Last week I was introduced to 3 ex professional footballers who had themselves struggled with mental health issues due to the abuse they had been subjected to in their youth. The introduction had stemmed from a talk I’d given in London a few weeks before.
I remember when I’d received the call to arrange a meeting, it had come out of the blue one Monday afternoon, and the timing of it couldn’t have been better. I was off work because I had finally accepted that I needed to take time off for my own good. Let’s just say that although the company I worked for where publicly committed to portraying themselves as supporting people with these issues, I’d found the reality to be something very different, however, that’s another story for a later date.
The morning of the day I received the call had been a struggle, I’d had to endure a very stressful conversation with someone from my employer and it had had really taken its toll on me. I had begun not only to doubt myself but also the decisions I’d made to commit myself to the developing and producing the App. I remember I was sitting in my front garden at the time, my head was all over the place, the doubts were taking over, and I felt the darkness trying to dilute what was a very sunny day. The message about setting up the meeting really lifted my spirits and helped me through the rest of the day.
On the day of the meeting in Manchester at Starbucks, I remember having a tangible feeling of excitement that morning, and during the journey into Manchester my head was filled with the possibilities of what could come from that meeting. I got to Starbucks and we all made our introductions and began discussions about the app and how we could collaborate to ensure the we could help people, making the future a safer place.
Sadly, that excitement and thoughts of the potential of what the meeting could lead to began to fade. I quickly realized whilst drinking my coffee was that this wasn’t the event I’d hoped it would be. We weren’t moving in the same direction, we weren’t looking for the same things, there just wasn’t a connection between the four of us. I recall one statement that really stuck with me from one of the ex-footballers, “I’m getting fed up with telling my story now, I want someone to do something about it”. Surely, I thought, if your story changes or saves the life of one person, then you’d never get sick of telling it to effect change and instead of waiting for someone else to do something, why not use your own experience and knowledge to actually go and do something yourself?
After the meeting we all shook hands and I was told they would be in touch. I walked around Manchester feeling, once again, the doubts creep in as the disappointment overwhelmed the optimism from the meeting. Maybe I was more let down because I’d let my expectations get the better of me. Still, on the bright side, I got a free coffee!
Later that week I received a message via email from another ex-professional footballer – Andy Woodward. The email simply stated that he had seen my twitter account and was interested in the app and what we were trying to achieve and asking if it would it be possible to arrange a chat sometime. As I didn’t follow much football outside of the premier league, I didn’t know who this footballer was. Of course, I’d heard of the abuse scandal in football but not mentally connected it to this footballer. It was Andy Woodward, the man who first broke the story and gave up his anonymity to encourage others to come forward
I think it was a couple of days after the initial email we arranged to have a phone conversation. Again, it was a bright sunny day and as my phone rang, I was looking out of the window at the clear sky and the sunshine. The conversation we had was just as bright and full of light. One of the first things that struck me from that conversation was Andy’s passion for wanting to make a difference, and how he was really engaged when I spoke about my journey and the Depresson App.
I felt the beginnings of a connection. We’d arranged to meet the following week, strangely enough we arranged to meet in the same place as my previous meeting with the three other footballers.
On the day of the meeting I must admit my expectations were much lower than of the previous week. I didn’t really know what this meeting would entail or if anything would come from it. I arrived at the cafe before Andy could clock him as he walked in, wearing sunglasses and a smart jacket, very well presented. My first thoughts were, here we go again, another big shot looking for self-promotion, but once we started talking Andy again demonstrated his passion and commitment in doing something to ensure that, because of our pasts our futures could be a brighter, safer place,
That meeting was the beginning of the next part of the journey. That day I found a brother who would walk with me on this journey, this adventure.