Before I begin to write this piece, it must be said that it is as much about myself as it is about events and conditions and Charlton Athletic. Not that I want to prevent opposing views being made, but I would ask that you consider that prior to making comments. Attempt to understand how I feel, more than anything else.
My mental and physical health has been incredibly poor for an extended period of time, with depression, anxiety and epilepsy particularly crippling me in the previous three-and-a-half years. I’ve had no real quality of life, and have struggled to contend with how I feel in a calm, sensible and logical way. It’s simply been too much, and continues to be so.
For without a definite cause, both my mental and physical health have deteriorated further in the previous four months. That despite both already being at an impossibly low level. There’s an inability to leave the house without my dad being with me, an overwhelming sadness that makes me long to escape my life, and even today a combination of already feeling weak and a terrible sleep means I’ve had a nasty seizure.
In truth, mental and physical health issues are nothing new me. Particularly with regards to mental health, I’ve not been healthy since the age of 13, but this period is simply impossible to deal with. I have no desire to live like this, and suicidal thoughts are constant.
A part of that comes down to the extent of how I feel without considering outside factors. I’m terribly low, terribly anxious, and regular seizures, including one today, make it all a great deal worse.
But there is another quite obvious factor that has increased the extent of my suffering in recent times. I’ve had depression for eight years, I had anorexia for a little over two years between the ages of 14 and 16, but there used to always be a distraction. Not only something that allowed me to escape how I felt, but something that meant I had an event to look forward to even when feeling at my worst.
That distraction was Charlton. Not simply watching and supporting, but a sense of connection to the club, and a real attachment to both staff and players. The Valley another world.
There are countless games I can recall, irrespective of the result or performance, that allowed me to do what felt like the impossible and escape grand suffering. A 4-2 win against Reading in 2008 allowing me to momentarily escape the reality of my parents divorcing, a 1-0 defeat to Brighton in 2010 came on the day I was diagnosed with anorexia and allowed me to escape from a rather traumatic day, and a 1-1 draw with Nottingham Forest in 2013 provided a release from an unbearable beginning to a university experience so bad that I would ultimately quit.
It not just the games themselves, but the anticipation of them. Attempts to fight off low states during the week were assisted by the fact I knew a distraction would come at the end of it. There a genuine way of fighting off overwhelming suicidal thoughts.
Alas, that distraction has now been replaced by something I dread. Something that makes my state even more difficult to contend with. Enjoyment replaced by a sadness, panic and disconnection.
The obvious reason for that, in addition to the decline in my health that’s unrelated to Charlton, is the behaviour of Roland Duchatelet and Katrien Meire. Not just their failure and destruction of the club, but the manner in which they treat and undermine both the club and its supporters.
The Getting to Know the Network podcast, and particularly Duchatelet’s arrogant and offense response, another reminder and something that I’ve found very triggering. Not to say the podcast isn’t a fabulous piece of journalism by Jimmy Stone. Truly fabulous.
It provided a reminder of the time when, under Chris Powell and his marvellous group of connected players, every Charlton game meant so much to me and my attachment and distraction couldn’t be greater. I miss it so much.
Move on is the shout constantly made, but how can they when Powell and that team had such an impact on my life and my health.
Even since his departure, Powell has an impact on me. A letter sent to me after his appointment at Huddersfield and, though I can’t disclose the message itself, I was forwarded a message from Powell that was very supportive of my position. I’m not a big crier, despite my position, but I was drowning in tears after receiving that.
So too and am I still so connected to those that were involved in that side. As footballers, and as individuals.
The success of Yann Kermorgant, Michael Morrison, and Dale Stephens, arguably among three of the best players in the Championship over the previous few seasons, is fantastic to see and another indication of Duchatelet’s failure.
On a personal level, Bradley Pritchard and Johnnie Jackson have been fantastic. I’ve been to meet Pritchard a couple of times, while he was at Leyton Orient and his current club Greenwich Borough, and, particularly as someone whose anxiety prevents me from communicating with most people, he was marvellous with me, while Jackson, without encouragement has sent me a couple of messages in support on Twitter in the past.
Now those sorts of connections, and the connection with the club in general, just isn’t there for me. The empty seats, the lack of atmosphere unless there’s a protest, the fear, anxiety and sadness that comes with the uncertainty of what a man and woman destroying my connection to the club will do next.
It in some contrast to the feelings that were felt during the extended period when Charlton was an incredible distraction from how I felt. Defeats, such as the aforementioned one against Brighton, doing more for me than some victories now.
The first time I felt the extent of my lack of connection was Dorian Dervite’s late winner against Bournemouth in 2014. An important goal, but I cried because, and not for the want of trying, I felt nothing. In complete contrast to the incredible emotion felt after Jackson’s winner against QPR a few months earlier.
Several games, as much if not more a result of depression as Duchatelet, that have resulted in victory but have upset me just as much. The win at Brentford last season one of those, and earning me one of the messages of support from Jackson, while a lack of feeling after the Shreswbury win this season resulted in me feeling so uncontrollably low that I attempted suicide.
The question, I guess, is why do I still go? Habit, hope, and because I don’t do anything else. One of very few things I feel comfortable leaving the house for, but that comfortableness is lost by the time in SE7.
Blogging and photography another reason, but it’s becoming increasingly less enjoyable. A constant anxiety that those who stand up for Duchatelet will question what I write in a manner that, because of my anxiety, I’ll interpret as aggressive. A constant worry people will dismiss my photos as terrible.
I’m not denying people their right to an opinion, I can promise you that, just merely stating the impact it has on me. My weakness, more than the views of others.
Engaging on Twitter is becoming difficult for similar reasons. Again, it not a criticism of the people who make the comments, more exposing my mental weakness, but comments so regularly trigger me, and I just want to hide.
One thing that did keep me going was what felt like the togetherness of the protests. A sense of pride in people fighting for the future of the club, and a unity that didn’t make me feel anxious or uncomfortable.
I believe it’s a case of dissenting voices standing out amidst the flow of opposition to the regime – the volume of anti-Duchatelet chants, the response to the Getting to Know the Network podcast and the supporters’ trust survey suggest that, but it’s still triggering for my unfortunately rather weak mind.
And overall, regardless of who is on the pitch or who is in the dugout, it’s very hard to feel connected or distracted. I’m supporting the team, I very much want victory and the suggestion that I’m not is infuriating given that I’m still attending games despite how I feel.
I don’t like Karl Robinson as an individual. The biggest club in League One nonsense the sort of unnecessary arrogance I’m not a fan of, and his regime and protest related comments are understandable but disappointing, but I respect his managerial ability and will obviously support him.
But there’s a difference between support and connection.
And a worry whether that loss of connection is a permanent thing. The idea of Duchatelet and Meire departing is exciting, and I look forward to a packed Valley the game after they do, but I’m very anxious that a distraction and connection anything like I had before won’t return. Worried that I won’t find another necessary distraction to cope with how I feel.
Connection lost, the distraction from my mental and physical health lost, and it just incredibly upsetting to be experiencing this.
Apologies if my feelings and position anger those who believe losing connection is wrong and avoidable.