Trigger warning: contains mentions of mental health conditions, self-harm and suicide.
While being branded a ‘d*ckhead’ would be an insult for many, for Matty Dixon it was an indication that there was no reason he should have hidden his depression; after years of struggling, it was not something that needed to be kept secret.
The former rugby player started suffering and self-harming at 17 years old, but was in his mid-to-late 20s before he accepted he might need help. Even then, he did not acknowledge how ‘serious it was’ for a few years.
Matty was ‘not under any unique stress’, and despite being a rugby player he describes himself as someone who would ‘never play sports in front of thousands’. He has a ‘great life’ with ‘excellent opportunities’, and on the surface looks every bit like ‘someone you would never think could be depressed’. But he was.
The fact is, everyone can experience mental health issues, even if they’re to varying degrees. However, Matty struggled to accept this at first and felt a ‘huge amount of shame’ around his feelings, questioning why he felt the way he did when he would look around to see people ‘going through much bigger hardships’ than he was.
This shame led to Matty hiding his depression for years – something that only made it worse. In an effort to cope with his mental health issues, Matty found himself comfort eating, binge drinking and ‘being a total c*ck womble’ to people as he fought to push them away, rather than letting them see the truth.
Matty also continued to self-harm, and planned taking his own life in ‘a lot of detail’. After spending his 20s in turmoil, he reached a fork in the road and thought: ‘I either get help or I won’t be around much longer.’
Speaking to UNILAD, Matty explained: ‘I felt that I had sunk so far, I felt so lost, so empty that it was either seek help or ultimately [take my own life].’
The 36-year-old committed to a week at a mental health retreat to try and begin his recovery, and in the years since has managed to gain better control of his emotions and understand what causes the extreme highs and lows of his feelings. The ‘best thing’ he ever did, though, was to share his feelings with others.
By opening up, Matty found that he established opportunities to check in with others, and for them to check in with him.
It was in sharing his experience that he also received his favourite response from a friend at rugby, who looked him ‘dead in the eye’ and said ‘you d*ckhead’.
Matty explained: ‘His attitude was that this is not something to hide, and I should have said something years ago, he had no idea but only wanted to help. That honestly is my favourite response. He still checks in on me. And he still calls me a d*ckhead.’
The 36-year-old, who is the founder of Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing brewery, stressed the importance of people finding what works for them when dealing with mental health issues, but expressed belief that sharing with others allows you to ‘take ownership of your own mental state’.
For Matty, this led to him feeling as though he ‘no longer needed someone to make [himself] whole, either as a friend or partner’, as he could do this himself.
Despite male suicide rates being higher than female, unfortunately there is still a stigma for men about opening up and sharing their feelings.
Matty has acknowledged that there is a ‘societal attitude that you should ‘man up’ emotionally at rugby’. However, thankfully he found that he largely had a different experience when faced with his fellow players.
I think perhaps there could have been a bit more emotional understanding, but as much as I feel some clubs used me and left me on the heap and never considered the players’ emotions, I also met some of the most wonderful and supportive people.
One of my teammates was [the one] who pushed me to the retreat. Another teammate had perhaps the most eye-opening response which might show how, I think, the stigma around rugby clubs does not reflect the players as people.
After speaking openly about his experiences, Matty was invited in 2019 to lead a TED Talk at the London Business School.
In his speech, which has now been viewed by millions, the former rugby player mentions how owning your emotions can help you avoid using other people as ‘crutches’, though he has also stressed there is ‘no shame in being vulnerable or crying, no matter your gender, physical stature or any other aspect of yourself’.
He recalled crying ‘loads’ while playing rugby as a child, and ‘just as much’ in his car when he was an adult, commenting: ‘As an adult, crying did not make my penis vanish or make me soft.’
In a bid to move away from stigmas around mental health, Matty believes we need to make ‘sharing emotions normal’, with small steps such as asking people how they are and ‘not accepting ‘just okay’ as a response’.
‘If you are struggling, please, please find someone you can share with,’ Matty said. ‘I lost no mates from sharing. I have made new friends by doing it. I have had some incredible conversations as you find that as you share, people share back. It is truly joyful to connect with people and their true selves.’
Mental health charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness support Matty’s advice with Time to Talk Day, which takes place today, February 3. The charities stress that ‘conversations have the power to change lives’, and allow people to ‘feel empowered to seek help when we need it’.
After having found coping methods that worked for him, Matty has managed to avoid self-harming since 2019. He has ‘had the urge’ and has ‘certainly had some extremely dark days’, but has found that one of the most useful things he does now is recognise when he is ‘getting locked on to a negative path’ and try to articulate how he feels, as well as taking time for himself to explore his feelings.
Matty doesn’t believe he will ever be ‘truly’ free of depression, but he knows that it is possible to overcome. He never had a ‘specific story or reason’ for his feelings, and he believes this is why so many people can relate to his experience. While on his journey, he hopes that he can inspire others to take their first steps, too.
If you’re experiencing distressing thoughts and feelings, the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is there to support you. They’re open from 5pm–midnight, 365 days a year. Their national number is 0800 58 58 58 and they also have a webchat service if you’re not comfortable talking on the phone
If you’ve been affected by any of these issues and want to speak to someone in confidence, please don’t suffer alone. Call Samaritans for free on their anonymous 24-hour phone line on 116 123
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