The former England cricketer Graeme ‘Foxy’ Fowler is the mental health ambassador for the Professional Cricketers Association (PCA). I follow his twitter feed with great interest, especially when he tweets things like this:“Folks ask if I enjoy talking about my depression. No. I do it because it helps to break down the stigma & help people know they’re not alone.” I don’t have 15.6k twitter followers like Foxy, but I try and do exactly the same thing, for the same reasons.
I am going through a little bout of depression myself at the moment. You probably wouldn’t notice because I have become quite adept at covering it up, even to my nearest and dearest. I have a life to live and a job to do and whilst I work for the most sympathetic and empathetic employers imaginable, depression is one of those illnesses where, if you feel ill, as I am at the moment, you start feeling guilty if you even consider taking time off. Someone will say I’m weak, or that I cannot continue in a role that demands immense mental strength at times. And by feeling guilty means I almost accept that society does not really believe that mental illness is an illness at all.
Fowler had not realised he was depressed. His wife did. He saw his doctor who diagnosed what was wrong with him. In his book, Absolutely Foxed, Fowler says: “I have a nice life. I have a great job, great family, lovely wife. I know all that exists but I can’t get to it. It’s over there and I can’t get there. So am I going to kill myself? The answer is no. But do I wish I was dead? Yes.” It’s the best and most profound thing I have ever read about depression. And it’s me. Me since I was just about a teenager. I’ve written millions of words in the last few years and none so good as Foxy’s about depression.
Fowler knows that his depression will never be cured, as I know mine never will be. It is learning to manage this wretched illness that is more important. Fowler has weened himself off medication and has devised a points-based system to deal and live with the depression. I can never imagine coming off medication because I am absolutely terrified of the paralysing lows that I felt before. But my Black Dog is not the same as Foxy’s. No one’s is the same as anyone else’s.
Cricket is at the forefront in confronting mental illness head on, the rest of society less so. The fact that the PCA employs a mental health ambassador is a massive statement. And the clinic, Sporting Chance, provides support to all kinds of sportsmen and women. There is even talk in boxing of establishing a body to help fighters deal with their demons.
Many employers, especially the public sector, treat mental health the same way they treat other illnesses: with contempt. The cancer sufferer, the manic depressive – they’re just cost factors who they need to get off the wage bill. And when I worked for Tesco, mercifully very briefly, at a very low point in my life, I was treated not sympathetically, but with contempt, with utter disdain. Tesco was not so much “get over yourself” or “pull yourself together” but – quite literally – “just go, I don’t care”. A nice way to treat a near broken man. I’m stronger now and I suppose I should forgive them their sheer ignorance and malice, but I’m not forgiving enough to wish any of the jumped up junior managers anything but ill.
I don’t like writing about my depression but I know I have to. I still don’t know what I want to do with my life, even though the majority of it is now behind me. I don’t regret anything I have done in life, but I do regret what I haven’t. If nothing else, I am going to write about my demons and I am going to write about everything else that enthuses me and plenty of things that don’t.
Peace and happiness is just over the horizon, but I never reach the horizon. I want to touch the end of the rainbow, but it moves just when I am getting near, then it goes altogether. In the words of Jason Ringenberg, “I’m going nowhere, but at least I know the way.”