2018 was a really bad year for me, it was like the perfect storm, everything built up over a year. By the end of that year I thought the only way to deal with it was suicide. After an attempt in early 2019, I opened up to my wife for the first time about how I had been feeling. Telling her was an amazing thing, like I was unburdening myself, I still felt bad but at least I was sharing with my wife, and feeling connected again.
The next day I went to see my GP, she told me that I may benefit from a support group or counselling, but that there was a waiting list. I’d heard about The Changing Room before, which I mentioned and she encouraged me to give it a go. After speaking to the doctor I left feeling even more unburdened, like at least I’m taking control now.
I’m a lifelong Hearts fan, and I love football, growing up my Uncle Danny who had played for the team was my hero as he had come from a small mining village, and become a very successful sportsperson. My first meeting at The Changing Room was at the Big Hearts offices and there were pictures on the wall of my Uncle Danny. One of the things that’s so important about The Changing Room is that it gets past the stigma, men are reluctant to talk about how they feel. But put it in a stadium where many men already have an attachment, because we love our football teams and when people talk about football we are already emotionally engaged. This makes it easier to open up about how you feel, because you’re already there.
I felt like I was on my own, but suddenly I was in a room with 10 other people and although we all have our own stories, reasons and lives, there is so much about the experience that is shared: the love of football but also pain, the trauma and the tears, we all have that common thread. Early on I remember thinking I’m worth my place in this group, not only is it helping me feel better but I’m going to be part of making other people in this group feel better. I felt worth a lot, and for a long time I didn’t feel like I was worth much. I was looking forward to going, as I knew everyone’s reaction would be compassionate, mixed in with banter about football. It had such a major impact in such a short period of time, I sometimes look back and think maybe it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was, but I think I was just so ready to get help.
Unfortunately, not long after I’d joined The Changing Room I was diagnosed with cancer and I had to have surgery. I was shocked when I found out, but I was doing really well mentally, so I felt like I could manage it. One of the first calls I made after getting this news was to Dougie at The Changing Room, and I told him to keep a place for me because one of my main targets after recovering was to get back to The Changing Room, which I did.
I also started walking and was able to do the Kiltwalk last year, and hope soon to do a sponsored cycle from the UK to Amsterdam. I couldn’t even walk for 45 minutes this time 18 months ago without feeling exhausted. The Changing Room completely transformed my life, and it all started with that conversation about mental health.