World Mental Health Day
No, not you.
They’re usually the words I hear when I tell people what I’m about to share with you.
Let’s go back twelve months – when, little did I know, but life was about to change big time. It hadn’t been the greatest summer. It was one which was plagued by anxiety which saw me have to take time off work, and spend time with another counsellor to try and work out why I was feeling in such a rut. I knew, like times before, that I would come through it but this time I was far happier to talk about things. Periods of depression and anxiety have been part of my life since I was seventeen, and for much of that time I just didn’t know how to talk about it, and would spend too much time locked away worrying about it on my own.
I found myself in a better place come last Autumn. I was focused on working hard at Eagle Radio to develop myself professionally, but also keeping an eye on what could be my next potential career move. A job at Leicester City Football Club came on to my radar. Having been working on some demo material, I thought I’d apply – just to see if I could get feedback on my demo as much as anything. I was invited for an interview. I thought I’d go to experience the interview process. Two days later I was offered the job. There was no doubt in my mind that I was going to accept it. Working for a Premier League football club as a TV presenter was too exciting to think twice about.
How exciting. I was working with a great team of people – who all take the piss out of each other all day long. Perfect atmosphere. My second day in the new job, I was hosting a programme for a cup Quarter Final. Then, on to creating a range of football content, doing work in the studio, hosting events with world class footballers. It was a dream job.
Unfortunately, things were a bit different behind closed doors.
Every day for a good couple of weeks I woke up in tears. In the shower, I thought it’d stopped, but as soon as I turned the water off, they carried on. OK – I’ve just moved away to somewhere I didn’t know, leaving everyone behind. It’s just a bit of homesickness. Unfortunately, the constant bad feeling carried on for months. Not wanting to get up in the morning. Not going a day without breaking down. I remember one day vividly, where I was walking down the street and thought, “Wow, I’ve not cried today”. It had become the norm. At work – I tried as much as I could to keep my normal attitude, but it got to a point where I knew I wasn’t being myself and the mask was starting to slip. I got involved in playing football and badminton, coaching a youth football team, pub quizzes, nights out. It wasn’t working. This was the lowest I’d ever felt.
I had the most amazing housemates – who welcomed me with open arms and made sure I knew everything I needed to about my new home. I somehow managed to keep the signs of my depression in my bedroom – and they were none the wiser. Family and friends wanted to FaceTime but I struggled to look at them because I didn’t want them to see the state I was in. They knew. My girlfriend’s Dad came onto the camera and said, “You’ll be fine. We all love you”. A man of few words – but those ones have stuck.
My Mum and Dad know me better than anyone. I must have spoken to them ten times daily. They were the only people I felt happy telling how I really felt.
So, if I’d become comfortable talking about my problems the previous summer, why was I so reluctant to let anyone in this time? Simple. I’d made a bold choice, moved away, taken a new job. I didn’t want people to see me struggling and thinking I’d failed. This was something I battled with – which heightened the situation.
In March, I went on holiday to Australia with my girlfriend and her family. This gave me lots of thinking time and one day sticks out in particular. We were on a train, 1,000 feet above sea level, passing through the rainforest. It was hammering it down. Everyone else had fallen asleep and I just had my music on and was thinking about the previous few months. I made the decision during that train ride that being unhappy wasn’t worth it – and if Leicester wasn’t the place for me, then that’s not a problem.
When I returned from that holiday, I instantly felt myself going backwards. I called my Mum in the middle of an anxiety attack. She said “why don’t you try it for a year and see how you feel”. Those words filled me with dread. “I can’t”. Then she said, “well, you have your answer”. After talking to my parents and those closest to me, including my MD at Eagle, for advice, I made the decision to have a crack at being a freelancer. What’s going to help someone with anxiety issues? A career that has no guaranteed work, income or stability!
I told my boss at Leicester what had been happening, and that I was leaving my role. The biggest thing you worry about is how people will react to you saying you have problems with your mental health. My boss replied “I just wish you had told us so we could have helped you”. No one was judging. They just wanted to help.
As I’ve moved into freelancing, I have found a new spring in my step and doors have opened for me all over the place – which is so exciting. I continue to work with Leicester City, who have been absolutely brilliant for me. I was working at an evening game earlier this season and because of the late finish I stayed with my old housemates in their spare room. I walked in and felt a knot in my stomach – thinking back to the hours spent crying in there. But I also felt so happy that I’d managed to get myself out of such a dark place in my head.
No, it’s not just gone away. I still have horrible days. I’m also not saying “look at me, give me some attention.” I wrote this because I was in the worst place I’ve ever been with my mental health. Talking about it is hard – but helps to bring things to the surface. Then, once they’re at the surface you can address them.
I’m lucky to have the most amazing support network of family and friends. Those people are vital, but essentially, what I’ve learnt is that you do have the power to make a change for yourself.
So when people say “no, not you”, I can now say “yes, me.” I’m still the gobby, excitable bloke with confidence to broadcast to thousands of people or get up on a stage in front of a crowd, but the chances are I’ve got a few demons with me too.
The difference is now they’re outnumbered because everyone knows about them.