Chris Powell's Flat Cap

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Am I Doing Enough?

I often wonder whether there is a frustration, an anger, with me from the outside. The same frustration and anger that I feel towards myself, that probably has some rationality attached to it but seems largely based on self-loathing and hatred. Are people annoyed that, in particular, I appear to only be regressing with my mental health and seemingly doing little about it?

Oh look, he’s constructed another eight-Tweet thread about how he’s feeling. Ah, there’s another 2,000-word blog piece about wanting to throw himself in the bin head first. Instead of repeating very similar emotions with different words on the world wide web, how about actually trying to address them?

That’s me shouting at myself, the moment I express how I feel on any platform, regardless of the fact there are perfectly legitimate and beneficial reasons why I do so. I imagine most people don’t actually give a shit, because they have their own lives and I don’t actually play any part in it. They probably just do a bit of tutting, don’t read, then like a photo of a nice cat.

But such self-criticism, and self-doubt in a process of expression that allows me to understand and take control of emotions that otherwise overwhelm me as just one of many reasons why I choose to do it, surely only exists because I fear what others think. Fearing that I’m clogging up Twitter feeds, writing a load of utter nonsense, and making people cringe is probably perfectly reasonable. Having an intense anxiety that people are critical of my lack of progress, and believe I effectively embrace the position I’m in by not doing enough to further myself and my health, probably isn’t.

One of the reasons that I think I have that intense fear is a consequence of not responding in the way you might expect to quite visible support. Disappointing those, often near strangers with no need to be so kind, who have offered caring words when I’ve expressed emotion. A sense that I’ve insulted those of higher status who have gone out of their way to offer assistance, and insulted further those who can’t believe that level of support hasn’t made a difference.

Johnnie Jackson, the captain of Charlton Athletic who inspires players and supporters, sent me a signed shirt with a message on in December of last year after reading one of my blog posts. A few months ago he messaged me asking if there was anything more he could do to help, and that that offer would always stand. That’s Johnnie Jackson, a man whose wholehearted performances helped even when he wasn’t interacting with me, going out of his way to support a supporter/peasant.

Chris Powell sent me a Christmas card last year, with an invitation for me and my dad to be his guest at a Derby County game. Fixture changes and the sacking of Steve McLaren meant it never happened, but the offer alone was more than enough. You might have noticed I’m quite fond of Chris Powell.

Bradley Pritchard is in regular contact with me. Appreciative of my following of him (though I’m just grateful he’s not taken out a restraining order), he’s sent an extended letter, drove me to the station after a Greenwich Borough game and discussed my physical and mental health with me, and frequently been absolutely fantastic. He even sent a text me at the weekend after I gave a very small amount of money to his project.

Additionally, I have Northants cricketers offer similar levels of support. The experience of attending Northants games on my own is made a great deal easier by the interaction the players offer, and the interest and care they show, largely a consequence of having a few seizures at games. I’d go into more detail if this wasn’t a football blog, but there’s at least four who are absolutely bloody marvellous.

Quite simply, I don’t deserve it. There’s people in worse states, who deserve that time. I cannot express the value I attach to such support.

But, more importantly, people in similar states don’t get it. And people in similar states are able to make progress without such incredible support. I feel ashamed at such a thought; angry at myself, a sense of guilt that I’ve not made more of the support, fear about how people perceive me as a consequence.

How doesn’t that all help? Well, it does. The emotions that the help I’ve received, whether it be a simple comment from a stranger on Twitter or Johnnie Jackson making me feel like a valued human being, provides have been incredible.

Ultimately, though, I’m ill. I feel a sense of guilt saying this but support like that, as incredible as it is, wouldn’t heal a broken leg. I need something more substantial and constant to improve. (I feel like I’ve just completely devalued it, I haven’t, I’m sure you’re all aware of that, these are the ridiculous fears I have)

I need friends. I have one person that I would call a friend, who I talk to everyday, but I don’t see them. Intense anxiety makes the loneliness and isolation feel impossible to break out of.

I need professional help. My previous counsellor left his job, and I’ve been a waiting list now for 14 weeks since. My epilepsy nurse informed me today that she believes my decreasing physical state is related to my mental health, so help would be helpful.

I need to make changes. But I’m in no state to make changes. I don’t really know how to help myself, despite desperately wanting to and trying to when I do see fragmented opportunities.

I’ve tried to escape, distract, for too long without success. I need to heal. I need to show others that I’m healing, primarily so I can stop beating myself up.

Similarly, I worry there’s a view of cynicism surrounding the fact that I don’t appear to be doing anything practical. Just the norm. The things I’ve always done, which evidently don’t do much.

The truth is, I’m too anxious to break routine, however small. I might see something I want to do, and I’ll spend a great deal of time considering it, but ultimately come to the conclusion that engaging with it would be too terrifying. A different choice of food, something that I would logically enjoy, possibly positive help; all horrific to consider and follow through with.

I constantly have to justify to myself, and to others around me, that I want to get better and that I am pushing myself. That I’m not just accepting the position I’m in, and there’s a legitimate reason why I struggle to break the mould. Depression, anxiety and epilepsy has completely crippled my life; I can guarantee I don’t want to remain like this.

