The battle with yourself

For the past 20 years of my life, every week has been built around watching my rugby team.

In many ways, it was virtually the only routine I had in my life from when I quit my job to set up my business in 2010, which gave me the flexibility to work how and when I wanted. I have previously written about how I’d sacrificed my professional career to follow my team.

Like many others, it’s now been eight months since I was able to do that. Although I’m not the most sociable person, there is something comforting about going to the same place and seeing the same faces, safe in the knowledge that they’re sharing your emotions and interest.

2020, frustratingly, was meant to be the year I moved forward after finding stability in 2019. My life was turned upside down in 2015 for a variety of reasons. I had been battling depression and anxiety for a year or so before that, ironically my extensive work with the mental health charity State of Mind, and sitting through many hours of operational board meetings, made me realise how affected by it I was.

Through a whirlwind of life events, bad decisions and mistakes, I lost friendships and work relationships. My business fell in to debt, and I was even advised at one point to write it off and shut the company down. But no matter how low I was, I wanted to do what was right by the people that were owed money and the resilience to do that kept me going. It’s ironic that now that’s passed, my reason for being with regards to work has become blurred.

The impact of other people shouldn’t be underestimated either. I’m not sure whether it’s because I work in the media, but I have been a victim of completely unsubstantiated and defamatory rumours about why I left a role; while a so-called “legend” of rugby league that I had never met before, text me out of the blue with abuse and quite personal comments saying “he knew all about me and my ways” just because of comments left by other people on a Facebook page I run. To be faced with those situations alone, in the supposed sanctuary of your own home, is quite disconcerting. Even people disconnecting from you simply because you’ve left a role or a client hurts too, because immediately your thought is “what have I done wrong” and the subsequent paranoia.

You’re told not to compare yourself to others on social media, especially when it comes to people posting in a positive life. But it almost feels like second nature to play down your own thoughts and troubles, because everyone else, literally in the world, is going through something right now.

Though 2020 hasn’t been great for anyone, I have been fortunate in some ways. Although I lost my first planned holiday for four years, work remained relatively stable – even through a period of furlough. In fact, the only real impact on work has only been felt since the start of second lockdown. I am in fact so grateful for non-league football continuing, as it has been the only real opportunity to get out and feel “normal”.

My auntie passed away in April. I wish I could go back and watch more tennis with her, or spend more time getting to know about what was going on so I could have more in-depth conversations about it with her. The first lockdown meant eight weeks without having my son too, which of course had a detrimental impact on my mental health.

The reset of normal life caused a relapse with my depression and anxiety, and after many weeks of fighting it, I reluctantly made the choice to return to anti-depressants as the only way to make it through the day (I should thank Justin Moorhouse, Young Kenny of Phoenix Nights fame, for a tweet about his own experiences which finally pushed me over the edge to return some 12 months or so after I had been able to give them up)

As a man, you’re expected to be strong, fearless and know your place in the world. Very rarely have I felt any of those things.

I always wanted to be a sports journalist growing up. I managed to achieve that. I set up Love Rugby League at the age of 17 with the dream of running it full-time, I achieved that. But now I’m lost. I don’t know what the next step is or what to aim for. As you go in to your 30s, you’re just expected to have that all in hand. Nobody else is going to shape your destiny or paint your picture. Gone is your “potential”, now you’ve just got to get on with it. For me, getting on with it has led to chronic overthinking, imposter syndrome and doubt. An endless, daily battle. That has led to me stalling, sitting on my hands, not putting myself out there through fear; no confidence in what I can do, and what I know and whether I’m doing things right.

There’s the constant worry over whether you’re doing enough to stay healthy, be it fitness or eating, and even doing the very basics of day to day life. Height (lack of!) has always been an issue and now weight is too!

It’s so frustrating feeling this way. Life on paper is great. I feel guilty because there shouldn’t be anything wrong with me. I work in sport, I’m not going in to burning buildings or working 12 hour shifts. I have a secure and stable home.

Rugby league is a frustrating sport to work in at times, especially as I’ve got to the stage where there’s only so many times you can write about “revolution”. Everyone has their opinions on the way the game should be, and I suppose part of my frustration is borne out of not being able to truly influence it moving forward. I’ve taken some time off recently to try and refocus.

I’m not sure why I have written this. Perhaps there are other people going through the same struggles that may find solace in knowing they are not alone.

I’d also recommend reading this on existential depression.

“All you have to do is find a way to stop placing so much emphasis on the need to do something, be someone, or feel something.”

As ever, my DMs on Twitter are open or you can email me

4 thoughts to “The battle with yourself”

  1. Quite a read James and what a brave thing to do. I can imagine you sitting there should I, shouldn’t I and then hitting that button to open up your soul! Absolutely well done, I for one appreciate you doing just that and want to say a huge thank you for sharing what is a very hard time in your life.
    Keep doing what you do and remember success comes in many guises, this being one of them x

  2. A really brave piece that I hope you are proud to have been able to write. We havent met and almost certainly never will but your piece is uplifting and inspiring.
    I hope that you have the support you need (that everyone needs) and that you are strong enough to realise that often the most unpleasant people you come across, are actually hiding from their own problems. They are unpleasant to others because it gets them through their lives.

    With best wishes

  3. Hi James,

    I’m not sure if you’ll have any distant memory of me but I completed a short work experience with you a long time ago (Maybe 2012?)

    I have followed your career since and, although I switched paths in life and became a primary school teacher, I still find it very interesting in looking at the world of sports journalism from the outside.

    I just wanted to say that the article you have written here is very brave and so important. I’d like to congratulate you for writing it. As a budding sports journalist, I looked up to you in a big way. You were basically living my dream. And I’m sure you’ve always lived yours too.

    You spoke about having a fear of putting yourself out there and a fear of not having confidence to be you. I think I can safely say that many, many males (including myself) feel exactly the same way. I struggle with putting myself out there as I’m always in fear of not being good enough to achieve something but also not being worthy of connection with other people. I stumbled across a video about the power of vulnerability. Here is the link for it – – it changed how I thought about life and it made me realise that being vulnerable allows you to be creative. I hope this can help you too.

    I just wanted to reach out to you to say that, even though I will feel like a stranger to you, I am a pretty normal guy and if you ever would like a different opinion on life or just a chat, my emails are always open (

    I think the business you created is brilliant and I can’t wait to hear about the things you achieve with it over the coming years. If you ever need any help with any projects, I still hold a passion in sports writing and would be happy to help you where I can.

    Take care.


    1. Hi Elliott,

      Thanks for taking the time to send a message! Yes, I do remember you. I like to think I remember everyone who comes in to the office!

      Good luck with the career. You should take solace in the fact that you’re adding to society – sometimes I feel a little bit like writing about sport doesn’t quite give you that satisfaction!

      We’ll definitely have to catch up soon when life allows.


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