The Light At The End Of The Dark Tunnel

Author: Bricki

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Hello again.

In September I wrote an article for about my battle with depression and how football was helping me deal with the daily battle of it. At the time I was coping with my battle and felt I was getting it in check, however I am writing this after being off sick for 6 weeks suffering what may be the most difficult period of my battles.

Following the shocking death of Gary Speed (that some have linked to depression) and Stan Collymores public battle with the illness I thought I would write another blog on how I am being affected and what is helping me in the struggle some days of my life are.

For the last few months I have suffered ups and downs much more severe than usual and had several health issues that have been related to my stress and worry. I could not tell you the last night of undisturbed sleep I have had or when I have felt in worse physical shape. I know I am capable of going to the gym and being more social in what I do but at times I feel like there is an invisible bubble that is engulfing me and no amount of punching or kicking can release me from this loneliness.

Whilst I have been in work I’ve been unable to concentrate and succumbed to what are basically panic attacks, at home I have locked myself away and hid away from the World. My one outlet to the World has been through sport. Whether it has been recording podcasts with fellow United fans or just conversing with fans on twitter, this has given me a way to show that I can beat my affliction even if it does take time.

I visited my doctor around 7 weeks ago and said I was struggling in work with my thoughts and feelings. I had been receiving a mild form of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) but it had been agreed that I needed more intensive CBT as issues I was coping with were much deeper ingrained in me than we first realised. As I wrote in my first blog on this topic in September I had a major health scare at the same time as purchasing my first house and organising a wedding so the collective stress of all this triggered a sense of overwhelming and worry that I couldn’t handle. This has been inside me every since (almost 5 years now) popping up at will and basically destroying any confidence or belief I had built up.

The next stage of my CBT treatment was not scheduled to begin until January at the earliest so I had several months of limbo while waiting for it to commence. The doctor checked me out and could see I was mentally and physically struggling with life. I’m not ashamed to admit that I began to cry whilst trying to explain to her how I felt and how hopeless I life felt at times. The doctor instantly put me on sick leave and prescribed me Anti-Depressants and tablets to try and help me sleep also. I had to visit her every two weeks in order to monitor me and make sure I didn’t succumb to doing something stupid.

“What does this have to do with Sport?” I hear you ask…

Well sport and the things it provides me are one of the main reasons why I feel I’m winning this stage of the battle (and it is only a battle because i will be fighting this war for the rest of my life). With the support of my wonderful wife and family, plus my friends, I have been able to put the gloves back on and get into the ring with this illness and slug it out, toe to toe. My wife and the people who are there for me are in my corner at the end of every round. Giving me encouragement and support, “You can do it Champ!” – “You’ve got him on the ropes” – “You’re a wrecking machine”

Sport is my battle plan, its how I’m going to give depression the old one-two, jab the body and then get in the inside to work the body. Sport can be the most powerful tool we use to fight our daily battles.

Sport has brought me closer to my family; going to Old Trafford with my Dad is the greatest feeling in the world. Walking to the ground with my Dad and either my brother or sister makes me feel amazing. Complaining about Talksport and Micky Quinn, singing the praises of Berbatov or Valencia or just hoping Fergie doesn’t mess around with the team too much. There is nothing finer than putting the football world to rights whilst walking to a place that never fails to make me feel great with people you love. Yet it isn’t just Old Trafford that is my sporting utopia, turning up to referee kids on a Saturday morning and having them ask me if I’m reffing their game today is a feeling of being needed that is hard to beat.

Having coaches, parents and kids at the end of games saying how well you did gives a smile when you struggled to get up that morning and don’t know how you’ll fill the rest of your day.
My biggest sense of belonging this season came when I travelled to Villa Park to watch United on my own. I had a drink on my own and didn’t know anybody around me but the way football fans can pull you in and accept you having never met you before give belief to the thought it’ll all be ok in the end. Singing together, moaning that a player isn’t doing well or just applauding a piece of good play is an acceptance into a secret club that has no entry policy other than love for the game.

For a large majority of days in the last 6 weeks I have been unable to get out of bed without a huge amount of effort and I have become self conscious about almost everything I have done. Yet when I have felt at my lowest I have been able to go on twitter and find someone to talk sport about, switch on a TV station and find sport to enjoy or even just fire up the Xbox and play football on there. None of this is a cure for how I feel but for a while it takes the edge off things and allows me to enjoy a life that at times is almost unbearable. This season I have gotten back into American Football and had a rivalry of sorts with my Brother (I’m a Chicago Bear and he’s a New York Jet) – the sense of competition and a reason to ‘compete’ brings purpose to a depressives life as you do all you can in order not to fail. Once that’s taken away you have a void in a person’s life that can be a struggle to fill.

I can understand why sportsman who retire struggle with life after sport or why a manager will take another job despite the inevitable abuse and negative press he will receive. Sport is a drug to those who love it and it makes the world revolve for them, many people (myself included) chart a week by the days their team is playing or they themselves are involved with sport.

I’m now 6 weeks into my Anti-Depressants and feeling clearer about life, the purpose I was missing is slowly returning and I now feel able to start writing about sport again. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that since my latest bout I have been unable to write and hopefully giving you an update into where I am might provide a spur going forward.

I’ve had hard days where life has felt unliveable and days when I can see the Sun over the horizon. With each passing day that horizon is getting closer and closer, one day I will stand on that hilltop and look back. I will see all the people and things that got me through the dark days, I will see the sport that has kept me positive.

The recent stories of Stan Collymore receiving disgraceful abuse and being advised to kill himself shook me to the core, making me question if society truly understands the illness we suffer and how it affects our lives?

I applaud people like Collymore who have the belief that putting our stories out there can help others understand this isn’t just about feeling ‘blue’ but it pushes us to the very brink of our sanity. It makes us do stupid things that we would never contemplate normally; I have been on the very edge of tipping over.

Being part of a football community like I am, writing for Stretford-End, Twitter debates, going to Old Trafford every other week and generally having people that accept me regardless is something not everyone has. It can be the ultimate feel good ‘drug’ making every second feel like the most amazing second you can experience.

Bill Shankly gave the immortal line “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.” Football isn’t my life or death but it’s huge in how I approach my life and the impact it has on it. We have seen the negative effects football can have on peoples’ lives recently with the horrible tweets we saw from fans with regards to the Evra/Suarez outcome and a tribal instinct that wasn’t pretty to see. The same tribal instinct though can protect people from an outside World they feel unable to face on a daily basis and if we can promote and use the football society as a whole better we can provide the first steps on a road to recovery that so many like myself are now on.

2011 could be a watershed year in our understanding of mental health issues in sport and how we approach them. Sport can provide a unique template for helping people in this sort of battle but we need to embrace the truth that it exists and only then can we start to beat it.
It’s not about national, club or player loyalty, it’s about supporting your fellow human being regardless of what team they support. Some of the biggest support I have received has come from fans of other teams.

I am on the right road I think but this is not an easy battle and it is a battle that anyone, rich or poor, young or old can face. I hope you are getting some insight into the confusion and at times the loneliness that this illness makes me feel but the knowledge I have people out there like yourselves gives me immense belief and love.

I think I’m winning, tomorrow is another day and I know I will see it.

Thank you for taking the time again to read this.

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