Wrestling with Mental Health

Last year I wrote a very personal piece about myself and a battle with mental health. Those that know me, know that I don’t like to talk about my personal life but my wife told me that I needed to let the world know how wrestling helped me in the days after my brother’s death.

Over the past few months I’ve seen people get bashed online for saying how wrestling helped their mental health during their personal dark times. Narrow minded individuals saying things like “how can a fake sport help out mental health problems, you know it’s fake right” etc etc.

Well, I don’t care much about bashing. People doing the bashing, and the negativity that comes with it. So here is not only how wrestling got me through and continues to get me through dark times, but how the boys and girls at the SEPW Academy and my ever loving family helped me in ways they’ve never known. Until now.

My story revolves around my local promotion where I cut my teeth as a ring announcer, SEPW. At the time we were close to our first ever Academy student show and my official debut. And this is my tale.

There will always be two dates in the month of March that will be forever etched in my mind. Two dates that will always make this month bittersweet. Those dates are the 14th and 19th March.

Late in 2016, SEPW officials decided that as the Academy was doing really well and the students were coming along great, that there would be a one-off show. An event featuring just us Academy members. Yours truly would be MC’ing the show, ring announcing.

On March 19th at our spiritual home in Hawkinge I would be trusted with a live mic, introducing the wrestlers and entertaining the crowd for two and a half hours at Hustle & Heart – What had SEPW management let themselves in for?

The week running up to the show was full of excitement and trepidation in my household. Was I good enough, did I deserve the spot, should I get myself new gear to wear? Because you know, wrestlers have their gear and I was no different. I wanted to look “smart” 😉

Ok ok, I’m an MC not a talent but I needed to look professional and look the part. It was my official debut and something I had been dreaming about for over 30 years, and in my mind everything had to be perfect.

So on March 14th, 2017 I went and bought a new suit, I found my trusty favorite shoes and even dug out my lucky draws (yup super lucky draws, just ask the wife 😉 ). All of this was a full five days before the show. I was ready. I was born ready for the moment. I had even received the run sheet (the itinerary of the day of the event) and the butterflies were fluttering around in my belly already. Ever get so excited that you feel sick? You can’t wait for something so much that you’re heart beats so fast, so quick, just at the mere thought of it?

Luckily my day job took my mind off the excellent performance( or shower of shit, the jury was still out) I was about to give on that Sunday. I had a shift at work to do after purchasing my wrestling gear, so off I went to work, and take my mind off the 19th.

The shift went super quick and yes I spent the entire time thinking about how Sunday was going to go. Not gonna lie, I’ve never been more nervous about anything in my life. And I’m a guy that never turned back to watch his future wife walk down the aisle to him in fear of passing out from nerves.

It was as I was leaving work that afternoon that not only did the month of March changed forever, but my life changed forever too. I had 5 missed calls and a voicemail from a close family member. Now this family member never rings me unless something was wrong.

I listened to the voicemail and I was asked to ring back as soon as I could, but the tone of the message was ominous. Knowing then that something terrible had happened. I called them back as soon as I got outside my workplace. Unfortunately, I was right, but I’ve never wanted to be more wrong in my life….

My younger brother had passed away the night before. Died in his sleep. No pain or suffering. A gentle way to go. He was 29.

My brother, Matt, and I hadn’t spoken in seven years. We fell out due to a stupid petty family squabble and lost seven years of our lives together. I didn’t believe it at first. I thought it was a wind up, a sick wind up. But then it dawned on me, this was real.

To cut a long story short my mind went into overdrive. My feelings of loss, guilt, anger, and rage were my constant companions for a few days.

My wife, my family and close friends helped me out so much just by being there and listening to me pour my heart out.

With Hustle & Heart 1 just a few days away I was still in two minds as to whether or not I could or should do the event. I recieved a message from SEPW owner Van Wicked saying that he totally understood if I couldn’t do the show.

I didn’t know what to do, let alone think. Would it be disrespectful? Is it too soon? I honestly didn’t have a clue what to do. I broke down so many times in front of my wife, not knowing what I should do. She was my rock and still is. I’d be lost at sea without her then and now. I love you Donna.

A few days later, literally two days before the show, I began to get my head together. But I felt I still needed the opinions from people close to me. People who knew my situation. My wife, my friends, my fellow students at the Academy.

I’m telling you all right now, that without them, all of them, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I’d love to list them and give them the public recognition they richly deserve, and maybe one day I will, but not today.

They all said the same thing, that it was my call. It wouldn’t be disrespectful as they’re sure my brother would want me to carry on and do the show, do the thing I’ve waited for 30 years for. To grab that moment and cherish it.

So that’s what I did…..

March 19th 2017, the SEPW Academy’s moment had arrived. Hustle & Heart was here. The students moment. My moment. I was so nervous getting to the venue that I thought about turning back around. Just go home. I wasn’t ready. Would the students treat me differently? Would Van Wicked be worried about me breaking down during the show? I needn’t have worried.

From the moment I walked into the hall during the set up, and saw every one of their beautiful smiling faces, I knew I had made the right choice. Yes, I had lost a member of my family, my brother. But here, at the HCC, I was surrounded by other members of my family…. My wrestling family. And they were going to get me through this, for myself and my brother.

Getting hugs, kisses and the occasional ass slap from everyone put me at ease immediately. I was intent on making this the best show possible not just for myself, management and the crowd. But for Matt who I knew was looking down on me with a tinge of jealousy that he wasn’t in that ring with me.

I don’t remember much about the show, it felt like it flew at breakneck speed. I do remember that before I went through the curtain by Gorilla for the first time, I muttered to myself. Not a prayer as such but just some words between myself and Matt.

I remember standing in that ring and looking out upon the crowd, all 125 people, and thought to myself “What have you done, you prat!”. I then took a deep breath and looked over at my wife and son in the crowd, at the curtain and seeing Van Wicked peering though, at the merch table to see Amy (senior member of SEPW management) and remembering all the boys and girls in the back. They all said I could and should do it, they had 100% confidence in me. It’s now time to repay that faith…..

And just like that it was over. Two and half hours gone in the blink of an eye it felt like. I was stood back in the ring saying goodbye and thank you to the SEPW faithful before putting the mic down in the centre of the ring, looking skyward and smiling.

That’s how wrestling, and in particular my wrestling family, helped me get through one of the hardest but most self rewarding times of my life.

This piece is to all those keyboard warriors out there that think it’s funny to poke fun at people who find solace in wrestling, or music or anything else that isn’t “the norm”. I’ve just one thing to say to you…..

If the worst ever came to the worst, and a personal tragedy hit you as it did me? I hope YOU find comfort in whatever you need to get you through it. I hope you have a network of close friends and family, like I do, to help you get back on your feet again. I hope you don’t feel ashamed in finding that one thing…..that one single thing no matter what is, no matter how “silly” it is, to get you through it. Like I did.

Pro wrestling helped me when I was at my lowest. I thought I’d get ridiculed for it. But with my amazing wife’s help, I realized that there was nothing to be ashamed about. She showed me that having a platform like this is a great way to get more eyes and ears on the subject of mental health. I really hope it works for at least one person….

As those youngsters are very keen to say, my DM’s are open if you want to talk about this or any other subject. I’m pretty much a night owl, it doesn’t matter what time you want to talk, I’ll be there. Promise 

Facebook – Mark Blake
Twitter – @Smart_Mark_B
Email – mark.blake.smart@gmail.com

All of you that have read this post, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking the time to read this. It means more than you’ll ever know.

Mucho amor amigos x