The Beautiful Game & The Mental Struggle

“Hi boss – yeah, no….no….we lost it.”

It was the 23rd of October, part of the way through the first half of the season. Things had been going great for me professionally, I was scoring goals for fun and at home we were so excited to be expecting another baby.

It was our second time experiencing the 12 week scan, with our other little one nearly 2, but it never seemed less surreal. A lubricated, sterile appliance giving you a window in to see the little life you’ve created together. Except this time there was no-one occupying our window. There was no euphoric feeling of excitement and love. It was emptiness. “I knew it, I knew something wasn’t right” she said, slumping her head down in anguish. We held eachother as the midwife cleaned her up and helped her off the bed.

We were in shock. The next hour or so was a whirlwind of talking heads telling us what was best for us.

We went home that night, switched off all the lights and slept. And that was how it felt for the next few months. Dark rooms, quietness, sobbing, staring into space.

The boss was excellent, he told the press I’d injured myself and would be out for a couple months. I was so lucky I had such an understanding man in my life. Compassion was his middle name. I suppose looking back I didn’t realise quite how lucky I was.

3 days into the New Year I was awoke by my phone buzzing on the bedside table. Confused we both dived out of bed and made for the kids room until we realised the source.

It was the boss. “Sorry son, I know it’s late. I’ve got some news and I don’t want you to read it on the internet or get a text from one of your mates hearing it in the chippy” Half asleep or not, I knew it couldn’t be good after the long pause and deep breath. “We’ve had a bid for you, a big one. Big boss is saying it’s too good to turn down.”

So that was it. I was out the door. I didn’t really want to leave but having chatted things through with my wife and having seen the figure I was being offered a week to play a sport I loved, it was a no brainer. Look at it as a great opportunity to further my career whilst cementing our families future, I thought.

Things started out well. Although I was adapting to a new style of playing, I wasn’t the only one. The team had brought in another big name signing at the same time. We quickly gelled which made settling in all the easier.

After a month or two, whilst racking up some decent results with some decent performances, I felt myself becoming frustrated. I’d been successful as a main target man and goalscorer when they’d bought me but they’d started playing me on the wing, instead putting this new fella up top. A flamboyant signing with a reputation for the controversial. Pink hair, ambiguous sexuality and a massive following online. A marketers dream. Maybe shirt sales were more important than results.

I would sit at night watching film of myself, watching film of the top players in the league, trying desperately to improve myself. It wasn’t long before the media were questioning the price tag they’d paid for me, not to mention the sly digs from supposed team mates on social media. Footballers aren’t the smartest bunch, it’s not hard to decipher who the thinly veiled song lyrics were targeted at.

It was at this time that I approached the new gaffer. I let him know that I was struggling to adapt to this new position and the new style of play. That we’d lost a baby the previous year and I was feeling overwhelmed. I asked for some time off.

“Time…off?!” he shouted in broken English. He began to laugh and slid a piece of paper under my nose with the remaining fixtures of the season on it. “You score goals, we win games and then…..time off.” With that he smiled, nodded his head and walked out, leaving me sat at the table, my head in my hands.

I finished the season, then had to pull out of the 4 international games over the summer. I was gutted, but completely run down. I spoke with my old boss a lot over the summer, he was great, giving me some encouragement and even having the respect for me just to leave the air quiet when I asked if the chairman would bring me back. “We’ll see mate” he would say.

Injuries kept racking up once the season began again after the summer. Little niggles were keeping me out week by week and very quietly I became relegated to a substitute role.

It was during this time that I witnessed the gaffer walk through the changing rooms after a game, stopping to say something to my mate who had joined at the same time as I had, emerging from the showers. Things looked to be getting heated between them when suddenly the gaffer grabbed a boot and rattled it on the guys bare toes. The room fell silent as we all looked on, stunned. Nothing further was said and the gaffer just walked on through the changing room as if nothing had happened.

