Glen Tonkin suffered with mental health issues in silence (Credit: EN4 News)

Five years ago, Glen Tonkin was Newtonmore Camanachd’s stern second-hand man, managing and training one of the best teams in shinty.

Glen had a firm hold over his team, and was as tough as he was on the pitch in his playing days. Glen had it all; the successful shinty career, a thriving flooring business and a loving family. But underneath his tough exterior was a life consumed by mental health problems, making every day a painful battle.

Although Glen developed a long-lasting love for shinty, it was a difficult start. Being from the north east, it was football that he’d grown up with. It came as a shock arriving in Newtonmore, where it was shinty or nothing. Quickly ejected from his comfort zone and hurdled into a very tightly knitted community, there was lots to adjust to. Having previously taken relief from his footballing ability, he experienced feelings of paranoia and anxiety from a very young age.

“It was pushing someone that was very comfortable in sport and kind of felt that I had a good social standing in sport through being good at football to all of a sudden being right at the bottom of the pecking order,” Glen says. “I really found that difficult.”

Progressing through juvenile level and into the second team, Glen still felt like a misfit. Different to all his teammates and struggling to feel a part of the team, he didn’t share his problems with team-mates or coaches with fear of being branded as “mental”.

Uncomfortable in his own skin, excessive binge drinking quickly became the first option to try and be the person he always thought himself to be.

“Even going back to the pub, you’d probably excessively drink

just to try and feel comfortable. You always thought after six vodkas, or six pints, I’ll be the kind of person you always perceived yourself to be, which was outgoing and having a good laugh. So I think it was hard because you wouldn’t open up to your teammates.”

Despite this being an intimidating environment, Glen always challenged himself to train with a deep desire to be better at the sport. This translated to his managerial career where he bravely put himself in the hot spot for judgement and criticism to challenge himself to success.

“It really was a challenge,” Glen says. “The easy thing would be to just switch off, go and hide away, play a sport that was just you so that you’ve got not one else to answer to. But I would always throw myself into these positions, which I also took as a sign of quite good strength.”

Regardless of his best efforts, some days he simply didn’t want to be there. Being in a place where everything and everyone appeared to be confrontational left Glen in a state of anxious paranoia where sometimes speaking to no one at all felt like the best option.

Glen had to step away from shinty to confront his mental health issues (Credit: EN4 News)

At his lowest, Glen found matches the most difficult to deal with. With high expectations from players, coaches and spectators. Glen was left terrified to let anyone down, leaving little joy in the sport to be had. As well as the expectations, he also found the confrontation of the opposition difficult to deal with.

“It’s a pretty horrendous place to be when you just want the ground to swallow you up,” Glen admits.

Glen stepped down from his position as manager in 2013 to confront his issues with mental health head on, putting his relationship with shinty to one side. Glen is now much more aware of his mental health on a day-to-day basis, and makes sure to implement simple structures which help him maintain healthy mental well-being.

His story goes to show that although sports such as shinty can bring joy through friendships, teamwork, success and fitness, it’s sometimes worth putting the sport aside to address underlying issues first in order to appreciate it at it’s fullest – in a healthier head space rather than ignoring them in the hope that they disappear.

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