Fourteen years ago I had just returned from the trip of a lifetime. Seeing something I thought was impossible. Following in the footsteps of giants. Living a dream. History being made.
I was there. I was in Istanbul on 25 May 2005. I was singing You’ll Never Walk Alone at half time. I was the guy who turned to his mate and travelling partner and said: “as long we we keep it tight early doors I think we’ll be ok” just as Milan opened the scoring inside 60 seconds. I was behind the goals where the penalty shootout ended the most memorable and extraordiary game of mine, or many other, lifetimes.
That night I cried. Tears of joy. Tears of pride. Tears on the phone when I called my dad upon arriving in the Ataturk Stadium wearing his 1977 European Cup sweater (“Liverpool Fans All Over The World” emblazoned on the left of the plunging v neck) to describe the scene to him that he had told me to expect; the flags; the banners; the scousers on tour. It was overwhelming. It was wonderful. It was amazing.
Fast forward fourteen years and we are back winning the European Cup – the most glittering prize in club football. I still have the sweater – and the shirt I wore underneath it, which made an appearance again this Saturday evening. My pride in my club remains undimmed. My desire for us to win is unaltered. My investment of love and devotion for Liverpool FC is still there; still unconditional. And yet so much is different for me.
Gone were the extreme highs and lows of emotion. Gone was the gut wrenching nervous energy. Gone were the tears. In their place was something very different. Flatness. Emptiness. Quiet.
Granted, if you saw me jumping around the living room as our two goals hit the back of the net – and pacing nervously during the tense fifteen minutes before the second goal – you may be mistaken for thinking I was the same tightly wound 27-year-old from Turkey. But this was a very different experience. My life is different; I am different. Not just the obvious things of being older; married; a father; but the changes in my approach to life and my state of mind. After my breakdown and my work in progress recovery, my perspective is different – a good thing – but my feelings are a little dulled. I am not the same person. I see the world differently; I experience it differently.
My feelings are dulled partly by the pain of the breakdown and my continued battle with depression. I woke on Saturday feeling a little low – not the worse of my recent episodes but a three or four out of ten, with ten being the hardest it could be. I wasn’t quite right. I was a little tired. A little overwhelmed from a busy week of being away from home – this always has a negative impact on me, even though I was on holiday with my wonderful girls. A little off my game. Just not at myself.
But my emotions are partly dulled now by my medication. I know it is likely I will get used to them and the edges of joy and excitement which have gone – along with much of my day to day anxiety and darkness will return. But for the moment they are departed and with them the chance to experience an Istanbul-style rollercoaster of emotion – whether its a 3-3 draw or a 2-0 win. For me this time, it was more like I was watching the game wearing sunglasses and earplugs – it was all a little less sharp; less in my face; less in the moment. I felt a little less alive.
I have written before about the effect that anti-depressants can have on good and bad moods and that I am happy to take the trade-off. But this weekend’s experience was a crystal clear – and as I being totally honest – a slightly sad illustration of how my life has changed since the last time we brought ‘big ears’ back on the plane to Liverpool.
I am learning – and mostly succeeding – in accepting my new-ish reality. It is only three or so years since I hit the floor with my life turned upside down and I know I am still adjusting. I know I am much better today than I was then and that all of the changes I have made to my life over those years – including the medication and being teetotal – have improved my health and wellbeing enormously but there are days – or at least the odd 90 minutes – when I wish I could go back to the old me; the edgier me; the falling down three rows of seats in the embrace of strangers as Alonso follows in his penalty me.
I know that 2005 person may have appeared happier – he was certainly more emotional and excitable – but he was also heading for a crash. He was a snowball gathering speed and size. He was already starting to roll slowly down the mountain on a path to destruction. This 2019 version of me may have felt more of a spectator in the weekend’s drama but he is healthier for it.
Three days on, I am still hovering at three or four out of ten. I wish it was better but it isn’t and – just like accepting that you cannot completely control everything on the pitch – including whether Mo Salah will convert from twelve yards – I am accepting that this is me now. This is my life. The flat moments will pass. The spring in my step will return. I will feel more like myself. And it’s just wonderful to know, that when I do – when the sunglasses and earplugs are gone – we will still be the six-times winners of the European Cup.