Lee, 24, from Wrexham, blogs about using drugs to escape feelings of depression and using football and talking therapies as coping strategies. He tells his story as part of our Stand For Me campaign to improve mental health support and services in Wales.
I picked up my first drug at the age of 13. From then on, things just went out of control. When I was using, I didn’t have to be me. I could put on a persona or a mask; I could be a totally different person. I didn’t have to be the lad who was being bullied or having a tough time. My family didn’t have a clue. I was manipulative and I was good at lying; I hid it really well.
I can’t remember a day where I didn’t use back then. But if I wasn’t using, I couldn’t sit still. I couldn’t be me. I didn’t want to be. The drugs numbed everything. So instead, I hung around with people who were using or people who had money to buy me drugs. And I got high. It all came crashing down in 2015. I had been heavily using for two weeks straight and I’d hit rock bottom. I just didn’t know where to turn. I ended up trying to take take my own life.
I failed (fortunately) and rang my ex-partner. She is the mother of my daughter - who was just a baby then – and she told my family. My Mum came to pick me up and took me to the doctors. He signed me off work and gave me medication.
But I did get some more help because my Mum knew of CAIS – Champions House – in Wrexham which supports people with drug and alcohol addiction. It is free to attend and I was given some bus passes to help with travel costs because I was totally broke. CAIS is like a club for addicts and it keeps you busy with lots of different activities. I went to Narcotics Anonymous too but it wasn’t really for me.
The club has transformed me. It saved my life.
After I’d got clean and started going to CAIS, my partner at the time kicked me out. I didn’t really have anywhere to go and I had no money so I was sofa surfing for a while. And I started using again. I was getting benefits but I’d have to spend most of it to sleep on someone’s sofa. That left me with £20 a week for food which I ended up spending on weed.
I have jumped on and off the rails a few times. But it was at CAIS I picked up a leaflet for Wrexham Inclusion Football Club. It is a club for people with mental health problems and disabilities. And just a couple of days later, I went along. That was the real turning point in my recovery. The club has transformed me. It saved my life.
I’ve been clean now for 14 months. I often say that football is my new drug. I had always loved it as a kid and I stopped playing when I started using. In my recovery I had tried other clubs, but I really fitted in here, They understood me and I felt confident. But they also didn’t pander to me and let me get away with behaving badly. Over the years, I have been really angry but the club teach you to manage your emotions. In the past, I’ve mouthed off at coaches and they’ve taken game-time away. We went to the European Championships in Munich and they banned me from playing in the first match because of the way I’d behaved in training. It was what I needed.
I would describe everyone at the club as family. I could phone the coaches at 3am and they’d sit and listen to any troubles I‘ve got. They have given me opportunities that other clubs wouldn’t. They’ve paid for me to get my coaching qualifications and I’m now even running my own football sessions. It’s not something I would have thought possible a few years ago.
Every Wednesday, they have an open-door policy where we can come in for group work on subjects like anger management or debt management. We can also get one-to-one support. Sometimes I feel my anger rising and I am ready to pop. I know that if someone tackles me in the wrong way, I’ll react badly. So I know I need a sit down to chat with the guys and then I’m ok and ready to play.
Coronavirus has been really hard because I haven’t been able to play football.
I know now that I was suffering with depression when I was using. And I still struggle on and off now. I attend counselling through the NHS which is helping, although I still find it hard to talk about my feelings. Coronavirus has been really hard because I haven’t been able to play football. It is a massive coping strategy for me so to have that taken away has been really difficult. But I stayed clean throughout and now training is restarting. I can’t wait. I know it’s always going to be hard. Every time something goes wrong in my life, I am tempted to use. But things in my life are so much better. When my Grandparents – who are quite old-fashioned – first found out about the drugs, they were shocked and cut off contact with me. But they understand addiction a little better now and they are supportive. I am seeing my young daughter again who means the world to me. I’m playing, I’m coaching and I’m dealing with things better and getting the support I need.
Lee receives Employment Support Allowance and Personal Independent Payment which helps people with everyday life if you have an illness, disability or mental health condition.
Read about Mind's campaigns
We'll fight your corner. We believe everyone with a mental health problem should be able to access excellent care and services. We also believe you should be treated fairly, positively and with respect.
Blogs and stories can show that people with mental health problems are cared about, understood and listened to. We can use it to challenge the status quo and change attitudes.