perhaps not have been sat here writing this piece now. It is because of that realisation that I want to point you in the direction of a series of organisations that can help.
If you are suffering from poor mental health it’s important to talk to someone about it. I do not write that lightly or in a generic cliched way, I write that from experience. Talking unburdens you, makes you feel normal again and shares your problem, decreasing the feelings of isolation and despair that can overwhelm you.
It also provides you with an element of perspective, something which abandons you at your lowest moments. If you are a man suffering from mental health issues, I would urge you to visit Andys Man Club, an organisation set up to help male sufferers of anxiety and depression.
Visit your doctor, seek help either in the form of talking therapy or medicine. Speak to your partner, speak to your friends or your family - you will be surprised to find that there are plenty of other people experiencing the same issues and problems as you.
Most importantly of all, in my opinion, is to find things that make you happy. Don’t restrict yourself to one thing as I did at first, find multiple activities to occupy your mind and give you an escape.
Finally, don’t be ashamed. There’s nothing wrong with experiencing poor mental health, it doesn’t say anything about you as a person. It’s simply an issue that affects most of us, but it’s also an issue that we can recover from and work through.
Whilst there may be clouds in the sky and the ground may be damp with the moisture of incessant rainfall, there is always light and sunshine above the clouds. Once the storm has passed, the warm glow of the sun will return and you will feel happy and content once more.
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