World Mental Health Day

It’s World Mental Health Day.

Whatever that means.

Like most of these random days — National Dog Day, Global Best Friends Day, Hug a Sibling Day, or whatever — it feels made up. A meaningless exercise on Twitter where people urge other people to get into therapy and to talk about their struggles with mental health. It all feels vapid, meaningless, self serving. A chance for people who like to hear themselves talk sound smart and full of empathy and, you know, properly woke when it comes to the subject of mental health.

The people whose opinions on mental health struggles that I respect usually take the day off social media platforms. Or if they do post, it’s about the need for resources, not awareness, that we have plenty of awareness. Everyone knows everyone else is struggling, now let’s do something about it, and let’s tell our elected officials to do something about it too (stop laughing). But everyone else posts a picture of a flower with some hackneyed platitude written in calligraphy next to it. You know, the kind where they are too lazy to even use a metaphor. “You are not alone, you really aren’t, for realsies.”

This all sounds so bitter. Because that’s what depression has given me. It has not given more empathy, it has stripped me of empathy. No one could possibly know how terrible this feels, every single day. Only I get what it’s really like to be so sad you can’t lift your arms, or walk down the street without needing to sit down. Only me. Just me. And so I get angry when people I know — either in real life or via social media channels — talk openly about their struggles with mental health. “Fuck that,” I say, “you don’t know what it’s like.” That’s bullshit, of course, but that’s what the disease does. It isolates you, traps you in your own head. Makes you feel more alone than you thought you could ever possibly feel. I read once that depression is a room you build inside yourself that you can never leave. That’s about right. But it’s also a room without windows, closed off to the world. “You are not alone,” the internet says. “No, sorry, I am most unequivocally alone,” I reply.

The only place I really ever talk about it is here, on this blog. I live this sad, silent life. I feel like no one would believe me if I told them how bad it was, and simultaneously I feel like I am annoying the people who do get it when I talk to them about it. Or, in a certain case, my sadness makes them anxious, paranoid, sometimes even a little angry, so I keep it to myself.

So here is where the importance of awareness comes in. It has to be okay to talk about it. And that fact needs to be repeated over and over again. Because loneliness kills people. Which is why I understand that, intellectually, what happens on Twitter on World Mental Health Day is actually important, because it reminds not just those who do not suffer from mental health issues that people — lots of people, maybe most people — are struggling, but it’s also important for people like me, so we know that, yes, we are not alone, no matter what we might think. We are not alone and that’s important, because that means it will get better someday. Out there, right now, on Twitter, there are people posting about how it got better for them. I want to believe them, I really do, but it’s so hard, but still, please, yes, keep repeating it.

Like I wrote a while back, we know that sadness ends, because happiness ended. Nothing lasts forever. Summer will come back.

So in the spirit of the day, I will say to the nine people who might read this: while I don’t yet have an “it gets better” story, I will say out loud once again that I am struggling. Really, really struggling. And it feels like it will never get any better, that I will feel this way forever. There have been so many false dawns, days when I felt okay for a little while, but the struggle always returns. And this silly little cricket blog is the last place I have.

I write a lot about cricket and depression and the intersection of the two here. Probably too much. But indulge me. Last week the proprietor of Different Shades of Green wrote a just lovely piece about Marcus Trescothick, the English batsman, and his retirement from county cricket. Trescothick, of course, was one of the first athletes to admit to his depression, his anxiety, and go public with that as the reason for up and flying home in the middle of a tour of India in 2006, and then doing the same the following year when the England squad were in Australia for the Ashes. He later retired from international cricket, but played county cricket for another decade, up until just this month. In 2009, he released a biography entitled Coming Back to Me, where he talks about how he would be okay playing county cricket because he would know that he was close to home, no matter where he was playing, which allowed his mind to ease.

It’s a beautiful and sad piece, I urge you to read it.

I was thinking about the post — and Trescothick — this morning as I scrolled the Mental Health Day hashtag feed on Twitter, and I realized something: I believe him. For whatever reason, I believe in how dark it must have been for him. I believe him. And Jonathan Trott. And Steve Harmison. And Michael Yardy. And Maninder Singh. And Sarah Taylor. All the cricketers over the years who have pulled out of tours or otherwise gone public with their mental health struggles. Maybe I believe them because they sacrificed so much because of their illnesses. Money, fame. All to get better. It would have to be very, very dark in their heads for them to turn their backs on getting paid to play the game they loved since childhood. It doesn’t matter why, I believe them, these sad, once broken, once brilliant athletes.

Often I muse on whether there is an actual connection between cricket and depression or anxiety. And most people think there is, just because of the nature of the game, and the toll the long tours take on players, but that leaves aside the fans. Is there something about the game that attracts the sad, the disaffected, the struggling? I never quite believed that there was, until this morning, when I realized that maybe the reason I have been writing here so much over the past year, and writing about and being so open about my depression here is because of people like Trescothick. Like Trott. Because they are cricketers who have struggled, and I believe them, and, yes, somehow, someway, they make me feel less alone. 


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