With yesterday being mental health awareness day, I felt it would be a quite appropriate to speak about some of the issues I have faced, but most importantly the steps I have taken over the years to help with the issues I have faced.
This will perhaps provide some helpful advice to anyone who could be suffering or know of someone who has or is suffering from any form of mental illness.
We as Celtic fans have become more aware of mental illness in recent years with the story’s circulating around Neil Lennon and Leigh Griffiths.
We have always seen ourselves a very socially conscious fan base, and with our supporters taking up great causes like the food bank drives and even showing support to the Palestine troubles, few are like us.
It really has been great to see our club and support following in the footsteps of Brother Walfrid to help those in need.
For all that, I hope that yesterday is not just seen as the day to ask others if they are OK, but to make us aware that if we see someone we think is struggling to ask “are you OK?” or just to let them know you are there for when they want to talk.
My problems started at a very young age at primary school, with a touch of bullying.
I was very self- conscious, and I used to actually let people hit me to try and make me seem cool, as if it didn’t hurt.
Well, at the time the physical pain was never as bad as the things I thought about myself.
But I carried on this inferior belief in myself and the bullying followed me to secondary school, to a point where I had to be moved schools (along with other reasons which I won’t go into). But even in the school I moved to, which had a strict no bullying policy, the bullying did continue, but a difference this time was that I had actually made some good friends, who sort of knew about the bullying, but not the full extent of it, or the toll it was starting to take, to the point where I actually tried to hang myself twice.
Who would tell their friends that at that age? I didn’t want to come across as weak, even though I had built up this sort of victim complex it all.
As I was going through my teen years, there was a month that I’ve felt, for years, was my breaking point mentally. Within a month both my grandfather’s and my cousin had passed away, one I was very close to, and the other I had gotten very close to in his final year.
This was the first time I can remember being utterly broken and for a long time didn’t know how to pull myself together. I even vaguely remember sitting in the corner of the room both my grandfather’s had stayed in at some point in the last year and just being in tears for hours, however at this point of being so low I came out of that and remember feeling a numbness for many years.
For many years later I never really felt proper emotion, like happiness or being upset enough to cry.
The last time I remember being at the point of crying was not long after the funerals had happened and I was back at school.
We had a class project where you do a talk on someone you really admire or looked up to, I did mine on my mum and dad and ended up breaking down in tears in class; that always stuck with me for the fact that nobody made fun of the boy in class who cried.
It was never brought up, even when I was still being bullied, but from that time I seemed to become numb which later led to me making some bad choices and a lot of mistakes along the way.
At the end of 5th year, I left school and went into work.
I just had to get out of school and away from the bullies, and at the time thought that in work at least I wouldn’t be bullied, which obviously was never going to be the case.
But from leaving school to nowadays, there are a lot of gaps in my memory.
I can remember some events and things that I allowed to bring me down, but I did start down a road of mental destruction, where I would leave my mum and dad’s house, without even telling them, to move in with a girl I was working in the garage in Paisley.
I had convinced myself all the bad things that were going on in my life was down to either my parents or living in my parents’ house.
But looking back I am still honestly blown away with the amount of help and support my mum and dad did offer me, through the years.
At that point though my dad took the decision to let me go and not chase me.
Which I know caused a lot of people to question him, but at the time I must have been coming up for about 20.
I was about as much of a man as I would ever be and to be totally honest my dad letting me make my mistakes and not be there to help me has made me have to learn a lot of hard lessons in life and I have to thank him for that as I know many didn’t approve of his choice at the time.
The relationship with the girl … well, that was a spark that turned into a living hell at times.
I could go on about the things I had went through in that relationship, but in all fairness we all know there are two sides to every story. At the end of that turbulent time, I had been taken to hospital for attempted overdose, had picked up a real nasty habit of self harm, I had a son and I was being brought back to my mum and dad’s house until I could get back on my feet.
This was a new rock bottom.
My parents had to go and see me in the hospital after I had tried to kill myself, and at the time I genuinely didn’t want to live anymore. I had a son yet I was so wrapped up in myself I couldn’t see my child at all, a child who had done no wrong in the world and did not deserve to become an afterthought in either of his parent’s lives.
I had always hoped that I would be able to get myself “sorted out” for his sake but I would never let myself for a good number of years.
With a heavy heart, I agreed to let my parents to care of my son, which at the time was absolutely the right decision, as I was an absolute mess and in no fit state to look him. There will never be enough words to say how thankful I am for their taking that on.
From the point of moving on from the girl and trying to get my life back on track I managed to get a flat through the housing in Knightswood, where I was without a job and put on disability allowance for mental health issues.
I was at a point where I became more insular and felt very used to being myself. I would eventually make some friends around the area, but for couple of years I let my depression rule me and keep me from venturing too far.
Then I discovered a wee art workshop in Drumchapel. It held classes for various different projects, and going there became a lifesaver for me and a route back into some form of social life. It also led to me getting proper mental help from the amazing people at the Arndale Resource Centre, where I went through different methods with medication, which for me I felt never worked, but at least I listened to suggestions and try them.
