It’s true. Football offered me a lifeline through the hardest years of my life. It’s a bold statement to make, but the truth is, football has been my escape. Stepping onto a football pitch every week allowed me to forget everything that was causing me such mental pain. For a whole 90 minutes, I was able to focus solely on one thing: the beautiful game.
When you have a mental illness, it is a rarity that the voices in your head ever stop or even quieten. Sleeping is often the only escape you get from your own brain and the devastating thoughts that come with it. After my hospital admission, I didn’t know if I’d ever return to the one thing that always seemed to put a smile on my face and give me a purpose.
I nearly gave up
I’d put years of hard work into bettering myself as a player and I was completely ready to shut myself off from the world and stop playing the sport I loved. That’s what depression does to you. It makes you lose interest in the one thing that keeps you going. It convinces you that you’re not good enough, that you’ll never make it, that the scholarship I was trying so hard to gain was inevitably never going to happen.
Thank god I didn’t listen to those voices. After I came out of hospital, I joined Harrogate Town Ladies. It was a completely new team, a completely new environment, a team that proved to have an ethos all about personal development, and that, for me, made it the easiest decision in the world to make a move and start fresh among a group of girls who had the same goals of promotion, interests and visions that I did. A group of girls who knew nothing about my past and could build their own opinions of me. One year on, and those girls who were strangers this time last year are now some of my best friends.
How football offered me a lifeline
For many people with depression, getting out of bed on a morning to face the day is simply one of the most difficult things in the world. Football gave me a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Gave me a reason to breathe.
It gave me a focus and it gave me something to work towards. Football is an extremely intense game. Switching off in a game just isn’t an option; in that 90 minutes your sole focus is on the task in hand. I think what gave me massive motivation, was that I wanted to prove myself to my coaches and my team mates, and, more than anything, I wanted to work hard for them. Bringing your personal issues on to the pitch is quite often recognisable, and I hated the thought of letting the girls down.
As soon as I step over the white line onto the pitch, I’m a different person. It sounds ridiculous, but a massive weight lifts off my shoulders and all that matters is the next 90 minutes. I remember I was struggling one evening on the night of training and doubted if I wanted to train. A few of the girls, by this time, knew about my depression and knew that I was struggling.
My team mates were there for me
I’d grown incredibly close to a few of the girls and when I told them I didn’t want to train because I couldn’t physically get out of bed, I received a text back telling me they were coming to pick me up. That’s exactly what they did. I arrived at the training ground and I loved every minute. Kicking a ball gave me a massive sense of relief. On the pitch with some of my best friends, I could completely lose myself.
Before that session, I had massive urges of wanting to hurt myself and I can guarantee, if I hadn’t gone, I would have carried those urges out upon myself. When I returned home, I could think clearly and much more rationally, and the last thing I wanted to do was cause myself any intentional harm. That is what the power of football did for me. It lightened the weight on my shoulders and got rid of the demons that were consuming me and my thoughts, even if it was just for a few hours.
A game changer
That changing room environment was a game changer. People will always talk about the endorphins and chemical release that come with taking part in sport. But for me, I feel that was only a small factor. The team environment was massive for me; being around so many people who were so down to earth and didn’t take themselves too seriously was so important. In a team, we all have the same end goal, the same mission to complete and the same way of executing our plan.
I don’t think there is an environment better than the training rooms before a big game. The excitement, the adrenaline, the tunes, the interaction. Everything. Being with the girls made me feel like I was part of something. Football was somewhere I could be a completely different person, and meant I was in an environment where I could talk even more rubbish than I usually do.
A game I’ll never forget
The game that meant we gained promotion was a game I’ll never forget. When the final whistle blew, the sense of accomplishment was unbelievable. Every single player on the pitch had worked so hard in our first ever season, so to top the league table and gain automatic promotion was one of the best feelings in the world. Holding the trophy, receiving a medal in front of a crowd of people, feeling the atmosphere in the changing rooms afterwards and celebrating with the girls after the big game, I felt on top of the world. It is one of my favourite ever memories of football, and it couldn’t have been spent with a more amazing group of people.
Although there were still days when I felt like I had no purpose, that life wasn’t worth living, there was always a bit of light amongst the everlasting darkness, in football. Thanks to Harrogate Town Ladies — the coaches, the girls and all the others involved — I managed to get out of bed, I managed to catch a glimpse of my old self, even if it was just once a week.
Living my childhood dream
I can now say I will be living my childhood dream next year, having accepted a soccer scholarship offer in New Jersey. Without football, the darkness would have consumed me even further and the opportunities that have arisen for me would never have been possible. Don’t ever underestimate the power of sport. It offered me a lifeline when I was under the full grip of depression and to this day, it continues to be my getaway.
Reproduced with permission, originally posted on itstimetotalkmh