The guy never returned for a month. The press had a field day of course but nothing came out about it. I think everyone was too scared to even saying anything. “Not worth jeopardising that wage, mate” said one teammate to me. Was it not?

By the end of 2017 I spoke to a sports psychologist recommended by my old boss. He said they’d helped him when he’d been going through a particularly tough time and he had no doubt they’d get me back on the pitch feeling my old self again. He was right. They helped me to put in steps to challenge the worries I had. I was working harder in training, I was back on the pitch, scoring goals and creating chances. I felt like my old self again.

But, not for long.

It started with a little thing, I think I got a kick on the shin during a game, it hurt but you got these kinds of things every game. It wasn’t until I realised I’d been sat in the changing room after a game poking and prodding at it until I was the only one left in the room. I was still in full kit, bar my shinpads and boots.

From there, it was a mole on my face, a shaky hand after chopping some vegetables, sore legs after training, sore legs after missing training, sore heads, migraines, swollen glands. Each day brought a new ailment. The medical staff would shake their heads and exchange glances as I would walk in with a new imaginary complaint.

Before long I was sat in front of the gaffer again. He was shaking his head, grunting and grumbling looking at a sheet of paper raised in front of him.

“If…you can’t play…” he said to me, in his best South American broken English “…then you don’t mean anything….to me.” Charming. With that he got up and moved to the door, he turned to look at me “Listen!” he belts out pointing his fingers into his ears “you get better….you play….you score. It’s good. You don’t. You go.” And with that, the door was slammed shut.

I couldn’t bring myself to keep going to the clubs medical team, I felt like I’d burned my bridges there. I was surprised they didn’t have a poster up of me with ‘Boy Who Cries Wolf’ emblazoned across it.

So, I called up my old boss and asked to speak to the medical team there. As usual, he was as gracious as ever, he didn’t even question it and made me an appointment. I was prescribed some medication to help me deal with the phantom injuries, recommended a counsellor to talk to and given some breathing exercises to do. It worked wonders. I wasn’t cured by any means, but I did stop feeling like I was going mad.

Beginning to feel like my old self and having not played consistently in sometime between being injured and being dropped I decided to ask to leave, look for a fresh start. Rather than have another fun filled grunt-off with the gaffer, I decided to speak straight to the chairman. It wasn’t a decision I’d taken lightly, as I sat outside his office like a naughty schoolboy, my stomach was in knots thinking about what I was going to say.

“Leave?” he snarled, his top lipped curled so hard it was practically inside out. He giggled to himself. “Leave?!”. Nope. You owe this club, my friend.” He weaselled at me. “You owe us performances and you owe us goals. You’ve got a contract and you’ll be here until it expires, I don’t care what imaginary thing is wrong with you next. Get out. The next time I see you it better be on that pitch”

It wasn’t too long after this, following a string of bad results, that a new manager came in. It’s fair to say I wasn’t gutted to see my old mate, the wordsmith, given the boot.

The new guy seemed reasonable. He was meeting with all the playing staff one-to-one to get a handle on everybody. Smart, I thought. I didn’t want to string him along so I told him straight out I wanted away. Unfortunately, after the January transfer window came and went with no bids for me (or so they said) I agreed to see things out until the end of the season the following summer.

Easier said than done.

By March I was going out of my mind. I was being played in midfield, we were underperforming and being visited by Mr Chairman after every match to be told in no uncertain terms that if we didn’t achieve a top 4 league position then the club’s future would be at stake. No pressure then. It was at this point that I decided to talk to the new gaffer again to tell him about my struggles. That I was still unhappy, I hated playing in midfield and I told him about the support I’d been getting privately. I didn’t get the response I was hoping for:

“Listen pal, you’re playing a pivotal role in this team, you understand? I’m putting my neck on the line every week playing you and you’re in here saying you’re struggling with your feelings or something? If you leave, we don’t make top 4. OK? Simple as that. If that’s everything then I’ve places to be.”

