How groundhopping gave me hope
Lewis blogs about how visiting different football stadiums is helping him conquer his fears, and how the presence of the squiggle on the back football shirts through Mind's partnership with the EFL is making mental health a more visible issue.
Lewis is a Mind supporter and football fan who is visiting as many stadiums as possible to raise awareness of mental health problems.
In the past, I've had countless amounts of days where I've wanted to end my life. It started 10 years ago in college when I suffered severe dips in mood. Normally, I'd say I'm quite foolish but I started getting very sullen. There was a dark cloud over me a lot of the time and I felt volatile. My English teacher, Pete, pulled me aside after a class once because I was acting so differently.
"It could have been passed off as teenage behaviour, but I knew it was deeper than that."
Having someone notice the change in me helped. It was nice that someone showed concern for my wellbeing when, seemingly, no one else acknowledged it. I guess it could have been passed off as teenage behaviour, but I knew it was deeper than that. It felt unshakeable. I just didn't know what it was.
Things escalated further at university. I didn't make many friends during my first year and my course gave me a lot of anxiety. I thought Sports Journalism would be predominantly going to football matches and reporting on them. But there were other aspects - such as calling people and getting quotes - which started a fear of using the phone.
I remember having to call ex-England goalkeeper Tim Flowers once for some team news on his Stafford Rangers side. Someone had just given me his number over an email and told me to phone him. It was early evening at this point, which meant I'd have to call him at home. "Why the hell would he want to talk to me in his free time?" I thought.
"I went through everything that I was going to say over and over but I still couldn't press the green phone button."
I was petrified to make that call. I went through everything that I was going to say over and over but I still couldn't press the green phone button. Eventually I found the courage to do it and my heart sank with every ring. I honestly can't recall any of the conversation; my brain was probably too paralysed with fear to revert the moment to memory.
Unsurprisingly, I didn't pursue journalism when I finished my degree. I put my attention on understanding my mind and trying to fix it. It took a while but after threatening to end my life on a number of occasions, I went to the doctors and they put me on a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy course.
It didn't really work for me, to be honest, but I learnt more about my mind and found loneliness was a big factor in my mental health declining. The further I've investigated my head, the more I've understood how to deal with my issues. One of things I’ve been doing to help my mental health is groundhopping – which means attending matches at as many different stadiums or grounds across the country. It has become an integral part in keeping my mind healthy.
"I can let out my emotions for 90 minutes and leave any worries outside the ground."
I love discovering new places, so just being in another part of the world is often enough. However, attending a game adds extra cathartic release. I can let out my emotions for 90 minutes and leave any worries outside the ground. Plus, I'm amongst a group of people who I can sing along with and even jump all over when there's a goal.
Writing about my experiences for my blog also helps - particularly when it comes to anxiety. It pushes me to go further, learn more and look deeper. And as well as benefitting myself, my groundhopping blog aims to promote better mental health for others too.
At each ground I visit, I display a banner which is then published on social media to spread awareness of mental health issues. A few people have reached out to me saying how much groundhopping has helped them with their mental health too. One person with anxiety revealed they can often struggle to get out of their car before seeing a match. But, like myself, the draw of keeping their own blog going gives them enough strength to attend the game.
My heart leapt when I discovered Mind were partnering the EFL for the next two seasons. Having the charity's squiggle on the back of players' shirts is a fantastic idea that I’m sure will help to open up conversations and normalise the issue of mental health.
The stories I’ve heard on my groundhopping travels only reinforce how important this partnership can be. There could be fans on the terraces who go to football for therapy but don't know what other help is available off the field. Likewise, there could be supporters who have no idea what's happening in their head.
"When I see that squiggle on the back of shirts it will be poignant."
I was in that position when I watched Wrexham as a teenager. So when I see that squiggle on the back of shirts during my groundhopping travels now, it will be poignant, but I'll also have a sense of elation. Because I know I would have benefitted from seeing it when I was younger and I'm so glad fewer people will be as lost and confused as I was.
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