On waking this morning, I felt the slide happening. Sometimes, this illness gives you clues and if you pick up on them, you can take action to counter it. For me, it was to go for a decent walk around Witney and buy the coffee beans we needed. I grabbed my headphones, wrapped up warm and set off for the town.
I love walking in the cold and I really mean cold. Even the wet is good to walk in and there is a therapeutic aspect to getting out in the elements, just walking and thinking, working both body and mind. It helps me, that’s for sure. Being Scottish, it’s a good thing I like wet and cold, even though I now live in England. It was certainly good training.
Today, I downloaded some podcasts and listened to a recent download from BBC Radio4, Desert Island Discs. This is a show that’s been going for 75 years……yes, 75 years! The premise is to interview a personality and gain the story of their life while listening to 8 pieces of music that mean something to them in in their life.
The guest this time was Nigel Owens, a top international rugby referee. From rural mid Wales, his refereeing style is excellent, keeping the game flowing where he can and keeping a tight lid on discipline, using one liners and quick wit to keep order in what is a real macho game.
He is also gay and his story is amazing. If you haven’t heard it, listen here.
I won’t go into detail here as he tells the story so much better than I ever could and with such emotional intelligence that makes compelling listening. Humour, honesty and tells his story with such insight and dignity.
As I was walking, I realised tears were rolling down my face, such was the power of his story. I must’ve been a sight, if anyone saw me, walking in winter clobber, earphones on, six foot of solid eejit, with a wet face. The only saving grace was my glasses were wet with the light snow, which gave some place to hide.
Nigel’s story resonated with me. I’m not gay and don’t fully understand what he went through, but I do understand growing up in a small town where you know everyone and the expectation of your role in that society is strong. I don’t believe I ever really conformed fully to that role and still don’t, the pressure it can put on a young man is very powerful. It’s how you handle that stress that’s important and I think that’s what I’m dealing with now in my life, the inability of me to deal with stress over the years, in my working life and personal.
His story also reminded me of the documentary I watched on Gareth Thomas, Game Changer. A Welsh international rugby player, a big tough tackler who didn’t back down from a scrap. Thomas coming out as gay in the masculine world of rugby was brave, but it wasn’t without issue. He tried to kill himself through trying to conceal his sexuality from everyone close and in public, especially as he was married at the time.
After an international game, where he was in mental turmoil, he had a conversation with two teammates who were concerned for him and he told them he was gay. They didn’t miss a beat – told him it didn’t matter, he was important to them as a friend, hugged him. That support saved his life.
What gives me hope is that both men managed to overcome their demons in the full glare of small town and the global stage. I have my battle to fight and the difference for me is that it’s not in the full glare of the world stage. Mental illness has a stigma attached in society, as does being gay and talking about it, sharing your story of how it affects you serves to help others going through a similar experience.
Nigel Owens and Gareth Thomas are an inspiration for overcoming their challenges, turning them into positives and being the best they can be, at the top of their trade. If I can be as successful as them in gaining a balance in my life, I’ll be happy.
As always, be kind to yourself.