I’d had enough, by this point I wasn’t even bothered if I got fired, I just wanted out. As I walked to the car park I flicked my phone out my pocket and opened twitter:

We’re told society wants men to talk about mental health. They want men to open up. But really, nobody wants to hear it. #hadenough #fireme

I switched my phone off, cranked up the music in my car and drove home, my head in a raging fire of bliss. I spent the rest of the night playing board games with my wife and kid and watching Netflix. Just as I was heading up to bed my wife flicked on the 24/7 sports channel, front and centre was the gaffer stood at the front door of his home, his face illuminated in flashes by the hundreds of photographers surrounding him.

“Any statement by any of our players on social media does not reflect the views of our football club. We take the matter of mental health incredibly seriously and we wish all our players and anyone associated with our club to be treated with dignity and respect. Thank you all.”

I barely slept that night. I flitted between anger, regret, resentment but the common theme was worry. Despite the temptation, my phone stayed off, I couldn’t bring myself to switch it on and become immersed in the inevitable circus. Instead I ate and watched game footage of myself. It helped.

Pale as a ghost and cranky with about 50 minutes of sleep in me I made my way into the training ground the next morning. Hood up, I avoided the press as I jogged past them, straight into the training complex. I was met at the door by the gaffer, stern faced, waiting on me. “My office” he spat.

Tail between my legs I slumped down in front of him. “Listen” he started, surprisingly softly. “I want to apologise, I said things I shouldn’t have and I reacted inappropriately. Can we try to get things back on track here?”

I couldn’t believe it. Dumbstruck I nodded “Yeah, course gaffer” I managed. “All I want is to win games and play where I can be most effective. I want to win here”

He smiled, a big puffy rosy cheeked smile. “It’s what we all want son” he said. I smiled, nodded then got up from the chair. He patted me on the back as I left. Just then, a thought hit me. “Uh, gaffer” I asked as I popped my head back in “will you be putting out any press release or making any reference online to this? It feels like it might make a good story, you know about mental health and all that?” The smile disappeared, the rosy cheeks drained to a pale grey snarl. “No.”

The same day I was contacted by a players union representative. Most guys tend to shun them and are wary about being seen to work with them. It can be easy for you to be portrayed as a bit of a problem child for clubs once you get involved with them so although in the back of my mind I knew I should be cautious, I was also still reeling from the gaffer’s change in tone about trying to publically reconcile.

They laid it on thick. It was what I wanted to hear. “You want out? we can help you, we know what you’ve been going through, we’ve helped other guys just like you.” They gave me examples, guys I knew, good guys with their heads screwed on. They privately wrote to the club on my behalf. The club reacted exactly how I thought they would and denied any knowledge of any issues I was having.

Another weekend of no football, I was privately suspended by the club until the end of my contract. They’d had enough of me. In the back of my mind, I knew they were playing games, but that didn’t stop me spending that weekend as stressed as I’ve ever been at their denial of my issues.

Come the end of the season the club website publishes a review of each players season, in previous seasons it had described me as a “goal machine” and “world class striker”. This season’s said the following:

Sadly off the field distractions resulted in a reduction in quality this year. Wherever he ends up next season he should work on remembering he’s not the only player on the team and not the only human on the planet.

We wish him all the best.

Nothing really shocked me anymore. Against my better judgement I tweeted a link to it with the following:

I’ve worked hard to try to better myself over the last 3 seasons but the lack of respect I’ve been afforded is disappointing. People want to talk about treating eachother with respect but when it comes down to it, all that matters to them is winning games. We’re all pawns in the chairman’s little game of chess. To him it doesn’t matter if it’s me or the next guy. That’s fine. But I came from a team where the people pulling on the shirt matter. The fans care. The staff care. You become a part of the fabric of the club. Not just a plaything for a 60 year old toddler to get fed up with if it’s not working. That’s the measuring stick I hold any future employer to and if no club can match that then I’m happy to hang them up – but I do know one club that can.