Not every suggestion will work, but if you don’t try any then you will never find a solution.
As scary as some of them seemed, I knew each one may well be the one that built a foundation for going forward to my self-recovery. With the help of the people at the art studio I felt a bit more on an even keel, but I did find myself delving into too much alcohol consumption, to the point where I had a collection of empty bottles as if it were trophies.
This issue would rear its ugly head a bit later.
But I would eventually fight the job center to take me off the benefits so I could get help to find work.
After being unemployed for about 4 years it had started to make me feel internally worthless. When I hear people knocking “benefit cheats” they don’t understand that lying about and doing nothing for that long a period really does not help your mental state.
So finally I got myself off the benefits and got help to get into work, where I finally started in a call center doing sales, which is a job I had done a few times before and felt confident at it, which still seems ironic that someone with such crippling anxiety and depression would feel comfortable speaking to random people and selling them stuff.
Whether over the phone or in person, I was confident in a sales jobs but sadly I was unable to hold the jobs down with my erratic mind set at night times or getting up in the mornings, and eventually having work and money meant I started to drink a lot more heavily to keep me more sociable and to feel less stressed.
Looking back at it, I can see it wasn’t so much an addiction to drinking or alcohol but the crippling anxiety that pushed me to want to drink to feel like I could be someone others would want to talk to and not be bored to tears by.
My time at the flat in Knightswood would come to an end when I decided to make the great decision to end up unemployed and not deal with my benefits properly; this ended with me being in arrears and eventually becoming homeless.
At this time I could have fallen into a place of no return, heck I could have potentially ended it all around then, but I had a person around me who was not too keen on letting me fall down that way.
The partner I am with currently had become friends with me before I became homeless.
When it happened I was of the mind “f*ck it all” and on the first night I ended up trying to find a bench to sleep on around Partick, which is a genuinely a scary thing to do.
You become very conscious of people around you and fear who may want to do something bad to you; the morning really couldn’t come quick enough but on no sleep, morning just turns to afternoon and then before you know it it’s night time again.
But that friend had kept in contact and asked me to come round, and when her mother found out that I had nowhere to go she told her daughter to ask me to stay, until I could get myself back on my feet. I honestly don’t know what I had done in my life to have a family like that put into my life and end up saving me from an early exit. Truly it was past just luck.
Now 8 years later I have been working in the same job for around 6 years, I have managed to have a routine in my life where I can handle work day by day, I am trying to rebuild my relationship with my parents and even having the most important discussions with my dad and being able to speak to him with the respect he deserves.
I have circle of friends who understand when I need time when I’m feeling low, but also pester the hell out of me when I need a wee kick.
In the past years I have made a small effort with my son, something I really need to work more on, but I am still a work in progress at the moment, and my partner has been incredible in tolerating me. She genuinely deserves a medal for that alone.
Now there are foundations I have put in place over the years. These are things I have done that have helped me. But understand, they may or may not work for you or those around you, but it is always worth trying things and to see after a while if they help.
One of the main things I do is withdraw myself from anything that may cause stress or over thinking. like online group chats. I let my mind settle down to a point where I can hear my own voice, let myself find an inner calmness.
I also do find at times that social media can be a fantastic tool to help; take Twitter.
I am honestly blown away with the kindness shown by others when I have put up a tweet saying that I may be struggling.
Just to get messages from some people I have never met but can give me a different perspective and listen to the low thoughts I am having at the time … it is amazing. Strangers have become online friends and have been so helpful to me.
Yes social media can be filled with bile and horrible stuff, but there is good in there too and sometimes when you are least expecting it, someone reaches out a hand to help.
Recently I have been using a support group that is not far from my work; this has become a very important part of my life and gives a place once a week to meet up with people with similar issues in a safe and caring environment.
I had only discovered it on twitter but there are so many new support groups popping up all over the place. The one I use in Maryhill is called Glads; you can find it at this link.
Feel free to come along for a wee chat and a cup of tea.
I have also been listening to podcasts the past year and I will leave some links to the ones that have really helped me when I’ve been struggling.
Some of them will be familiar to you from the Celtic Family.
There’s Martin Melly (of the 20 Minute Tims podcast) who is on the Blethered podcast, speaking about his battle with depression.
Aaron Connolly on Blethered with say no to suicide.
There’s Tyson Fury on the Joe Rogan podcast.
There’s the Men Matters organization on the Rebel City podcast.
There’s a Men and Anxiety Talk about emotion on the Rebel City podcast too.
I hope this article has helped to bring some comfort or even help to someone who thinks they’re alone.
I also hope it lets people understand a little part of what someone goes through with anxiety and depression.
I am grateful to all of you for taking the time to read it.
Ross McAtasney is a Celtic fan, blogger, admin for the CelticBlog Facebook group … and a courageous survivor.
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