I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I’ve driven 440 miles to go out for lunch.
Actually, I can count the number of times on one finger…
The logical assumptions would be that any such trip would have to be in some way important or special; and both would be correct, as yesterday, I found myself strolling through the streets of Worcester (en route to Chesters Restaurant) discussing all things netball with one of the finest players in the sport.
Worcester is home to the Severn Stars Super League netball franchise; their captain is Maryka Holtzhausen, a South African international with 105 caps to her name (she is only the second South African to have reached the milestone) … and she had been kind enough to not only meet me, but to actually take time out of her day to go out for a bite to eat as part of my ongoing work to raise mental awareness.
As many of you will know, I’ve spent the past five-and-a-bit years undertaking all sorts of different “challenges”, all to try and show that it’s fine to talk about mental health and to ask for help if you’re struggling.
I wish there was a magic cure to the various conditions that affect so many lives, but whilst the road towards any level of recovery is likely to be hard, the “journey” (much as I hate the word) must always start with probably the hardest step of all. There are never any guarantees, but I’ve attempted all these challenges to prove that things can get better.
I’ve pushed myself to play (or at least try and play) various sports against some of the best this country has to offer; performed live stand-up comedy; sung live and in a recording studio; slept rough for a night; arranged to visit special places and meet some truly wonderful people … but this year is (almost) all about netball.
Through my involvement as a volunteer with Grangetown Netball Club (fourth-best in the country … have I mentioned that before?!), I have not only seen some fantastic sporting action, but have been lucky enough to meet some lovely people and even make some good friends. I’ve loved every minute and just felt that basing this year’s efforts around netball would be a positive thing to do.
Yesterday’s trip came about after six well-known netballers were chosen completely at random – my “challenge” being to try and meet them. As I have mentioned before, none of them had asked to be involved … and it would be (and still is) perfectly reasonable to assume that they might not want to spend any time in the company of someone they don’t know…
So, I would have to ask for help (from friends … friends of friends etc); but it’s fine to ask for help; and that albeit simplistic link with mental health remains as relevant and important to me now as it did when the challenges first began.
I am indebted to Becky Oatley, a former Stars defender and Wales international for arranging for me to meet Maryka – and for inviting Clive Jones along to make up the quartet round the dinner table. Becky won’t thank me for saying this, but she really is an inspiring young woman. I had met her once before, and it was wonderful to have the chance to spend a bit more time in her company.
Clive and I met for the first at the recent Wasps vs London Pulse game in Coventry; he has been incredibly generous and supportive, and it was great to catch up again.
The one person I hadn’t met before was Maryka, but I have to say it was an absolute privilege.
She is a charming and engaging young woman, with a humility that belies her ability and status as an elite athlete. We spoke at length about South Africa’s performances in the Quad Series and prospects in upcoming World Cup (which are extremely good I hasten to add), and during the meal the conversation covered many different aspects of netball, sport in general … even pottery got a mention!
It was such an enjoyable couple of hours, and very much a day to remember.
I’ve been so fortunate to have met Maryka and so many other amazing people over the past few years, but I still struggle to fully appreciate that those meetings only happened because I have had a mild, but chronic mental health condition for over 40 years.
During the last 15 of those years, I’ve been able to gain a better understanding of how my condition affects me, and what I need to do to cope with the “bad days”. With the love and support of those closest to me I have found the strength to be open about how I feel; yesterday I spent time with people who make a difference … I have to keep going and hope that one day I can do the same.