One Year Off The Beer. Part 2

As my year off all thing’s alcohol comes to a close, I wanted to share a few things I have learned, picked up and discovered along the way. Been some year, plenty happening in many aspects of my life. I graduated from University, I moved in with my girlfriend when I came home, I decided I would further my education and study a Masters, ran a half marathon and did lots of charity work with The James Burke Foundation to name a few.

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To say that the last 365 days have been easy would be a lie. I think if you asked just about anyone, they would consider a year off alcohol to be up there with waking up at 5am on their list of things that would probably be good for you, but fuck that. I have spoken to many people who have done Sober October, or Dry January, or whatever month they want to pick to make them feel good about themselves for a short period of time before they inevitably get absolutely wrote off on the 1st of the following month. I had considered doing something like that again. Seems like a piece of piss in hindsight, doing 1 month. But I had thought about it and came to the conclusion that, because it seemed relatively simple, and just about everyone has given it a go, it’s not really a challenge.

As I am one to do, I thought fuck it, and jumped in with both feet. Told as many people as possible about it in order to create some sort of accountability and started at the next available opportunity. I have read that telling people about your goals can actually be detrimental, because you receive satisfaction from telling them about it, which is often enough. Nevertheless, the people were told.

Win the morning, win the day.

The first month or two have definitely turned out to be the hardest. Nothing really changed. I was still hanging out with the same people, going to the same places, doing the same thing. Eating the same hangover food, with no hangover, because pizza. It started to take its toll on me if I’m honest. It is incredibly difficult to put on a front every week and be like, “yeah sound, I’ll come out with the lads, I enjoy your company”. When really, come 10 o’clock they are usually talking like a washing machine and morals become questionable. After the first few sessions I called it quits, I am not going to a nightclub, not because of who I’m with, but everyone else mostly. Its sticky, cramped, smells like shit and the next person to elbow me while squeezing passed is getting chinned.

I was going to keep myself busy, get up early, be productive, go to the gym, do some uni work, some stuff for the foundation or our campaign. Anyone who wanted to meet for a coffee, let’s be having ye. This has served me very well for the most part. Getting up somewhere around 6 or 7am, going to the gym, coming home as people are dragging their hungover carcass in for their 9am lecture gives you a great sense of accomplishment. In the words of Tim Ferris, “Win the morning, win the day”. It was this that helped me keep my mind off alcohol for the longest time. Having something else going on to distract me from it. Being absolutely knackered in the evening that the only thing I wanted to do was sleep, never mind sit in my kitchen listening to some bloke from London chat complete and utter bullshit at 1am.

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I have tried to continue this process since I’ve come home from uni. Get up early, get something done as soon as possible and tick something off the to do list before most people get out of bed. Now I’m not saying I am some sort of productivity beast who smashes it day in, day out, because a lot of the time it is a serious pain in the hole when the alarm goes off, and I’ve snoozed it approximately 1 million times in the last week. It is tough, but when you awaken from your slumber and feel like you’ve accomplished something by simply getting out of bed, the rest of the day looks after itself.

That sort of mindset has helped me keep my mind off alcohol, stay busy and productive, and not be crying out for a pint come Friday afternoon. The best thing I can say for me, was distraction. That’s how this became, shall I say, easier than first thought.

I wanted to share a few lessons I garnered along the way, while there were many, here is my top 5, in no particular order.

  1. 1 year was easier than 1 month.

The thought of giving up booze for 1 year sounds dreadful. However, whether you want to think so or not, your mind will become accustomed to it. Early doors, there were a few instances where I nearly screwed the whole thing, purely by accident. Going to a pub with some guys and saying, “pint of Guinness please”. Wait, shit, back up. You sort of come to the conclusion that because it is so long away before you can have a drink, there is absolutely no point in worrying about it, or even looking forward to it. You are here now, get a cranberry mate. With 1 month off, the end date is always so close that all you can see is the finish line. You start to regret doing it in the first place and it becomes difficult not to go, “I’m at 20 days here, what difference is it going to make?” When I stopped for one month, I lost count of the number of people who said, you have to drink at XYZ party. Can you not add a week on at the end? When I decided to stop for a year, the pressure turned into congratulations or, “Jesus Christ, are you mental?”

  1. You get to know yourself much better.

After 6/7 years of social drinking, some binge drinking and a lot of hangovers, taking a year off enabled me to really take account of what is going on in my life, where I am, and how I got here. It was interesting to find out that I can actually show emotion, sometimes anyway. I think I’ve cried more in the last 12 months than I have in the previous 6 years combined. I am an angry wee man, but I am learning how and why, and I am able to identify what agitates me and what to do about it. I have improved my relationships with a number of people on a personal level, because those relationships have developed into more than a drinking acquaintance, and I have left some superficial relationships behind also. I am starting to discover what truly makes me happy.

  1. There are a lot more people who don’t drink than you would think.

About 21 per cent of UK adults surveyed in 2016 said they don’t drink, and that figure rises to 27 per cent for 16 to 24 year olds. 1 quarter of young people admitted they didn’t drink in 2016? That’s a lot. Mind you I don’t know how many people they asked, or where they asked them. That number is probably a lot lower if you stand outside the Students Union. Nevertheless, I encountered numerous people on nights out, at the pub or wherever who, when someone suggested a round or even that we go to the pub, have exclaimed that they don’t drink. The alcohol-free market is on fire at the minute. More and more beverage companies are producing an alcohol-free alternative, and more and more bars are stocking it.

  1. You can do it too.

Trust me, deciding what liquid you pour down your throat is not as hard as it might seem. Take one day at a time, one week at a time, one social event at a time. You’ll soon get over it and feel all the better for it. The first time you wake up after a night out completely hangover and fear free, feel proud of yourself and hold onto that feeling for the next time.

