I just loved this programme, a mix of nostalgia and stories of sport and resilience. I laughed, I cried, and I now can’t get the John Barnes rap out of my head again (which I’d only just got out of my head from the world cup). It raised many interesting topics to discuss but for me the person that resonated with me, and who I wanted to write a post about was the wonderful Paul Merson.
Seeing Paul Merson in the back of the taxi saying how hard he is finding life in that moment was incredibly tough to watch. I always had a soft spot for Paul and that’s not changed, the way he spoke about his addiction and the subsequent mental health issues that came alongside it, made me feel incredibly protective. It can’t have been easy for Paul to talk about that on camera and to his friends, showing your vulnerability is incredibly brave. It’s also incredibly important.
Watching how shocked Robbie and David were when they realised their friend was still struggling is a response felt by many. We keep our feelings locked away to protect ourselves from being hurt by other people’s responses and opinions; I know I have certainly found that difficult over the years.
There have been times I have chosen to ‘open up’ only to backtrack and disconnect myself when that response was not what I needed. Now nobody is a mind reader, “how am I supposed to know what you needed?”, would probably be old friends’ responses, but when you’ve disclosed things to people in the past for it to be made very clear that they don’t believe you, or to feel they are judging you, then it becomes much easier to keep things locked away; It feels safer. This is where we can ALL make a difference, because here’s the good news, you don’t have to fix anything for anyone, that’s not possible, you just need to listen with an open heart and with empathy.
Research tell us that judgement felt from disclosure can keep people silent for years. YEARS. DECADES. Think of all that locked up pain and how destructive it is. Vulnerability is brave both from our children and from other adults and it should be given the respect it deserves. How we react to that vulnerability from our children sets them up for the years ahead - do we want them to lock things away, or do we want them to feel safe and brave enough to not use the key? Tantrums, behaviour, meltdowns – how do you respond to that representation of vulnerability?
I have a feeling I would be in the same position as Robbie and David with some of my friends, I’m sure I don’t know their true feelings sometimes, but I want to. I really want to. I promise I won’t try and fix anything, you’re not broken, you’re human with human experiences and I will meet you with an open heart and ear. I will not judge, I will not scold, I will keep your confidence and I will only advise if advice is asked for. I know how valuable that has been to me. I have one friend who I felt safe enough to be totally vulnerable with and I’m so grateful; vulnerability takes away shame, shame is destructive, shame can kill, whilst vulnerability can help forge a pathway of healing.
So, it’s OK to not be OK? Show it.
Paul Merson, I thank you for showing us your vulnerability, for showing us the importance of getting things out of our head; I think you’re awesome and I walk that virtual path with you my friend - OK he’s not my friend but I really wish he was!