Before you begin reading, it should be known that this is quite a personal piece. Maybe not suitable for posting on a blog of this nature, but I’ve decided to do so anyway.
This might seem like a very odd thing to say, especially given some of the events that have occurred throughout this campaign, but last weekend’s victory at Brentford was one of the toughest, or at least most uncomfortable, experiences I’ve had while following Charlton Athletic.
For here was what should have been a fantastic away day, traditionally my favourite sort, that I could not enjoy. A gritty and commendable effort from those wearing Charlton colours, the atmosphere in the away end incredible, and a real excitement and passion in the celebration of each goal.
It should have been a temporary antidote to the suffering that supporting this club has provided this season, but I could not wrap myself up in the moment and enjoy it.
It wasn’t, as some might automatically believe, because my opposition to Roland Duchatelet’s regime means I no longer want the Addicks to win. Quite the opposite, given the relief and escapism victories should provide, and I hope my persistence in supporting the club around the country means I don’t need to show further evidence for that.
In fact, rather than this inability to enjoy the victory being caused by anything to do with Duchatelet or detachment with the club, it was caused entirely by my own state.
Following Charlton, in victory and defeat, has been the one thing that has allowed me to escape from depression and anxiety. But in an environment where I should have been most relaxed and happy, I was completely overwhelmed. Constantly on the verge of a breakdown, and having to force myself to pretend that I was okay.
I’ve felt similar before games and during defeats this season, but never during days that should have been genuinely enjoyable. No excuse on this occasion. Following the Addicks is no longer a distraction and escapism.
That something that has not been caused by the detachment Duchatelet has inflicted upon myself and fellow supporters. I’ve felt detached since Chris Powell’s sacking, but only been overwhelmed by depression and anxiety at games in recent months.
It’s to do with my mental health deteriorating to a very, very low point. I don’t wish to go into that in any depth, but every day is a huge struggle at the moment. Constantly crippled by sadness, irrational worry, pain and a sense of hopelessness.
It’s a situation that isn’t helped by my suffering from epilepsy. Thankfully, I’ve rarely had any issues at Charlton games in the past, but in recent weeks, I’ve had small tremors or little fits where I remain conscious but lose control for a split second. Tuesday, for example, a lovely mix of pre-game anxiety and depression, and post-game leg tremors that meant walking down the stairs after the game was a grim experience.
I appreciate that that is completely out of my control, but I’d sort of allowed myself to believe I was safe while watching the Addicks. The anxiety increases, the sense of escapism decreases.
But, at the same time, I know that following the Addicks won’t become the genuine distraction it should be again until I feel a reasonable sense of attachment to the club. Something that won’t happen while Duchatelet remains in control.
This loss of an escapism wasn’t caused by Duchatelet, but he’s prevented me from regaining it. I need something that I can lose myself in, and the only time I’ve lost myself in a moment at The Valley recently was the applause for Yann Kermorgant’s first goal. Sad that a goal against the Addicks a moment that has allowed me to escape from my thoughts.
As such, the continued protests with the desire of removing this regime from the club are not only increasing in importance with the future of the club in mind, but my own health and wellbeing in mind.
In truth, though I’m totally committed to them and feel a sense of pride in the work my fellow Addicks have done so far, I’ve found protesting personally a little difficult.
The change of a routine I was very comfortable with continues to make me irrationally anxious, I cannot cope with any sort of confrontation or aggression (which is why I’m most thankful for the way CARD have organised the protests and made sure that they’ve been done in a controlled and classy manner), and, for whatever reason, I’ve found it very hard not to be crushed by feeling of hopelessness and sadness while standing outside the West Stand. I’m odd.
But putting myself in these uncomfortable positions ultimately makes me feel better about myself, knowing that I’m contributing towards hopefully moving the club into safer hands, and also allowing me to reconnect with it.
And so, I shall be leaving my seat after 74 minutes tomorrow. I’ve not left a game early for as long as I can remember, and thinking about doing so makes me feel very anxious, but I’m reassuring myself with the knowledge that these events will make Charlton what it once was to me again.
Making me feel even more stressed, anxious and overwhelmed is the proposal to boycott season tickets. I believe in it, and I’m behind it, with an empty Valley only increasing the untenable nature of Duchatelet and Katrien Meire’s positions, but I don’t feel like I can take part in it. I appreciate that that is weak and hypocritical, but I hope what’s written above means it can be understood.
I need that escapism, or at least I need to believe that it’s still there, even though I’m fully aware following Charlton doesn’t currently have the effect it once did. I don’t want it to disappear altogether, and, as silly as it sounds, the thought of losing my season ticket seat makes me very, very anxious.
But that I’m even considering not renewing, and not accepting what has previously been my strongest anti-depressant, shows how strongly I believe I cannot feel any sort of attachment to the club while this regime remains in charge. And that’s without even considering my worries about the wider state of the club’s health, and not just my own.
I just want Charlton to be a distraction again. To be that one place where my mental health is irrelevant, where I can pretend I’m ‘normal’ for a few hours. Where I’m happy with victory, and sad with defeat, but always distracted from more troubling feelings.