PCA PRESS RELEASE
Gloucestershire all-rounder shares rare insight into his disorder.
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Gloucestershire all-rounder Benny Howell is well renowned for his creativity on the pitch, and in the absence of cricket he has turned his hand to writing about his lifelong relationship with ADHD.
The 31-year-old’s ingenuity has made him a sought after all-rounder in global competitions, including being drafted in the inaugural draft for ‘The Hundred’ due to his consistent performances for his county.
Although it is no secret, Howell has not publicly opened up to discuss his mental health disorder and as part of Mental Health Awareness Week, he has taken a creative look at his battle with ADHD in a blog for the PCA…
A flickering of light in the corner of a dark, murky library is trying desperately to work. A powerful wind is intensifying throughout the room. Hundreds of books that are neatly organised on shelves start flying out of control. Immediately you develop an urge to catch them before its total chaos. At the same time, you’re distracted by voices yelling at you, but you can’t focus on them, you’re already invested in this tornado of swirling books, frantically running around, and jumping despairingly. Your obsession has overcome you and the more you try the stronger the twister becomes.
Frustration quickly turns to anger. Any sort of control you had is now gone. It’s overpowered you, flinging you around until it hurls you across the room, smashing into the wall. You fall into a heap on the ground covered in dusty books and ripped pages. The voices are still there, but you don’t care. You feel lost, confused, and ultimately defeated.
The chaotic mind my Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
ADHD is a chemical imbalance with the way certain neurotransmitters in the brain work and there is a dysregulation of the dopamine system. Put simply, this means we don’t receive the same messengers as neurotypical people which can result into symptoms like impulsiveness, lack of motivation, confusion, anxiety, depression. Sometimes they happen all at once which creates drastic mood swings similar to those who struggle with bipolar.
"Fortunately, I was talented at sport, and this was my escape. It was the only time I could express myself without everyone judging me."
I have encountered these symptoms throughout my life and I want to share with you my thoughts, feelings, and beliefs through my personal experience, in the hope we have better understanding of what many people around the world cope with on a daily basis.
As a child I was diagnosed with ADHD and from then on, I was always known as the ‘weird kid’. Today, being different is something I thrive on but for a long time all I wanted was to be popular, to fit in. That proved almost impossible at school as I was constantly in trouble. Exploring where I shouldn’t explore, making noise in class, running down the corridor, you know, all the serious stuff. I was made to abide by the norm which wasn’t easy, and it was only a matter of time before I pushed the boundaries and broke the rules again.
Fortunately, I was talented at sport, and this was my escape. It was the only time I could express myself without everyone judging me. I could do what I wanted and was praised for my competitiveness, for having passion and being creative. I was rewarded for being myself. I wasn’t punished for being too loud or exploring possibilities. I wasn’t made to write a thousand lines in detention of ‘I will not run in the corridor’.
The initial assumption was that you grow out of ADHD as you get older, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. It never goes away. I signed a professional contract with Hampshire as soon as I left school, so I lived and breathed cricket, which for a period of time liberated me from my naturally hectic mind. Although, it wasn’t long until my actions caught up with me. ‘Benny, what’s wrong with you!’ ‘Focus!’ ‘Do you even think!’ ‘Stop being f****** annoying!’ Basically, I understood extremely quickly that you can’t do certain things in a team environment, but I had no idea how to control them. Going on a spur of the moment trip to Paris mid-season seemed perfectly reasonable at the time…
What followed has been a long struggle to find myself, to realise my true nature, to rid of the labels that were placed upon me as a child. I’ve seen numerous therapists, been handed a wide range of pills, whilst being told what to avoid, what not to do. I found some relief in this and I experienced some fascinating highs! However, this wasn’t a lasting formula, and I found myself going round in circles.
I desperately wanted this illness to go away so I disregarded my feelings and battled with my thoughts. I was out drinking at night and or absorbed in cricket during the day. I physically trained hard but my mind was caught in a spin and often I lost motivation. I wanted to quit the game I loved, as I didn’t feel like I belonged. I hated being in my own skin. Time and time again, I broke down. But time and time again I got up, I kept fighting… mostly out of stubbornness. Except it was to no avail. I kept repeating my actions and continued going obliviously round a roundabout when all I needed to do was to slow down, look up and turn left.
On 7th May 2018, my son entered the world. Watching him grow, has taught me so much. He’s reminded me of the imaginativeness, exuberance, and innocence that we all had as a child. He doesn’t think or over analyse. He doesn’t care if he falls, he just gets back up. He observes the world without judgement, with genuine amazement. For the first time I could see clearly, it was like putting on glasses and realising I could see without squinting. It was the purist form of love. I knew I had a responsibility to look after him and guide him to his full potential.
In order to do this, I had to change my patterned behaviour, I had to find a way out of this limbo I was in. Accordingly, I did my research. I read books, articles and listened to podcast, not just on ADHD but on anything and everything that was of value to improve my state of being. The answer I found not only surprised me but was incredibly simple – meditation.
What started as a simple practice to relax has now become a daily ritual that’s guided me closer to my core essence. It’s helped me unwrap layers of mud that I’ve acquired over time. Instead of ignoring my feelings I’m starting to welcome them, instead of fighting my thoughts I’m now open to working alongside them. I’ve learned to live in awareness, in the present moment. I recognise and appreciate my own strengths, ones that I couldn’t see when I was just staring at my weaknesses, which is what I’d been doing for years. Comparing myself to people with neurotypical brains wasn’t serving me; ‘Why are they never late? Why do they never forget things? Why do they find it easy to stick to the rules?’
"We may be wired differently but that doesn’t make it a disorder. It is not a damaged or defective system, it’s a nervous system that works well using its own set of rules."
In my pursuit for lasting solutions, I discovered that millions of people around the world struggle with learning disabilities. I wasn’t alone. ADHD brains have a lot to offer the world. We’re hyperfocused, spontaneous, innovative. We not only think outside the box, we’re not even aware there is a box! We may be disorientated when our brains aren’t engaged, but ADHD minds are great at tackling tasks that are urgent, working with ideas that are new, wrestling with problems that are challenging and dedicating ourselves to projects that are of personal interest.
We may be wired differently but that doesn’t make it a disorder. It is not a damaged or defective system, it’s a nervous system that works well using its own set of rules. Olympic Great Michael Phelps, Singer and Actor Justin Timberlake, Business Magnate, Richard Branson are examples of many successful people in their own right who all have ADHD. A deficit? I don’t think so.
If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it’s stupid, unless it realises that fish aren’t great at climbing trees as there’s plenty of ocean. If you spend your whole life as fish trying to climb a tree, you’ll never see how far you can swim. I’ve ended my obsession with perfection, and I’ve stopped trying to please others. I don’t have to drive through hazy fog without a GPS or run into a tornado to catch countless flying books. All I have to do is appreciate, enjoy, and thrive in this vast ocean that’s all around me that has limitless possibilities.
Benny Howell has been supported by the Professional Cricketers’ Trust throughout his career. All members of the PCA have access to the players’ charity who support past and present players and their immediate families when they need it most.
For support 24 hours a day call the Confidential Helpline on 07780 008877