'It’s been the hardest nine months of my life' - Gateshead's general manager Alisha Henry opens up on personal battle and the people who helped her turn a corner
“I didn’t want to speak out about it because I didn’t think I was worth talking about.”
With no emotion showing on her face, brutally honest, uncomfortable words flow out of Alisha Henry’s mouth as she reflects on the darkest period of her life.
On the face of it, by her own admission, life looks good.
She is a popular member of staff in her role as General Manager at National League North club Gateshead and was instrumental in preventing the club from going under just over two years ago.
This season, she has combined administrative duties with a playing role for the club’s ladies’ team and scored 26 goals in all competitions as they claimed promotion and a league title in their first season.
But behind closed doors, Henry has struggled, and mental health issues have escalated throughout the last year.
They all came to a head recently, only for Alisha to be hauled back from the brink by friends, family and work colleagues.
“Personally, it’s been the hardest nine months of my life,” she explained.
“It’s not a secret I have been through a lot recently and a lot of that has been brought on by myself.
“Luckily, I have turned a corner recently.
“I didn’t want to speak out about it because I didn’t think I was worth talking about.
“But I want to show that everyone goes through it and recently has been the darkest period of my life.
“I couldn’t see the life at the end of the tunnel, I couldn’t get out of bed.
“Mentally, it’s the worst experience I have ever been through.
“I knew I needed to talk about it.”
When life hangs in the balance, football can seem somewhat trivial.
Henry revealed that she considered walking away from playing for Gateshead Ladies, only to be persuaded back to training by a number of her team-mates.
A turning point had unexpectedly been reached.
“There was a time when I wasn’t going to come back, I didn’t want to be part of football, I was ready to pack in.
“That was in terms of playing, not my job at the football club because without that, I have nothing.
“I didn’t see I’d get enjoyment out of it, so I told a few of the girls that I was done.
“If it were not for a couple of them, I wouldn’t be playing.
“Hannah (Coatham) and Carly (Salmon) literally dragged me back to my first training session and I had taken a lot of time away from playing or training.
“I spent time doing one-on-ones with Ben Clark and it was the first time I’d focused on anything other than the darkness.
“I felt free for the first time in ages, I came off and spoke to a few of the girls and they could see a difference in me.”
Dark days still arrive– and one came on the day she lifted silverware with Gateshead Ladies.
Henry scored a hat-trick as her side claimed a 10-2 home win against East Durham Belles and secured the Durham FA Development Division title.
But a slump was to follow the on-field high in unexpected fashion.
“The actual day itself was fantastic and it was probably the first game where I have been nervous.
“The group chat in the morning was buzzing and it was such a good day.
“We knew we could win the game; I scored the first goal and it put it on our way.
“We had a brilliant celebration after the game – socially distanced – but when I got home, it just hit me, I hit another low and it came from nowhere.
“I felt alone, without hope.
“It was such a dark day, it hit me so hard, but I reached out to people and got support.
“I learned to open up.”
Opening up meant speaking to a number of key individuals at Gateshead and her call for support led to action.
Club chairman Neil Pinkerton and vice-chairman Bernard McWilliams have shown warmth and understanding throughout the last nine months.
Gateshead’s management team Mike Williamson, Ian Watson and Chris Bell have been there for support and the club’s media and communications team – who work with Henry on a day-to-day basis – have also reached out.
“When you look at the support system I have, I think it’s probably one of the best you can have,” admitted Henry.
“People will look from the outside and wonder how it’s impacting on me.
“But for me, with a great family unit and friends, and the club has been fantastic from top to bottom.
“Neil (Pinkerton, Gateshead chairman) and Bernard (McWilliams, vice-chairman) have helped massively.
“Mike, Ian and Chris have been there for me, and James (Rushmore) and Jack (McGraghan) have reached out to me too.
“I have to thank them for helping me through the situation because I don’t know where I would be without them.”
Henry is now openly optimistic about what lies ahead.
Her demeanour changes as talk turns towards the future, arms open, and a smile on her face, there is enthusiasm and positivity in abundance – despite dealing with a knee injury that ended her playing season and left her left leg in a cast.
“I am looking forward to the future now.
“I am injured, it was unfortunate how it happened and that knocked me back a lot, but I am still positive.
“It’s not something I am dreading; I want to get back to football and I want to get back to working in the office on a regular basis.
“I want to do what I can to get back to being me.
“I want to start enjoying my life again.”
If you are struggling with your mental health, support can be found via the following services:
The Samaritans: https://www.samaritans.org/
If U Care Share Foundation: https://www.ifucareshare.co.uk/