In response the club put out the following statement:

“There is no value in our great football club involving ourselves in mudslinging with former players. Both our chairman and manager are available should any player wish to discuss any personal or professional issues. We will not be commenting on this issue further”

My name trended online for days, I received over 100 media requests, some of which I took up. I gravitated to the ones that gave me an opportunity to speak up about my medical treatment and how I was treated by the club, not those who just wanted dished dirt to get clicks and views.

I resigned with my old club and old gaffer in the August of that year, a few weeks after my wife had given birth to our second child. It should have been one of the most joyous periods of my life but I often felt regret. And anger. And resentment. What had I done to deserve to be sat with this little gift in my arms whilst I contemplated what life would be like for my family without me? Tears trickled down my face, dripping onto his little head. I felt ashamed of myself.

Ashamed of getting involved with the nonsense. Ashamed of retaliating. Ashamed of not just getting on and playing football. I know I’m not to blame. I know that. But I can’t shake this feeling of resentment towards those people and that football club. I want the world to know what they really are. I want their world to come crashing down around them, I want them to have to experience what I did. And that’s when I feel ashamed the most. Because they’re just human like me. They’ve got kids and families too and they don’t deserve to be treated like I was.

I’ve started banging in goals. I’m back playing up front again. I’m happy on the pitch. I’m back changing nappies. I’m back singing nursery rhymes and being up through the night for the right reasons. I’m happy at home.

But still something niggles at me.

Still I hold resentment.

I need closure but don’t know how to get it.

Maybe writing this down will help.

I hope so.

The Rain

Hard, cold rain strikes my face and rolls down my cheeks, the thunder crackles and fills my body with dread.

“Not great weather we’re having at the moment is it?”

I nod and shrug and agree and keep my head down. Don’t say anything. What’s the point? Small talk is for other people.

I really need to get out of this rain. It’s chaotic. Its so heavy I can barely see in front of me. I know how to get back, I just can’t seem to find my way. It’s too heavy.

Jeez, what’s wrong with you now?”

“It’s only rain

Everyone else is trying to get home too, you’re not the only one. Why can’t you just deal with it? Do you think you’re special?”

My clothes are soaked, my body aches. I’ve been trying to get out of this rain for hours. It feels like days, months, years. Its rained like this before, I know it has, but it’s still heavy, it’s still frightening.

Lighten up, yes, it’s raining but everyone else is getting on with it

I’m pushed to the ground, trampled on, kicked and laughed at by angry, snarling faces. Chaos surrounds me. I’m trying to get to my feet amongst a crowd of wet bodies.

My body aches. I consider, for a moment, lying here. Just lie there on the cold, wet, hard surface and let it happen. Let them kick me. Let them trample. Maybe if I pass out it’ll pass me by.

There’s something inside of me knows that’s not right. My legs throb, they’re cold and wet, hot and fatigued. My clothes are stuck to me like a second skin. But I push up as my thighs scream out at me. One last push. I’m up. I push my face out of the crowd into the air and take a deep breath.

I emerge to a very different place. No longer am I surrounded by angry, snarling commuters. Its very different.

It’s warm! The sun! It’s here! It’s beautiful! Almost too beautiful! I stumble a little, I’m completely overwhelmed. Slowly, I begin to forget that rain even exists. My clothes are dry. My body feels refreshed. I smile and chat to everyone I meet. Small talk is for me after all. I chat. I smile. I’m alive!! It feels amazing! Almost too good! I feel giddy with glee!

But then.

“Remember that rain?” she asks. “you got soaked didn’t you?”

I smile and chuckle and recoil. I look to the sky and feel the sun’s warm beam fade from my face. NO! One wet drip plops on my cheek. I laugh uncertainly. I wipe it away with my hand and smile. Forget it. Its just one drip.

But it’s not just one drip. The rain, its back. I can’t see again. The thunder strikes. Help. Chaos resumes in a flash, I’m saturated. How did it change so quickly? The once happy smiling people before me are gone. They bang into eachother, faces mangled in annoyance. They hate the rain. No, they hate me. Do they think its my fault?

