My attendance at this Sunday’s game against Swindon Town will see me complete a perfect league season for the first time. An appearance made at all 46 league fixtures during this dire campaign. From Roger Johnson’s remarks to this relatively meaningless contest against an already relegated side, I’ll have been unfortunate enough to have witnessed it all.
With few rewards and far too many moments of suffering, your sympathy is appreciated. Though this piece is not being written to attract it, and nor do I wish to portray myself as some sort of insufferable super-fan with the arrogance to believe that my regular attendance makes me better than any other Addick. I’m probably insufferable enough as it is.
Instead, I want to use my scheduled completion of a perfect season to express my gratitude towards my incredible dad. A man who offers such a monumental amount of support and assistance that I would not be able to challenge the restrictions my mental and physical health place upon me without him.
For even in what will hopefully be a brief flirt with self-indulgence that is about to follow, my dad doesn’t so much as provide the assist, but dribble the ball past 11 men before passing to me and allowing me to finish into an empty net. Given my circumstances, I feel a sense of pride in being able to attend every game. There should have been interruption at some point.
But I became fixated with the ambition of attending every game prior to this season getting underway. In a period where depression and anxiety have crippled my enthusiasm for any sort of activity, attending every game provided motivation. In a period where epilepsy, in combination with my mental health, has often made leaving the house a challenge, my desire to attend every game allowed me to push those thoughts to one side.
I still found myself sitting at games crippled by the feelings depression and anxiety provide, not able to utilise football itself as a distraction, and that completely unrelated to events on the pitch. Numerous journeys there and journeys back unbearable, purely as a consequence of the way my mind functions. In fact, events at games and events related to Charlton provided me irrational cause to feel anxious.
Logic in those circumstances points towards packing it all in, hiding away or finding another source of distraction. But the logic to me was that the moment I didn’t attend one game, I would lose all motivation. Football would become just like almost everything else, and be something that I couldn’t face.
Instead, though with the occasional moment of struggle, I have left the house and engaged with society on 46 occasions with comparatively minimal fuss when my day-to-day behaviour and feelings are considered.
It’s something I’ve tried to utilise in other contexts. That motivation, and the resulting ability to throw myself into the ‘real world’, irrespective of how my mental and physical health are making me feel. It’s something that my untainted football attendance proves I’m capable of.
But it’s something that I’m still struggling to transfer to other contexts. Maybe because of just how fixated I became with the idea of not missing a game. But mostly because of my dad.
Without my dad, four games would have been difficult in my current state, let alone 46. A source of practical assistance and emotional support that I cannot function without. That has allowed me, also in other contexts but most obviously with regards to football, to challenge restrictions.
Some of the things he does are very simple, but have a greater importance than it would appear at face value. Something as simple as waking me up. Those that have had any experience with mental health issues will appreciate that the notion of struggling to get out of bed is no myth.
He has taken to me every game this season, driving me to all but three of them. Public transport something I struggle with, and public transport on my own aside from small bus journeys is something I didn’t really do for six or seven months. Getting me to games, but providing me with protection from the things that worsen the feelings my mental health struggles provide.
A provider of transport, but so too is he company. Company for when anxiety and depression leave me feeling irrational waves of sadness and fear. Company that I just need in this current state, when leaving the house and being outside on my own in any circumstance is uncomfortable.
There’s little events where is assistance has been a huge help. A bizarre anxiety attack during the home game with Southend United because I was struggling to take photos as a result of the sun, and entered into a mindset of self-loathing and panic. Rejecting the notion that I was being pathetic and stupid, and instead being both understanding and calming.
And there’s rather large events. Normally after a seizure, I wouldn’t want to leave the house for a number of days. I had a seizure, and from what I recall quite a nasty one, prior to the home fixture against Millwall at The Valley this season.
My irrational determination to attend the game despite being a bit of a mess required, but dad ultimately supportive, extremely caring, and helpful. Mentally and physically a mess before, during and after the Keith Stroud show, but getting through it because of my dad. Seizures before games happening a few times this season, and still I’ve managed to get myself to each one.
His assistance in enabling me to attend every game is, in reality, a small aspect of the overall support he provides. It not life determining. But when I find it difficult to do much more with my life, it’s very important to me.
Again, it’s a case of allowing me to fight off restrictions that constantly cripple me, if only for a day or a moment. What he does, and the impact he has, with regards to following Charlton is reflective of everything else.
There’s never any pressure on me, and never do I sense disappointment when I have a bad day or I’m suffering. There’s always total understand, and a willingness to help and support in any way possible. I place more pressure on myself to get better than he does on me.
And even when the support he offers doesn’t have the impact he and I would like it too, I still know it’s there, and I still appreciate it to an extent that’s difficult to express while I’m suffering.
A great example of this coming last Sunday while I was refereeing. Refereeing something that provides me with something of a distraction, and allows me to step into a character that isn’t crippled by anxiety. It’s very important to me, and already dad supports me by driving me to games (epilepsy preventing me from being able to drive).
However, on Sunday, for the first time in six years of refereeing, I was attacked by a player. He had to be restrained by teammates, constantly made attempts to break free, and I’d have been in quite serious trouble had one of his numerous swings for me made connection. My dad, thankfully, there as this was at the conclusion of the game, and immediately supportive.
Supportive thereafter, too. Helping with the practical aspects of it, and attempting to calm a quite shaken me. Unfortunately, though the incident is in the past, I’ve struggled heavily to deal with my mental health in the previous few days, and my anxiety has been extremely high.
But I know he’s tried to help, and I know he’s been incredibly supportive. I know he couldn’t do any more than he does. Again, there’s not even the slightest sense of pressure being applied to me to feel okay.
And the truth is, I’m constantly overcome by a crippling sense of loneliness. It’s a feeling that I feel guilty about, given the level of support I have received in recent months, but it’s probably one of the feelings that hurts me the most. From it comes self-loathing, an inability to interact, and factors that contribute to the loneliness increasing in what seems a never-ending cycle.
But dad’s there. In moments of physical aloneness and mental loneliness, there’s a person that has the tools to provide distraction and calm. He’s my best friend.
And despite every aspect of pain that this football club attempts to provide, and the moments where a football ground has not protected me from the suffering my mental health provides, attending every Charlton game this season with my best friend has been incredibly important.
I know I can function without the restrictions my mental and physical health provide. I’m reliant on my dad to lift those restrictions, but all the same I know I can overcome them. Ultimately, I want to overcome them without someone holding my hand as I do so.
It horrendous to think just how restricted I would be without my dad. I couldn’t be more grateful.