Following on from yesterday’s blog which revealed that Grangetown Netball Club’s amazing Prem 1 squad will be getting involved in raising raise mental health awareness over the forthcoming months, I have one further netball-related “challenge” – and I’m definitely going to need to ask for some help.
Within the 100 challenges I completed between 2014 and 2018 were a number that came under the general heading of “meeting” … meeting someone: someone born on the same day as me, a primary school classmate, an Olympic gold medallist, a punk legend, a Coronation Street actor, my local MP, someone who has had a no.1 record, a Rio 2016 medallist – and so the list goes on.
Arranging to meet someone you either don’t know or haven’t seen for 30 or more years can take a huge amount of planning, and often a considerable amount of driving … whilst the actual meeting might take anything from a couple of hours to a matter of minutes.
That said to have the opportunity to spend any length of time in the company of someone who has achieved something remarkable, or someone with whom you have any sort of past connection is genuinely special… moments that can create lasting memories (and in some cases even friendships).
And when someone who (as an example) can show you a small case containing an Olympic gold medal would rather talk about your reasons for wanting to raise mental health awareness, than their own incredible exploits on the track … well that is the very definition of humbling.
So, on the basis that Grangetown Netball Club’s Prem squad will be helping me to try and show that it is fine to talk openly about mental health and ask for help if you’re struggling, I thought it would be a nice idea to maintain a netball theme for the 2019 version of this kind of challenge: “to meet six Super League or international netballers”.
Not just any six though … I could do that by attending almost any Grangetown Prem 1 fixture. To make it a proper challenge, six names will be picked at random from a list of 50 outstanding athletes (although it could have easily been 100 or more), and my task is then to try and arrange to meet them at some point during 2019.
On the right is the alphabetical (by first name) list – there are four current players from each Super League team, a few overseas-based internationals and a couple of high profile former internationals.
There are some obvious problems. There are no Super League clubs anywhere near Middlesbrough … some of the players are based abroad … and perhaps the biggest obstacle of all is that meeting me is likely to be at the bottom of anyone’s “to do” list – but I suppose if it was easy, then it wouldn’t be a challenge.
I have asked Becky Oatley (who I have already had the pleasure of meeting), The Netball Show (Andy Lamb) and Courtside Comments if they would pick two numbers each between 1 and 50. I have used a random number generator to shuffle the list, so they would have no idea who they were selecting.
In numerical order, these are the six numbers that were chosen: 7, 21, 24, 37, 42 and 46 … and with a suitably dramatic drum roll, the corresponding players (to whom I apologise unreservedly in advance) are: Maryka Holtzhausen, Tamsin Greenway, Kathryn Turner, Rachel Dunn, Lindsay Keable and Maria Folau.
The serious aspect to all of this is that I will not be able to arrange anything without asking for help. I’ve suffered from a chronic form of thankfully mild depression for over 40 years, and I wouldn’t be coping anywhere near as well as I do if I hadn’t gone to my GP … and asked for help.
To some degree I am affected every single day by my condition, but I’m loved, supported and most of the time, I’m strong enough to fight. My life changed the day I first spoke to my GP: please never be afraid to ask for help…
In 2004, I was formally diagnosed with a form of depression (now recognised as dysthymia) from which I had suffered since my early teens … in 2011, I first opened up about my condition and how it affects me … then, in 2014, I began a series of over 100 challenges to raise mental health awareness; to show that it is fine to talk about mental health, and to ask for help if you are struggling.
Those messages remain every bit as relevant and important in 2019, and after five years of pushing myself, emotionally and physically (from performing stand-up comedy to rowing a marathon and plenty in between), I will continue sharing my experiences, trying to raise awareness and challenging stigma … but now I will have the support of Grangetown Netball Club.
Mental health does not discriminate. It can affect anyone, of any age, at any time … and no one is immune. You might feel embarrassed or ashamed; you might feel that no one feels the way you do, that no one will understand, or you might think that no one will listen; but whatever the situation, however hard it might be to find the strength say those first words, there’s no need to feel embarrassed, you are absolutely not alone; and you need to know that people will listen, and people will help…
Back in 2014, I asked Grangetown Netball Club if they would help me complete the challenge of “playing goal shooter in a netball team”. They did help. I played. I was rubbish … but everyone was so welcoming and supportive that I stayed in touch, and now write match reports and articles on behalf of the Premier League squad, who have developed into one of the best club sides in the whole country.
You might think there is no link between me missing shot after shot on a netball court and struggling with a mental health condition, but when I approached Grangetown and when I first sat down in front of my GP, it was to “ask for help”.
The connection might seem simplistic … but for me it’s incredibly powerful.
Netball is a fast, exciting team sport, with those at the top of the game being some of the finest athletes on the planet. Grangetown Netball Club’s Prem 1 squad is flying the flag for elite women’s sport in north east England, and it is wonderful that they are willing to get involved and support raising mental health awareness.
The plan is to see if various individuals or clubs would be willing to arrange a handful of “challenges” involving me and some of the Prem squad; it could be netball-related, it could be any other sport (for example a penalty shoot-out against a professional goalkeeper…); it might even be in a recording studio!
Whatever the challenge happens to be, the aim as always will be to show just what can be achieved by asking for help; then use blogs, photos and videos to highlight and reinforce the all-important messages. If you are struggling, you don’t have to suffer in silence; it’s fine to talk about mental health (whether to a friend, relative, teacher, colleague, GP…), and asking for help is not only a sign of amazing courage, it is also the first step on a road that can lead to really positive outcomes…