Rich Gilchrist’s Story

My symptoms began to manifest when I was much younger, when my family was living in Leicester. I’d always feel uncomfortable in social situations; I suppose I may have been a little autistic. I was referred to CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services), but I didn’t want to feel different or singled out. The older I got, the more my social anxiety would increase. After leaving school, I was trying out different jobs. But it was difficult to get any sort of mental health support or guidance while you were working 9 till 5, and I was also trying my best to lead a ‘normal life.’ Then, aged 17, I made a far-reaching decision: the best way to confront my issues was simply to run away from them. I decided to see the world.


I travelled around the world and lived abroad, in Australia, Italy, Spain, and China. I did all this on my own, getting jobs here and there; in China, I taught English as a foreign language. Returning to England to live in London, I had a breakdown and was hospitalised. I didn’t really appreciate the full extent of my issues until I was in my 20s. You sometimes only get help once you’ve reached extremes, where you’ve become a danger to yourself through self-harming, or your crazy thoughts are spiralling out of control. You need to hit rock bottom before you can start coming up again. But the staff with the NHS, other mental health service providers, and voluntary organisations, were all brilliant.


Since childhood, I have experienced a series of traumas, but it was a while until I realised I needed help. I did get counselling, but this was about how to process experiences and the problem I was trying to cope with had been out with my control. But one flashback would be enough to ruin my day. I was given Prozac but, again, I didn’t want to be ‘different,’ and rely on medication. I did get jobs here and there, but these were only temporary distractions from anxiety, depression, and self-sabotage. Then, I had my first real onset of psychosis. I started having premonition dreams warning me about negative things that were going to happen, and the exact conversations I’d have. I believed higher powers were controlling my thoughts.


The peak of my psychosis began when I moved here. Alongside seeing doppelgangers of deceased family members and people from my past, when I was working in a charity shop before Covid, this woman I only saw for one day said “I work here, you don’t see me, but I work here.” I never saw her again, which made it even weirder. Other instances included: animals and insects giving me signs or acting out messages for me, people muttering answers under their breath to whatever I was thinking (it was like they were involved and responding to my thoughts), and people coughing instructions at me, which reached a crescendo at Waverley Station when I nearly lost it.


After the worst of these symptoms had subsided, I started to try and get my life back. When it became accessible again after Covid, I went back to my first love, football. My love for the beautiful game had started when I was about nine, with Leicester City. The late 90s were a great period to be a City fan. Martin O’Neill got us promoted to the Premier League in his first season and won two League Cups, leading to European football. But then the travel bug got to me. Wherever I went, I found myself visiting the local stadiums and attending matches. I chose quantity over quality and thereby lost my club. My family have always travelled up and down to Scotland; I had grandparents in Morningside and Glasgow. My cousins and aunties in the west were diehard Celtic fans and assumed I would be. But I’ve always been drawn to underdogs! Down south, even although my grandma bought me an England kit for my 9th birthday, Scotland were in my blood. My mum’s friend in Glasgow took me to Celtic’s so-called ‘Paradise’ for a league game against Killie. I stifled a cheer when Ally McCoist scored the winner for the away side! My Scottish team were always Hibs.


I’d another aunt who lived in Brunswick Street and during one visit I remember the old Easter Road floodlights like a beacon at the end of her street, and seeing the famous green-painted corrugated iron main stand from Arthur’s Seat. In England, you were deprived of Scottish coverage on mainstream TV or radio, but you got good games on Sky. I’d be glued to matches involving Mixu Paatelainen, Russell Latapy, and David Zitelli. I’ve tried to watch or at least listen to every Scotland international since we qualified for Euro 96. As mentioned, during my travels I have visited some of the most renowned stadiums in the world. These included the Nou Camp Millenium Stadium, and San Siro, but it wasn’t until 2018 that I went to my first games at Easter Road and Hampden. I had saved the best till last.


Last autumn, I was Googling ‘walking football’ when I came across an advert for Changing Room. During the 12-week programme there was walking football, a ‘walk and talk’ around the pitch, quizzes, and special guests. Participants would find a safe environment at the stadium where they could meet others who’d had their own mental health issues. This sounded really interesting, so I went along. Immediately, I found myself amongst like-minded guys who, unlike my dad’s generation, were prepared to share traumatic stories.


I still have daily struggles. But whenever I feel at a dead end, I’ll always look forward to Hibs and The Changing Room. Reading Paul and Neil’s frank testimonies on the Hibs Community Foundation (HCF) website was so empowering. Neil contrasting where he was 10 years ago with how he is now, volunteering with The Changing Room and HCF, has given me the impetus to think: I can get through the low spells. Realising I’ve missed out on so much, I’m taking the bull by the horns. I’m keen to socialise – The Changing Room has shown me I do like being around people and introduced a whole new network of friends. After the HCF began offering the occasional free ticket at Changing Room sessions, I was encouraged to buy my first Easter Road season ticket.


Hibs Social Social Post


Hibs are much more than a football club. We’re a community. What the Foundation are doing, hosting The Changing Room, the SOS meetings (monthly drop-ins run by HCF volunteers), and offering free lunches, are all part of this. It’s great that players are involved, Joe Newell and David Marshall helping with free Christmas meals, and David joining the HCF Board. It was also empowering meeting guys from different Changing Rooms – Rangers, Killie, Aberdeen, Montrose, Greenock Morton, Hearts, Dundee United, and others – at the alumni event at Hampden last October. And The Changing Room Extra Time has encouraged me keep focusing on my wellbeing. My whole outlook has changed. Football will always be my first love, and that’s been enhanced since joining The Changing Room.


Words by Rich Gilchrist