  1. You get to know your friends much better.

This sort of ties into point number 2, however as much as you know yourself, you never truly know someone until they are forced into a position where they can do nothing but react, as opposed to having time to think about their reactions and how that fits whatever mask they’ve put on that day. On occasion, I would think someone I was with would be supportive of my journey, they won’t try and peer pressure me into having a drink when they know I can’t. What a lesson that was. This was rare, thankfully, but it did happen. I’d be with people and someone would be like, “do you want a beer?” “Obviously not, dickhead”. “Awk go on, nobody will know, we won’t tell anyone”. “I’m good thanks, I’ll see you later”. By later I mean hopefully never. That’s not a good way to respect or treat someone you consider a friend. That’s being a dickhead.

I have been asked a lot, whether I will go back to drinking. It’s an interesting question, as if drinking is some sort of religion. It’s like asking those Amish kids on the TV that go to New York on the piss for a week, whether they will go back to their Amish families. It depends on your relationship with alcohol and whether you are in control of it, or it is in control of you. Needing to have a glass of wine after work to unwind? Think you’re losing that battle. For me, I will certainly have a pint of Guinness on the first day after my year, partly to prove a point to myself that I was able to do it, and secondly because I don’t think I have a problem with alcohol, at least not anymore. I would like to utilise it as a social thing, having a pint with your mates every so often, or at Christmas. One thing is for sure, massive piss ups every week are not my thing. You see too much when you go to a nightclub sober one too many times. A birthday party or a wedding? Straight to the bar no doubt. Beers after work? Not for me.

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I would like to say thank you to so many people, not only for any donations that I have gratefully received on behalf of The James Burke Foundation, but also for the moral support and words of encouragement. At times it has tested me in ways I’ve never been tested before. I have felt sad, angry, anxious, happy, grateful and excited at different times of this journey. My life has improved tremendously and I am very glad that I decided to take this challenge. Not a single moment of regret. Thank you to every single person who has sent me a message, patted me on the back or said a word when they have seen me about. It means an awful lot to me and at times, I probably wouldn’t have got through it without you. 

Cheers.

I have a story by Ian Whitehead.

This weeks instalment comes in the form of Ian Whitehead. A very honest account of times when he has suffered from depression. We thank Ian for opening up and sharing his story!

I started suffering symptoms of depression in October 2016 when I woke up one day in a bubble and struggling to break through it. I received counselling to diagnose my problems and discuss my feelings and emotions through my struggles. I realised that university life was becoming a struggle as well as suffering a serious injury in American football, which led me to think more suicidal, thinking whether day to day life was really worth it.

It got to a point where one day I couldn’t leave my room because I thought I was going to self harm, which I have done a couple of times fairly recently, but those thoughts made me ring the NHS 111 service who came over to my uni house and spoke to me whilst taking notes. They booked me an appointment and moved me into having rehabilitation appointments at the local medical centre.

Suffering symptoms of bipolar and schizophrenia, the doctor wasn’t sure what exactly was wrong with me but thought this all this was caused due to being severely depressed, to which they gave me a lot of medication to overcome these problems or at least calm them down.

Once checking out of rehab I felt better and the symptoms of depression calmed down but I’d still go through some daily struggles. I decided to go back to uni after having the year deferred and do a 4th year.

American football is my outlet and has been the reason as to why I haven’t committed suicide. As well as the support from friends and family, I sit here today with a degree in Sport, Coaching and Physical Education as well as reaching the division 1 finals with the Kent Exiles. I still suffer from depression and symptoms of bipolar to this date but with the help of medication and support, they have helped me overcome these problems and helped me become a better person. My aim now is help others. To guide and support them through the personal battles and problems.

I’ve also raised money for Mind mental health charity doing a full tough mudder and a half tough mudder.

I’m always here for people if they want to talk or discuss any problems they’re having. I’m only a message away.

I have a story by Rahoul Hore

This week’s instalment of “I have a story” comes in the form of Rahoul Hore. This bloke plays American Football for the Warwick Wolves. He is a DB, #33 and got in contact through the awesome work from Lifting The Lid in sharing this movement. This is a long one, it is deep and it is an incredible story. Big up Rahoul. 


One night, like any normal 22-year-old, I was watching the newest season of Hard Knocks and scrolling through Facebook when I came across a blog post by the former Head Coach of the Bournemouth Bobcats, Charlie Anderson, about the unfortunate mental struggles that he went through this most recent season. The article caught my attention, as a lot of the feelings and thoughts that Coach Anderson described were similar to what I had experienced this past year as a Uni ball player. Therefore, I’ve decided to tell my story from the perspective of a university player in order to help continue opening the dialogue about mental health within our sport and sport as a whole.

My story begins in my 3rdyear at university. Being a languages student, I was required to spend it abroad. For many, they would see this as a great experience and for some, perhaps the best year of their lives; and whilst it was an amazing experience overall for me, it was also arguably where perhaps the deterioration in my mental health began, as being away from my family and friends, a large number of whom were in the Wolves, made me feel quite alone and isolated at times and made me wonder whether with me being away, everybody would move on without me. As well as this, I often felt like there was a sense of regret coming abroad, as I felt that in doing so, I was missing out on opportunities that I really wanted to take, but couldn’t due to being away; such as being in a relationship with a girl that I had met (and admittedly fell for) before going abroad, as well as obtaining an exec position with the Wolves for when I came back. In particular, although I was very happy for my teammates that were elected onto the exec, I was equally devastated about not being elected myself, as there were numerous thoughts that ran through my head over it. Did I not put in enough work into my manifestos and speeches? Did people simply not have enough faith in me? And if they didn’t, were they right to?

These questions started to plant seeds of doubt in my mind of whether I was in fact capable of helping the team in any way. In turn, I thought that maybe if I couldn’t contribute and help the team off the field, I could’ve helped them on it when I came back, and in some ways, I was wanting to prove people who I thought had doubted and forgotten about me wrong. And quite honestly, I actually believed that getting into a dark place worked as it drove me to get into maybe the best shape of my life to that point and thought that with the hard work, I had the chance to come back to a starting job again, something that I had wanted to win back after being benched on and off during my second year.

