Secret Junior Footballer – Football, A Wonderful Release

Unknown Byline picture.....This week on Monday 10th of October we marked World Mental Health Day, a day observed annually to raise awareness about mental health issues that people are suffering all around the globe. I noticed plenty of people doing their bit on social media and trying to spread the word. This got me thinking about my battle in the past with depression and anxiety. I thought perhaps now, for the first time I should talk about it, share my struggles and give insight to the release football has given me. Maybe just maybe someone will read this and it’ll help.

The most recent statistics show almost 1 in 5 adults in the UK suffer from depression and/or anxiety, 20% of our population it’s a harrowing number. Given these odds you can bet your bottom dollar most football changing rooms will have 1 or 2 players suffering and more than likely in silence, I’ve been there and it’s a very lonely, dark place.

I was first diagnosed with depression a little over two years ago; I had spent a couple of months feeling really low struggling to function in everyday life. I was angry, I was sad; I didn’t want to be here anymore. Eventually I plucked up the courage to go and see my GP. I was in the room with her no more than 5 minutes and then sent on my way to the chemist for medication. An NHS stretched to its very limits doesn’t have time for people who feel a bit low, but that’s a discussion for another day. My battle continued for months, no real improvement. I struggle to think of worse feelings than waking up in the morning physically unable to move from bed, crippled by anxiety and a feeling of sheer desperation for the day to end.

In the end I was ordered to take time out of work and at the same time I decided it was only right that I took a break from football, for the first time in my life I feigned an injury and took myself out of the firing line. I had been poor for a few weeks, a new manager had come to my club and he was on my case I guess he sensed something wasn’t right. Slowly the weeks of not leaving home and eating constant junk food took its toll, I quickly gained weight, lost fitness and if truth be told I was miles off it. Looking back now, taking time away from something I love so much was one of the worst things I could have done.

As the weeks ticked by, very slowly, I slipped deeper into a slump and I’m not proud to admit it but I did become suicidal. It’s tough to look back and remember they feelings, thinking how to do it without my family ever experiencing the hurt of knowing I took my own life. In the end I had enough rationale (just) to see I couldn’t put my family through that pain and had to find a way back, whatever that may be. I went back to work and football in the same week, chucked myself in head first and my god it was tough.

 

I decided I had to open up and tell a handful of people exactly what had been going on, I remember chapping the manager’s door and asking to speak to him after training on a Saturday morning. I came clean told him how it had been, how much I had struggled. He asked me if he could bring the assistant manager as he felt he could help me. It turned out the assistant manager had similar struggles for most of his adult life. It was the first time I had spoken to anyone who had been there, who had battled on and come through it. The relief I felt during that short chat was impalpable, I owe them both a lot. Soon after that I realized the one place my head was totally at ease was chasing a ball about a field.

Football has proven to be the best release I have found from the darkness; it’s a sport with more lows than highs certainly in my experiences. I still get hugely frustrated and even did consider giving up again, but I can’t, I won’t as I’ve one of the few places I find relief from the bad days is out there on the park with my mates.

I’ve written this and while it’s been therapeutic for me, my aim is to raise awareness and somehow and try to put an end to the stigma attached to mental illnesses. It can happen to anyone at any time, I was in my early 20s, and on the surface had no reason to be unhappy. My advice to anyone in a similar situation; speak to people you trust, family, loved ones, friends, team mates, managers whoever. Continue to kick the ball as long as you can, because there aren’t many better places than being out there running about, mind focused solely on the game.

Thank you for reading, hope you enjoyed it and as always any feedback or questions are welcome at thesecretjuniorfootballer@gmail.com.

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