With FM17 top of my Christmas wish list, countdown the days with me as I set the groundwork for my latest jaunt into the digital domain of football management. Over the next few weeks in the run up to the big day I will run through the decision making process for starting a new game, with regular updates on my game to follow thereafter, all with a something of a twist.
Having played the series since its inception in 1992, the 2014-15 season represented a watershed moment in my relationship with Football Manager.
After years of starting, failing and rage quitting, playing FM came to feel like a mental test, one that I kept coming up painfully short in. But after the threads of my life started to unravel and I found myself first entering, and then emerging from, a stint in therapy to tackle depression and anxiety, I was inspired to try one last time.
I started at the bottom, prepared to learn and work my way up. And I blogged my way through the whole thing, charting not just the highs and lows in game but in my mood. How did FM influence my real life anxiety issues? How did they in turn influence FM? The save took me from the non-league to the Premier League, via the birth of my son and the death of my dad. It was the most rewarding save of FM I have ever played. My journey ended with a comfortable mid-table Premier League finish and a World Cup jaunt with the USA. I walked away a little wiser and a little happier.
I genuinely thought that might be the last time I played FM, what with family and other commitments becoming heavier. But after a two year break I decided the time was right to dive back in. Once again I will chart my journey via a blog, this time utilising a more structured format, with weekly updates on VG Almanac. But one thing that will not change will be my approach to writing. No filters, no editing, no holding back. This will be a story about my game for sure but it will once again play out against the background of my life and how mental illness can influence, and be influenced by, my videogame experiences.
As someone probably once said, you can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been.
I won’t trawl through my full mental history, although anyone with a desire to do so is very welcome to read the various blogs on my website. The short version is that after hitting the proverbial wall, I spent three months in therapy for depression and anxiety before emerging to find I had been made redundant. Thus began the challenge of reintegrating myself into the workplace whilst also trying to implement the behavioural changes and strategies I had been taught.
Three years on, I find myself in a complex place where I am both happy and yet in many ways more anxious than ever. My work life is settled if unspectacular. I occasionally find myself torn between a desire to push forward and a fear that holds me back. I feel both that I undervalue myself and yet am incapable of any more. My dreams remain unfulfilled, balanced against the fact that I am home in time for the kids to go to bed and leave the office behind me at 5 when I leave. Other complexities have emerged, including where I see myself fitting in, but ultimately I have come to the conclusion that it is the right place for me right now.
My home life has become more stressful as my children grow. Twins are inherently more difficult than a single child, something only parents of multiples can ever truly appreciate. Combined with the introduction of my boy going through the terrible two’s, the house sometimes feels like a soft play centre with three wailing banshees running wild. I continue to fall short of the unattainable parenting standard I set for myself, which perhaps only helps to fuel the anxiety cycle that I so often find myself pedalling. But no matter the stress, no matter how much I might lose my rag sometimes, I remind myself that this is the life I chose. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Anxiety remains a constant companion, that mate who always seems to turn up on the doorstep even when you don’t remember inviting him. Others would likely be surprised at the things that cause me genuine internal panic, masked by the calm façade that I attempt to maintain. A decision to go back onto antidepressants earlier this year was mine alone, as was the decision to seek some additional therapy sessions, and I take comfort from my ability to assess my mood and take proactive action.
Life is a journey, an ongoing series of lessons with homework every day. My last FM session taught me that I was flexible, adaptable and more capable than I realised, something that seeps into and derives from my real life experiences. FM also caused me to question who I was, how I define myself. And these are issues I continue to wrestle with.
I enter FM17 then in some ways anxious yet at the same time a little more prepared, a little more confident and feeling ready to face down the challenges that may come my way.
In the next instalment we explore the crippling anxiety that comes with the simple act of deciding which team to manage.