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However, upon reflection, this borderline obsession with transforming myself physically may have to some extent burnt me out mentally even before I came back; in addition, I came to realise that the image that I had created in my head abroad about what I would be returning to was vastly different to the reality; and in fact the feeling that everyone had moved on without me, and therefore the thought that there was no place for me in anyone’s life, be it the team or others, grew larger and larger. As well as this, because of the equally obsessed goal of trying to start and trying to help the team on the field, I had started to grow increasingly frustrated with myself as I would beat myself up (even vocally in front of my teammates and coaches) over the littlest mistakes, even on positive plays. But instead of talking to anyone directly about the reasons for my frustration, I tried to keep that aspect quiet, as I wanted to use any frustration I had to drive me like before. However, it had in fact started to have negative repercussions.

There’s one practice that comes to mind to show this, where I felt so overwhelmed with all sorts of emotions; I was snapping at teammates; during a tackling to ground drill, I took a blow to the head and rather than sit out (despite feeling sick) I said and pretended I was fine and carried on as if nothing happened. And later, during a ball carrier pursuit drill, I refused to sub out because I wanted to carry on running to try and cause myself to pass out. I started to disregard the want that I initially had to help the team to the point that I was willing to lie to my coaches and teammates in order to try and hurt and punish myself, because I thought that I deserved it for failing/not being good enough. In fact, I recall instances where after games, win or lose, I would be crying on the phone to my family for nearly two hours because I truly felt like the team was better off without me and even briefly contemplated leaving the sport and team I loved.

It was only when one of my closest friends outside of the Wolves noticed that something was off about me that she urged me to see a counsellor for help; and in fairness, (along with spending time back home over Christmas and meeting someone romantically) it did help me. Unfortunately, about halfway through the 2ndterm, things started to fall apart for me and the demons that I had from before came back; in fact, they had come back even stronger, as with the pressures of final year, the breakdown of yet another relationship and the end of the season (and the sense of loss over my identity as a Wolf) I started to doubt myself even more than before. I truly felt that in my time at university, I had created a legacy of failure and that a lot of people would’ve been better off without me.

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As these thoughts grew stronger, I felt like I couldn’t go back to counselling, as in my mind my issues felt quite trivial and something that everyone went through; and unlike before, since I couldn’t try to wear myself down in football like before, my “comfort eating”, and drinking started to increase more and more. I drank in order to try and not feel anything negative, even if it was a temporary feeling, and it was. From when my issues started to arise again to the end of term, every single night out I went out on, I had a breakdown of some sort. Of those meltdowns, the most significant one was the last one. On a standard sports night, about 40 minutes in, I had yet another meltdown and I was in the club crying for a straight hour and a half, trying to talk to so many different teammates in that time, in the hopes they could help me. When I felt like no one could understand, I left the venue with the intention ending everything, and had my teammates and others close to me not realised, this article may never have been written. This incident unfortunately wouldn’t have been the last time I attempted something, as around exam session the following term, when my mind wasn’t thinking about exams or essays, it was thinking of ways I could hurt myself (or worse.) It was also during this time that some of the sadness I felt from before turned into irrational rage, where I was trying to push those closest to me away in order to try and materialise the narrative that I had created in my head that no one cared about me, because in my mind, if I drove everyone away, there would’ve been no one to stop me if I decided to end everything.

It was only when I had finished exams, I had the time to properly think on my own and try to begin to rest and recover. From there, I started trying to take things a day at a time and eventually build up enough confidence and trust in others to be around people again and having graduated with a 2.1 in July, I am still looking to try and evaluate (as well as re energise) myself before embarking onto the next chapter in my life, whatever that may be.

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So you may be wondering as to why I have decided to write this piece. Well in fact there are 3 reasons: the first is to stand in support of people such as Coach Anderson, as well as the many others within the Britball community, such as Andrew Marks, Elliot Walters and Wayne Drew (someone who I’m honoured to have played alongside with at Warwick) for their work in trying to raise awareness about mental health within our sport, whether it be through writing articles or by acts of charity, and for creating a platform where it is becoming easier for people such as myself to talk about their experiences. I also wanted to write this article to thank the many people, be it my family or friends, who reached out to me during this time and for never giving up on me, even when I did. It is also very important to mention that a large number of the friends in this time who reached out to me were Wolves, and this article is not to blame them for what happened or paint them in a negative light whatsoever. I love with all my heart the team and the individuals that comprise/d it and I genuinely believe that the circumstances that affected me could have occurred with any team and the way they stuck by me even when I tried to push them away shows the sense of love and brotherhood that led me to fall in love with the team to begin with.

And finally, I wanted to personally address those who are in a similar position to the one that I was in: I know that right now you feel like you’re in hell and in pain, but please don’t do what I did and keep your negative thoughts in. By keeping them just in your head, you’ll be allowing them to manifest and eventually, you’ll start to see them as your own subjective (and most likely distorted) truth, and that’s where the acts of self-hate come from. It is important to let these negative thoughts out, whether it be talking to someone, or even just writing down what you feel, it’s better than keeping these demons inside your head where they would ultimately look to destroy you from inside, by forcing you to try and use unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as things like excessive drinking or any other forms of self-harm. But in your struggles the most important thing to remember (although it may be so hard to see as the time I didn’t) is that you’re not alone. When you start talking, you begin to realise that there are many others, be it in this sport or in general, that have had this type of fight before; so, in a perverse way, there’s strength in numbers. And whilst you may feel like it’s a weakness to ask for help (like I did), it’s not and there’s no shame in asking for it. Because although getting better may not be a short or even an easy process, having people around you could at times make the process feel shorter, as if maybe you don’t have faith in yourself, they most likely will. And although the process of healing may be tough at times, in the words of Brian Dawkins, one of the greatest and perhaps, toughest defenders to play our sport:

“The majority of success I have had has come on the back end of pain. Pain has pushed me to levels unknown. For me at the time, all I know that was pain but on the other side of it, all of a sudden, I became better in an area […] there’s a purpose for my pain.”

