The stuff men can’t talk about.

I can still picture exactly where I was. It was mid-October 2017 and I was out on my road bike, trying to get some miles in the legs. I was on the back-road from East Grinstead to Turners Hill in Sussex and it was right there, as I was approaching a long gradual incline that I had the conversation in my head about suicide.

The next few hundred metres of slow climbing was the darkest place I have ever been. I had made the decision I was done with this planet, I wasn’t offering anything, I had no purpose. But this had been building for a while now, to the extent that I knew which trains went through Three Bridges station at high speed without stopping. That would be the easiest, fastest way to finish things. I had decided who I would leave notes for and what they would say.

And riding up that climb was the final straw. But it was the final straw in knowing I had to do something about it. This wasn’t going to be me.

This had all developed over a period of time, like a small snowball rolling down a mountain, getting faster and faster and growing with every metre it rolled, until it was unstoppable. I can definitely empathise with how other people that get beyond the point of no return feel. I’ve been to the edge too.

The final straw was work but I’ll come to that shortly. Over the previous year I had been going through a pretty stressful divorce, one that rumbled on far beyond this point. That was taking its toll more than I realised. I had been a great sleeper throughout my life, never a problem and I could sleep anywhere, but now I was getting barely a few hours. I thought I was handling stuff but I wasn’t and probably played my fair share in making that divorce process worse than it needed to be.

In August, a couple of months before this bike ride, my godmother passed away. She had been a rock in my life and having had a very distant relationship with my own mum, that was the role she had always played. The person to turn to for advice or a pep talk, she didn’t pull her punches and was the only person that got away with calling me ‘Nicholas’! Bereavement is another difficult time and just became another block on top of the stress already building.

Then came work. I can remember the message pinging on my phone from my boss in the Talent ID team at 8.00am asking to see everyone that morning before a department meeting. I had a feeling he was going to say he was quitting his job and that’s exactly what happened. He had had enough and was leaving, putting himself first for his own reasons and fair play to him for doing that.

This meant the whole team was at risk and we knew exactly what was to follow. The Head of the wider department didn’t value what we did, mainly because you couldn’t ‘count and measure’ everything and there was grey areas of subjectivity but also didn’t connect with us as people. So the inevitable then happened. We all got called in to say a restructure was happening and we were told to reapply for the new jobs.

And this became the final straw that led me to the thoughts riding up towards Turners Hill. The way the one-to-one meetings were done was dehumanising, with no respect or recognition for what I had achieved or care for me as an individual. I had been there 14 years, changed player pathways across the country in youth football, influenced substitution laws with FIFA for the global game and driven forwards a more professional approach to Talent ID and education across the game.

But the way I was dealt with was the fact I was just a ‘body’. No empathy, no understanding, no compassion. Even my final redundancy meeting was conducted without decency or humanity. Values of an organisation really get tried and tested under stressful situations and they were not lived; they were just empty words on a glossy mug on everyone’s desks.

Following those October meetings things spiralled downhill. I wasn’t getting out of bed in the morning on work days, I stayed there, not wanting to move and not caring. I can recall one day being curled up in a ball in my office crying. It was a very low place and without formally diagnosing it I was really struggling. I had had a conversation with one of my closest friends in the team, also being made redundant, about his own personal situation and I encouraged him to speak to people and ask for help. I needed to look in the mirror too.

Then came that bike ride. Climbing hills for me is hard enough without the weight of divorce, bereavement and redundancy weighing me down.

But three things kept me alive that day and the first was my girlfriend. I had met someone and moved on and thankfully the person I met saved my life. She doesn’t like me saying it but it’s true. Without her I would not be here today. Maybe it’s luck but the fact she is a psychologist definitely helped; she could understand and having dealt with people in a professional capacity like me she knew how to manage it.

Thoughts had also turned to my son who was 3 years old then. What would he think growing up? How would he turn out? My dad has had a bigger impact on my life than anyone else; he’s my role model, my mentor and someone I aspire to make proud. So what would he feel too? Would he feel like he had done a bad job and failed, when in fact he had done the entire opposite?

I got back from that ride and for the first time properly explained to Rebecca, my girlfriend, about what was happening in my head.

The next day I called the private healthcare company through work and was diagnosed with depression. But that was the first step back out of this hole.

