January 3, 2013

Tim and Matt | Blog about rugby, friendship and bipolar disorder | Time to ChangeTim, 41, is one of our media volunteers and has recently featured in a Time to Change article in Rugby World. If you want to read this article, Rugby World is on shelves today (3rd Jan).

2012 has been a tough year, brutal at times, but I know it's one I'll look back on with great fondness in the future. After years of struggling with mental illness, in March I had the breakdown which led to me gaining access to the requisite psychiatric services. I was diagnosed as having bipolar disorder and started to get the help I needed.

It was also a watershed year for another reason- after years of keeping quiet about my illness through feelings of shame, I decided to open up to people. After reading, and being touched by people’s stories on the Time to Change website, I wrote a blog of my own, and also 'came out' to family and friends and on Facebook. It was nerve-wracking at first - one of the hardest things I've ever done - but the amazing love and support I received was overwhelming and very humbling. It made me wish I'd done it years before.

Matt has been there at the toughest of times

The cornerstone of my support network is my friend Matt. He's always been there in the toughest times, after my breakdowns and suicide attempts. This year he really went into bat for me. He was ever-present on the end of the phone - a call or a text always seemed to come at the right time, when I needed it most. Endless games of online chess proved a distraction for my mind, whilst a stream of rubbish jokes never failed to make me smile. The rock-solid support he has given me has definitely brought us closer together, and I appreciate how lucky I am to have a friend like him.

In May he invited me down to Bedford, to stay with him and his partner Rachel for a few days. I booked a train ticket and packed a bag, but as the day approached I started to panic about the journey. I nearly cancelled several times, but I didn't want to let Matt down - another person to add to the list. I also knew deep down that the trip would do me good. It took every fibre of my being to get on the train, but I did, and as Matt met me at Bedford station with a hug and a smile, I knew I'd done the right thing.

We spent several days laying a patio in his garden, playing golf (he maintains he let me win to help my depression!), drinking beer and talking about stuff. I didn't realise at the time, but looking back I can pinpoint the start of my recovery to those few days. I think I knew, heading back on the train, that things would eventually be ok.

I was interviewed by Rugby World

So when I was approached by Time to Change to participate in an article for Rugby World magazine about sport, mental health and support networks I was happy to help. I feel very privileged and proud to help in any way I can.

I was interviewed for the piece by the magazine's editor, Owain Jones. I was initially nervous, talking to a complete stranger, but he really put me at ease. We ended up chatting for ages, and I enjoyed the process. As well as Matt and myself, the article centres on Duncan Bell and David Flatman, both former Bath and England front-row players. Duncan was very brave in April last year in going public about his ten years of struggling with depression. He's now head coach at Lydney, and getting on well.

For me, talking about mental illness has only been a positive thing

By a strange quirk of coincidence I was at Matt and Rachel's wedding a couple of weeks after doing the interview, and David Flatman was also a guest (he's the bride's godfather.) We got introduced, and chatted for half an hour about our experiences of doing the Rugby World piece and mental illness in general.

He asked how I was doing, and told me how he was helping Duncan. It was great to talk to him, and it genuinely felt like having a normal conversation with a mate - plenty of banter, no shame or stigma on my part or awkwardness on his. It was only the next day, whilst thinking about it, that I realised the significance of it. Just a year before, I never would have been able to have a conversation like that with anyone, let alone a stranger. So for me, talking about mental illness has only been a positive thing.

That conversation felt like a glimpse of what the future will be like, when the Time to Change campaign has been as successful as I imagine it's going to be. Just the way my life has changed since I first came across this website makes me feel optimistic that discrimination and stigma will end. So thank you for giving me the opportunity to be involved in some small way."

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The February issue of Rugby World looks at depression and mental health in the world of sport through an interview with Duncan Bell.

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