I hope that with this article, I am able to help anyone who is going through with what I went through and that I am able to do Mental Health campaigns such as Lifting the Lid justice, so please keep fighting, keep giving yourself one more day, one more down.

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Thanks for reading, Rahoul.

 

I have a story by Craig Owen

I have suffered with problems such as depression since my teenage years. I would bottle everything up and not tell anyone what was going on for fear of ridicule, and shame. Harbouring all this pain would then cause me to lash out when it got too much. I would become a completely different person. When this happened, the overwhelming guilt I would feel would then put me in a vicious circle that only fuelled the root cause of my issues. I had lost friends over it, and I still didn’t feel like I could speak out.
Eventually, after a particularly bad period, I decided enough was enough. I still remember my first text to a friend, talking about my mental health. It was such a relief to see how positive and supportive he was. I felt a weight starting to lift. I sought counselling, which to this day is the best decision I’ve ever made. Being able to speak about things to an impartial person let me get right to the root of my issues. It’s helped me to this day. American football also became a big part of my life and works as a great way to keep me “level”. Being able to focus on something away from my problems during hard times makes a huge difference, whilst being on the field during a tough period allows me to shut off for a while, and focus any frustration and aggression in a positive way. I know that I may never truly rid myself of this battle, but I now know how to deal with things when it arises and feel much more confident telling people when I’m just not ok. I’ve learnt to avoid situations which may aggravate me when I’m not myself and this puts me more at ease looking at the road ahead. Speaking out about your issues is truly important, but equally so is being able to listen to someone in their time of need. If we judge each other less, and help one another more, we can all make someones battle that little bit easier for them to win.

5 things I’ve learnt about suicide.

I would like to talk about something that is not a light-hearted issue, it is not easy to talk about and that is the subject of suicide. I have not personally had to deal with suicidal thoughts, but I have met and spoken in-depth will people who have or had suicidal thoughts, and there are a number of things I would like to try to discuss.

I would like to start off by saying that everything I say is from my own experience and conversations of the past year about things that have helped the people I have spoken with, and also hurt them. I have used some of these things myself when I have felt depressed or just generally had a shit day for one reason another. I would like to discuss 5 things that I personally believe can help someone who is considering the act of suicide.

Number 1. Avoiding Isolation.

Without question, the one thing that everyone has had in common when they feel depressed or suicidal, is the correlation with how you are feeling and how isolated you are. I too have felt horrible sometimes and one thing in common 99% of the time was being isolated. Away from my friends, away from family, away from the community as a whole. Being away from someone to talk to. It is common to feel in your own little bubble with an inescapable weight on your shoulders, feeling like you are the only one in the world suffering. It is incredibly difficult to break out of that bubble and speak with someone, which leads to the second point.

Number 2. Connectivity Is Everything.

From someone who has self-medicated feelings of depression with alcohol, I think there is a lot to say about feeling connected. Recovering drug and alcohol addicts, survivors of suicide and many other people have stated that recovery strongly relies on connectivity. Not the kind of false connectivity assigned with drinking acquaintances and then not remembering their name the next day. Proper genuine connections with other people, being open and vulnerable and sharing your experiences together. Hearing what other people have been through and identifying similar experiences in your own life can be of great benefit also. Isolating yourself prevents you from seeing clearly or getting a different perspective and you’re going to be stuck in your own little bubble. By being in a community of some sort and having connections allows you to gain perspective from other people’s experience and be a bit more honest with your own mind and shine some light on things so you’re no longer drowning in your own bubble.

Number 3. Medication Might Help.

I personally have never had any prescribed medication to deal with any depression or anxiety, but I have spoken to many people who have. For some people, they have seen a benefit, others claim it has made matters worse. I think it is fair to say that there is no one size fits all here. A lot of people have said that medication never completely removed their depression or solved all their problems, but it has lessened the degree with which they experience those feelings. People with different mental health disorders may need different types of medication. Someone with depression disorder for example probably doesn’t have enough serotonin in their system and needs an antidepressant, whereas someone with bipolar disorder will need some other kind of medication. There are also people who will never take any medication regardless of what they are experiencing, perhaps opting for a more natural solution which is absolutely fine if that works for you. I am neither for medication nor against it, I am for whatever works for you. If you are someone who would not take any medication for one reason or another, I would say there are millions of people who have benefitted from medication and if you are in a depth of despair and feel like you are running out of options, it might not hurt to look into medication as a possible solution.

Number 4. Your Thoughts Are Imaginary.

What I mean is, your own direct experience of life is only ever happening in the exact present moment, which for me is writing these words (at the time of writing obviously). For you, it is reading these words. Nothing else is real except for what you are experiencing in each moment. All those thoughts in your head, how bad life is, how bad your past was, how daunting the future looks, are imaginary. They are not based on the present moment of reality. Each and every thought you have or have had are little streams of energy through your brain. They come, and they go. If you are experiencing a depressive episode or feel like life is meaningless, if you can remember just a little bit in that moment that it is not real, and you can get through it easier and you can seek out and get further help. Some things that have helped me deal with depressive moments are meditation and physical exercise. These are things that have lessened the stranglehold of my thoughts and allow me to create space to deal with my mind on my terms. Repetitive, negative thoughts are no use to anyone, they are not real, and I think it is important to remember that sometimes.

Number 5. This Moment Shall Pass.

No matter how many times I have felt isolated or down, or how difficult it was to see clearly, it has always passed. I have spoken with people who have had major depressive episodes one minute and a few hours later or a day later it is gone. If they can come and go like that, how strong are they really? Is it really who you are as a person? Or is it that you are here for something greater, to grow past those moments and strive and enjoy your life? I believe we are all here to grow and learn and flourish, me and you.

