I started playing cricket at the age of 7 as we lived local to a cricket club. At the age of 11 I first represented Lancashire U11s; also on the team was Andrew Flintoff known as Freddie. I progressed through the age groups U15s, U16s and U19s by the age of 17. I also played for Lancashire U25s when we played against India U19s as well as all over the country. My parents had separated when I was 7 and I moved in with my Mum and Stepfather; my stepfather was very keen for me to succeed with Cricket and I put all my effort into becoming a professional cricketer, taking days off school to play and watch Cricket and putting my education to one side which isn’t a good thing.

My parents were very pushy and put a lot of pressure on me to succeed which made me very anxious and increased my anxiety when it came to playing at a high level. This is probably why I sometimes under- performed because of the stress to succeed. Some matches I remember being sick before the game because of the pressure. I used to practise all day every day to be the best I possibly could be. In January 1997, at the age of 19, I had a trial for Sussex CCC to be a professional and then was asked to play in the 2nd XI for the coming season. Three months later I suffered a back injury during training caused by mixed action. I had to have surgery on 2 bulging disks, which pressed on my sciatic nerve; I was bedridden for 6 months feeling like a failure and as if my life had been ruined.

I was given strong drugs to stop the pain and I became addicted to Codeine. It’s highly addictive and I was taking more than I should with alcohol every day. The first operation which I had in Hope hospital in 1997 wasn’t successful; I was still in pain, addicted to painkillers and drinking heavily to cope. In September 1998 I had my second operation and they said I would not be able to bowl again as my back was too weak. I was a medium fast bowler and opening batsman. All my life I had tried to be a professional and my life came crashing down on me. No job prospects and no more cricket; what was I going to do?

When I was 23, I went into coaching which provided another career path. Whilst coaching for Lancashire I did my level 1 and Level 2 coaching qualifications; I coached in schools all over the county and had my own coaching business, but I was still addicted to painkillers and drinking heavily. At 25 I got a job as Rochdale Cricket Development Officer whilst working for Lancashire and having my own cricket coaching business. 

In October the same year (2001) I went for my level 3 coaching qualification but failed because my communication skills weren’t up to scratch even though my knowledge was spot on. It was at this time that I realised something wasn’t right with my mind; I wasn’t sleeping and was going for long walks in the night as well as experiencing panic attacks overwhelmed by feelings of failure again. I started becoming delusional and extremely paranoid; in January 2002 I had a breakdown and wanted to kill myself.

I couldn’t take anymore and had a psychotic episode for which I was admitted to psychiatric hospital. I was in hospital for 6 weeks under section as I was suicidal and therefore considered to be a harm to myself and couldn’t return to work until September that year. On return to work I suffered bullying and discrimination at the hands of my boss which further compounded my mental health issues and low self-esteem following my breakdown.

Road to recovery

Through a combination of treatments and therapies including medication I began the slow but steady journey to recovery. Due to the effects of the strong medication I was prescribed my energy levels and motivation were low; I was unable to return to work until September 2004 when I began a part time job with Asda but began coaching Junior Club Cricket in January 2003. I gradually built up my confidence and amount of coaching over the years alongside my job at Asda, gaining a reputation as Head Coach for juniors and seniors at many clubs across Greater Manchester, including more recently clubs in the Lancashire and Greater Manchester League.

I have coached in schools for Lancashire as part of the ‘Chance to Shine’ initiative and have been Head Coach for the Lancashire Visually Impaired team since 2015, during which time they were winners of the National Blind League and runners up in the 20/20 cup competition. 

In 2011 a long -term relationship ended which led to a partial relapse for which I needed extra support from mental health professionals. I had never lived on my own and this was a huge transitional step for me which actually became a positive in terms of my recovery. I found an apartment in Manchester which I furnished to my taste and learnt how to cook (microwave meals for a while!), clean, use the washing machine and care for my own mental and physical health. I stopped smoking and joined the gym and as a result was able to decrease my medication which increased my energy and motivation.

I have noticed that exercise and diet have a significant effect on my mental health and quality of life; when I go to the gym regularly, go for walks outside and eat well, my symptoms of anxiety and depression improve a lot. I have also found that lifestyle choices and relationships significantly impact recovery; meeting my partner (soon to be wife) and becoming part of a church community with friends who don’t judge and offer support and encouragement has further improved my mental health; my confidence and self-esteem are much better now that I am not trying to make up for my lost cricket career and sense of failure that left me with.

I am no longer surrounding myself with material things and attracting shallow relationships in the pursuit of the ‘celebrity’ lifestyle. The bitterness and loss I carried with me is gradually disappearing as I become ‘comfortable in my own skin’. In spite of all I have been through I am proud of the fact that I have achieved so much and that I am well respected as a high level coach in the game that I love; I am far from being the failure that I felt for so long and last week I finally passed my Level 3 Coaching Course which is opening up even more doors for me. 

Never give up because sometimes your biggest challenges lead to your greatest achievements. There is hope even in the darkest of situations! 

Feel free to contact me if you want to talk about anything you’ve read in my post at lexcricket30@sky.com

Alex