In a very personal tale, Nick Hayhoe talks about one of his places of relative calm; Carrow Road. A place where a lot of us worry is perhaps the polar opposite for Nick.
I have been a worrier for as long as I remember. When I was at school I was a worrier. When I was at university I was a worrier. Now that I am an adult I am a worrier. I have always worried. Worried about the world news, worried about money, worried my boiler needs a service, worried all of the bees in the world are dying out, worried I might have a minor bump in my car and then I need to deal with all of the worry of sorting it all out. It is something I have always done. I am a worrier.
A few years ago, when my worrying became so bad I had to go and see someone, so that they would somehow stop me from worrying so much, I found I had an illness that was causing my worrying. The illness is called anxiety. An illness of which one of the symptoms is constantly worrying.
I don’t want to get too bogged down into it, lots of people have written a lot better things about it; but living with this illness in the modern world is an...interesting experience. There’s the constant bombardment from all corners. There’s this to worry about and that to worry about, and that’s even before you start analysing your own life and your own personal worries. It’s almost like a daily obstacle course. An obstacle course of mindfulness. Trying to stop worrying is a real pain in the arse.
As a result, I am always so glad of being able to move to the sport’s section of a newspaper, of being able to tune into Test Match Special or to be able to hear Mark Chapman’s voice when he introduces BBC Five Live Sport as it flips over 7 o’clock. There’s a massive element of release to this feeling, where now I can enjoy things that, on the face of it, do not need me to worry about them.
This feeling is never greater than when I am at the football where, due to an almost indescribable reason, the feelings of worry will always gently wash away over the course of two hours - win, lose or draw. I take the train. I walk down the familiar paths towards the stadium, popping into familiar places and maybe I see a few familiar faces - people who I sort of know, but I don’t really. But we smile at each other as we pass regardless. An almost eerie, zen-like calm, envelopes that slightly broken part of my brain and switches it off temporarily.
I get emotional at the football. Of course I do. But it is so wonderful knowing that the emotions I am feeling by way of the shouting, the singing, the wanker signs to the opposition fans, really don’t matter in the grand scheme of things and I can just, for that time, simply let it go and release without worrying what people will think of me. At the football my phone is also firmly in my pocket - usually forgotten about. Other than when I am sleeping, this is probably the longest time I am going to be going all week without looking at it. For a couple of hours I am not looking into this window to the rest of the world and, as a result, I am not worrying about it. This builds a wonderful image in my mind, where it genuinely feels as everything outside of the stadium has paused in a Bernard’s Watch style of time freeze, and the only thing still moving is the match in front of me. It is the only thing I need to care about. It is the only thing I need to worry about.
A side effect of anxiety is often loneliness. While I experience hardly anything in the way of physical loneliness myself (I am lucky enough, unlike many with anxiety, to have an understanding partner, group of friends, workplace and family), I do, on occasion, suffer the classic anxiety setback of an inability to communicate properly with people who I have just met, or, when things are bad, with people in general. This is a difficult symptom to cope with for anyone with anxiety, as the implied rudeness from the lack of communication will end up causing the worrier to worry further about the offence they have caused. However, again, when I am at the football I find this a non-issue. It is a cliché that you are with 26,000 of your friends when you are at the football, but with anxiety this actually seems to be the case. There is always something to say. You can be as quiet or as loud as you want. It is tremendous. Additionally, through the magic of Twitter, I feel a real part of this little community of ours. I have spoken to many a Norwich fan about this and that, come to know people I have never met and, yes, found a little outlet for my otherwise very much internal musings on this herein website. I love all sport, and I find my worries easing whenever I watch any sport, particularly with my other great love of cricket; but it is football where I really feel this sense of being part of a bigger and wider group of people - all of whom I can chat and have a laugh with. To paraphrase a line from that famous song - as long as I gaze up at a Carrow Road sunset, I am in paradise.
With my anxiety, I am not looking for pity, or attention and nor do I want this to be one of those “oh I have had such a hard life!” pieces of writing that can often make someone, who suffers from the same ailment, feel worse about themselves. The bottom line is that I have an illness. I have my good moments with it, my bad moments with it and, just like a physical illness, I have to make sure to do things in life in a slightly different way so that I do not aggravate it. It’s just there, lurking in the background.
Sometimes, when I worry so much about something that shouldn’t be worried about, I miss out on something I ultimately would have enjoyed because the worry is so great I do not want to do it. It is a real pisser. But other times I feel really lucky. I really do not have it that bad, I have been able to come to terms with having it and have mechanisms in my life which allow me to control it. I lead an otherwise normal life and there are so many out there who do not. Over the course of a few years, I have learnt to control it and understand it. I sometimes even find a strange fascination with it, curious as to how my brain could figure that I need to get to a train station 40 minutes before it is due to depart so that I do not need to have the worry. This is not to say there are still the bad days, when it lurks around the corner and it strikes. And this is where my little comforts and places of release, like football, can come to my aid.
Football acts as a wonderful constant. When standing in the Barclay, watching Norwich’s back four duff up a simple clearance and concede a second against Barnsley or Millwall or Preston, I find comfort in the fact that my dad had probably stood in this exact position 30 years previous, shielding his eyes in the sun, and had probably watched us concede from a similar defensive error. My grandfather, 50 or 60 years before him probably did as well. For all of the people around me, the same is also true. The reason why we support a football club is not because of how successful it is, or how many trophies it has won. It is not because of how many seats there are in the stadium, or how much the tickets cost. We do not change clubs when our favourite players move or when we constantly lose. We follow our clubs with blind loyalty. This is because they are a part of us, our identity. You follow them as they are part of an ideal, a collection of a whole community’s hopes and dreams. As the cliché you see in betting adverts goes, when you’re watching the game nothing else matters. But the thing about this is that it is true; when you are at the game, nothing outside of the stadium really seems to matter. And my forever restless mind will always be grateful this is the case; as I will always have those glorious two hours of release every other Saturday. Where I am free from worry.