I hope through my blog I can shine light on some things and create a connection between us that allows us to be open and honest about our mental health. A lot of things get shovelled away and suicide is still perhaps a taboo subject that no one likes to talk about. It is the final option and if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts it perhaps not something you want to talk to people about so hopefully there is something worth reading in this post. Trust me when I say that I believe in you, I believe you are strong enough to get through each and every moment, to grow, learn and flourish.

Inside the minds of Noggin Sport.

I recently sat down to a scheduled phone call to have a chat with Kieran Joyce. Kieran and his brother Conor are the masterminds behind the brand, Noggin Sport. For those of you who do not know, Noggin Sport are a brand that create hats and more recently t-shirts and target mostly sports clubs of all kinds, making them bespoke for each club sporting their logo and colours. In fact, when I seen a friend of mine with some merchandise I got in touch with Conor about getting some lids for the University rugby team. What is special about these lids however, is that some of the money made from the sale of them goes to a mental health organisation called Kaleidoscope Plus who are working to promote and support positive mental health. The organisation are based in the Midlands, where the boys were born.

After dealing with the team lids, I spoke to the guys and said I would like to ask them a few questions about their motivations and how they have come to do what they do, amongst being professional rugby players at the same time! A few days later, I sat down with my notebook and called Kieran, here is what I learned.

Who is Kieran Joyce, and how did things get started with Noggin Sport?

As a second year university student in Queens Belfast and being part of the Ulster Sub Academy meant he had a very busy schedule including early gym sessions, late pitch sessions, weekend sessions and university in between. This started to take its toll on Kieran and for around 7/8 months from September 2016 to April/May 2017 he had began to struggle. Being brutally honest with me, he said he was suffering from depression. This had began to leak from his head into the things he was doing. Uni work was falling behind, and he wasn’t as committed as he would have liked to have been with Ulster. He made a decision that he wanted to flip that depression and use it as a motivator to help people in similar situations.

3 things that mattered to Kieran and that he wanted to combine in order to help people. Sport, Mental Health, and Business (What he was studying at Uni).

Entering his third year of uni, on his business course there was a group project. The usual brainstorming period came where Kieran had come up with a brand that designs hats for people who want to raise awareness about mental health, and anyone with one, who seen another person with one would feel comfortable knowing they could speak to them. Sounds like a no-brainer right? Well Kieran’s group passed on this idea and went with something else. I wonder if that something else ever became a fully fledged business? Anyway, holding onto this idea, Kieran took this home to his brother Conor, pitched him the idea, and he loved it. Conor is credited with coming up with the name, Noggin Sport.

How does Noggin Sport help with Mental Health?

The boys weren’t sure how to approach this at the beginning. The first thing for them was to develop a reputable brand and align themselves with an established charity who are doing incredible work themselves. Enter Kaleidoscope Plus. Kaleidoscope Plus offer mental health services and facilities and work a lot with sports clubs. You can find out more about them here: Kaleidoscope Plus.

While it is important to be linked with a charitable organisation, it was important for the boys to have something inclusive in their brand that symbolises positive mental health. The Wolfpack was developed as their method to empower people who use and follow their brand. Working with the idea that people and their environment will be empowered together and be able to talk about mental health was very important. “If buying a product makes a customer feel better, it makes us feel better. Then we know we are doing something right.”

What are the kind of things can you identify that need to improve when we talk about the stigma of mental health?

“I see lots of things on social media when a celebrity commits suicide or suffers from a mental health problem, which is good because at least its being talked about, for me, I would like to see it spoke about more frequently.”

We spent a good bit of time talking about how important the people around the person with mental health issues can be, which perhaps they don’t realise. Education needs to improve at a younger age where people will have a better understanding of mental health. I speak for myself here but I remember a sex ed class in school when I was like 11. This and that is going to change physically. But what they didn’t point out was that more things will change mentally, how you deal with those physical changes and so on, as an example of an appropriate time when education into mental health needs to be deployed.

Companies like Heads Together, and now The James Burke Foundation run educational classes on mental health and well-being, important signs to look out for and where to look for help. Very important to see these classes being developed and of course, there can never be enough education.

As we are both university graduates, I asked Kieran on his thoughts about students. It was easy to agree that the university environment is a complete minefield for mental health problems. Living alone for the first time, lots of new faces, trying to fit in, walking through campus thinking everyone is judging you, to name a few.

How has Noggin Sport grown and developed since it began?

“We never anticipated the amount of support we would receive.” Friends and family have been doing as much as they can to support these guys, from sharing on social media to liking the gear and buying some of it, myself included. It is a really likeable brand, with a strong, positive message to be shared far and wide. Kieran and Conor are geographically in different places with Conor plying his trade in Jersey and Kieran in Galway. In saying that, it is easy for them both to stay connected and engage with their followers via social media. They are on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter daily, sharing posts and replying to messages.

“We haven’t really stopped to look how much it has grown so far, because we just want to keep the momentum going.” Both young lads, it makes it easier for them to connect with their followers, as most of them are younger people, particularly in sport. They make things that they would want to wear, which is another reason I love the brand. It’s authentic to the creators behind it, they are being themselves and they know their audience.

What does the future hold?

Noggin Sport wants to strengthen and grow their relationship with Kaleidoscope Plus, continue to spread and cultivate their positive message, and bring out more products for their customers.

And bucket hats.

“We are generally learning as we go. Working with rugby clubs, GAA clubs, pro clubs etc. We want to create a Wolfpack community where people feel comfortable to talk about mental health.”

Massive thank you to Kieran and Conor Joyce for supplying the boys with some lids, and for letting me pick their brains for a few hours. Keep an eye on these guys, and for god sake go and get some sick merch.

Check them out here: https://www.nogginsport.org

Keeping my mind grounded while my head is in the clouds.

This post is my first guest post by my friend and old school mate Russell. His job, as he will explain, can be very mentally taxing and that is why I asked him to have a think about his own mental health, and how he would deal with certain things. He has very kindly written the post below. Thank you Russell.


