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The Worries of Reengaging a Fragile Mind with Football

There is a sentence that will be churned out in such tiresome fashion over the coming weeks that it will almost undoubtedly lose its meaning. Something along the lines of how there is great “excitement for the season ahead”. The challenge in these coming weeks to avoid that tedious phrase as much as possible to keep your excitement levels as high as they can be.

Partnered by genuine excitement come anticipation and intrigue. The return of the matchday experience to be felt, entertainment to be had, and questions to be answered about how clubs in different positions will approach their campaigns. In relation to Charlton Athletic, and elsewhere.

It should be an engaging, absorbing and expectant time of the year, as pre-season slowly shapes into the season proper. Whether supporting a club in crisis, only wishing to fend off relegation, or a club with charisma, with ambitions of genuine success. The return of football is undoubted positive for those that follow the sport.

But my overring feeling is one of concern. Concern that is not directed towards Charlton, or any football club for that matter. Concern that exists purely within myself.

I have lived with a level of anxiety beyond even what I’m used to in recent months, and I fear the environment of football may bring that out. I fear that being in an uncomfortable environment may mean the very small things that spark episodes of anxiety may become unavoidable. And I fear I’m simply going to spend the majority of my time, where I should be doing something I enjoy, more concerned with depression and anxiety.

In simple terms, I worry about my general ability to remain calm and, well, healthy, while engaging in football simply.

All of that may seem completely ridiculous, and I can appreciate why you may think that. Football should be a distraction from the outside world, and the harsh reality of it, no matter what state the individual is in. And while watching Charlton has long stopped being the distraction it once was – in part owing to Roland Duchatelet and Katrien Meire, in part owing to my worsening state – I’ve never felt such a level of actual fear heading into a new season.

Maybe it’s because my distraction during the summer, and a distraction from a very dark place, has been such a positive and calming one. I’ve spent a lot of time watching Northamptonshire County Cricket Club, which has really become my ‘safe place’. Partly because some of the players are aware of my situation, are very caring and supportive, and my motivation to be around them is stronger than any fear I have – a description of that is below.

Additionally, there’s a very fixed routine, which prevents a degree of worry and anxiety, and I think those that also watch the games from the members area have taken note that, at times, getting even a hello out of me is hard, so I’m left to be in my own bubble. I sit, I focus my eyes and mind on both the cricket and camera, and more than anywhere else feel genuinely distracted.

But when that routine has been broken, I’ve felt irrational panic that has remained throughout the day. So important is that routine that it hasn’t been broken by hellos from players, photo taking or engaging matches. So too was it there during a much larger attendance than normal during Friday night, partly because I had to change my routine for it and partly because irrational anxieties just appeared out of all corners owing to the environment.

Of course, I can have a fixed routine for home games, and that’s what I do have. I also have the safety net of my dad to fall back on, who also alleviates the anxiety I have over travelling by taking me to the games. But the anxiety I’m fearing, in addition to expressing a heightened irrational one I shouldn’t be at a football ground, is created by the environment and the people.

It feels like I’m throwing an insult at those who have offered support towards me by saying that, but it simply isn’t the case. Each piece of individual support I have received means so much. But the build-up of people in a boisterous and passionate environment is one I should be enjoying, but it’s becoming more and more overwhelming even as attendances decrease.

It’s one of the several reasons why I attempt to get to the ground very early. So I can get myself into my own bubble and effectively pretend all those around out there. Hide, in other words.

But it’s much harder for away games. There can be no structured routine, and the things I can use to calm the anxiety aren’t there. Things that aren’t there for home games, such as something as silly as whether I’ll be able to use my camera of not, appear and cause huge, irrational worry.

Apart from the fact I’ll have my dad to fall back on, I don’t know who will be around me. Again, I’m not insulting those people as all of them will be Charlton fans, and all of them will be completely harmless. But that they’re there just creates an irrational panic for me, and a panic that I’m feeling now as I think about it.

The easy option would be too simply have a break until I’m in a mentally stronger place. But there’s a competing anxiety. I’ll feel worse for not going.

I set a standard to myself last season by attending all 46 league games last season despite suffering then, and to give in now would be a horrendous sign of regression and failure. Similarly, the real distraction for me that comes from football is writing and organising this blog, and I couldn’t do that to any reasonable standard if I didn’t attend. It’s not a case of needing to prove anything to others or to show off, but to prove something to myself and to my over functioning mind.

Not going, in my opinion, would definitely make things more worse, but going is going to be a challenge that will make things worse. I can’t win.

I saw it more towards the end of last season. I felt more uncomfortable, had more periods of anxiety, had things that felt like they were building towards panic attacks and I became completely irrational. Home and away.

So too seizures and shakes, in relation to my epilepsy. I’m thankful to have only had one during a game, which was just prior to the walk out protest during the Middlesbrough game a few seasons ago, but I’ve had several before and after matches. I had one before the home game against Millwall last season and I still could have refereed it better than Keith Stroud.

But shakes, dizzy spells and vacant spells are increasing, particularly outside. They’re only visible if you’re taking a very sharp focus on me, which I wouldn’t recommend with the way I look, and the physical damage they do is minimal, but they leave me feeling very weak. The greater problem in this scenario is on my mental health.

It’s a huge crash. I become aggressive and short tempered, tense and uncomfortable, and not in the sort of way you can hide among the emotions you can express in a football ground. It’s just another thing to add to the long list of things about anxious about/reasons I might become anxious as the season approaches.

And in truth, I’m already worried about attending pre-season games. My warped mind is telling me I have to go because I need fresh photos of the new recruits, and I’d feel anxious without them. I’ve also been to plenty of pre-season games in the past few seasons, so not going in my head seems like another sign of regression that I don’t want to accept.

I’m definitely going to the Greenwich Borough game. Because a figure within the opposition’s side has almost become a friend in the way he’s supported me. I’ve always felt too anxious to actually make use of the phone number Bradley Pritchard gave me, but that he genuinely gives a shit about me is something I’m incredibly grateful for.

But I’ve been to Welling for god knows how many years in a row. The two games back-to-back isn’t the issue. It’s just simply going to the game that’s creating a level of anxiety that I’m worried is going to be there all season.

The argument some will offer is “you’ll be alright once is starts”. Maybe. Maybe some fears will subside once I’ve taken in a few games.

But these aren’t just worries born out of a bored summer. They’re genuine ones that grew and grew throughout last season, and were largely hidden. And they’re ones that are fears as the new season moves closer

At least I’ll have my dad with me throughout the season, who I can fall back and will make it feel easier, but I do worry I’m going to be hiding these feelings.  I worry there will come a time where I can’t hide them no more. Anxiety is silly.


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