Mark Carruthers: Spotlight on Mental Health Awareness Week and why covering non-league football has been a release for me
New Year’s Eve 2009 was the night when my life changed.
My home life was deteriorating, my work-life was dragging and devoid of ambition, money troubles tormented me every day.
I was at my lowest ebb.
I felt worthless, I felt without hope and I was unable to find positive in anything.
I felt I had nowhere to turn, and the only way to solve everything was by taking the most drastic of action.
So, I sat, alone, as the clock ticked towards midnight, my thoughts turning darker with every passing minute, only to be interrupted when my mobile pinged.
A message from a close friend, someone who is still one of my most trusted and loved friends.
They text asked how I was, explained that I had not seemed myself recently and that the sender knew something was up.
Someone had noticed, someone cared, someone wanted to help.
An emotional exchange followed, slowly but surely, as 2009 ticked into 2010, I was hauled back from the brink and I have never looked back.
There are still dark days.
I often compare them to waking up, your eyes opening and immediately searching for a light switch.
Some days, you find the switch, the darkness lifts, light fills your life, and you can carry on as you would in any ‘normal’ day.
But then there are days when the switch is nowhere to be found, no matter how hard you try.
Darkness envelopes you, everything becomes an effort, even the simplest of tasks.
The most minute of issues can feel life changing, you feel like you are a burden to even the closest of friends.
In a cruel twist of emotions, loneliness and solitude become the comfort blanket you feel can shield you aware from the clouds.
These days are now few and far between, they arrive with a surprise, but when they do descend, they tend to hit hard.
Thankfully, I have a good support network around me – a thoughtful family, trustworthy friends and mindful work colleagues.
I am in a better place mentally than I have been for a long time and the dark days of over a decade ago feel like another life.
Covering non-league football has been a release, a passion, something to channel my mind and take the focus away from any negativity in my life.
I know work as an ambassador for the If U Care Share Foundation - a mental health charity based in the North East that offers a range of services for those impacted by suicide and promotes well-being.
The relationships I have formed with key staff at the foundation has only enhanced my belief that things are changing for me personally and for society as a whole.
I realise I can open up; I can share my problems and take advice from those close to me.
I also realise that this is not an option for everyone.
Communication is a two-way street – people need to listen, and without them, no level of talking will alleviate your problems.
But there is always someone, sometimes they come in expected moments or from unexpected sources.
Talking helps, it is essential.
It is not always easy but bottling it up does not work – it just makes matters worse.
The events of the last year, where we have lived in a restricted environment, have increased the anxiety that has clouded our lives.
The need to ‘check-in’ on friends and family has become more prominent, be it with a phone call, a simple text message, a walk in the park or a socially distanced visit.
We are all fighting different battles, but that does not mean we should not look out for each other and do what we can to come through the other side.
Everyone has mental health, just as we all have general health.
It is not just a phrase to use when someone is suffering.
We all have a role to play, to support, to share, to listen, to encourage conversation.
I do believe we have seen progress over the last few years.
Mental health is becoming less of a taboo subject, it has been put on the agenda by high-profile figures and I would like to think that is making an impact on people in all walks of life.
But there is still work to be done, the battle is by no means over and the realisation that speaking out is a show of strength, rather than a sign of weakness, can’t come soon enough.
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week as the subject is thrust into the public domain once more.
Stories will be shared, people will open up, many will have uncomfortable tales to tell.
My own recollection of what I have suffered and been to the darkest moments of my life is something I have told a whole host of times as the years have passed.
But if one person reads this and feels the need to talk, I would be willing to tell it a thousand more times.
The If U Care Share Foundation is a North East-based charity that has three main aims – prevention, intervention and supporting those bereaved by suicide.
For more information on the services they offer head to www.ifucareshare.co.uk