I do this job for a reason which most grounds staff will relate to - I LOVE IT! I look through the photographs on my phone and see picture after picture of green grass. The images of my children are inbetween the sea of green!
Firstly, I need to explain why I'm speaking out about my struggles with mental health, and how this has been affected by my work.
So, how did I become depressed and full of anxiety? My happy place when I was younger was in nature. I enjoyed being in the garden and, when I left school, I enrolled for a horticultural course at Myerscough College, which I attended full-time and I loved it!
My first real job was at a local golf club, before joining the local council as a gardener where I worked in parks and gardens such as Shibden Hall.
Working for the council gave me a great perspective on life, however, I was eager to work in a professional sports setting. So, my next move was to a privately-owned racecourse as a groundsman. There were so many aspects of working here that I loved and I got a real buzz presenting the course to racegoers, who appreciated our hard work.
I was working long hours and weekends, all whilst trying to raise a family. For example, one Friday evening I got a call from my parents to say my 99-year-old Grandma had suffered a heart attack and we needed to go to be with her. I arranged cover for work with a colleague and headed up to Yorkshire for the weekend - which all seemed to be fine until Monday morning arrived.
I was called in to see my manager and there seemed to be a complete lack of understanding of my situation. It didn't seem to matter to them that I had arranged cover.
Fortunately, my grandma recovered, but sadly passed away a few months later and I went up to Yorkshire with my family for the funeral. This had no impact on work, but when I returned and mentioned it, a complete lack of empathy was shown about the situation.
Taking me off the job
I went to the office and spoke with the general manager and clerk of the course, where I explained about the strain I felt and broke down in tears. They were very good and listened to everything I said. The following morning, I was called to another meeting with the same managers, where they told me that not only were they taking me off my training course, but they were removing my deputy course foreman role away from me.
I felt crushed and I knew that I needed to leave the racecourse. A vacancy became available at a local independent school, albeit with a pay cut and no accommodation. Nevertheless, my wife Hayley, our two young children and I took the leap.
At this point, my confidence was low and I became isolated, however, as time went on and with a great team of colleagues, I started to believe in myself. Becoming the head groundsman made me so proud and we produced some fantastic pitches.
My team were very supportive and, something I value greatly, is the importance of a great team who work well together. Despite varying levels of experience, we were all equal and without the diversity of skills within the team, it wouldn't have worked as well as it did.
However, there seemed to be a lack of understanding from the Sports Department. It is quite simple - if you over-use a pitch with high numbers of players, coupled with bad weather, you will lose future use of that pitch. They seemingly didn't understand what my job was.
Chasing the dream
I was full of confidence and looking forward to a new challenge, and again my family and I relocated some distance for me to progress in my career. By this time, Hayley and I had three children and this was a big move for us. At my new place of work, I often had no choice but to sit in meetings with my team being belittled. I spoke to the HR department about this, but nothing seemed to come from it.
This is when I well and truly became broken…
I was in a new job at a new school and I had an exciting future for me and my family ahead... or so I had hoped!
From Day 1, it was made clear that members of the team were not happy that I had been given the role. Very early on, accusations were made that I didn't know what I was doing as a head groundsman and members of the team were going to my manager making claims. However, the praise I received from the sports department and many other staff, including the Headteacher, were tremendous. Unfortunately, it was clear that things were not healthy for me.
I was feeling quite isolated, but we had the plan to move forward and develop the department, both as a team and individually. What could go wrong?
This was a tough time. I'd only been in my new job for two months and found myself on-site alone during the first weeks of the pandemic. I tried to keep on top of everything at the main site, whilst the rest of the team had been furloughed. A rota was created to give the team equal time at work and make things fair and, over time, the numbers increased to three team members on a 3-weeks-on and off basis. During this, I didn't take any time off and worked through the school holidays, along with bank holidays and compulsory time off given over the Easter period.
I find it hard to look back, but I did speak a lot about how hard I was finding managing a team that seemingly didn't like me. It was draining - both physically and mentally. I raised my concerns with management, about it affecting my mental health and the school offered to pay for me to have counselling, which did help slightly.
My counsellor pointed out that I was being bullied. This wasn't something I wanted to admit, but it was obviously the case. Although I was listened to, it didn't seem to solve much.
I cannot deny that the school supported me with the major issues, but I was getting the backlash of resentment from team members.
My confidence had been diminished - I felt like I couldn't win and my time was revolving around the team and the issues they found every day. At this point, I was expected to have an increasing number of meetings with the team. On a weekly basis, I was expected to visit the grounds and gardens teams. It felt like the meetings themselves were becoming a full-time job. Thankfully, the HR team were there for me.
I was trying to do all of this, alongside covering absences in the team. This was also affected by the fact that I was absent from work due to my mental health state. Everything became too much and I ended up breaking down during a couple of meetings, whilst trying to talk about the situation.
In June 2022, I was feeling particularly low and my medication had increased significantly. Despite the medication, my head wouldn't stop and was constantly on the go.
I decided to go away by myself for a few days because I needed to be away from the school site where we live. I stayed in my parent's caravan, which they'd put on a campsite at a nature reserve. I just wanted to sleep and not wake up, so that my mind would stop. I just wanted to shut down, I was a mess.
I'm not sure how many tablets I took, but I thought it wasn't enough to be life-threatening. Despite this, when I called my wife and she couldn't understand me, she subsequently called 999 and my parents. I do remember speaking to someone on the phone but, at some point, I must have passed out. The next thing I know, I was being woken up by two paramedics. We all agreed I needed to be back at home and not admitted to hospital in a different county to my family.
What was happening to me?
I was in pieces and my brain wasn't functioning. I felt like I had failed at everything and that I was causing pain to everyone around me. I imagined being dead! This wasn't the first time and I am now aware that these are not uncommon feelings or thoughts to have, but I knew I wanted it to become a reality.
I have always been open with Hayley and made her aware of how I felt. She had to adapt her life to look after me. I sat there, more scared than ever, contemplating my life.
I don't know the reason why I didn't take the tablets that day, but I didn't. I had pain throughout my body and couldn't hold myself together. Hayley arranged for one of my sisters to collect our children, then looked me in the eyes and told me I "had no choice in this - we're going to the hospital."
It was clear how much Hayley loves me and that no matter what, I had something to live for. Whilst at A&E, I was referred to the Crisis Team who provide hospital care at home. They visited me seventeen days straight. They helped me get back on track and arranged for me to see a psychologist and psychiatrist.
The most important person through this has been Hayley. I have put her through so much, but she opened my eyes to what really matters - her and our three children.
The reason I am sharing my story, is that I now know my struggles are shared with many others in the industry. I want the profession we are in to be recognised as equal to others. An electrician would not be told how to fulfil their job, so why are we?
I am sick of being treated like an underdog, but I am reluctant to have regrets from this part of my life. I am determined to turn this into a positive and help others, as well as myself!
6 steps to help
- Talk to someone you trust
- Look after your physical health
- Do activities that you enjoy
- Steer away from harmful substances
- Take two minutes to focus on the world around you
- Seek professional help