Football, Writing and My Mental Health

It was World Mental Health Day on Sunday. Despite the fact that a lot of people will simply jump on the bandwagon to grab a few “likes” (#BeKind when it boosts engagement, right guys?), before going right back to dishing out online abuse, it’s still a really important cause and moment in the year.

For all of the celebrity endorsement and “it’s ok to not be ok” marketing on the benefits of talking and seeking help, the conversation on mental health is still stuck at that opening salvo of asking someone if they’re fine and we all need to be proactive in looking after ourselves and each other.

Working in the youth mental health area, World Mental Health Day and the weeks leading up to it are always quite overwhelming for me, usually because I’m swept off my feet with work, something that has ramped up tenfold this year as we begin to examine the wreckage and clear the debris caused by multiple lockdowns and the impact of the pandemic.

However, this year, things were even more overwhelming as on Sunday I realised something that stunned me. I haven’t actively thought about my own mental health in months. I felt quite guilty.

With mental health being a huge part of my life, both through work and past struggles, that worried me slightly. During the lockdowns, I was Mr Zen, always making sure to go out and exercise or taking time out to fully relax and become attuned with myself, with the sole aim of making sure my mental health was on point.

All my mates were being checked up on each week, to the point I was probably being a pain in the arse.

In a moment of quiet reflection, I realised that hasn’t actually changed. To be honest, I’m exercising more often now but it’s out of enjoyment, rather than forcing myself to get out to get some serotonin flowing round my body.

There are still times where I can fully relax and melt away and of course, I’m still there for my pals come rain or shine.

It’s just that now a lot of those things happen at the football, like they were always meant to.

To be quite honest, over the pandemic, I realised that I like football a hell of a lot less than people may think given that it’s basically my way of life.

Sitting at home watching countless streams of ghost games without crowds, confined to my sofa instead of a packed out away end or the comforting familiarity of my season ticket seat, it really hit home that the minutiae of football doesn’t always get my heart beating out of my chest in the way it does for other people.

The game of football, pitting 22 players and 2 managers against each other in a topsy-turvy, back and forth battle of wits and skill is great, it’s the best thing in the world but it’s nothing without everything else.

Without fans providing the pulsing lifeblood that breathes life into the sport, the rolling drumbeat of roars and songs that punctuate the ebb and flow of games, it became a bit like watching chess to me.

Sure, I could still marvel at and appreciate the skill involved, but it all seemed a bit pointless and repetitive. I’m not ashamed to say I’d mentally checked out of last season by February.

As someone with an on/off relationship with social anxiety, seasonal depression and dealing with the impact of being unable to manage grief properly as a child, football and Middlesbrough F.C. has always been an escape for me.

Each match is a shining beacon in the darkness, a little island where everything is alright, no matter what.

Matchday, for me, is being surrounded by 30-40 of my mates and being a bit of a knobhead. It’s getting the beers in and setting the world to rights, seeing how everyone is and listening to the lads have a bit of a whinge about work and their missus or finding out what the Boro Toddlers have been up to at school. It’s where I can most be ME.

It’s about being around the blokes that I’ve basically grown up with while following Them Reds around the country and finding peace in that we’ll be there no matter what before heading off to the game.

It’s about singing my head off with thousands of like-minded people, being proud to come from Teesside and going through the rollercoaster of emotions that football brings with my very best pals. That’s my meditation.

It’s the lads, the club, the result in that order. I wouldn’t take any enjoyment of going to watch the Boro, at any point, if I did it by myself and then went home and that’s okay. Not every football supporter follows a team for the exact same reason.

Of course, like we all do, I live and die by a result. I’m terrible to be around on the Monday after a loss and things are always better strolling into work after win, but I’ve become quite good at compartmentalising and moving on after a day or two.

Maybe that’s why I haven’t been vocal on the whole #WarnockOut discussion, but that’s a chat we’re going to have later in the week.

Obviously, I want this football club to be in the best shape possible. It’s why I’ve banged on about a director of football for years, it’s why I spend most of my free time discussing the club and how to improve the terrace culture here with my mates and it’s why I’ve got a list on my phone of possible next head coaches to obsess over.

Football is my happy place, win or lose. It gives me something to hold onto when work gets too much or I’m having another quarter-life crisis. Some of the best memories of my life have been seeing Gareth Southgate lift the League Cup, Boro clinching promotion against Brighton and falling asleep in primary school after staying up late to see the heroic UEFA Cup nights.

Equally, I’ll cherish memories of belting out karaoke classics on our party coach back from defeats or breaking down laughing at Dani Ayala mucking up to let Wolves score just as one of the boys had referred to him as “cool as ice”.

That’s the reason I write about Boro and football. I like to relive those memories and share what we discuss in the pub after games. It’s another escape and when I’ve got too much on my mind, it’s a great way of getting things out and clearing the cobwebs.

That’s why there isn’t a regular schedule of content. I write solely because I enjoy it and the topic needs to be interesting to me or there’s no point.

Erimus isn’t meant to be a brand or a major platform, it’s a way of me writing things without getting into trouble with work when I’ve called someone a cunt. It’s a tool to get some enjoyment out of the week until the next game rolls around.

That a section of Boro fans (worryingly, it’s a lot more than you’d think) actually take the time to read this stuff, get their own enjoyment out of it and have a laugh on Twitter is mint. It honestly means the world to me.

There’s a hundred things I could do differently to garner more clicks and views but I’m not looking to get a gig in sports journalism or build anything. If someone wants to slap some money on the table, then cool, but this is for my personal enjoyment more than anything.

It’s why you’ll see posts of Ray Parlour on the lash or Gaizka Mendieta in his kecks on the Erimus timeline instead of a breakdown of quotes from the latest Neil Warnock presser or On This Day historical throwbacks.

Everyone has their place in the “Boro Space” and over here, it’s fancying Kike Sola and necking pints, alright?

It’s why I try not to bang on about stats, unless it compliments the story being told. We don’t talk about things like xGA or progressive motions in the pub so it’s not going to be wrote about here.

Beside, The Boro Breakdown crew do the stats and tactical side of things in a genuinely engaging way, unlike some of the pure maths nerds in fan-made media so why reinvent the wheel?

It’s why I swear and use slang because that’s what you’d get if you met me in real life. It’s not a lack of intelligence or being “rude” for shock value. This isn’t supposed to be a professional setup. It’s just me.

If I cleaned things up so I could send CVs out to local press and media outlets, as a number of people have advised me to recently, I’d just be cheating myself.

I do feel like I’ve cheated myself recently though and the people who read these bits and pieces and now that work has settled down, there will be a new slate of regular content coming up.

MIND’s theme for World Mental Health Day was to do one thing. Let’s do one better. From now on, there will be at least two new “articles” a week on here, maybe more. Football, Boro and writing about those things makes me happy, so let’s do more of that.

There’s no long-term plan for Erimus Football. Just sit back and enjoy the ride with me. Thanks for putting up with a bit of self-indulgency. We’ll be back to your regularly scheduled programming soon. If you have any suggestions on topics or features, then give us a shout.

UTB

 

CALM – 0800 585858 (5PM-Midnight) https://www.thecalmzone.net/

Teesside Samaritans – 116 123  https://www.samaritans.org/branches/teesside/

Young Minds – 85258 (Text YM)    https://youngminds.org.uk/

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