Never be afraid to ask for help.

As today is Mental Health Day I have taken this extract from my book which was published back in 2015. Hopefully this will encourage people to talk about their mental state and problems. Its nothing to be ashamed of and I would urge anybody if your feeling depressed to go and talk to somebody.
It was a bleak time for me as I battled to overcome my financial problems but it wasn’t just my pocket that was affected, it was my mental health too. The first time I ever felt low and depressed was back in 1988 during my playing days when I hit a barren spell in front of goal. Nothing felt right in January and February of that year and after banging in the goals for Middlesbrough I went through a drought. The form I was in, I couldn’t have hit the main stand, let alone the back of the net. It wasn’t just out on the pitch either, it was in training too – I just didn’t want to be there. It even crossed my mind to pack in playing professional football, which would have been a massive decision for me, especially as I had worked so hard to get where I was in the first place.
It became obvious to some of those around me that I wasn’t in a good place and I received a handwritten letter from my cousin Caroline, who was a teacher, encouraging me to get back to my old self. Bruce Rioch, who was manager of Boro at the time, was aware that I was struggling in front of goal and that I had lost my confidence but he didn’t know exactly how bad how much it was affecting me.
We played Aston Villa at Ayresome Park live on TV and while we were having our pre-match meal at a hotel in County Durham, Bruce called me over to his table. I was convinced he was going to tell me I was dropped, and I wasn’t the only one who thought I wouldn’t be playing because the local and national media as well as my team-mates shared that opinion. But instead of leaving me out, Bruce told me “I believe in you and once you get that elusive goal, you’ll be back.” As it turned out I didn’t score but Boro won 2-1, I set up Alan Kernaghan for one of the goals and Bruce praised me in the press afterwards. As a result my confidence started to come back.
Thankfully that was the only time in my football career I was affected by depression and it was slight, but it did however return and in a much stronger form. In 2010 and 2011 I was going through personal problems had my house in North Yorkshire repossessed and I was made bankrupt. All of this took its toll.
Before Christmas 2010 I realised I had to really focus to hold a conversation and sometimes it didn’t feel real . It was like it was a dream. By January my self-esteem was very low and I started worrying about everything. Even since my playing days finished I’ve liked to keep myself fit but I stopped training, sleeping became difficult and I lost my appetite for a couple of weeks. I found it a struggle to get up in the mornings, I felt nervy and very uneasy although despite my condition I still managed to do a week-long coaching course in Sunderland with Micky Horswill. How I got through that I will never know, I didn’t want to be there and all the time I was there I just wanted to do one. I continued to do the Legends show which became unbelievably difficult because I had no control, drive or energy and quite honestly it felt like I as dying. But the worst symptom was that I wanted to run away, for instance I was waiting at a garage for my tyres to be changed when I just disappeared. I returned later to collect my car but I still felt terrible.
During that two-week period I was in the Metro Centre having a coffee with company but I just couldn’t drink it and I couldn’t fathom what was wrong with me. Despite being a music lover I was no longer switching on the radio or playing any of the CDs that I would normally enjoy listening to and eventually it got to the stage where I knew I had to do something. I booked a couple of sessions with a hypnotherapist called Jean Brady at Park View Clinic in Marton. She helped me when I went to see her about my fear of flying so I decided to see if she turn things round for me this time. I had several sessions there and during my visits I put on a blindfold, listened intently and talked about positive things like beaches, birds and forests.
It may have been brief but it was very personal and mentally disturbing. I would never have thought that I was someone who could be affected by depression but nobody is bulletproof from it and it can strike at any time.
During the time I was suffering from it I preferred to be alone than be in company and I used to sit in my car outside the studio until it was time to go on air because I couldn’t face talking to the lads. It was the weirdest sensation but I never revealed how I was feeling and hopefully I managed to hide it from the listeners because they would have had their own problems and certainly wouldn’t want to hear about mine.
EventuaIly went to see my doctor. Before my appointment I was given a questionnaire to fill in – there were ten questions in all and I answered ‘yes’ to nine of them. The only one I answered ‘no’ to was “Do you want to kill yourself?” That was the most important one but even so nine out of ten was pretty compelling evidence and as I walked back to my car and sat down in the driver’s seat I shed a tear and said to myself “It’s official – I’m a loon.”
I was prescribed Citalopram but my appetite remained low to start with. I remember one night having bacon, eggs, beans and fried bread put in front of me but, as delicious as it looked, as soon as it touched my lips I wanted to bork. I took the tablets for six months but during that time I continued to be restless in bed, continued to worry and continued to break out in hot and cold sweats. I returned to training however, and although it started to get easier, going on runs at first I felt heavy-legged, my breathing was erratic and I found my mind wandering. Once I started to get back it to my stride, though, I began to notice a difference.
The first sports star I ever heard about suffering from depression was Marcus Trescothick and since then Mike Yardy, his fellow England cricketer, has also been treated for it. So too has Neil Lennon, the former Celtic manager and official figures tell us that nearly one in five adults will suffer from depression at some point during their life. It could affect literally anyone. In 2012 former Middlesbrough player Dean Windass went public and discussed his mental issues – now I know Dean, I’ve played in five-a-side tournaments with him and commentated with him and he’s always struck me as a mentally strong, tough as old boots character but his condition was so severe that he twice attempted to take his own life. And one day in November 2011 I was signing books and DVDs at the Metro Centre with Malcolm Macdonald and Micky Horswill when a middle-aged man approached us and told us that Gary Speed, the former Leeds and Wales star, had died. The three of us were totally shocked and stunned at the tragic news and when I looked on my iPhone I discovered Gary had hanged himself. The following evening I read a few Tweets from a lad I used to work with called Adam Lindsey and one of them read “Gary Speed’s death has made me think a lot and reassess how I’ve been going about things for years.” He posted more comments about mental health issues still carrying a stigma, which forced most sufferers to hide from them in order to avoid being judged because of them, and how people in that situation needed support. He then went on to reveal that he too had suffered from depression for many years but this was the day he finally stopped hiding from it. “I’m not ashamed of my problems, they are part of who I am and don’t affect my ability to do my job or to be a good friend or partner.”
Fortunately the treatment I was having did the job and my condition was never as severe as any of those guys’. I eventually stopped taking the tablets through choice, and that’s when I discovered that for three months I had been tricked into taking half the prescribed amount! No doubt it was beneficial in the long run and it just shows that the placebo effect does work. Touch wood, pray to God, I’ve fine now fortunately.

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