It’s something I’ve wanted to talk about for a while but didn’t want to be one of those people who go “I’m going to use my platform to do better” as there is a fine line between capitalising on something that’s deemed to be of the moment. Mental health is not of the moment, but it is the right time, because everyone is becoming more accepting and understanding. It is never going away so I figured I need to talk about it, for me as much as anyone. My daughters are 16, 14 and 13, and until recently I haven’t talked to them about what’s gone on in my life because I wanted to protect them. They were the only real barrier stopping me talking about it.
What is your history of mental health?
The best thing is to go back to the start. For me, mental health is a bit of nurture and a bit of nature. Both my mum and dad suffered from mental health issues and actually met in a psychiatric hospital. They were in and out of hospital sporadically throughout my childhood.
At the time, you’re a kid, so you don’t really think about it, you just get on with it because you’re doing all the things kids do. I spent a lot of time at my dad’s sister’s. Looking back, my mum may have been struggling to cope or either she or my dad were in hospital. This was the late 70s to mid-80s and back then no one sat down with me to talk about it.
My dad worked for the Yorkshire Water Authority. He was loving, great, quiet, quite reserved but had a great sense of humour, some similarities with my own personality. However, he would go through bouts of depression. I think it started when he was in the army. During an operation in Germany, his comrades were killed while crossing a bridge in a truck, where there was no room for him. I never spoke to my dad about it but maybe his depression was sparked by this, resulting in what would now be identified as PTSD. Can you imagine seeing that and going on with your life? I can’t imagine he received any counselling.
My dad got paid on a Thursday and gave my mum 75 per cent of his wages. He would get changed and go to the pub with his mates. He wasn’t an alcoholic, I only ever saw him drunk once. But his life was – work, home, wash, shave, pub. By Monday his share was spent and he’d ask mum for money. He’d get upset. She’d get upset. There would be arguing. If I had any money, I would try and give it to him to keep the peace.
My mum would tell him to take responsibility which would have added to his depression. I don’t know what treatment he had but I know he received electric shock treatment on at least one occasion which resulted in him having to be resuscitated.
My mum was really struggling. My sister, who lived in Australia, told her to come out, but she didn’t want to leave me. I was 16 and due to sit exams. We went out for six weeks. I wasn’t really aware of what was going on. If I was an adult, I would have been like “What about Dad?” But my mum was at the end of her tether and had to think about her own mental health.
When we came back, things had got worse. My dad had deteriorated and he was taken to hospital on a Sunday afternoon. He packed his case and as he made his way to the car, he grabbed me and told me he would never see me again. That was the last time I saw him. I didn’t go to visit him in hospital because it was in York.
It felt like a while after, but it may have just been a few weeks, when we got a knock at the door. It was our neighbour, who my mum didn’t like, accompanied by a policeman. I knew as soon as I saw them what they were about to say. I think it was my neighbour who told me that my dad had died. He’d taken his own life while he was in the hospital. I can’t really remember the aftermath of it.
When I think back, I had no memory of sitting down having a conversation or even a cup of tea with him. He had his life, his set routine and I was growing up, doing all the things a teenager does. I couldn’t really tell you what he was like and that is hard. I feel guilty about that.
You would assume I’d have received counselling, but there was nothing. I think I probably went back to school the next
day. Only one teacher asked me about it, but that’s the time we were living in. Kids were embarrassed to talk about it for fear of upsetting me. You were just left to get on with it and I didn’t talk about it.
I failed my exams. Three years later, I had finished sixth form college and I was going to go to Australia to take a year out. I was working in the B&Q in Grantham and I had a meltdown when someone spoke to me aggressively. I became anxious, tearful and felt like I’d reverted back to being a little boy. It was embarrassing but I just wanted to get home. I had panic attacks. All I was doing was crying. I think I had a breakdown of some sort.
Looking back, you could say it was to do with my dad although I didn’t feel like I was grieving. I shouldn’t have gone to Australia – the doctors told me not to go – but I went. My flight was on New Year’s day, as it was cheaper. I cried all the way.
I was in Australia for six months and I couldn’t stop sobbing. My sister was brilliant. She was one of the first Ten Pound Poms. She went there when she was 18 and set up her own business selling second-hand clothes. She showed me tough love and would drag me out on trains, walking, just to keep me moving.
I was soon playing football with a local team. I lasted one game. I didn’t know what was going on. It was like an out-of-body experience. My mental state was frazzled. I was crying on the pitch during the match. I came off at half-time and sat in the changing room inconsolable. However, there was no embarrassment. I wasn’t self- conscious. That was gone. I just couldn’t stop.
Slowly I started to feel better. I can’t remember if I had started taking anti-depressants at the time but I remember one day, I was going swimming and I walked down the steps and felt this sort of lightness, like something had lifted. I felt euphoric. I can remember vividly being under the water and it was gone. It was a really strange feeling. A real sense of optimism I hadn’t felt for some time.
I came back home. It was 1990 and everything was happening with music and fashion. I was going to college in the September and things picked up, although I was always prone to bouts of it and I still am. There are times when I feel it coming – like at the end of the football season.
The things that get me into an anxious or depressed state are the ‘what if?’ scenarios. I beat myself up about the way I feel and I overthink. You wake up and that thought is there. You think you can beat it with rational thinking, but you can’t.
It’s like having a reception area in your head. When you’re feeling great and have balance in your life, the negative thoughts stay in the reception area. But if you’re not feeling good, the thoughts get in and wreak havoc, gnawing away and debilitating you. You are in the room but you are not in the room. Is this how I am feeling or is this how I THINK I am feeling? It becomes a constant battle between your sub-conscious and your conscious brain. The next day you might think “Why was I worried about that?“ But at the time my brain won’t let me rationalise it. I’ve found ways to deal with it.