The catalyst for writing this article was having watched a BBC programme last night called A Royal Team Talk https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0005d27 and some reflections on points that were discussed in the show. You see everywhere now things in the press and media platforms about women’s rights, equal pay, bridging inequality gaps etc. and rightly so. But this is something that doesn’t get discussed from our side – pressures on men to behave, act or feel a certain way.

I’ve grown up and been influenced by family, friends and society that men have to “be” a certain person. Showing emotion is a no-no. Talking about feelings is a no-no. Admitting weakness is a no-no. I had played in football teams for decades, this was never an option there! The things I was going through, aligned with the perception of how I had to be seen as a man meant I never spoke to anyone. My closest friends didn’t know, my family didn’t know. And never speaking was what drove me to the edge of that very dangerous place to be mentally.

I did a course of counselling which in part helped. But then chatting to others helped as well. My relationship with Rebecca grew stronger and tighter. The guy in my team that was having his own mental ill health challenges became an ally and we talked all the time, and still do. Slowly things improved but I think for 6-8 months after diagnosis this was a daily challenge for me. It had been a part of me for awhile before without knowing too.

I don’t know if it will ever totally disappear but I’m in a far better place now. I can talk openly about it, how difficult it was and even though I know I will get emotional talking about, I’m ok with that. I still have days where I struggle a little with life.

And that is why the picture that is on the front page of this blog post is so pertinent to me.

On the outside, people would not have known. They would have seen a smiling, confident person that went about life in an upbeat manner. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram would have told an entirely false story, mainly due to the feelings of being a man I felt I had to portray externally.

But inside I was that little person.

This blog (for anyone that has shown the resilience and perseverance to actually get this far!) is just to say it’s ok to be a man and show weakness, to ask for help and honestly confide in others. You are a human being. We all have challenges through life that can make some days a struggle. But please don’t do it alone. And if anyone does need support, just ask.

22 thoughts on “The stuff men can’t talk about.

  • May 23, 2019 at 1:40 pm
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    Thanks for sharing Nick. It takes a lot to open up like you have and I am sure this will help others facing similar challenges.

    Reply
  • May 23, 2019 at 2:03 pm
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    That was a brave and moving post Nick. Thanks for sharing. I’ve been to dark places too, and having that support, whether counselling or a close relationship, is so valuable.

    Thanks for sharing.

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  • May 23, 2019 at 2:46 pm
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    You’ve got friend in me, mate! Thank you for the brutal honesty.

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  • May 23, 2019 at 10:36 pm
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    Nick, firstly, I hope you’re feeling well and are aware of the impact you have had and will have on the world.

    I’ve taken much inspiration from you and your work over the past few years since I stumbled across your twitter feed. I count myself as fortunate to have gone beyond the realm of the internet and spent time with you on the golf course and having you influence how we were doing things as a team at Hornsby House and my own teaching/coaching practice since.

    It’s amazing when someone speaks out on their health like you have. As you say it’s not easy and should be done more. Even though we don’t know each other very well personally, I now feel like you’re a guy I could talk to if I needed, and I’d love to have a bash out on the bikes or golf course again one day.

    All the best mate.
    Craig

    Reply
    • May 24, 2019 at 4:38 pm
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      Hi Craig, thanks for the message, really nice of you to write. I’m always up for a game of golf (although only played once last year so Mark may have to let my handicap go up!) to chat about coaching. Hopefully sharing this can help others see it’s ok not to be ok.

      Reply
    • May 24, 2019 at 11:48 pm
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      Hi Nick,

      I have not seen you for many years, but have followed the excellent work you have done in changing the landscape of football. Your feelings and experiences will again help so many people come forward and look for support. Well done buddy.

      Best

      Dave N

      Reply
      • May 28, 2019 at 8:01 pm
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        Cheers Dave. The messages and response has been incredible with so many people then sharing their stories. Let’s hope we can keep chipping away at these challenges.

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  • May 24, 2019 at 1:18 am
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    Brave of you to speak out x

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  • May 24, 2019 at 2:32 pm
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    Hi Nick had the pleasure of meeting you at wembley on the talent id level 2 course which i found thought provoking largely due to you and the other tutors Craig and Tessa
    Sorry to hear about your struggles glad to hear your dealing with them
    I know how much you have to offer keep well
    Regards
    Pete Bethell

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    • May 24, 2019 at 4:37 pm
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      Thanks for the message Pete, kind of you.

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  • May 24, 2019 at 5:34 pm
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    A very honest account, I applaud you for your words, it must have been very emotional to put them out into the public domain. Suicide is the most common cause of death for men aged 20-49 years in England and Wales; which is breathtakingly shocking. More awareness is needed in business, education and through the media.

