Reflections on 2022

As my mind turns to the reflections on 2022, there is an incredible juxtaposition of emotions and memories. They bring together the sublime and ridiculous, the exquisite and the ghastly, all closely intertwined. 

Rudyard Kipling, in the poem “If”, famously wrote about treating the impostors of triumph and disaster just the same. This year has seen a chaotically eclectic fusion of both.

If you can dream and not make dreams your master

As I write this, I am sat on a train heading north from London Euston to Liverpool Lime Street. As so often, the city of Liverpool has been the source of so many special moments through the year.

Football significantly helps in managing my mental health, something I have had to do in 2022. The real joy comes from the time shared with friends creating lifelong memories and experiences.

Chasing them all

The first half of 2022 provided a number of magical moments on the pitch for Liverpool. I was privileged to be able to witness several of them in person. Three trips to Wembley, an epic title race, and we succumbed only in the last minutes of the season.

There was laughter and song, chewing of nails and the odd beer passed the lips. We walked with hope, not just across England but Europe. Memories were created which will last long after the final ball is kicked.

I dreamt the unthinkable, that we would lift all four trophies, but those dreams were not my master. So when the dust had settled on 22 May and we were a single point behind Manchester City, having been so close on that final day, there were only smiles and not tears, joy and not regret, thanks and not bitterness.

A night to forget

Anger and sadness followed only a week later in Paris. As per the title race above, there are no tears in defeat. However, on that night at the Champions League Final, I truly feared for my life.

There were tears aplenty when I finally got back to my hotel and they lasted for days and weeks. They encompassed relief and fear, anger that 33 years on from that fateful day in Sheffield, our supporters had once again had to endure horrors that should never happen at a football match.

It was a night which I have found particularly difficult to process. Truthfully told. it deeply unsettled me for several months beyond.

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting

In April 2022, one of my closest friends finally tied the knot with his lovely fiancée. I use the word finally because it was a wedding postponed for well over a year due to the pandemic.

The fact that the wedding was in Barbados made it slightly special on multiple levels. Due to the pandemic, it was our first overseas trip since 2019 so it was very gratefully received.

Covid comedy

Of course, Covid had to play its part as my wife tested positive on Good Friday, four days before departure! Despite being symptom free, positive test after positive test followed so we were at the mercy of British Airways. They were, thankfully, flexible with flights and accommodation. 

Finally (with the wedding on Saturday 23 April), we set off for Heathrow after a negative test on Thursday 21 April. We were soon headed home, however, after a positive test at the airport!!

By this time, I was on the phone to the bride and groom saying that I definitely would not come alone. If we couldn’t fly the next morning, we would regrettably not be able to join them. I felt slightly better to be one of two Best Men!!

We journeyed to Heathrow the next morning on the basis of imagining the faintest line on the home test. Hope, rather than expectation, prevailed and waited what seemed an eternity at the airport before an email arrived. Much to our surprise. clearing us for travel.

In that moment, it hit me that I was going home to the Caribbean for the first time in 15 years. Moreover, I would be taking my wife home with me for the first time.

Home and Belonging

Those few weeks were a true blessing. I cannot describe the sense of freedom and belonging that I felt waking up in the islands for the first time in so long.

We waited without growing tired, and were rewarded with a few weeks of lifelong memories with friends that will be cherished.

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue

2022 has been a year during which I have delivered a number of keynotes around mental wellbeing in the workplace. I have also been involved in a number of great campaigns for Mind (you can access some of those campaigns and talks on the media & podcasts page of this site).

If this speaks to you, Speak to Us

The highest profile campaigns were during Mental Health Awareness Week in May and World Mental Health Day in October. Both revolved around the use of spoken word to show the different ways in which people talk about and relate to experiences around mental health.

It was incredibly powerful to see these poems come to life and you can view them here.

Slightly more surreal was seeing my mugshot all across the Transport for London network with the poems in written form as part of the advertising campaign.

How the campaign came to life on the Tube network

The unspeakable cost

This is a year during which mental health and wellbeing have been higher in profile than I can remember. War and conflict, the cost of living crisis, an amoral government; allied to the ongoing impact of the pandemic, the cost to mental health is unspeakable and a true crisis.

My Own Wellbeing

On a personal level, I have found it so difficult to process the continuing and wilful ignorance around race. It is systemically and structurally ingrained in this country. 

That, alongside the events of Paris in May, was a catalyst to my own mental health challenges.

What sustains me, however, is waking up every morning with a purpose. I am committed to giving a voice to others, to giving hope by sharing my own experiences, to creating a better future for generations long after I have met my maker.

A very special moment

Speaking at the Mental Health Education Conference for the Ambulance Sector
Speaking at the Mental Health Education Conference for the Ambulance Sector

Perhaps the most special moment of the year was being asked to give a keynote at the Mental Health Education Conference for our magnificent Ambulance Services. Being able to share my story and recovery with them, and thank them for saving my life when I had given up on it in 2006, was truly powerful

I talked, this year, with lots of crowds but have always tried to remain rooted in humility and in God’s grace.

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you

The final few months of this year have been among the most difficult I have faced. For reasons which, rightly, remain in the workplace, I have found myself in an avalanche of self-doubt and truly feeling that everybody around me shared those doubts.

I have been physically injured for much of the year, after a torn achilles tendon, so the gift of running as a processing tool has been absent. And actually, when experiencing acute anxiety, my elevated heart rate makes running almost impossible. 

It’s felt crippling and, at times, I’ve barely been able to function. My wife has been a constant support and my church family have been steadfast in prayer, both of which are so appreciated. 

As alluded to earlier in this post, football is the one thing which has afforded constant respite, a few hours in which I am not torturing myself with crushing self-criticism at what has gone before and debilitating anxiety at what is to come in the days ahead. 

For those few precious and God sent hours, I’ve just been able to be, to feel like myself for a few fleeting moments.

In truth, it is others that have trusted me whilst all of the doubt has emanated from within. 

The last few weeks of the year have seen a respite and I go into 2023 feeling much more settled and calm about the road ahead.

Sunset over the Albert Bridge
The sun sets on 2022, and we focus on the beauty of what has gone before and the hope of what is to come

So there it is, the year in one page. Human nature has a sad inevitability of focusing on the negative instead of the positive, the despair instead of the hope. However, I leave a turgid year full of optimism for what lies ahead.

In writing this, I acknowledge that the year has been deeply challenging but I remain truly blessed to have my wife alongside me in that journey, to have the friends with whom I share so much, to have a purpose which guides me in a deep rooted desire for change.

I wish you all a wonderful 2023 ahead.

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