Today is World Mental Health day and as regular readers of the blog know, it is an issue close to my heart. I’ve admitted previously to suffering depression and anxiety at different stages of my life. A few months ago I was involved with Nathan Arnold’s anxiety workshop and in the spring of 2017 I shall be releasing my long-anticipated book on being a football mascot and suffering mental health issues.
I was very keen to share my experiences in the summer and hoped they helped some people. The feedback from the event was very good and I know many undertook further sessions with Nathan or organised something in conjunction with him. I sloped off back into the shadows personally, a little over-awed by having come out and spoken but also feeling I’d taken a big step forward in dealing with the issues I had. As today is world mental health day, I thought it might be appropriate to do a small follow-up piece on my experiences since then. Despite the outward façade of confidence and self-belief, the black dog of anxiety does still lurk within.
“My palms are sweaty, my heart is pounding and as I drive, I’m playing scenarios over in my head. Every time I analyse what might happen when I reach my destination, the knot in my stomach tightens. Briefly, when passing through Sudbrooke, I feel I may have to vomit before I arrive. It passes quickly but I change my route to put the problem off a little longer. However, there is nothing I can do. This is my job, this is vital to what I want to do with my future. Before I set off I’d imagined a hundred ways to avoid having to do it, I’d watched the clock move from 5am to 9am hoping something would crop up that would mean I could get out of going. I can’t though, I know I can’t and I know that I have to push myself out of my comfort zone and into my stretch zone. I know I have a date with destiny, I know I have to go there again.”
It sounds like I was on my way to a big appointment doesn’t it? Maybe a job interview or an important meeting? I wasn’t, I’m not talking about anything as grand as that. I’m talking about yesterday on my way to deliver magazines to newsagents in town. One of the newsagents hadn’t been entirely welcoming last time for whatever reason, and I was petrified of going in again. What if they hadn’t sold any? What if they gave me loads of negative feedback? How would I cope if they were really dismissive? Don’t get me wrong, they did nothing wrong the first time, not really. I went in at a busy time, sales had been poor and the manager hadn’t been there, but the whole situation had really bugged me. The next newsagent I went to that day had previously agreed to stock the magazine but virtually threw me out on the street when I turned up with it. That fifteen minute spell from four weeks ago made me dread my trip around on Monday. I fear lots of things but I fear rejection and failure more than anything (except spiders).
It was, of course, irrational. All of the newsagents I went into were pleased to see me, they all had great things to say about the magazine and they all either took the same amount of copies or more. Sales were great in some places and good in others with just one newsagent not selling any. People were friendly and I finished my day at 1.30pm to head off to the dentist. I knew at the dentist I was having a painful procedure done, but that didn’t bother me at all. My anxiety isn’t about physical pain or the fear of it, not at all. Mine is all about those personal interactions and how I am perceived by other people. I wasn’t at all phased at having to rinse my blood-filled mouth on six occasions, each time returning to the pillow to have a man angrily scrape below my gum-line some more. I know when newsagent day comes around again I will once again be terrified of a bad interaction, but when I next go to the dentist I’ll be far less worried. Selling, pitching and product happen every day, I’ve seen sales reps in businesses so ballsy they have to be crowbarred out of a place before they take a hint. I just have to have someone say thank you in the wrong tone and I feel like I’ve failed. On reflection it is pathetic, but fellow anxiety sufferers will be reading this and they’ll know.
At the Barnet game I was fortunate enough to have many blog readers and magazine readers come over for a chat. At one point three or four different people, unknown to each other, were around me and I was trying desperately to ensure I spoke to everyone. At half-time, with us leading 2-0, my thoughts were not entirely of how well we’d played, but of concern that one of the people whom I’d spoken to had to walk away because others were also talking to me. Said person had generously made a donation to the blog a week or so before and I felt as if I’d failed them by not giving them enough time. I’m sure that wasn’t the case, but it worried me so much I messaged them on social media to apologise. Is that normal? Is anxiety a mental illness or a personality trait? Sometimes I don’t even know myself.
Recently one or two people I know me have exhibited signs of mental illness, depression through grief and stress, or have shown signs of acute anxiety that could, in other circumstances, be misconstrued as rudeness. It is hard to spot the signs in other sometimes, nobody spotted them in me for sixteen years so I know how adept sufferers become at hiding things. We hide mental illness for a number of reasons, perhaps it is the stigma still attached by society. Maybe it is a lack of understanding of the problem too, there is still a ‘man up’ philosophy that seems to be the advice offered to many sufferers. Some hide it because of outright fear, a paralysing and debilitating fear of the unknown. With a broken leg the doctor can tell you how long you’ll take to heal, what treatment is effective and what previous patients have done to improve their ailment. With mental illness everyone is unique, everyone reacts differently and some people think there is no helping them. Such is the nature of depression or anxiety that you think you’re the only one that understands your issues and therefore you can’t possibly show the world what you think and feel can you?
Please, share your problems. I believe, despite my paragraphs above, that I’m improving all the time. I may have been terrified of putting myself out there on Monday but I did it and I came home feeling stronger and more focused on the magazine than ever. By challenging yourself to achieve small goals you take a step forward every time. By sharing your issues you can find some comfort in knowing you’re not alone. You don’t have to sit for hours dissecting every little feeling of fear or isolation you have, sometimes just telling a friend you’re struggling and need support is enough. Sometimes just an arm around the shoulder and the words ‘I understand’ actually make a difference. Sometimes, just knowing that many of the people you see every day feel exactly the same as you is of some comfort. I may not have spoken to Nathan about my issues since, nor have I taken any of the pathways we spoke about on that night in July, but I feel all the better for having done it. I see some of the faces from that evening around the ground and I remember the positivity that came from that session. I take comfort from that and I hope they do to.
If you are suffering from depression, anxiety or any mental health issues, please do not suffer alone. They say a problem shared is a problem halved, I’m not sure it is halved, but believe me the comfort you can derive from sharing and having someone understand might just be the difference between going over the edge, or fighting back against the bastard mental illness that is dogging you right now.
Thank you for reading.
I won’t be sharing this on the usual Lincoln City related sites as it isn’t entirely Imps related, but please feel free to share it to your own feeds or groups if you so wish. I’m happy for it to be out there, I just don’t want to force it onto groups that might not find it all that relevant.