I DON’T CONTROL THE RAIN!!” I scream at them.

They turn to look at me. Haunting, twisted, snarling, monstrous faces laughing, pointing, taunting me.

I turn to run away. I run and run and run but can’t escape. I’m still in the same place. They’re still there, staring at me, taunting me.

“HOW DO I GET BACK TO THE SUN?!” I shout at them.

I’m met with a snarling crowd of laughs in reply. But then.

“you’ll get there…” says a friendly voice. It’s unlike any of the others. No snarling. No growling. No taunting like the others who surround me. It’s kind, it’s laced in hope. It’s feels warm. Like the sun.

“….why don’t you try this first?” it says.

I look up at the object thrust towards me. Confused, I take the black umbrella and open it. The crowd of monsters recoil all at once.

I laugh in annoyance at myself. Of course!! An umbrella!! I knew that!!

But I really want to get home out of this rain. I want to get back to the sun.”

little steps” she says. “you’ll get there soon”.

40 Seconds

“What do you fink you could all do in 40 seconds Bruce?” asked Larry inquisitively.

“40 seconds?” crooned Bruce with a confused look on his face. “I dunno, mate, make a cup of coffee maybe? Oh no, I’ve got it, give Jennifer Aniston the greatest night of her life” he chuckled. “You’re ‘orrible mate” laughed Larry in response.

“Nah but seriously mate” said Larry “what do you reckon you could do in that short space of time?? End a life?”

“Steady on mate!” replied Bruce, taken aback.

“Take a look at this” said Larry. He pulled a large magic eight ball out of his backpack and whooshed it under Bruce’s nose dramatically. “What on earf is this?” exclaimed Bruce “what are you some sort of magician or somefink, fancy yourself as the next David Blaine do ya?” “Just ‘ave a look mate” Larry said.

Larry raised the magic 8 ball above his head and shook it like he was trying to revive it. Smoke appeared on the screen pooling in a circle, then as it began to clear a bedroom setting filled the face of the magic 8 ball. As the smoke finally cleared it became apparent that this was Bruce’s bedroom. His girlfriend lay on the bed, her head in her hands as Bruce was sat up in bed, deep in concentration on his Iphone.

“What the ‘ell? That’s me mate!” he exclaimed pointing at the 8 ball screen. “And there’s Tiff!”

Larry nodded and gestured for him to continue watching.

“Babe” asked Tiff as she lay in bed running her hands over her face and through her hair in anguish “have you got a sec? I need to ask you somefink.” “Jesus Tiff, gimme a minute yeah? I need to tell Jason where footy is tonight or he’ll not turn up again.” he replied, not taking his eyes off the screen. “It’s just…” she began. “A MINUTE TIFF YEAH?” he shouted back at her, turning to show his frustration. She pulled the duvet over her head and the smoke pooled back up over the scene.

Bruce looked up at Larry. “What’s going on ‘ere mate? You got camera’s in my house you dirty pervert?”

“Did you know Tiff is struggling in that new job of hers mate?” asked Larry. “You heard from her today since you had that little exchange?”

“Um….I dunno actually” mused Bruce looking down at his phone.

“Keep watching” said Larry and he gestured to the 8 ball. 

Next up on the screen the smoke cleared to show Bruce sat at his breakfast table munching down on some cereal whilst flicking through his phone. He pressed the new tweet icon with his thumb and composed the following:

@AceRush that new album of yours is pathetic mate, you should do us all a favour and quit life #disappointing #wasteofbreath

He read it out loud to himself, chuckled and pressed send. “Take that you talentless gimp” he said out loud to the empty kitchen.

“So?” Bruce said to Larry sheepishly. 

“Oxycotin, whisky, tequila, marijuana and cocaine” said Larry, counting them out on his fingers.

“What’s that then? the recipe to a good night out” laughed Bruce.

“No, that’s what Ace Rush all had in his system when they found him.”

Bruce frowned, confused. “Found him?” he whispered to himself.

