Mental Health Awareness Week (18 -24 May), is an opportunity for all of us to think about a topic that has gained traction in recent years; our mental health.
Mental health is complicated. Everyone is different, everyone has their own troubles and problems in this vast world we live in and it is important to talk about these.
My story is just one of millions, and in this current climate, an issue more important than ever.
I’ve been lucky this past year to have been granted a wonderful opportunity to follow the Bedford Blues and report on a multitude of different sports and topics for the Bedford Independent, a career I am now focused on going as far as I can in.
But it’s only been a matter of a few years since I’ve managed to find the right path.
I have always been a keen sportsman. Football, rugby, cricket, golf and any other sport you can name have always caught my eye. However, I am also gay.
Growing up in macho sporting environments, hiding this secret for years sent me spiralling into depression, a battle I have only just started to win.
We have heard a number of stories in recent years, from celebrities and us normal folk alike, and each story has the power to embolden someone else.
It’s why talking, and indeed words, are so important.
The feeling of loneliness is one that depression clings on to, but now we’re reaching a stage where safety in numbers is beginning to change lives.
As a teenager and a young adult, I thought I was completely alone. Being gay and being a footballer and a rugby player; a golfer and a cricketer was a chalk and cheese existence.
My love of the self-proclaimed beautiful game was trumped by my fear of being ridiculed.
It didn’t matter how far I went in any sport. If someone found out I was gay, my life was over; for my life was sport.
All of those changing room jibes, the distasteful language and the in-jokes made my life hell, in a place where I was supposed to enjoy. My mind was plagued with insecurity and dread.
From 17 years old, (I am now 29), things went downhill drastically. I ran away from home, I barely attended sixth form, and my grades suffered hugely as a result meaning I never went to university.
I drank too much, partying away weekends like any other young man my age, with this secret eating away at me.
It was a lot to manage as a young man, and being someone who used to bottle things up, I felt I had no one to turn to, despite the best efforts of my wonderfully supportive family.
It came to a head quite a few times.
Three stints in hospital, including two in the now defunct Weller Wing at Bedford Hospital slowly but surely taught me how to manage my mind and despite it taking many years, I’m now in a position where I can safely say that the dark days are behind me.
Recovery from poor mental health is not linear. It zig-zags and criss-crosses and can be infuriating as well as rewarding.
There’s a myriad of different tools across the internet and in Bedford’s community that can help you along the way, including Ben Salmon’s wonderful ‘Let’s Be Open About Mental Health‘ initiative that helps hundreds of Bedfordians every day.
I’m far from the finished article – no pun intended – but keeping a handle on the basics in life can pay huge dividends.
Learning that life is not a race, and you have the freedom to do things at your own pace and in your own time, is one of the key factors in my recovery and has held me in good stead in recent years.
Using the people and the resources around you is also key. Let people in, and you’ll be amazed what they can do for you, and although it’s a bit of a modern cliche, but not paying attention to people’s perfect filtered lives on Instagram can also go a long way!
I have a plaque on my living room wall at home that says, “Take pride in how far you have come. And have faith in how far you can go.”
I think that sums it up pretty well.