I’d like to start off by thanking Andrew for reaching out to me to write this post for his mental health blog. He’s done incredible work over the past year raising mental health awareness among young men! My name is Russell and I am a Commercial Pilot operating shorthaul passenger flights across Europe. For the past 18 months I’ve written a travel/ work blog called ‘AboveTheHorizonBlog’ to spread the word on what an incredible industry I work in and to share travel tips/ inspiration for those reading.

Mental health has become a huge talking point in recent years and is present in every walk of life! Aviation is no exception. My aim is to share a few insights into the challenges I’ve faced in the early stages of my career and to offer some coping mechanisms to fight the pressures and stay positive. The overarching point is that the more you talk the better it gets!

I’d like to start with the day to day challenges I experience in my role as a Commerical Pilot; Loneliness and a lack of routine. I work for the one of largest UK airlines and as such have become merely a number in an ever increasing employee register. The impact of this means that it is very common for me to work with Captains and Cabin Crew whom I have never met. On some occasions I could do 6 days of work with 6 different crews! For regular office workers this concept seems alien. Imagine every day you went to the office you had a different manager watching over you, a different team of colleagues on your tea break and that when you finished your day you wouldn’t see them for another year…WEIRD!

For me this lack of recognised ‘work colleagues’ was tough as I had experienced office life before and the banter/ camaraderie that comes along with it. Quite quickly the sense of loneliness kicked in, combined with the fact I had officially left home for a new life in London. To further add to my problems, my complete lack of routine from week to week made it difficult to socialise outside of the work place. I was going to work some mornings at 4am, the next week it was 4pm. Sometimes away for one night, or just a day, or 5 days. I could have 6 days of work one week and 2 the next. It became extremely difficult to work out how I was gonna do this over a 40 year career.

The first thing I realised was that I was not alone. Every new recruit had the same experience. In the first few months every face was a new one but as time went on things became more familiar. I’d bump into guys I had flown with before, crew members I had shared a drink with and my friends I had trained with at flight school. A simple “hello, how are you?” or “where are you going today?” was enough to feel welcomed by those already settled into the company. Outsite of work I developed friendships with my new housemates and started settling into my new home. At no stage did I allow myself to become isolated. Adult life most definitely requires more forward planning and by being proactive in organising things I made my life a lot easier. Sometimes sporadic activities or meet ups worked well too! The key was, despite the varied nature of my lifestyle, I made sure I had something organised in both my work and home life to look forward to each week.

To summarise, a new job, new home or change in routine can lead to a feeling of isolation. The worst thing you can do when you start to feel lonely is to hide away and make it worse. Keep yourself busy at work and active at home. Identify patterns of work you enjoy and do them more. I like working early so I can enjoy my evenings downroute in some of Europe’s great cities and also so I can socialise with my friends in London who work “normal” jobs! Whatever works for you is best and it will change as time goes by.

In addition to what I’ve mentioned above, I’ve also experienced more general life problems whilst transitioning into the big bad adult world. I want to reiterate that the best way to cope with any challenges you face is to discuss them with friends, family or even anonymously with a stranger! The more you talk the more you realise you are not alone.

First and foremost a healthy lifestyle will help you keep a healthy mind. You don’t have to be a gym addict or play sport at the highest level, just stay active by doing something you enjoy. I play social rugby throughout the year and attend the odd gym class to keep fit. I also enjoy playing golf (when it’s sunny!) and trying new things such as wake boarding. Whatever you decide to do, enjoy it! Combining an active lifestyle with a balanced diet also works wonders for me. You don’t need to be the next Jamie Oliver and save the world from rubbish school dinners; a general level of culinary skills will be enough. Cook what you like to eat and you can’t go far wrong.

Making the most of time off is crucial. In my role it’s very easy to go for months and not see friends or family by no fault of my own. Conflicting schedules between my pilot friends is common and as a shift worker I find myself working weekends while office folk are off! Finding the time for a coffee catchup or an evening meal is a great way to touch base and see what’s happening in other people’s lives. Don’t leave it until your birthday to organise a get together; you don’t need an occasion to celebrate! With family I like to FaceTime or WhatsApp to keep up to date with what everyone has been doing. I try to get the odd Belfast trip which allows me to pop home for a day whilst technically working. Making the most of time available.

Lastly, I wish to touch on the topic of alcohol. I love a drink just as much as the next guy, I wouldn’t be Irish if I didn’t!! There’s nothing better than when the sun is shining, sitting outside at a beer garden drinking a couple of pints of cider with your friends. Cheers! However, don’t allow yourself to fall into the trap of overindulging. Alcohol is great in moderation but try avoid the urge to enjoy every sunny day with a drink. Equally, every social meet up with friends or family doesn’t have to involve alcohol consumption. I fell into the trap where every day for nearly 2 weeks I had at least 1 glass of an alcoholic beverage. Whether that was a pint of beer or a glass of wine it all added up. I would wake up feeling lethargic, I quite often needed an afternoon nap and I became rather lazy! My diet suffered also as I craved beautiful British bacon and lots of crisps. My general mood slumped.

I never had a dependency on alcohol but for a period of time everything I did revolved around the stuff! I chose to do a full month alcohol free and it made such a difference. I felt so much more alert. More active. Full of energy. A stark contrast to the feeling before. This made me realise that as great a pint of beer tastes, its not a necessity to have a good time. Find a way to regulate your alcohol consumption in order to continue enjoying its social nature. A few dry spells throughout the year definitely help in boosting your mood and go a long way in maintaining positivity on a day to day basis.

Mental health is relevant to all of us and I hope this blog has helped to break down the “I’m a man” barrier and show we’re not alone. We are here to look out for each other and the best way to achieve that is by discussing our experiences and sharing them. I’ve touched on a few of the challenges I’ve faced over the last 2 years. Some of these may be relevant to you and others not. Regardless, my take away points from this is that no matter what the challenge, it’s best dealt with together. Planning ahead, staying physically healthy and making the most of my time off all help in improving my mental wellbeing. Find what works for you!

Many thanks for reading!

