IT was official. I was mentally ill. The doctor said so.
I hadn’t wanted to go see him but my partner at the time persuaded me and after about 12 seconds he gave his diagnosis and offered counselling, medication or both.
I wasn’t going for the first option. There were no underlying problems, nothing to discover, so I would have the medication, thanks.
It was a new type and and it was extra powerful, he said.
My partner asked if I would be able to drink alcohol with it. “You can have one or two, but I wouldn’t have seven or eight,” he said. “Six then,” I thought. “Two maximum,” my partner said.
My friends found the news hilarious and started referring to me as “mental boy”, which I found less funny. You wouldn’t get away with it now.
The medication was good and, whereas previously the small matter of a phone call or a knock on the door might tip me over the edge, nothing bothered me any more.
It wasn’t long before I got used to the tablets with two pints, then three, four, five and six.
Then I thought “why not try two tablets, maybe three, or more...?”
Then my friends fancied trying them and I realised, after about six months, that we were overstepping the mark, they had probably done their job and I did not go back for a repeat prescription.
Eventually I did my own counselling — and realised what my “problem” was — meaning I had obviously made the correct decision in choosing the medication. It’s just that counselling myself and eventually answering questions I didn’t know needed answering took around 20 years. It was a bit like avoiding the M5 to get to Cornwall from Rotherham.
The issue that sent me tumbling was one of confidence. Lack of, more like. It was debilitating in so much as it held me back in football, cricket, at school, applying for university and jobs. Even when I succeeded I felt as if I shouldn’t have done and had somehow got through unnoticed.
I remember my dad telling me to apply for a job with the bank in the village, it would be easier than knocking on the doors of people who didn’t want to speak to you with the risk of a punch coming your way, as was the case in journalism back then.
The “lack of confidence” diagnosis didn’t cure anything as the next stage is actually doing something about it. Just digging in and getting through, learning lessons as you go, has generally been the way forward. I wasn’t about to read self-help books or go on some expensive course to help my self-belief.
In fact, the one things that really helps is that as you get older you realise that most people are in the same and even if they’re not you soon discover you either know more than most or can deal with the ones where that’s not the case.
It’s just called growing older.