The Faith

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away.

You may or may not know that last August – coming up on a year ago now – I was admitted to a psych unit at 1 AM on a Sunday morning with my life, as it was, in tatters. My mental health had been deteriorating for a good long while at that point. I had been one of those “no fixed abode” people for a number of years up until late 2016 and when I think back to it, I had been heading down this road for a decade or more.

On that Saturday night/Sunday morning, I became aware that I couldn’t distinguish reality from delusion and almost every answer I knew up to that point became a question again. Who was I? What was I doing? Looking back now, I could see that the abnormal had become my normal over the last few years, with a variety of voices leading me to one catastrophe after another. If I had a problem in my life, a soothing, authoritative voice would tell me that all was OK and change my reality for me until the problem “went away”. I say “went away” but the problems didn’t really go away – they only got worse until they inevitably blew up in my face. Then, in the wreckage, a voice would tell me that everything was OK, even though it wasn’t and it never would be as long as I listened to that voice, whatever it sounded like this time.

I spent a number of weeks in that psych unit getting on a course of medication, untangling my head with doctors and, mostly, sitting on a bench outside looking up at foggy mountains and solitary gulls floating on salty columns of sea air. I got to think about those voices, as they told me on my batteryless phone that I should just get up and leave.

“This place is for crazy people,” the voice would say.

“And you’re not crazy.”

Thankfully, you couldn’t just walk out of that particular facility, or I probably would have become whoever I needed to be to walk out the door to my next catastrophe. I stayed. And I took my pills. And I spoke to the therapists. The psych unit was a break from the world and without the world to fight against, the voices started to get quieter. Then, after a while, they went away almost completely.

When I could tell what was real and what wasn’t, I became shocked by the mundanity of life. You’re telling me that you can just live life a week at a time without some disaster derailing you? Wow! My anti-psychotics and therapy ensured that became my life – mundane. Ordinary. No dramas.

My life was a mess, don’t get me wrong, and I’d dragged others into it through no fault of their own but at least this time I could start to pick up the wreckage without a voice leading me away to another fantasy world. Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

I was still working away during all of this. Doing podcasts, writing articles, writing shite about Intensity Stags on Twitter and you’d probably never have known what was going on once I closed the laptop. Social media is a managed reality, after all. I was starting to feel relatively normal again every day but the first time I felt properly normal was when I walked into Musgrave Park a few months after to cover a PRO14 game. I waved my pass at the security guy – I still didn’t have a lanyard after two years – and made my way to the media room and then to the stands.

The crowd. The noise. The game. The little waves and thumbs up from people I didn’t know and that I was pretty sure were real.

Then I could go home and lose myself in the detail of the game. Frame by frame, second by second, the game made more sense than anything else, win, lose or draw. I could work out why Munster would win on a Saturday in minute detail and then sit down with my therapist a few days later and bash my head against a wall, figuratively speaking. I only tried the literal version of that once, by the way, and I wouldn’t recommend it. But mundanity was there, and I enjoyed it. October, November, December, January – game, game, game, game and therapy. No voices, no drama.

Then, in March, the world locked down because of *checks notes* a pandemic like this was some kind of disaster movie? For someone with my condition, you can imagine my alarm. But no, it was all real, and I was left without the game, my crutch, indefinitely.

Seven hundred and eighty words in, I finally get to the rugby. We’ve all been locked away from the world over the last few months and rightfully so. We have lost people, we’ve watched funerals on Zoom, we’ve waved at grandparents through a pane of glass and we’ve sat on a bench looking at the foggy mountains. We’re starting to come out of lockdown now, slowly, carefully, and sport will slowly come with it. Rugby will be back soon too, hopefully, and with it that beautiful uncertainty that old games can never give you.

I’m never going to take it for granted ever again. You shouldn’t either. I know it can get a bit difficult to work up the motivation to get out of the house to go and watch a PRO14 game against a Dragons B team but it’s a journey I’m going to make every time if I can. I want to feel that energy again.

This is a great game we have and, in Munster, a great club. A proper club. I think all four provinces can say the same, not just about the provincial teams but the clubs that are dotted through our towns and cities. Everywhere you look, people are supporting these clubs that they love and the provincial sides are no different.

Munster a club that is worth supporting and that’s what people have been doing. The MRSC has made it possible for people to get refunded on their tickets for the remaining four home games of the 19/20 season but the Munster supporters have been giving it right back to the club en-masse. The same supporters have been signing up for the next season without knowing how that season will look in the ground. Munster is more than a club or a province; it’s a community.

There are big new players to be excited by. Exciting young players that look ready to break out. I’m even looking forward to the new European kit and allowing myself to imagine what Peter O’Mahony would look like with a trophy in his hands for a few seconds a day, as a treat.

We can get caught up in the minutiae of contracts and signings and patterns and expectations but I’m just looking forward to getting back into a stadium, sitting down and just looking around at the stands before a game kicks off. Just a game. That’s all I need.

I’ll see you there.