Mental Health Awareness Week: Anxiety and the Toronto Raptors

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. Anyone and everyone can be affected and suffer from mental illness.

Sadly, most people suffer in silence. I was such a person, until January this year, where I finally admitted I was suffering with a problem that needed urgent medical help. That problem was anxiety.

I am currently on the path to getting my illness under control. Here is the story of my struggles, and how the NBA has helped during dark times.

Waking up in the early hours of the morning is a pain in the backside that many NBA UK fans are familiar with. However, for me, waking up at such an early hour was not fun (no, I am not a Knicks fan!).

It is Monday afternoon; I have had a difficult and draining day at work. A day in an office where no one knows how I am feeling. The constant fear of having a panic attack leads to a horrible anxious feeling, which inevitably turns into a panic attack. It is a vicious cycle. After I battle through a tough day, I face a horrendous commute home, via a crowded and uncomfortable train service. All I can think about is bed. My safe place. No matter where or what I do, I feel anxious. I feel a desperate need to escape the situation. Except for when I am in bed.

After suffering an hour or so commute home, where I constantly feel on edge, in panic and have a terrible feeling I’m about to faint, I finally find the energy to get showered and get something to eat (even though I have little appetite). At last, I can get to bed. Safety. Or is it?

Back to the familiar feeling UK fans will know all too well – waking up in the early hours of the morning. However, this is not through choice. My alarm has not rudely awakened me, so I can watch the first game in a play off series. I have awoken in a panic. My heart and mind race. There is no immediate danger, but my mind will not shut off. Racing. Constant. Thoughts.

Thoughts that something terrible is about to happen. Damn. Yet another panic attack. At its worst, I cannot control it. My panic intensifies, my heart rate increases, I feel out of control, I feel as though I am about to pass out, and the feeling of the need to escape the situation becomes unbearable, to the point where I feel have no choice but to seek help, and go to A and E. Which has happened on four separate occasions.


The above story became an almost daily routine. The new normality, after suffering my first panic attack in June 2017. Unfortunately, I bottled these feelings of anxiety up. I ‘manned up’ and carried on with my life for a further two years. A massive mistake. Please do not repeat the same mistake I made.

This is where basketball comes in. During times of anxiety or panic, basketball was so often a welcome distraction. When my body would awaken me there was nothing to do.

I flick on the TV and cycle the channels. A basketball game live on Sky – I have always liked basketball. I had been to the Nuggets v Pacers matchup at the O2, London in the January before my first panic attack, and I had loosely followed the Toronto Raptors for years. Which mostly meant I would pick them on NBA 2K games because I love dinosaurs, and I love the retro purple jersey!

At this point of my life, I had not watched a single NBA game on TV. My only experience of watching a full game was at that Nuggets v Pacers match at the O2.

Watching a live basketball match at 2am in the morning would be enough of a distraction to calm me down and take my mind away from the initial panic. Every time I would wake up in the early hours, I would watch live basketball until my panic and anxiety passed. After watching basketball on Sky Sports over several weeks, I eventually took the decision to sign up to the NBA League pass.

Initially I signed up for the team only option to watch only the Raptors. From that moment I became hooked on basketball. I would eventually upgrade my subscription to the full league pass so I could watch all NBA games.

I would often log on to Twitter and scroll down my news feed, sparking and joining in conversations with like-minded basketball fans, which engrossed me enough to forget why I was wide awake during the early hours. I eventually joined a Raptors UK Facebook group, and later a WhatsApp group.

Chatting to Raptors fans during live games was not just a distraction, it was enjoyable and fun. It was not long before watching basketball as a distraction, became a genuine passion and hobby. I fell in love with the sport.

In the space of just under three years, I have gone from having a passing interest in the NBA, to considering basketball as my favourite sport. I watch NBA daily. I cannot get enough. I would not go as far as to say that basketball saved me, or anything so clichéd, but it certainly eased the intensity of feelings.

It was enough of a distraction to be able to tackle my anxiety in the short term. It gave me a sense of purpose. Ultimately, as a result, I have joined an amazing community of NBA UK fans.

Going back to my personal story; after 2 and half years of suffering, in silence, I drunkenly tweeted for help. I had broken down, after a few Saturday beers. In hindsight it was an embarrassing Tweet, but it was that cry for help that motivated me to get the help I needed. The messages and support I received in response to that Tweet were incredible. The support really lifted me.

It is amazing how many people genuinely care, and it is also amazing at how many people have suffered in one way or another with some form of mental battle. I booked an appointment with my local GP, and I am currently on medication.

This is nothing to be ashamed of. Being on medication has given me the strength to tackle this illness. Without seeking help at the beginning of January this year, I would not have had the strength to attend the NBA UK fans meet up that was held at Walkabout, Birmingham, in February, to meet with fellow NBA fans and talk about our passion.

To you, the reader, my challenge is to make effort during this week, and beyond, to spark a conversation. With anybody. Have you got a friend you have not spoken to for a while? Is there somebody that is unusually quiet? See a random NBA tweet from a stranger. Talk to them. The current lock-down situation represents a difficult challenge for us all. It is a lonely place, especially as much of the population are forced into isolation, and people will be at their most vulnerable, mentally.

As this article is loosely based around basketball, why don’t you ask somebody who their favourite NBA mascot is? Who their all-time favourite player is? If they do not follow basketball, send them highlights of Caruso dunking. Anything! Be as random as you like! Get talking! If you are suffering in silence. Please ask for help. Reach out in any way you can.

Talking about your problem helps, but it does not solve the problem. Please book a GP appointment ASAP and get the medical help that you need. In the short term, the NHS website has some excellent content, which I would urge you to use. Asking for help, is the light bulb moment. It is the best thing I could have done. It is the single most important thing anyone can do, who is suffering in silence. The aim of me writing this is to get through to anyone, to help them fight a battle they are losing. You cannot deal with this on your own. It is okay not to be okay.

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2 Comments

  1. Great stuff Josh, having written some blogs on my own struggles with mental health I know how hard and vulnerable writing about it can feel. But ultimately a shared story can help more people than you’ll ever know.

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