On the face of it, there is very little similarity between sitting down for lunch with one of the finest players in world netball and driving an old friend around various professional rugby league grounds.
There is a link, however, and it is simply to raise mental health awareness; to try and show that it is both fine to talk openly and honestly about such a difficult subject; and it is also fine to ask for help if you are struggling.
The message doesn’t come with any promises or guarantees. Everyone is different, and there are numerous mental health conditions with wide-ranging symptoms, the effect of which can contrast dramatically from person to person. Treatment can take many forms … and recovery lengths and levels can be equally varied; but however the future may unfold, the proverbial road must always begin with that first and toughest step.
It took me many years to have the self-awareness and strength to take that step; but the tears that fell down my face as I talked (for the very first time) to my doctor were undeniably a major turning point. Reaching the stage where I could write about the condition I have was another massively important moment. I haven’t “recovered”, but I am able to recognise I am very different to the person I was even a decade ago.
I’ve had such a lot of support, for which I am and always will be grateful; but I’ve also had to find reserves of strength that I didn’t believe I possessed to get to where I am.
Over time, I realised I wanted to do more to highlight the importance of being able to talk about the kind of things I’d fought so hard to hide since my teens. I am so glad I decided to attempt a series of what is now well over 100 “challenges” to raise mental health awareness … I have learned so much about myself and my condition, met so may inspiring people and (rather selfishly) been able to have numerous experiences to remember and cherish; but I’ve never lost sight of the underlying theme or message that has shaped so much of the past five or more years of my life.
Last Wednesday, I was lucky enough to spend a couple of hours in the wonderful company of South African netballer Maryka Holtzhausen (along with my friends Becky and Clive); this coming Monday, I will spend the day with Chris Hood, a friend I met through rugby league and have had the pleasure of knowing for the best part of 20 years.
We’ll be looking to visit the grounds of 11 (although it may end up being 10) professional rugby league clubs in eight hours. Of course, the event carries the mental health message, but will also allow Chris and I to take an extended trip down memory lane as 2019 marks the 20th anniversary of the debut season of Gateshead Thunder … a club whose history has been let’s say “turbulent”, but I’ve made a lot of friends through supporting the various incarnations of the club and this is my way of paying tribute to the original squad for what they helped to create.
It is also an opportunity to mention one of those players, Adam Maher, who is still in his 40s, but is battling Motor Neurone Disease. Adam couldn’t have been a top class forward without being blessed with great courage to match his ability – and he’s clearly going to need all that courage to face the hardest fight of all.
Adam will be in our thoughts throughout the day, but especially when we arrive at Rochdale Hornets, one of his former clubs…
I'm sure the conversations I had with Maryka will be very different from the ones I will have with Chris (and I expect Monday’s menu to be considerably less healthy too); but the fact remains that both days will only have happened because I asked for help...
The link remains simplistic – it is also still very powerful. Please don’t be afraid to ask for help if you are struggling. It is fine to talk about how you are feeling; you are not alone and things can, and do get better.