“What’s next then?” he asked, his face now bright red, beads of sweat starting to form on his forehead. “Oh there’s lots more” said Larry “but I think I’ll just show you this last one. See if you can remember this little exchange at your work mate.”

They both looked down at the 8 ball as the smoke cleared once more. This time it revealed a workplace setting, 30 or so office workers sat in a conference room, their focus on a small stage with a projector on the wall.

“Everyone, I’d like to introduce you to Susan Carrington. She’s just joined us and will be supporting me and managing my calendar. Susan would you mind saying a little about yourself?”

A young woman stepped forward onto the stage and began to introduce herself, her breath giving way every few moments. She nervously tugged at her fingers as she spoke.

Grunts and guffaws of laughter started to fill the air as the woman nervously tried to tell the room about her interests. Right in the middle of where the hilarity had began was Bruce, whispering to those around him, nudging elbows and kicking backs of chairs.

Larry looked up at him as he watched the scene play out. “What was so funny mate?” Larry asked. “Nuffink” replied Bruce shaking his head. Larry pressed the matter, looking him dead in the eye. “What was it mate?” “Alright, alright” said Bruce, hands up protesting innocence. “All I said to Tony next to me was ‘check out sweaty Susan’. Look!” He shouted, pointing at the screen “her pits are all stained!!” he was smirking at Larry, hoping he’d also find some humour in the joke.

“Well, mate, I’m going to tell you all about about sweaty Susan. Susan Carrington is 24 and this is her first real job. She went to Uni after leaving school but she had to drop out a year in cos of anxiety, mate. She literally didn’t leave the house for her first year after leaving Uni. After 3 years intense CBT, therapy and lots of medication changes which really do a number on ya, she was finally ready to try applying for a job. When did this little comedy act of yours happen Bruce?”

“Um….I can’t really remember…” Bruce began.

“It was four days ago mate” snapped Larry. “You seen sweaty Susan since then?”

“I dunno mate, you know what? I don’t fink I have.” said Bruce, looking up to try to rack his brains about when he might have last seen this new girl in the office.

“You ain’t” said Larry in reply.

Larry shook the magic 8 ball again. The smoke pooled, clearing to reveal a parked ambulance and two stationary police cars sat outside a house. Tiff’s mother came running out the house screaming as if she had been tortured. She collapsed in the arms of a paramedic who struggled to keep her upright. “What the…thats Pauline!” shouted Bruce. Larry began to shake the 8 ball again. “Hold on!!” protested Bruce.

The next scene showed groups of solemn looking teenagers stood in front of large black iron gates, behind which a long gravel path led up to a grand mansion. TV cameras and reporters jostled for position in front of the gates. Just in the distance you could make out two Ambulances parked at the front door on the mansion.

“Here, ain’t that Ace Rush’s gaff?” asked Bruce, recognising it from a music video.

Larry shook his head with dismay then finally shook the 8 ball one last time.

The screen revealed a train track during midday, in the distance a train approached. The screen panned upwards to show a young woman stood looking down at the track from the overpass above. Bruce strained his eyes to see who it was but couldn’t recognise her. The woman muttered to herself, wiping tears away from her face. The audio volume increased to reveal the words ‘sweaty fucking Susan’ being repeated over and over. The woman let go of the overpass and fell to the track below.

Today is World Mental Health Day, a day to improve the mental health of people around the world. The theme selected for this year’s Day is suicide prevention. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year-olds with someone taking their own life every 40 seconds around the world.

We never know what someone else is going through during our day to day interactions and we never truly know the impact our actions might have on others. One little smile, Hi or asking someone how they’re doing might be the highlight of their week.

The Group

“Wake up!” screamed Andrew directly into his ear. “Wh, wh, what time is it?” he muttered.

He rolled over and pawed at his phone sitting on his bedside table. The bright screen illuminated the room. He squinted his eyes to look at it. 2:37am. He let out a noise situated somewhere between frustration and anger. Rolling over, he flipped his pillow to lie on the cooler side and closed his eyes.

