On World Mental Health Day, Steve Carroll explains how golf saved him from some personal battles
I can’t exactly remember the day – what I can perfectly recall is the feeling of despair.
I’d woken unable to lift my head off the pillow and the bland cream walls of the doctor’s surgery only added to the gloom.
In hindsight, this was a crash that had been building for months. I’d been a fixture of the practice waiting room, rushing to and fro for all kinds of fiddly things that had always seemed like crises at the time.
I once spent three days hooked up to a portable ECG machine. The specialists were trying to work out why I’d suddenly wake in the night gasping for breath and with a heart rate soaring past 200 beats a minute.
That had been unsettling when it merely happened once in a while. When it became every night it was terrifying. The medics were as confused as I was.
A World Health Organisation study has estimated that some three million people in the UK suffer with an anxiety disorder of some kind. Even though they are things no one ever seems to want to discuss, when you do start opening up you find you are never alone.
Panic would strike me with no warning. Location wasn’t a barrier.
Once, in the middle of a simple haircut, I freaked, drenching the seat with sweat – ticking the seconds off the clock on the wall and praying for an exit.
I went through therapy to learn coping mechanisms but one thing above all helps me keep the fear under control. Golf has transformed my life.
Last year, the first International Congress on Golf and Health was held in London, outlining the latest research in a project that various bodies, including the R&A, have been backing for several years.
Even if you didn’t know that was going on, you may well have heard some of the headlines. The most interesting was the revelation from Dr Andrew Murray, chief medical officer for the European Tour, that playing regular rounds could put as many as five extra years on your life.
The power of golf, though, lies not just in its ability to make us physically fitter and healthier. The study is now looking at the effects playing the sport can have on anxiety, depression and general well-being.
I suspect those of us who play frequently already know many of the answers.
There’s something completely calming about being in a big green space, focusing on nothing more than a swing and the contact of club on ball.
My troubles have always melted away in that environment and I’ve been able to find some order in the chaos of modern living. I realise that’s hardly a scientific analysis.
It’s also a work in progress. People often ask me if I’m fixed – like I’m a car that’s been taken in to have some work done. The reality, of course, is much more complex.
Some days are better than others. I still have attacks of anxiety, a familiar pressure in my chest and nights when I jolt upright from a slumber wondering where the hell I am and why my heart is leaping out of my chest.
But they are now as infrequent as they were once constant. I no longer dread going to sleep.
Even so, the pressures of life sometimes feel like they will overwhelm me. And asking for help has always been the hardest thing. It has always felt like failure. I am getting better at it.
The difference now, as we mark World Mental Health Day, is I am able to recognise when the clouds are starting to form. I can at least acknowledge the fog and try to do something about it.
For me, that release can continue to be something as simple as getting out on the course.
Because I know what golf has done to put me on an even keel and I cherish the time I spend playing. I never take it for granted. I never will.