I’ve written a lot about the impact depression and anxiety have had on my life and, as you would expect, it doesn’t make for particularly light reading. I’ve given raw, honest accounts of my experiences, detailing the soul-sucking nature of depression and the crippling effect of anxiety. And whilst I think it’s important to write things like that – not least because it gets people talking about a topic that is too often derided and dismissed – there is also a place for pieces that highlight the great work being done to combat these issues. That’s where (me) united comes in.
I first stumbled across (me) united back in June, a couple of months after I’d quit my job after learning the hard way that being depressed and being a fully- functioning member of society don’t exactly go hand in hand. I was – as I so often am – in the depths of despair. It was somewhere between midnight and 3am and I was sat trawling through Twitter for mental health support, using hashtags like #depressed, #Liverpool, #help etc. Most of what came up was just fellow Reds venting their frustrations at matters on the pitch, but then I saw an advert for football therapy sessions in my local area. Interest piqued, I delved in for more information. Anyone that knows me knows that I love football, and anyone who has read my other, more personal, more profanity-laden blog posts knows how important it has been in pulling me out of dark patches over the years. But I’d never given any serious thought to actually playing it. I hadn’t given any serious thought to playing any kind of sport since the day of my last PE lesson. With good reason, too. I’m dire. My footballing prowess at that point stretched as far as toeying it wildly over the garden fence as a kid, with plenty of power but very little technique. But this wasn’t about that. I knew that physical exercise was meant to be good for mental health and I had nothing to lose. Something different to sitting on a comfy chair in a counsellor’s office attempting to dissect my broken brain, at least. And probably less exhausting.
So I got in touch with Matthew (the coach) who was great, and hugely supportive. I warned him that beginner was an understatement and he assured me that that wouldn’t matter. I had a bit of a wait for the sessions to start as it was only the beginning of June and the launch wasn’t until the end of July, but that was probably a good thing because it gave me something to hold onto. The football season was over and it wasn’t a World Cup/Euros year, and I was newly jobless, so positive distractions were few and far between. I felt like shit 24/7. Due to things going on in my personal life, my emotional state was deteriorating rapidly. I’m not gonna throw massive statements around here, but the importance that the launch day of 28th July had in my head over the course of last summer should not be underestimated.
And no, you’re not gonna read on to find that I discovered hidden talents and suddenly became Rachael of the Rovers. I was just as woeful as I’d anticipated, but I got home from that first session in July feeling better than I did before I went, and that is what it’s all about. I kept thinking: “it’s alright, you can just go home whenever you want” but it turns out I didn’t want. I did the warm-ups and the drills and even played in some matches. Well, sort of. I was on the pitch, anyway. My mind was occupied by things like “shit, I’ve got the ball, what do I do now?!” which is a far nicer problem to have than the ones that are usually festering away. I felt like a kid again, running around a pitch trying to make my feet do what my head was telling them (and failing) but this time I enjoyed it, because there was no pressure, no-one getting pissed off, no-one taking it too seriously. There were some great people there who made things easier for me; made me feel less self-conscious and more willing to just give it a go, and I went back for more the following week, and the week after that, and the week after that.
Somewhere along the line, I disappeared back down my rabbit hole. I stopped turning up. But I am so glad that I decided to make that step and get involved. Some might say it was out of character; that I don’t do things like that. Well I did this time.
I turned up at (me) united with a whole host of problems and I’m not going to pretend that they’ve gone away. They’re very much ongoing, and I can’t really envisage a time when they won’t be. But when they’re interrupted by positive experiences, they dominate far less headspace. The effect that the sessions had on me is such that I started to look for a girls’ team to train with. More than that, I found one and played in an actual, competitive match; something I never would have considered without (me) united. I took a chance on something and good things happened. I got out of bed, I exercised, and I left with the confidence and the motivation to explore new opportunities. Bearing in mind that there’s plenty of times when I can’t even bring myself to leave the house, I think I can class that unexpected little wave of proactive optimism as one of those clichéd small victories that we’re told should be celebrated.
That alone is proof that stuff like (me) united works. It will undoubtedly help different people in different ways. If you are in the Liverpool area and you suffer with poor mental health, get in contact here via Twitter: https://twitter.com/TeamMeUnited or Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TeamMeUnited/
If you’re not in Liverpool but have the opportunity to get involved in something similar, do it. What have you got to lose?