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  • May 24, 2019 at 7:51 pm
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    Thank you for sharing your perspective Nick. As a female, when I’ve experienced similar tough times I’ve grown accustomed to being able to talk to my friends, predominantly female, about my struggles.
    It was hard to do so at first, but I have found that we women share more easily, and nurture one another’s needs sympathetically.
    It’s enlightening to read about your experiences and encourages me to check in on my male friends just as I do with my female ones. Thank you and be well.

    Reply
  • May 25, 2019 at 8:54 am
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    It’s amazing how many of us have been in this place but feel unable to talk or share. That overwhelming feeling of ‘failure’ that we fear. The worry of what everyone will think. I learned the hard way in my early 20’s as I didn’t talk. But it made me the better, stronger, and positive person I am today. Well done Nick 🙏

    Reply
    • May 28, 2019 at 7:59 pm
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      Thanks Doug.

      Reply
  • May 25, 2019 at 9:58 am
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    Well done and thank you, Nick. A truly honest and refreshing story and one I can certainly relate to. Yes, back at our school or in our day, weakness wasn’t really allowed, was it?

    Having been self-employed for 10 years, I constantly fight the demons in my head. I started by thinking I was going to rule the world and be invincible with a ‘I will never be THAT negative person’ attitude. Since then I’ve gone through many peaks and troughs, making me realise I’m just human and have many, many chinks in my armour.

    Burnout, lack of sleep, failed projects, major back surgery, addiction to painkillers, personal problems, worries about how to win new business, people not paying you, etc. They all take their toll mentally.

    Even the birth of my son I found extremely tough. This amazing little thing had just come into my life was supposed to make me feel like a king. But I struggled with it. I didn’t look after myself physically or mentally. Again, I thought I was invincible and could do everything. I couldn’t and I broke myself. My brain stopped working, I had no energy for about 6 months and struggled to get out of bed in the mornings.

    That period of my life has made me realise that the brain is a muscle and you need to look after it, just like any other muscle. Your gut health is also important because it directly affects how your brain performs. Crappy food or bad gut health means your brain will not have the right fuel to fire on all cylinders. It can also make you depressed.

    You also need to see the warning signs. Life without stress and some element of negativity is impossible. It’s how you manage the situation which is important.

    I’m happy to say that I’m now back fighting fit, both mentally and physically. I still have my mental challenges like anyone else but I take measures to keep myself together and combat the negative voice in my head. My son is also now my #1 driver. He’s the reason I must look after myself because, like our Dads, we should be their heroes.

    Keep up the great work. It is needed.

    I’m around for a beer …….err…..sparkling water if you fancy it.

    Thorpy

    Reply
    • May 28, 2019 at 7:59 pm
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      Hi mate, thanks for the message. Pleased to hear you are doing well, you were always going to succeed from every one else’s perception as you are that kind of guy, but they won’t see the struggles and battles you face. I’m over in Horsham, where are you living now?

      Reply
      • May 29, 2019 at 5:40 pm
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        I’m in Chertsey these days so not a million miles away. I’m sometimes down Crawley so happy to meet up when you’re free. I will let you know when I’m down that way.

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  • May 25, 2019 at 1:22 pm
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    Nick …
    I salute you sir , I’m not a man of many words but those words you have could influence others and has shows real bravery.
    Glad the pictures in front of you look brighter

    💙

    Reply
    • May 28, 2019 at 7:55 pm
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      Thanks Wayne, appreciate it.

      Reply
  • May 26, 2019 at 5:38 am
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    Nick, love the fact you can talk about it now, great article and makes one reflect about the important things in life.

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  • May 28, 2019 at 7:32 pm
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    Nick, I can’t applaud you enough for having the guts and resilience to write this blog. I’ve been there too in recent times and it is indeed a dark and confusing place to be!

    I’m not going to hack your post with my own battles but I wanted to let you know that you were always someone I looked up to a lot when we worked together many years ago and still are. And I t wasn’t your apparent confidence that led me to respect you at The FA; it was your passion and belief in changing the culture of youth development that struck the chord.

    Please keep doing what you do best and keep changing things for a better future.

    Reply
    • May 28, 2019 at 7:54 pm
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      Thanks Jon, and really appreciate the message. They were enjoyable days with the Skills Programme firstly, then onto the other projects. Hope you are doing ok mate.

      Reply

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