Charlie Roebuck: My Story(ish)

Charlie Roebuck writes of the dark times and the pain of mental illness. He describes how talking about his problems – and using social media to open up to people – alongside clinical support and counselling has been crucial to his recovery.  Trigger warning: References to self-harm and suicide. Also contains strong language.

I had a privileged upbringing. My parents and grandparents would do anything to help me achieve what I wanted and for this I can’t thank them enough. I was lucky. I was a natural at most things, picked up new skills easily, and managed to breeze through a lot without trying. Sport was always at the forefront of my interests: football in the early years quickly moved on to cricket. I was always a high achiever, playing football for Huddersfield and cricket for Huddersfield, Yorkshire and Broad Oak senior team at 12. I achieved a lot and I’m forever grateful for the opportunities I had.

I never saw myself as a ‘superstar’ but I always aimed to be the best I could be – score more goals, make more runs, take more wickets. As I made progress in sport I became better known and this in turn changed the way I saw myself. It created a mind-set where every time I did something it had to be almost perfect, whether in sport or in other parts of my life. The pressure to achieve increased and this made me even more self-critical. I just stopped seeing the good things and focused only on the negatives. I had a lot of great times in cricket and achieved more than I had hoped and dreamed of. But it was never enough. I viewed myself as a failure – I hadn’t done enough and I had failed myself, my family, my friends. Everyone!

I went to university, threw myself into my studies and achieved a degree in sport. But upon finishing I could see nothing ahead for me. I was at home with no job, cricket fucked up, nowhere to go. Dreams shattered. A failure! This is when the depressive thoughts kicked in. They overcame me like a thunderstorm. I was trapped, fighting myself every day. Tired, angry, and hurt I was lost. All I could think of was the negatives, the failed life plan, letting everyone down. What was I supposed to do? I fucked up right? The ‘superstar’ was what? A nobody. A failure.

I hated myself for it. How could I live with the guilt of letting people down? What could I do? I was in such mental pain. I was crying and breaking down – in shops, while I was walking, anywhere. I was so messed up. And this is when I tried it – physical pain. I couldn’t bear things anymore and I thought physical pain would take away the mental pain. I punched a wall breaking my hand. All this did was made it all worse, so then I was struggling both mentally and physically. I got to the point of suicide. I was thinking, why should I be here? what’s the point anymore? I would get in my car and just think of driving through walls or off roads.

My recovery

Admitting I was mentally ill was always the hardest thing. I was ashamed that I, a 20 year old bloke who’s lived a privileged life, playing pro sport, having it all in people’s eyes, has depression. Why would I admit that? I did go to the doctor, though, and said I’m struggling. I was prescribed tablets. I took them and thought, right, I’m fine now. Sweet! But I never really admitted that I was bad until a few years later. I ripped my arms with a knife and my mum and dad found me. The pain on their faces, and how scared they were, hit a nerve. That gave me the kick up the arse I needed. It made me realise that I am loved and that I had to find a way.

So I went back to the doctor and also, for the first time, spoke with the Professional Cricketers Association. I was assigned a councillor who I saw monthly, and the medication the GP prescribed has been adjusted over time to my needs. Seeing a councillor has shown me that I can talk. He provides a safe place to let it all out, whatever it is, without being judged. The way he helps me to view things is something I’m taking into my life and I try the techniques within everything.

I learnt that the best thing was to speak out, talk about my illness. I thought about this for months and months until, finally, I sat down and wrote Facebook and Twitter posts. I was scared. What reception would I get? I had already pushed myself away from everyone. But honestly without doing that I don’t know how I’d have got through. I am eternally grateful for the way people responded and the support I received. My cricket club friends, people I grew up with and members of the public rallied round and gave me a lift – they helped to push me forward on my recovery journey. It is true when they say talking is the best way. I can vouch for it. It bloody works!

For a few years from the start of my depression things were up and down. I’d think I had control but then it would spark up. I had relapses, self-harmed, thought about suicide. My arms have scars showing how I tried to cancel out the mental pain. And I still have down times. I still find it hard when things go wrong or I make mistakes – it’s impossible to be perfect but to me sometimes it doesn’t feel like that. Small mistakes and annoyances build up and I can’t stop it. It’s something that runs through everything I do, especially work. I want to do things right and I want to show people that I can.

So it’s an ongoing battle. People’s support has been so important: if it wasn’t for my family I wouldn’t be here; the PCA has been instrumental in helping me and I can’t thank them enough; and my local GP helped me through the toughest times. I think we all find different ways of coping. I can go for a run, or walk the dog, and it allows me to switch off and let things go. Over time I have put things in place that help me deal with the problems.

This is a brief story of my struggles and how I improve my mental health. I would love the opportunity to share further and help others through these times. If anyone ever needs any help please get in touch.

1 Comment

  • Jo Eckersley

    Really powerful story, thank you for sharing Charlie. Pressure to succeed is such a powerful thing isn’t it. Useful, up to a point, but then it can become incredibly damaging. I’ve been learning to be less hard on myself, but it is definitely a constant challenge!

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