Imagine actually accepting this as your life. Imagine living with total sadness, total fear, in a state of total isolation, without direction, and without reasonable quality of life. Imagine not wanting to seek change.

But then I do ask myself, is it all worth it? Battling against the powers that control me, only to lose even when I win. Anxiety and depression strike even when an opportunity comes for me to enjoy something, and it’s in those cases I really do feel the better option is to hide away, accept that everyone is going to hate me for my lack of progress, and hope it’ll all magically disappear without me making any effort.

I am, however, trying something this Sunday. Something different, that most certainly breaks the routine and means I’m going to have to battle against a crusading army of anxiety-filled warriors. Charlton have offered me an opportunity to try something different.

At the game against Bury, I was told I couldn’t use my camera after about seven decades (three years or so) of using it without problem. After some conversations with the very helpful Tom Rubashow thereafter, I unfortunately couldn’t resume using my camera in the stands. Perfectly reasonable, perfectly helpful, lots of disappointment but no intention to stage a one-man protest outside either the press or security departments.

However, without suggestion or demand, I was offered a pitch-side press pass, which I can take advantage of where I feel appropriate. They could have, and probably should have, just palmed me off and forgotten about me. Instead, Mr Rubashow and Charlton’s media team have joined that list of people who have done things for me that I don’t deserve.

I shall be pitch-side for the Truro FA Cup game on Sunday. A more relaxed setting to start, I felt, and a fantastic opportunity. All the same, I’m fucking terrified.

I’m not physically or mentally well enough to be in a new environment, there’s people I don’t know that I’ll have to be around and interact with, I feel incredible small in these situations, I’m going to get into states of panic about the situation, I’m not actually very good at photography. There’s some more nonsense but you get the general idea. I’m a bit worried.

Writing that out makes me want to email the media team and say, “sorry lads, gutted to be missing out on photos and the free pies, but I’m going to sit in the West Stand and have a good cry, that alright?” But I’ve done it now. Aside from being too scared to pull out, the regret and self-hatred I’ll feel if I don’t do it will probably mean I won’t leave my room for quite some time, let alone attempt to make progress.

I’ve not had an invitation like this in recent memory. The words I have written in this piece would immediately become bollocks if I don’t take it. The people that I imagine beat me up over the help from famous people would probably remove one of my limbs and beat me up with that if I don’t take it.

And, truthfully, I love photography. Photography and refereeing. Those are the things that still allow me to escape for four seconds from wanting to throw myself in a bin head first.

I’m still highly critical of myself, but I can be rational. I can see when I’ve done well without any sort of clouding, and get a buzz from it. Refereeing is escapism that works, I’m performing a role that isn’t me, while when I’m using my camera, I’m focusing in more ways than one (god that was dreadful, sorry).

But the sharp intake and outtake of breath I’ve just required reaffirms the fact this all rather scary. I’m not being overly negative, or inviting negativity that isn’t there, mainly because I’m desperately desperate for this to be, if nothing else, a release. There’s genuine gear, and genuine anxiety.

So what do I hope to gain from Sunday? Well, some nice photos that people will like on Twitter and make me feel like I serve a purpose and I’m not completely useless. And the experience of being in such a setting, though I don’t think I’m going to take photography further; I’ve never had training or anything, and it’s fluke that I’m in this position.

Maybe going through with a situation that evokes anxiety, and as such challenging anxiety, will let me challenge other situations where anxiety prevents progress like Ben Amos to Bradford City forwards. But that seems a step beyond reality. Dad’s taking me, and that’s the biggest barrier, I need him to be holding my hand to do anything.

Truthfully, I just want it to provide proof to my doubts, with anything being a bonus. I just want it to be something to look back on that lets me tell myself “look you bloody idiot, you do help yourself, now stop trying to beat yourself up and wondering who hates and go makes yourself a cup of tea”. I’d make the tea anyway but tea when wanting to put yourself in a bin a little bit less tastes better, in my experience.

I just want to reassure myself that I am helping myself. I want to stop feeling embarrassed by my lack of progress.

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4 Comments

  1. Tony Fielding says:

    This is an extraordinary piece of writing. Such ability to articulate complex feelings is rarely seen these days. You have a great deal to offer. I do hope the game on Sunday goes well for you and that you get some good photos.

  2. Theo luck says:

    Grab that opportunity and stop being down on yourself! Great blog keep doing it and keep moving forward. Glad you’ve got the balls to talk about your mental health so openly. Unfortunately our NHS isn’t really able to help you much at the moment as mental health isn’t a priority. Whether you count them as friends or not your have some very positive people around you and who read what you write, leverage them to drive yourself forward. Look at what you have (pitch side access!!!) not what you haven’t.
    Speaking As a healthcare professional you may need to look outside of the NHS to support you as Mental Health services are being dismantled. Unless you are unwell enough to get sectioned the NHS often won’t get it doesn’t have the resources to get involved. Sorry but that’s a fact and it’s goingbto get worse.

    You don’t need to publish this, I just wanted to give you recognition and acknowledgment that you are valued and respected whilst you also deserve credit and recognition for doing something that lots of people can’t do – talk about your head!

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