Craig is a full-time carer who lives in Honiton. He used to play for Ottery St Mary Vet’s team, but around six years ago started experienced pains in his knees. Initially, he thought it was ligament damage, but it turned out to be osteoarthritis in both knees, which meant he could no longer run. This led to him experiencing anxiety attacks.
“About six years ago I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis which means I can’t run. From there I started having problems mentally, anxiety and panic attacks because I wasn’t doing football. I put on three and a half stone straight away, but mentally it’s the worst thing.
“Over the course of two or three years I became more and more anxious. I’d been having panic attacks since my late 20s so this wasn’t new to me – I thought this was just another bout of anxiety and panic attacks. A friend of mine suggested I play walking football – initially I was very snobbish about it, but I was so wrong. The first time I went it was great – a good laugh which is very important to me. I joke about a lot, and a lot of that is due to my anxiety – I will say stupid things to make people try to relax in front of me. Since then, I’ve joined another three clubs and play four times a week now, and represent Exeter City walking football. I love it – it’s more than just football. When I’m on the pitch I’m deadly serious but off the pitch I like the social side – just as much, if not more.
“My first panic attack happened when I was young – in my 20s, and I was in the gym, so I thought I was having a heart attack. I’ve never hidden it – I’ll tell people I suffer from anxiety which manifests itself in the shape of panic attacks. I also suffer from a bit of depression, which I’ve never suffered from before. About four years ago I couldn’t leave the house for 18 months. I was agoraphobic, and scared of my own shadow. It was in the summer and I was sitting in the back garden playing my guitar. The little girl next door asked me to play Happy Birthday, so I did and then I asked myself: ‘why are you sitting here?’ It was a lovely summer’s evening – and it’s purely because I am so stubborn I wouldn’t contemplate that I had any form of depression. I had refused to take any medication, but after the conversation with the little girl next door I started taking it, and within six weeks this anxiety of walking outside dissipated.
“Mental health is a great thing to talk about. When I told people at a football match about my mental health, the number of guys who came to me to say: “Craig, don’t tell anybody but it’s happened to me,” I don’t see any shame about it, except for the fact that people do keep it to themselves. What is the point? The days when you were vilified from having a ‘mental problem’ are archaic.”