Danny Rose made me cry.
As a Spurs fan, it’s not surprising that a player of my beloved club would contribute to my tears – but this was different. This was neither joy or sadness. This was understanding.
Having just watched A Royal Team Talk: Tackling Mental Health, I felt I simply had to do what our current left back, and future king of this nation – possibly one and the same if we win the Champions League next Saturday – had recommended.
I needed to share.
This isn’t the first time I have done this, and I doubt it will be the last. But if it reaches someone new, then it’ll be worth it.
I have written about mental health in the past. Either on this blog, or one that came before it. For me it is anxiety. A toppling of the Jenga blocks that is life. Crashing down when I least expected – then learning when to catch those bricks before they all fall down.
It’s never the big things that faze me. Large scale projects, moving house – moving country. Taking those in my stride. Then what should have been one of the happiest times of my life, led to one of its darkest phases. Though light was always there. I just needed help to find it.
So there I was, in the prime of my life. Mid-30s. Sure I was out of shape, but that was nothing new. Then things changed. Life started to layer a series of small, minor inconveniences on top of each other. My brick tower started to wobble.
I may have been madly in love, but I had a crap job, was living in a city with very few friends, had practically no money – I was definitely partying way too hard. Then A. became pregnant. The greatest feeling ever. I could see hope coming over the horizon, to fill our lives with nothing but joy and happiness.
On LLK’s due date we went out for lunch. A celebration to mark the day. I left A. and went back to work. All seemed well until I started to climb the stairs in the office. Then my chest collapsed, my head started to spin – was it the celeriac? Why did I order celeriac?
I couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t communicate other than to say the word ambulance. Thankfully, someone knew what was going on. I was incoherent and sweating, but I wasn’t dying. I was having an episode. An attack. A massive reaction to the fact I should have been a dad, but in fact I was back in an office I hated being in. Without the light I craved.
I went home. I went to bed. I hid. A. offered words of support, but it might well have been the teacher from Charlie Brown talking. It passed.
LLK was born. All was well. Then paternity leave ended.
I remember walking home from work. It was raining. The day hadn’t gone well. They never did at that point in my career. I felt unsure on my feet. I walked a bit further. This was it. This was when I was going to die. So I did the most logically, illogical thing I could think of. I went and stood in Oxfam – because, you know – they might have a defibrillator in case one of the old people in there keeled over.
I phoned A. We talked. I calmed down. I got home.
I went to see the doctor. I blamed the medication I was on for my uveitis. It had to be that. The steroids where causing me to flip out. They recommended I talk to someone. I did, but they were an idiot. I wanted to scream obscenities at them for being an idiot. They were clearly the wrong person for me to talk to.
I went to see an acupuncturist. They left me in a room with needles sticking out of me. I was bored, with nothing to do but think in all that silence. I hated it. They were clearly the wrong person for me to see.
So I sat at the table and stared in to the middle distance. With a brilliant wife, looking after our amazing baby in the house, alone all day. What came next was some tough love. Some honesty. A dose of reality. To shake me out of my malaise.
It worked. I started to talk. To tell A. when I was feeling crap. She was clearly the right person for me to talk to.
Now my anxiety resembles a poorly tuned in radio. More often than not, there is nothing. At other times, there’s a pirate radio of angst that turns on, almost unexpectedly. Now I know what to do. Now I know I simply have to retrace which jenga blocks I have added to the tower and version control my brain, so I go back to the point where I added one layer too many.
I learnt that from talking to A. By confiding in the person I love the most and who knew me best. She saw when my mood was triggered or about to be triggered. She helped me understand, well, me.
So as I watch the Duke of Cambridge, asking to be called William – explaining to footballers why he opens up in the way he does, I hope there are people watching the show who are now able to turn to their loved ones or their mates, and share how shit things are for them.
Not everyone is as lucky as me. Not everyone can go through the process of trying to find help and support, before realising it is sat across the dinner table – but that’s what happened. Maybe I was lucky it was “only” anxiety, but I found a way to work/deal with it. I know it’s still there, but I also know that it is the simple act, sometimes just the thought of phoning A., that is enough to cut through the fog and bring me back to where that last brick caused things to wobble.
I’m only sharing this again, because I watched our future king kick a football around a pitch with current and ex-professional footballers – but more importantly – other lads with their own history of mental health challenges, and it made me cry. But then, that’s no bad thing – especially if it leads to a smile, as it did, in the end.
Try and find your right person to talk to, before it all gets too much.
Birdy – Keeping your head up (used throughout the programme)