FORMER England cricket star Ryan Sidebottom has revealed ending his career made him sink into a 'deep, dark hole' as he battled anxiety.
Here the ex-bowler tells Tom Roddy how The Sun's You're Not Alone campain can help sport stars like him through tough times.
Ryan Sidebottom runs his fingers along the beads of a bracelet on his wrist.
“Love you, Daddy,” reads the message created by his two children.
It is a simple message but one that has meant a lot to the former cricketer over the toughest 12 months of his life.
Sidebottom has struggled since he called time on his 20-year career last September.
The 40-year-old left-arm bowler retired with 79 wickets in 22 Tests, a T20 World Cup title and five County Championship titles at Yorkshire and Notts.
Yet today he talks for the first time about the mental problems he is battling.
Sidebottom strides into the room wearing flip-flops, skinny jeans and a flowing shirt. His distinctive curly red mane adds a rock ’n’ roll air. He looks fresh and healthy — but appearances can be deceptive.
Panic started coursing through his veins from the moment his career and marriage came to an end at the same time.
The Yorkshireman revealed: “It’s like a deep, dark hole that gets deeper and darker.
“I’d wake up in the middle of the night feeling really anxious about how I’m going to support my family and what direction my life is going.”
The decision to quit playing came after a conversation with his father, Arnie, the former Yorkshire and England bowler and Manchester United defender.
Sidebottom Jr, who picked up 762 first-class wickets, said: “Dad is a typical tell-it-how-it-is Yorkshireman. He said, ‘You’ve had a good run, a great career to be really proud of, but it’s time to call it a day’.
“He carried on for a couple of years longer than he should have. He couldn’t bowl as well as he could have and he didn’t want me to finish like that.”
So, a few weeks later, as Yorkshire prepared for lunch after a nets session, Sidebottom announced he would be calling it a day at the end of the 2017 season.
But his anxiety had already begun to fester. After two decades of the same routine day after day, the uncertainty that lurked at the end of that season triggered deep-felt fears.
Sidebottom explained: “It’s weird because you have it in your head for a number of weeks that I’ll tell the lads and all will be fine but I was quite teary.
“You try to put things into perspective but it’s really difficult. I’m thinking, ‘I’m finished in September, what now? What am I going to do?’ You can’t rationalise anything. You wake up and think, ‘Where’s my life going?’’’
Sidebottom believes many sports stars are affected by anxiety and depression.
Two years ago Jonathan Trott revealed the torment cricket gave him and the lengths he considered going to in order to escape.
Trott admitted he “considered driving my car into the Thames or into a tree. That way I could get out of the ordeal.”
Marcus Trescothick, who lost his Test career to a debilitating mental illness, revealed in 2011: “It’s more an anxiety issue I have, rather than a depression. Of course, they’re two sides of the same coin but I can flip into anxiety state very quickly.”
Sidebottom says he experienced similar feelings. He added: “You’re OK one minute then suddenly you become very anxious and stressed. You can only think of the negatives.”
A small circle of friends lent an ear and helped ease the tension building inside.
Sidebottom said: “I’ve had some close mates that I rely on. It’s about talking regularly, picking up the phone, not just once a month but all the time. I’ve had a lot of support from friends and family.”
Sidebottom believes being open about your emotions helps deal with the problems.
He said: “I’m an emotional guy. I’ve never been afraid to cry or get upset, to let it all out.
“It’s hard to go to your mate and say how you’re feeling. But it makes you feel much better. It’s really important.”
The alternative is unbearable to consider.
Sidebottom revealed: “If I hadn’t had that support network I don’t know what I would have done, where I would have gone, mentally and physically.
“You see it all the time, guys who go down the road of drink and drugs, go out and lose all their money gambling.”
He then mentions a problem many former sportsmen have identified about retirement.
Sidebottom added: “You try to replace that adrenalin rush you had as a player and you don’t know what to do next. It is really good to talk.”
That is what Sidebottom did and what he does now. And that is why he is speaking out today.
Sidebottom has turned the corner of his anxiety and wants to help others, to try to stop this terrible torment taking hold of anyone else.
Or, at the very least, to help them to escape its iron grip.
He explained: “I’m a big bloke, 6ft 4in, but actually it’s OK to be emotional. It’s OK for men to open up and say how you feel.”
He knows some will find it tough to sympathise with his experience.
Sidebottom admitted: “In sport it’s viewed as you earn lots of money, you have a great life and travel the world, you stay with your best mates in hotels. But actually it can be a very lonely place.
“You go back to your room and if you’ve had a bad day, you sit there down in the dumps. That can be really lonely.”
And then came retirement and life as Sidebottom knew it ground to a halt.
He said: “You’ve had total structure all your life — at 9am you get to the ground, at 9.30 you’ve got training, it’s on the board what net you’re going to be in.
“And then when you retire it’s, ‘What am I going to do now? Where’s my drive? Where’s my self-worth?’
"You get really stuck.”
Getting back into cricket in March as a bowling consultant at Surrey has been another antidote to the anxiety. He is thrilled to be involved once again, to have a reliable income and to be in a position to help young cricketers deal with their problems.
Sidebottom said: “I’m on the other side of the rope now, I’m helping. It’s good to talk to them, talk about the game, how they’re feeling, find out if they’re OK. It’s all aspects of being a coach and a mentor, not just, ‘Come on, you need to win today’.”
Keeping busy is also helping his recovery. Sidebottom has just returned from a trip to Blackpool with girlfriend Maddie and his kids Indiana, eight, and seven-year-old Darley. He has even created a bucket list.
Sidebottom revealed: “It’s just having a plan. I’ve got so many things on my list. I’m going to Vegas next year with Maddie and also to Nashville. I’ve always wanted to go.”
As Sidebottom gets up to leave, he checks film times at the local cinema where he is planning to take his children.
They are the reminder he needs — that he is loved and that everything will be OK.