I acknowledge the fact that I am repeating myself, but I cannot say it enough. Whether it be companions, Charlton captains or complete strangers, I’m so grateful for how understanding and receptive so many of you have been when I’ve discussed my mental health. Countless supportive comments and, as far as I can remember, no cynicism or criticism.
And yet, as I begin to write another piece about mental health, I feel the need to apologise. Partly because I’m aware this is a Charlton Athletic blog, and the majority of you don’t want to be reading this nonsense, but mainly because the sense that talking about mental health is something that shouldn’t be done still lingers.
There’s embarrassment that comes from feeling somewhat weak and pathetic. There’s concern that comes from individuals seeing you as ‘attention seeking’ and anxiety over how others will perceive you as a result of how you feel. There’s a sense that it’s better to hide, pretend to be okay, and get on with things.
And the problem is, that while 1,000 comments of reassurance make me believe talking about how I feel is acceptable, if not encouraged, a single comment that questions the validity of mental health issues or the motives of discussing them has a much greater impact. My mental health affecting my ability to talk about my mental health.
For at the heart of concern over being able to talk about depression and anxiety is anxiety. Anxiety over anxiety. The anxiety created by one negative comment creates an irrational and overpowering sense of fear and panic, that it is my fault that I feel like this and as such should deal with it myself.
It’s something that affects me in many situations. Countless positive comments about my writing become meaningless if there’s one negative one, and I lose all confidence and self-belief. Incidents where I’ve been applauded and praised after refereeing are lost if it’s deemed I’ve made the smallest mistake and criticism follows. Anxiety makes the one comment more powerful than the one thousand.
But, of course, there no question that talking about mental health is important, and something that should certainly be encouraged. The sad situation that Aaron Lennon finds himself in, which I would suggest comes at least in part as a consequence of the Everton winger not feeling able to talk about how he feels in the environment of professional football, has brought mental health to the fore in the previous few days. I’m encouraged by just how many have not only been supportive of him, but supportive of mental issues in general.
But so too am I saddened, saddened to a point that it has had an impact on my own mental health, that there has been the occasional critical, cynical or ignorant comment. That those comments have been shared and supported. Comments that are, quite simply, complete and utter bollocks that will ultimately prevent others from feeling like they can’t speak.
In the case of Lennon, I worry that the way some media outlets have chosen to portray the story will prevent other footballers or figures with similar status seeking help. The idea that his wage means he should be void from suffering from mental health issues, as if money can fix the unbearable suffering that illness such as depression and anxiety provide, is infuriating and demonising. Demonising to the extent that someone in a similar situation may find themselves believing that seeking help or talking about their mental health will harm more than it will heal.
Then, as a consequence of the largely positive discussion about mental health that has encouraged people to talk, we’ve had odious wankers like Piers Morgan decide you shouldn’t be talking about how you feel and instead should just ‘man up’.
It’s easy to suggest that we simply ignore such an odious wanker, spreading poisonous and ignorant garbage. But the problem is, this odious wanker has an incredibly large following. An incredibly large following of which at least a percentage will agree with his comments, and increase the demonising of those with mental health issues.
I’ve suffered with mental health issues for nine years. Throughout those nine years, there has been a constant thought process that it is all simply my fault. A though process that is incredibly hard to shake and makes my ability to progress incredibly difficult.
It’s a thought process that means I do damage to myself, in terms of entering a state of angry self-loathing. A thought process that increases my isolation and loneliness, as I feel useless, unwanted and little more than a nuisance to others. A thought process that increases the challenges of being able to talk about how I feel, as instead of believing I need to seek help I believe I need to attack myself.
In so many ways, the belief that suffering in the way I do is my own fault makes my mental health so much worse. In the moments when you know you’re suffering from an illness, there’s a certain amount of rational thought you can retrieve from the back of your brain that calms the situations that edge close to crisis. In the moments when you believe it’s your fault, you feel worthless and pointless, and see no point in fighting the feelings that exist in these periods of crisis.
And yet, someone with such a large following is happy to demonise mental health and those with mental health issues. Happy to make people who are suffering feel weaker and more pathetic than their own mind is already telling them they are. Happy to make it more difficult for those who may be struggling to speak to find the courage to do so.
Yeah, the majority disagree with what Morgan has to say, and agree that he’s a monumental cunt, but that’s not the point. People will agree that ‘manning up’ and getting on with it solves everything. That attitude spreads, and those overwhelmed by their mental health issues become overwhelmed by an anxiety that says they’re the ones in the wrong and they should neither be seeking help nor talking.
The idea that I can just ‘man up’ and suddenly nine years of mental health issues, and a current very poor state, will be addressed is laughable.
Such a narrative is dangerous. To me having seen that comment earlier on today, but more importantly to people who are hiding their feelings. Who will let those feelings linger, before they become too much.
I cannot justify just how difficult it is to talk. Even today, I attempted to seek help simply in the form of conversation, but became overwhelmed by anxiety and self-loathing in my attempts to do so. It takes courage, and a need to battle against the anxiety, panic and fear that make every single life action or decision and impossible one.
I cannot justify just how difficult it is, once the original hurdle of throwing yourself into a situation where you can talk has been overcome, to feel comfortable and calm while talking about mental health. To justify to myself that I’m seeking help, and not simply letting my suffering linger, I’ve seen several counsellors over the years. None have worked for me, and I’ve find the environment incredibly difficult to engage with.
But all the same, I cannot express how important it is to talk. To family or friends, to a counsellor if that environment works for you, or to strangers on the internet in the form of a blog because you haven’t got the composure to speak clearly to people in ‘real life’.
Talking is hard, but I’ve never regretted talking about how I feel. It might just have helped me clarify my thoughts, or it could have calmed me down and provided genuine help. Either way, managing to overcome the barriers that exist and being able to talk about my mental health has always had some sort of positive effect.
I look to the right of me in my room, and there sits the most incredible outcome of me being able to talk. The Johnnie Jackson shirt. When I turn to it, I remember not only that someone of such a high status supports and cares about me, but that so many individuals have shown similar support.
It provided reassurance that it is perfectly okay to talk. It’s calmed suicidal thoughts on countless occasions. In particularly challenging times, as is the case at the moment, I’m not quite sure what I’d have done, or would do, without it.
I want those that are suffering to know that they can talk, they can be honest, and they can seek help. I want them to find the courage to speak about how they feel. I want them to know they shouldn’t have to feel the anxiety and panic that comes from negative comments overriding 1,000 supportive ones.
But I feel that anxiety and panic. I feel the sadness and self-loathing. I feel every bit of pain, and fully appreciate how hard it is.
Even in writing this, there’s anxiety and worry. Writing is a point of solace for me, but still there’s fear I shouldn’t be talking about mental health and worry about how it will be perceived. Concern that I’m better off hiding and keeping quiet.
I don’t know if talking will help myself on this occasion, to climb out of an incredibly low and anxious state that I’m struggling desperately to address, but I do hope it helps someone else.