Russell

LURL: On A Mission

This post is dedicated to James Burke. An honourable member of Leeds University Rugby League.

When James Burke passed away on the 29th April 2017, the club was shook to its core. It was a couple of days after the AGM and with our new committee in place, it was certainly a difficult task first up to take the lead and look after the team. The senior members suggested that we all get together and drink some rum, as a celebration of James’ life, but also as a means of being together and supporting each other.

It wasn’t until a week or two had passed that the words James had said in his speech at the AGM really settled in. He had mentioned that we should be out helping the community, we are in a very privileged position at university and to be members of such a great club, that we ought to give something back. For James it was a non-negotiable. When we sat back and thought that maybe James had this planned, that the community was the last thing he wanted us to think of him, and what he wanted us to do before he left, we knew how important it was.

Well that was that then, we did not have a choice, for our teammate and our brother to demand that we give something back, that is what we had do. With that in mind, the committee decided to create a new role of charity secretary. Solely dedicated to all things charity. Knowing James as well as I did and being inspired at the time by his speech, I was honoured to take the role.

A number of people within the student’s union were contacted almost instantaneously to get the wheels in motion. Meetings were organised for the start of the new semester, ideas were imagined and the coffee’s were brewing. After the first meeting with some very special people (you know who you are) we knew that mental health was something we wanted to focus on. The James Burke Foundation was coming alive and nothing seemed more appropriate than raising funds for a charity so close to our hearts. Little did I know that the American Football club had dealt with the same thing only the year before we did. It seemed fitting to combine our resources considering we both had the same goals and ambitions. Welcome Aaron to the stage, the American Football President.

The idea of launching our own version of Movember seemed like a great idea, however as this is a trademarked brand, we would have to raise all of our funds for them if we wanted to run the campaign. Whilst what they do is incredible and admirable, we wanted to keep the foundation involved. Therefore, we decided we could facilitate those who were doing Movember by providing free shaves whilst asking for a small donation for our own charity. This went down very well as we managed to raise a lot more than we had imagined, and by calling our campaign ‘ItsOKNotToBeOK’ sent a strong message to students who came across it. Due to the success of our first attempt at anything charity related, we knew we were on to something and thus we gathered speed.

The biggest challenge was to be the varsity match vs. Leeds Beckett. It was scheduled on what would have been Burky’s birthday. If ever we wanted to go big and make a serious effort, this was going to be it. We invited Sharon ( James’ mum), Leeds Cheerleaders performed at half time, we had buckets available for donations and we had Jonathon Brown of ITV Calendar in attendance who made a short video that was shown on TV. The event had a great response and our message was getting out but most importantly, we were able to honour James and Sharon on his birthday.

Later that evening we hosted a party in the union where Aaron and I had the difficult task of making a short presentation to the 300 people in attendance (easier said than done) about what we’ve learnt about mental health, and things we thought people should know. We had a raffle full of generous donations from all sorts of places including a number of items from Leeds Rhinos Stevie Ward. Rugby League and American Football had each created cocktails for the evening to sell to the attendees (we sold more…) which the bars donated a percentage of the funds to our charity. All in all, a great success.

Having a good start, we wanted to continue with more events and fundraisers after Christmas. We were approached by the Boxing Society to host a charity boxing tournament, Rugby League vs. American Football. It wasn’t very difficult to get volunteers for this one. 200 spectators in attendance and a very exciting evening had by all.

Next up was the half marathon.. slightly harder to get volunteers. 12 of the boys (including myself) ran the 13.1 miles around Leeds, raising over 2 grand for The James Burke Foundation. Blistering hot day and a very hilly route made things that bit harder, but the feeling of accomplishment was second to none. My proudest moment of the year.

Overall a great year of fundraising from the club with the help of a few incredible people. In our minds every time was trying to make James proud of what we were doing. A few students we had never met came and chatted to us about raising awareness of mental health but most memorably, one student came up to me to say thank you for what you are doing. I didn’t know what to say, but the blessed feeling that we are doing something that might help even a small number of people to open up about their feelings and be more mindful of their mental health, makes everything worth it.

**I am still fundraising for my own year off the beer, which can be found here: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/andrew-marks

In honour of James Burke, it has been a pleasure to organise events and raise money and awareness for The James Burke Foundation. To work close with Sharon and support her work with the foundation has been incredible, I hope we did her proud.

Depression; Food for thought.

I don’t know how many times I’ve seen that going for a run or going the gym can make you feel better. It will release endorphins. What the f*** is an endorphin any way? A type of dolphin?

Alright, fair enough, physical exercise will give you that slight high feeling, accomplishing something for the day, being able to forget whatever it is that was bothering you and is obviously beneficial to an overall healthy life. But your worries and problems are still going to be there when you walk out of the gym or get home from that run. For example, that deadline, that looming social occasion that your anxiety isn’t prepared for, or that job interview. Is physical exercise going to fix your life?

Getting off the sofa itself can seem difficult, like something is pushing you back down again. It can feel like you are stuck in a dark room and can never escape. Occasionally a dim light will come on, but as quick as it appears, it’s gone again. The realities of living with depression can be, well, life threatening.

I am not sure I would be correct in saying I have ever been depressed. I have had sh*t days of course, but depression to me is much more severe than a single sh*t day when something didn’t quite go right. Even if everything seems to be going well, depression can make a person feel as if it’s not enough. They are not enough. Life is not enough.

Knowing that you have depression in itself can be a difficult thing to process. I don’t need therapy, I don’t have problems, everyone else has the problems. That sort of thing. It can be hard to admit to yourself that you need help. We all want to have everything figured out in life, but admitting you kinda don’t? Absolutely not. I have had to take account of myself many times since I really started to think about mental health. We are generally good judges of other people, but when it comes to holding the mirror up to ourselves, not so much. It takes courage to open yourself up to a stranger. It takes f***ing courage to open up to yourself.

