Annus horribilis is a Latin phrase, meaning “horrible year”, brought into prominence 25 years ago when Liz Windsor used it in a speech. 1992 was a year where the Saxe-Coburg-Gothas had been constantly in the press with one relationship scandal after another and culminated with a fire destroying parts of Windsor Castle. Then John Major announced in Parliament that Charlie and The People’s Princess were getting divorced.
If 1992, was Liz II’s annus horribilis, then 2017 has been mine.
(more on that later)
The idea for this piece started sometime back last year, but as with most of what I write that ends up here for your perusal, has taken a while to get to a point where I am ‘happy’ with it enough to send it in to print.
I was reading the book Soccernomics, in particular a chapter titled ‘Fans Suicide Notes’. The book is an alternative look at football, via statistics and numbers. (No not that xG bollocks, more sort of social trend data and so on.)
The chapter in the book looks to see if using widely available data, there is a correlation between suicide rates amongst football fans and the results of their team or national team.
I don’t believe in God, not that one anyway, but I do believe in numbers. Everything in the entire universe can ultimately be distilled down to binary… just ones and zeroes. It’s this that drives my interest in stats and numbers.
The piece I intended to write was to be a counter to that idea – that ultimately football does more good than harm.
The irony of that chapter in the book was not lost on me when not long after reading it, circumstances in my personal life changed and placed me in a situation where at one point it seemed to me like suicide was a viable option. The only option.
That I am still here is down in a large part to people I have met down the years as a result of supporting this wonderful football club of ours.
Depression is an illness that will affect 1 in 6 people at some point in their lives. Defined as a mental condition characterised by feelings of severe despondency and dejection, typically also with feelings of inadequacy and guilt, often accompanied by lack of energy and disturbance of appetite and sleep. We all have times when we feel sad or down about things or something in particular but when these feelings last longer than say a couple of weeks or start to have a greater affect on your daily life then you may be suffering with depression.
I can only talk about it from my own personal view, but to me it felt like I was lost in a thick fog, a pea-souper, and couldn’t see a way out.
My Annus Horribilis seems to have aligned with a time when mental health has received a lot of airtime and media focus.
In April, Prince Harry gave an interview where he stated it had taken him 20 years to seek counselling following the death of his mother. It was seen as a massive thing that a member of the Royal family had opened up about their mental health. They are normally staunch and statesmanlike. Stiff upper lip and reputation to uphold (when they’re not getting rat arsed whilst dressed in full Nazi regalia!)
A few weeks later, Everton winger Aaron Lennon was reported as receiving treatment for a stress related illness. Football is one of them things were mental fortitude, courage and bravery are viewed as key attributes to success. In my opinion it is far braver to open up about your feelings than it is to suppress them and suffer in silence.
In September, social media was awash with posts relating to Clarke Carlisle, (whose own mental health problems and suicide attempt has been well documented), after he went missing before being found alive and well. Clarke is considered a rare thing, an intelligent footballer, becoming the first Premier League player to appear on TV quiz show Countdown. Not only that he beat the current reigning champion. It goes to show that mental health can affect anyone, no matter how clever they are.
In November it was 6 years since Gary Speed took his own life. Speed seemingly had everything going for him, he was manager of a Wales team who had won 5 games out of the ten he had been in charge and were playing well. Those close to him have said that they had no idea what he was going through. He like many others hid it from those close to him.
Depression, mental health issues, and suicide do not discriminate.
When the shit hit the fan in my own life, I used a vehicle open to me to vent about my feelings of depression, my twitter account. I received all manner of offers of support, some from people I have never met, some from folk I have known a long time.
Not one person made a negative or derogatory comment.
Despite knowing many of the people I interact with online in real life, I found it easier to vocalize from hiding behind my phone screen. It was doing this that helped me to get myself in a position where I felt like I could go and speak about my feelings with medical professionals and seek the help I needed.
It was and still is small steps. I have good days and bad days, and being honest with myself, I’m not sure that they will ever go away. For me it has been about learning how to channel those feelings in a positive way.
The Pie At Night lads were great, just sending me a text now and then asking how I was. It showed me I wasn’t alone. There was also a particular pair of Latics fans whom many of you will know, went above and beyond; a debt I could never repay, but there is an old saying – Good friends are like stars, you may not always see them but you know they are always there.
At the start of October, I received a DM on twitter from a fellow Latics fan. They explained that reading my tweets earlier in the year about the way I was feeling had led them to assess themselves and to seek help. Knowing that I had helped someone else, seemingly just by casting 140-character missives off into the ether was a big fillip to me.
Since then there have been others on there who have been vocal in the way I was, and I have seen the support they have received from others. I have tried to offer my support to those in need. We all need to support each other in this struggle.
I have really struggled to try and find a way to round this all off, and I still don’t think despite writing, editing and re-writing this article a number of times that I have fully done the subject matter justice, but here comes the bit at the end of the show where Jerry Springer looks into the camera and gives us his final thought:
We are 6 billion people together here on a massive rock, and no matter what you think, you are not alone.
However difficult it may seem, seek help. There are people who will help you. Keep your eyes and ears open, listen and talk to folk.
You may never realise the positive effect you can have on someone’s life simply by striking up a conversation with them.
Christmas can be a difficult time of year for some, but it doesn’t have to be if we look after each other.
There are many resources both online and elsewhere who provide support to those suffering with mental health issues or depression, here are a couple which I found useful:
The Samaritans (www.samaritans.org) have a freephone number 116 123, which is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
CALM – The Campaign Against Living Miserably (www.thecalmzone.net) is dedicated to preventing male suicide. They also have a freephone number 0800 58 58 58 which is open 5pm till midnight, 365 days a year.
(Their website has a webchat service, which I personally found invaluable in the early days as I was more comfortable hiding behind a screen than talking to someone.)
This article originally appeared in the latest Mudhutter fanzine, which can be bought online here: Mudhutter Football Express 65
The Mudhutter fanzine kindly made a £50 donation to CALM from sales of MFE 65.