“Remember you need to be awake at 6” nagged Neil as he lay trying to get back to sleep. “He’s probably not even set an alarm” chimed in Alex.

He rolled back over, making the same frustrated noise and illuminated the room once again. Squinting at the brightness of the light he double and triple checked to make sure his alarm was set. “He’s only going to get about 3 hours sleep now” complained Ian. “You’ll be shattered tomorrow!” warned Emma. He folded his extra pillow and pulled it over his head, he began trying to count sheep.

“Jeeeez, you look like death” said Trevor, greeting him as he shuffled through to the bathroom mirror. “Maybe you should just call in sick – that way you won’t embarrass yourself at the interview” suggested Yves.

“Ugh, come on” he said to himself as he flicked on the shower. His eyes were diverted back to the mirror as he scanned his face. “Uh oh, never noticed that mole before” said Andrew “wonder what it could be”. Neil sucked in a long breath of air through his lips “oooh that looks cancerous” he replied. “Oh definitely” agreed Alex. He ran his finger over it again and again. No lump, he thought. “Doesn’t mean it’s not cancer” said Ian. “I’d be googling that if it was me” said Emma.

He picked up his phone with the intention of looking up photos of cancerous moles before he was interrupted by Trevor. “You’re gong to be late for this interview!” he shouted. “And if don’t eat before it, you’ll feel like crap” agreed Yves.

He put down his phone and jumped in the shower. He listened them argue about what he should say in the interview, how he should greet the interviewer, the time he’d need to leave, where he would park, the merits of drinking coffee before it and then if he was even good enough for the job. Andrew questioned if it was even worth going. He shook his head. The incessant arguing never stopped.

After grabbing a banana and a cup of tea to take with him in the car – Andrew had convinced him he would now be late if he didn’t leave right at that minute – he hopped in and turned on the engine. “Do you think that’s enough petrol?” asked Neil. “Oooh” answered Alex “that’s going to be tight”.

He plugged in his phone and selected a laid back playlist of film soundtracks he liked. It settled him. The group sat quietly in the back of the car as he drove contently to the office where the interview was due to take place. After trying to squeeze the car into two different spaces which Ian had convinced him he wouldn’t fit in, he gave up and parked much further away from the building. “You’re going to have to run now” snapped Emma “you’re going to be late!”

Arriving at the reception area looking sweaty and dishevelled he gave his name to the woman at the front desk. She advised him he still had 30 minutes until his interview slot so she invited him to have a seat or, pointedly, suggested he use the facilities to freshen up. He decided to take a walk to the canteen to purchase a bottle of water.

“£1.50 please mate” said the man operating the till. He reached into his pocket for his wallet. “Oh crap, you’ve forgotten it haven’t you?” shouted Yves. “Probably left it in the car” said Andrew. He felt through his pockets and rifled through his bag whilst apologising. He eventually found it in the front pouch of his bag. The group stood crowded around him tutting and shaking their head.

“You know you’re going to be bursting for the toilet if you drink all that” warned Neil. He ignored him and had a small drink. Alex and Ian were still arguing about the types of things he should talk about in the interview whilst Emma snorted and questioned if he even had the skills to get the job.

“OK, we’re ready for you now” interrupted a softly spoken voice. He looked up to see the interviewer with whom he’d met a few weeks previous. They had met for an informal chat to discuss the job he was interviewing for today. Seeing a familiar face helped him relax and the group followed behind him in silence as he engaged in small talk as they all entered the room and sat down.

After some brief formalities about the interview format, the interviewer asked the first question. The group jumped out their seats and all began shouting at once. “You don’t know the answer to that!” they all screamed. He leaned forward, took a small drink and began answering. Dejected, the group got up quietly and left the room.