There is so much science surrounding depression, like so much. Which is crazy, but also a bit of a relief. You are not a bad person, you’re not even slightly flawed. Your amygdala (a part of the brain associated with emotions), just doesn’t have the correct levels of chemicals and stuff. Activity in the amygdala is higher in people with clinical depression. You can balance the chemical equation either with medication (the correct medication) or without. You don’t get enough insulin? Nightmare, go to the doctor. No one is going to call you weak if you have diabetes, are they? Chemicals in the brain are the same way. There is improvement in society around this area, but there is still a way to go.

I’m not really writing this for someone with depression, because there probably isn’t anything new in here. I’m writing this for people like me, who don’t deal with depression on a daily basis, but instead perhaps don’t know how to help someone else who does. Fixing your friends problems can be a daunting task, and you may feel unprepared, but you can do some of the heavy lifting. Contact mental health services on their behalf, seek advice from professionals on how can help them, or just listen.

Wanting to help someone else is very admirable, but the idea that you can instantly fix someone else’s problems, while our own problems are too complex and nobody else’s business is both damaging and insulting. I’m talking about things like, “man up”, “get over it” and whatever else you want. Using words and phrases like “man up” can actually cause a person to feel worse and is also telling them that you think they are weak. No wonder it takes a lot for those with depression to talk. It’s feelings like this that causes people to fall deeper into their negative thoughts, not wanting to burden you with their “weak” problems. It’s equally important to comfort a person, and let them know you are there for them. Don’t push them too hard to get help. You don’t know the specifics of someone’s personal circumstances and if you push someone up a tree before they learn to climb, they will probably fall down hard. Allowing someone the space to make their own decisions can be empowering, because they feel in control. You don’t like when someone grabs your steering wheel do you? Listening is important.

As I’ve said, I have not personally suffered depression, but these are things I have seen and picked up. One thing I know for sure, we need to listen more.

One Year Off The Beer. Part 1

I thought I would talk about what I’ve learned from my year off alcohol. In order to do that, I thought I should start at the beginning and discuss my motivations behind such a difficult challenge that I set myself. Said motivations are two-fold. I have personal reasons, and not so personal reasons for taking on this challenge.

After James died, I had started to slowly take account of my own internals and mental health. From a selfish point of view, I was able to recognise that I was drinking too much (a big call from a university student). I would go out on a Wednesday with the boys to celebrate a win on Wednesday afternoon, or drown the sorrows of a loss. Nothing inherently wrong with that, but the problems arose when 1 night out blended into 3 (or 4 on occasion). Not being one for moderation, any night out was taken to excess, often drinking a lot more than required.

I had noticed it starting to affect my relationships with my friends, where I’d become a liability more often than not. My girlfriend, where any fights we had were due to me being hammered. The establishments in which the nights would occur, where I would on occasion end up in someone else’s scrap and be thrown out as a result. If I didn’t happen to be on good terms with most of the bouncers the rest of the time, I’d probably not have got back in again.

So, for obvious reasons, I could see how at least taking a break would make my life easier, and I wouldn’t have to deal with any fallout (often nuclear) the following day. My university work would often fall behind to the last-minute, and because that was priority, any other personal admin would be forfeited as a result. I could stop going out every week AND get my work done AND pursue other interests? Seemed like a fair enough trade-off.

I toyed with the idea of stopping for a month, which I have done on two occasions before in January for dryathlon. But a month seemed too easy, surely that wouldn’t be that hard? Was a month really long enough to make a long-term difference to my life? Probably not. I had seen comedian Kevin Bridges do an interview, where he talked about abstaining alcohol for a year, so I thought I’d give that a go.

I have been quite vocal on mental health this past year, and with the recent establishment of The James Burke Foundation, I had an external motivation that could help me. I decided I would try to raise money for the foundation, while at the same time telling people about my goal in order to hold myself accountable. I knew if I tried to keep it secret, to avoid the inevitable questions and banter that would come my way, I would break. By telling as many people as possible, as early as possible, I could negate that issue.

An added benefit that I hadn’t really considered beforehand was the hangover. Never underestimate how good a hangover free morning feels. I had decided that I would still make an effort to go on nights out with the boys, to prove to myself that as a person I can be good craic. As opposed to hiding behind the mask of alcohol, pretending to be something I wasn’t. For me, it was a big part of the challenge that I could be my authentic self in every environment, and not change mask depending on what stage of the play I found my part.

Before I could talk myself out of it, I committed about 4/5 days before I decided to start. I have been sober since October 10th 2017, which just so happens to be World Mental Health day. That wasn’t an accident. To be fair, I didn’t have a drink from the Sunday before hand, but I didn’t count those days (I started on a Wednesday).

The first week, no bother. Everyone can go a week without having a beer. It’s by the end of the second week that I started to feel the urges. I decided to go out to the usual watering hole exactly two weeks after I started. We would usually go to a few pubs before hand, easy enough. The early stages were generally ok, nobody was particularly drunk yet. It did start to get a bit rowdy before going to the final destination, and that’s where it started to go downhill. Everyone was hammered, loud and sustainable conversation became difficult. In fact, getting any sort of rational, coherent response from just about anyone was difficult. Safe to say, that did not last very long. I had high hopes, but it wasn’t to be.

All was not lost, at least going forward I knew that I probably wouldn’t enjoy staying any longer than 11pm, which meant I would be able to go home content. I have tested that theory a few times since, and confirmed it.

I was expecting to be inundated with people offering to buy me alcoholic drinks (because they’ve either forgotten, or they are an arsehole) but everyone, at least that knew, were encouraging me and saying that it was a great thing I was doing. A bit of motivation goes a long way.

Quite a number of people have told me that they wish they could do what I am doing. If you ask anyone that knows me well enough, I’d be safe in the knowledge that, “if I can do it, you can do it” will stand true. It takes willpower, commitment and personal responsibility, but if you have a goal or a vision greater than yourself, it’s not that hard. By that I mean, don’t stop drinking for the sake of stopping drinking. Have a goal, have a purpose, and stop worrying about what other people think.