To mark the launch of our ‘Just Checking In’ feature, our Founder Freddie Cocker spoke with a close personal friend who wanted to share his mental health experiences. He wishes to remain anonymous. They talked about how he’s feeling at the moment, relationships, why football has helped him so much and why men have historically been so reticent to open up.
How are you feeling about your mental health currently?
I think on a personal note, it varies from day-to-day. I probably come across as quite calm, quite laid-back and I’ve been called that a lot by my work colleagues and not very emotive generally. Needless to say, I have my down days and I have my bad days like everyone else.
My mental health is definitely influenced by people and how I interact with them but I’d say I’m in a good place right now and feeling quite healthy physically and socially.
You mentioned about how other people perceive you and what qualities they say you display, would you say they were making a fair assessment about you or not?
When people say things about you, you get an idea of how you’re perceived.
If people think you exude a certain quality, to a certain extent maybe that does reflect you as a person. It may not always give the full picture of someone’s complete personality though. That needs to be considered or at least acknowledged.
When was the first time you became aware of your own mental health and realised that it wasn’t just physical pain you experienced?
I think I’m quite influenced by my perception of what I can feel and see when other people experience things. Friends and family in my life have come out about their mental health experiences and it’s given me more awareness, appreciation and knowledge about the subject. It’s also helped me relate to my own mental health when I read and see what they’ve said.
Speaking from my own experience, I tend to suppress or ignore negative thoughts or periods. I don’t do this in a bad way like allowing them to eat me up inside, it’s more a case of letting these feelings go and escape out of me rather than clinging to them and letting them affect me. I should say that everyone has their own way of dealing with this and there isn’t a right or wrong way, this is just the method that works for me.
If you had to describe how your mental health conditions affect you in your day-to-day life, what would you say? So, for example in my experience, my anxiety goes through the roof if I’m asking out a girl or I get an email back from a job interview I’ve gone for. For me, it’s like the theory of ‘Schrodinger’s Cat’. If I don’t read the text, nothing bad can happen or I can’t be rejected from something. Does any of that chime with experiences in your life?
Every situation you just described, I get too but just an extremely mild version. Those situations wouldn’t be a ‘be all or end all’ scenario in my mind.
However, if your boss texts you or you ask a girl out, you’re always going to get a bit of nerves. I wouldn’t say it makes me anxious to the point where it affects my mental health though.
What tools and methods do you find useful in helping you manage your mental health or mental health issues?
I’d say the two things that automatically come to mind are talking to my friends and family about my mental health and playing football.
In what sense does football improve your mental health? Is it social connectivity when you play with your friends or is it more the endorphins you get when you score a goal? Or both?
Well obviously, I’m always banging goals! Joking aside, it’s just something I’ve grown up with and it keeps me unbelievably busy. I can’t think about anything else when I’m playing football because it’s so all-consuming physically and mentally.
I get to see good friends 2-3 times a week and do something I’ve been doing since I was 2-3 years old.
I had a break away from it at one point. Coming back into it just made me think “Wow, why did I ever stop doing this?”. I missed it so much.
You mentioned that positivity you got when you started playing football again after university? Did it improve your mental health in any way or even other aspects, like your self-esteem for example?
I think in some respects I found my feet a bit more when it comes to some social aspects but with other aspects I’ve still got a long way to go. For example, interacting with strangers or people I’ve met for the first time I still struggle with that a little bit. That’s just not something in my skill-set at the moment.
Equally, if I’m not building up a social situation to be more than it is on face value, then I’m much calmer and can interact with that situation a lot better.
Fitness is obviously a big part of your life. How has that helped you with your mental health and in what ways?
I’d say my interest in fitness started in sixth form but I don’t think it properly developed into a lifestyle until university. That comes off the back of dealing with a lot of shit I had in my life at the time.
On reflection, I had to deal with a pretty horrible situation. It was essentially a case of girls getting in the way of friends, so to speak. I threw myself in too deep and too quick with a girl who was seeing a friend of mine. She ended things with him and then I found out that she liked me. At the time I thought “wow this girl is out of my league” so I thought I might give it a try and see what happens.
Things were going swimmingly. However, I came back to university after Easter and she told me abruptly that we were done and the relationship was finished. It hit me so unbelievably hard. I think it was a big turning point in my life.
It made me see the power of emotion and what emotional turmoil can do to a person. After that, I had to try and distract myself all the time. I knew the positive effect that football did for me and I wasn’t playing at the time.
I used to start going to the gym every day, getting up at 6 in the morning on the days when I couldn’t sleep.
It’s all about focusing on something that can distract my mind. As fitness is so all-consuming, that added level of exhaustion helped me sleep better, that was bugging me the most. Add in the fact that I had exams coming up, it was a cocktail of stuff to be dealing with. I used to think “why is this happening to me now?”
I would also like to take the opportunity to thank some of the people who helped me through the pain. My friend Lottie in particular was there for me at my lowest point and I will forever be grateful for that. You don’t forget things like that.
After that, I ended up meeting someone else at the end of third year which was a good relationship to have after the bad experience I had been through before. Unfortunately, it petered out for different reasons.
Do you feel like that experience helped you grow as a person and allowed you to live alongside your mental health issues better in the present day?
100%. Whenever I see a couple and they’re the classic, idealised ‘teenage sweetheart’ couple that have been together since they were 16-19 – moving in together, getting married and progressing with their lives, I think to myself “wow, you had what I thought I had and you will never experience what I had to experience”.
From one perspective, I envy that because I would never wish what I had to go through on anyone. Anyone who’s been through any form of heartbreak knows how rough and soul-destroying it is.
On the other hand, the person I’ve become afterwards and the social skills I’ve developed in the aftermath is something I wouldn’t want to go back and change.
I have a different perspective on people and life generally. I had a shit time but I’ve learned so much.
Now in future relationships I’m better prepared for those twists and turns you get. If something hits me unexpectedly, I’m ready for it.
On reflection, at the time I felt awful but I was still partly responsible for the situation I created for myself. It’s all about growing and learning.
Are your family aware of your mental health and how supportive have they been when you’ve asked them for help?
As an extended family, we’ve experienced some mental health situations.
As for my immediate family, I’d probably share this sort of stuff with my sister and she’d be the first person I’d tell.
Do you think the conversation around mental health is changing and if so, how?
100%. It’s a difficult topic. Because of the social norms that every generation has before it, it’s complicated for a lot of people to get their heads around.
The more people come forward to share their experiences, the more people will find it relatable and useful. This can only help others feel comfortable with who they are. This in turn will benefit a large proportion of the population.
Additionally, I think it will educate the portion of the population who don’t understand the concept of mental health and force them to listen to those around them who have those experiences.
What more do you think needs to be done to ensure everyone who has mental health issues can get the support they need?
That’s a difficult question mate. Firstly, the most important thing is for people to have access to mental health services and places where they can read about other people’s experiences.
The more people talk about it, the more people are going to benefit from it. By benefit, I mean that they’re going to come out about how they feel and not feel that they’ve got to “man up” or “suck it up”.
If you could pinpoint a reason, why do you think historically it’s taken so long for men and boys to get to a stage where they feel even remotely comfortable talking about their mental health?
In my opinion, as men, we’ve had thousands of years of purely thriving on having predatory instincts. This brings with it values of having no fear, no remorse and showing those characteristics being seen as weakness.
When those are the foundations of how society has existed for centuries and the archetypal man we are supposed to be, the impact it has is that boys are pressured into mirroring this primalism and fit these outdated stereotypes.
This interview was published anonymously