After an hour the door creaked open and he emerged, smiling. He shook the interviewers hand and made his way out the building. He felt elated. It had went as well as he could have hoped for. He fired off a text to his girlfriend with the smiling face and praying hands emoji’s and made his way back towards the car. He only saw the group a couple times on the way back. Once, they wandered past arguing about the things he should have said during the interview. As he scanned the car park trying to remember where he’d left the car, he heard them again, discussing the possibility of it having been stolen or even towed away. Thankfully he spotted it and made his way over, jumping in the drivers seat.

The drive home was a blast. He sang along to music on the radio, drumming on the steering wheel as he went. There were no sign of the group, he assumed they had decided to make their own way home.

After what had been a stressful day, he decided that when he got home, he would go out a run to relieve some of the built up tension in his body. “You’ll be shattered again” warned Yves. Ah, there they were, he thought. He had expected them back but maybe not as soon as they had returned. “Remember, if you go too far you’ll probably end up hurting your back again” said Andrew. I’ll take it easy, he thought.

The group followed him downstairs and argued amongst themselves as he laced up his trainers. They seemed to debate everything simultaneously: When would he make dinner? When would he hear about the job? How far should he run? Would the house be on fire when he got back? What if he dropped his keys down a drain when out running? Then they were back onto the mole on his face again then onto the nuclear threat from North Korea.

He sighed and shook his head, opening the front door with the group huddled behind him. He began jogging gently at first as the group kept pace just behind him still rabbiting on at each other. As he began to get comfortable he upped the pace. Very soon after, he was gliding along the pavement breathing rhythmically with his stride. He gave a brief glimpse back and realised he’d outran the group, they must have given up, he thought. He smiled and pushed on.

That evening he showered in peace, ordered himself a takeaway pizza and watched his favourite movie. He felt great.

Then, at 1am the following morning:

“WAKE UP!!” screamed Andrew

“You heard about that job?” asked Neil

“Ha, doubt it” scoffed aleX

“Oooh that moles looking bigger” said Ian

“Yep, I’d google that now” agreed Emma

“Probably nothing guys” Trevor suggested

“Nah, looks like cancer to me” said Yves

Exhaling, he rolled over and illuminated the room with his phone. He tapped open the google search bar and listened intently as the group reacted to the images on the screen.

My Shadow

The idea for this story, if that’s what you want to call it, came from an unexpectedly tough counselling session I attended today. I’m hoping getting this down in black and white helps me to wade through some of the mud in my mind.

shadow:

an area of darkness;

to shadow (noun) is to follow a person during their day to day life.

My shadow begged me not to publish this.

My shadow thrives in the darkness. However it often appears when the sun is shining at it’s brightest. When I’m happy, my shadow is there to remind me not to enjoy it because the sun will be setting very soon.

Ironically, my shadow would prefer it if I lived in the darkness eternally. Would this mean it would disappear? No, I don’t think so. In the darkness is where it thrives.

In the darkness my shadow whispers to me that I’ll die one day. They often tell me it’ll probably be soon.

In the darkness my shadow tells me all about terminal illnesses. They talk to me in hushed tones about the symptoms. They can spot them in me expertly.

In the darkness, my shadow wakes me to remind me that I’m a terrible person.

In the darkness my shadow is a perfect judge of character. It reminds me that people are probably just being nice, it’s unlikely that they genuinely care for me.

In the darkness my shadow can fill any silence.

In the darkness my shadow gives me useful advice. It tells me that it’d be better if I had nothing to care about, that way I’d have nothing to lose. They tell me that I don’t deserve to be happy. I don’t deserve to have people who care about me.

In the darkness my shadow makes me feel so much. Self doubt, self hatred, exhaustion and muscle aches. My shadow has visited me a few times to remind me that suicide is an option.

In the darkness, my shadow sets my brain on fire.

I want to live in the sun, I often do. I have amazing family and friends. I know what to do and where to go to live in permanent sunshine but often my shadow will reappear to darken the light. It’s OK, I can handle a little darkness. It’s in the darkness that my shadow bleeds into the shadows of my family and friends. I don’t want to let it anymore.

I want to live in the sun.