Ipswich Town’s Supporters See The Black Dog For What It Is
Ipswich Town supporters travelling back from Lancashire yesterday afternoon had a long journey back after the match. A surprise two-nil defeat at Accrington Stanley had ended the second last unbeaten record amongst the 92 clubs of the Premier League and Football League and, much as their team’s impressive start to the season had been a pleasant change of circumstances following years of stagnation and last year’s eventual relegation from the Championship, the sense of disappointment that comes with the end of such a run is obvious.
As they travelled back to Suffolk, however, they could at least take heart from one thing, a banner displayed behind the goal on the open terrace that their supporters were occupying for the match. Six weeks ago, the Accrington striker Billy Kee was confirmed to be undergoing specialist treatment for depression, anxiety and bulimia, with the club confirming that he had not returned to pre-season training due to a deterioration in his condition.
There has been an increasing amount of talk of mental health issues in sport over the last couple of years, and Kee has in the past been very forthcoming about his battles. In February 2018, in a touchingly honest interview with BBC Sport, he talked openly about his struggles, describing them as ‘The rat in my head that won’t stop.’ It might have been easy to put him out of sight and out of mind following his recent withdrawal from the professional game, but a group of Ipswich supporters offered support to him in this particular battle through a banner put up behind the goal yesterday afternoon which read, “Billy Kee: You’re Not Alone.”
It can be difficult to the point of impossible to successfully explain mental health disorders to those who have never found themselves in their thrall. To a point, they are deeply personal and difficult to pin down. However, there remains even now so much disinformation on the subject in the public arena that it remains important that those amongst us who live with them in the public eye speak up about our experiences. The tendency for some to continue to view mental health illnesses as sign of “weakness”, or the belief that mental health issues can just be wished away through just “pulling” oneself “together” remain remarkably prevalent, even though there is a considerable volume of writing available which shows these straw men up for what they are.
So when the supporters of a football club display a banner in support of a player, that is important. When the subject of that banner is a player for an opposing team, it is even more important. But when the message sent is “You are not alone”, an extra layer still is added to the mix. Because depression is lonely, and isolating. In the past, this wasn’t something that was discussed very much. People can experience this condition in many different ways. Some withdraw into themselves. Others can front up to it in social or professional situations. But even one depressive person talking to another might find that they have little in common above and beyond the overarching theme of greyness that clouds our feelings most obviously.
I cannot claim to speak for anyone else on this subject, but I can say for certain from my own experience that, over the dozens and dozens of times that I’ve sat in a tastefully neutral room and discussed the subject with a professional, the subject of loneliness has never come up. Therapists have pored over my life story. Doctors have attempted to blitz my brain with serotonin. But no-one has ever been able to tackle the fact that my depression locks me in a room, alone with my darkest thoughts for days or weeks at a time. They’re not rational thoughts – and, pointedly, I know they’re not rational thoughts at the point that I think them – and they can be damaging. Very damaging indeed.
That sense of loneliness is all-encompassing and perpetual, but it can be alleviated, even if only temporarily, by what might look to others like the sum total of very little. A message from a friend checking up. A civilised conversation that makes you laugh. Seeing my sadness for what it is. These aren’t cures, of course. There’s certainly no one-size-fits all cure for depression, and for many of us the best that we can do is manage it as well as we can. And even if there were a cure, it could never be considered incumbent on family, friends or acquaintances to provide it. But there are also varying degrees of mood, and a good word from a friend, an acquaintance, or even a complete stranger can lift that feeling of gloom for a short while.
I missed the Accrington Stanley vs Ipswich Town match yesterday lunchtime, and spending a day away from social media meant that I was unaware that any of this had happened until this morning. My own depression vacillates, unsure from one day to the next over the extent to which it’s going to impair my ability to do anything bar do whatever I can to switch it off. This morning, I awoke on a low. I’m long enough in the tooth with all of this to be able to see it for what it is, but others might not be, or might have found themselves trapped in a fog so heavy that they can’t see their hands in front of their faces.
And when I saw this image this morning, I can tell you that a big, fat tear formed in the corner of my eye almost immediately. It was the sort of moment that catches you completely unprepared. Sometimes, you feel as though you need to be told that you aren’t valueless as a human being, or that you aren’t alone. Sometimes, it’s enough to know that someone else who wrestles similar demons to mine has been told that they’re not alone. The milk of human kindness can be a very powerful emollient, at times.
For emotional support at any time and for any reason, you can contact the Samaritans helpline on 116 123.