My mom is a hero.
It's not that she cleans up after me or does the dishes or drives me to work. It's not that she's raised me, that's her role as a mother, right? But it's what happened today; when a young man in a wheelchair rolled in front of her car and oncoming vehicles, she was the only one to stop, console him and drag him out of the road.
Looking into his weeping eyes, she asked where he was going. His response was shocking.
"To see my mother, and father - in heaven".
It dawned on my mom that he wanted to join the six-thousand others who commit suicide in Britain every year.
★ ★ ★
Suicide doesn't just occur. It's the end result of a number of debilitating mental illnesses. Illnesses like depression, just as cancer or heart disease can result in a loss of a human life.
That same human life that is so precious and so beautiful, from the beggar, to the footballer, to the prince. A life is just that. A life. Those in football only needed to remember the Robert Enke situation to realise that mental health affects those with a life of relative luxury, in fact there's likely less help available to footballers than the normal man. These guys can't take a day off, and even if they are earning 40 grand a week, their next opportunity will be tarnished by the fact they made the decision to look out for themselves.
These issues strike close to home for us Villans. Nicklas Helenius suffered from homesickness, depression and an infection he feared would actually end his life whilst he played for Villa. Just today, Mikey Drennan, a Villa academy graduate has taken a sabbatical from the game to focus on his mental well-being.
In a post on his personal Facebook account, Mikey described why he was leaving the sport and his club, Shamrock Rovers.
'I just want to be happy because life is way too short, I need to be around people I love and get a job, I'm taking time out of football because I'm not happy and I've been suffering from depression for the last 3 years and I thought I would have dealt with it better then but it's come to a point now where I need to leave and take a break.'
'I needed something to change and this is a very tough decision and one that I've put my whole life into and hoped to be successful in but it's not one I've made over 2 weeks. This has been on my mind a lot over the past few years but I said I would stick it out..it can't get any worse but it did and I haven't spoke to people about it as much as I should and I wanted to deal with it myself but it was the wrong decision. People will always look at me different saying "I'm a failure" and all that crap but it's the reason why I came home in the first place to play soccer here to see if it would make me better which obviously it didn't.'
'I just wanna come back and get the help I need to get back on track and would like to go back playing in League of Ireland at some stage if the chance came up. I want to thank everyone who has given their best to support me and make this difficult decision.'
★ ★ ★
Unfortunately, I know all too well about mental health.
During my final year of University, I suffered from a horrific identity crisis I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. I felt and endured Everest highs that were followed by Mariana Trench lows. I'd recently recovered from a bout of Pneumonia which had left me shaken and of course, there was a relationship breakdown involved.
I just didn't know who I was - and I still can't answer that question honestly now.
And then it got worse. I wasn't able to cope, every day felt like a struggle. But not like the 'I don't want to go out, struggle' - it was a struggle to want to live. Living and wanting to live are two different things. We can stumble by, from day to day by living, but wanting to live is true normality and when illness takes that away, it's easy to become lost - as a statistic.
Self-harm and the lack of it was a constant struggle for me. There were days when I would wave a blade, or a claw hammer over my hand, or even my head. It never came to pass, but that would sometimes leave me in a worse state. How could I be so weak that I could be scared of damaging myself? I've come to learn that it was strength and hope that stopped me.
You see, hope blossoms inside all of us. We hope to get home before the rain, we hope the chip shop is still open and the queue is small. We hope to get decent jobs and a good wage packet. It's when a fire blanket smothers those embers of emerging hope that things start to falter within us - causing a chemical imbalance that leads to mental diseases.
But, those who don't suffer from those issues simply need to understand that mental illnesses are just that - health issues that can be treated. It doesn't matter how much you earn, you can still get the flu, which is why we must empathise with people like Mikey Drennan who are living the dream, but brave enough to recognise that they have issues that need conquering.
There's a lot being done to counter the stigma against mental illnesses, but it's all grassroots. People like my friend, Ella Robson, can start blogs to raise awareness (follow it, Dearest Someone), but the sad truth is that people in power who can help out, are simply ignorant to the plight of many. Searching for mental health help and football leads to token links, nothing of importance for those in the game who need help.
Mikey Drennan shouldered the burden and quit, but this is a guy who was a young champion of Europe having won the Nextgen series with Villa and is of a relatively high profile in the game. What about those stuck in the doldrums and expected to 'man up'? If Mikey feels that, surely those guys do as well?
More needs to be done. Mental health IS health. Let's not shove it under the carpet.
I'm a lot better these days, but I have to acknowledge each morning that I'm still not close to the person I once was. I eat too much and struggle to exercise (and I'm certain that it's a form of subconscious self-harm). I'm trying my best to get fitter every single day because there's a fire inside me that still burns as it does within you and everyone else. What I learnt from the Robert Enke story was this: Even through the darkest days, we've all got to fight to feel alive and not just for us, but for those we love and evermore, those we don't even know.
As my own mother did today, when she saved that man's life.
Good luck Mikey and everyone else who has experienced this struggle regardless of race, gender or age. Godspeed, you beautiful bastards.
*If you're suffering from the issues I've described in this post, please contact your local Samaritan's branch. Please feel free to reach out to myself as well: @jamorushton. It's never too late.