Former Derbyshire player discusses the creation of his charity after ‘”sense of shame.”

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When PCA Member and former Derbyshire cricketer, Chris Paget, was told he had Multiple Sclerosis in 2017, it understandably had a profound impact on him.  Initially this started as feeling isolated and alone, but he spiralled into depression, as he refused to open up even to the people closest to him.

Thanks to the love and support of his family and friends, Paget was able to come through this and today, three years later, he says he’s “never felt stronger.” It’s been quite the journey to get to this point and one that’s inspired the 32-year-old to launch Milestone, a charity that uses the power of sport to help normalise the conversation around mental health. We caught up with him to find out more.

  • When were you first diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis?
  • I was given a suspected diagnosis in 2013 following a period of neurological symptoms in my hands and feet. These sorts of symptoms weren’t that uncommon for me. Whilst at Derby I experienced a fair amount of nerve related issues which I always thought were general wear and tear. As it turns out it was probably more than that.
  • How did the diagnosis impact you?
  • Whichever way I look at it, MS has had a profound effect on me. Now I feel comfortable saying that the effect has been a positive one, but for a long time that wasn’t the case.When I was diagnosed, I was in denial. I kept my diagnosis private other than with my very closest friends and family. At first this ‘secret life’ was something that I was able to live with.  Until very recently I carried on my job (as a sports and entertainment lawyer and partner at Sheridans) without my firm knowing. However, the diagnosis and the associated psychological impact of hiding it were taking their toll both publicly and privately.
  • How did the diagnosis affect your mental health?
  • I felt an overwhelming sense of shame. I was isolated and alone and I had created a situation where I was without an outlet where I could openly discuss my feelings and fears. I was depressed but too ashamed to seek help and support – I didn’t feel comfortable exposing my growing vulnerabilities.I lived inside my own head in private and put on a mask in public. Privately, alcohol became an outlet, which had a compounding effect on my mental health. I feared judgment, and I particularly feared demonstrating any vulnerability and exposing ‘my secret’.Without my wife amazing wife, Harriet, and her continued attempts to get me to open up about my feelings and my state of mind, I would still feel isolated and alone. Whereas now, and notwithstanding the diagnosis and potential prognosis, I have never felt stronger: I have learnt so much about myself, what I consider important and how I want to live my life, I have reconnected with friends that I had subconsciously pushed away and I have been able to re-prioritise what is important.
  • What was the reason for setting up your charity, Milestone?
  • I suppose it was my experiences of dealing with my own mental health, along with my experiences of hearing how my close friends and family have suffered (or in some cases still suffering). I hope Milestone can play a small part in the push for all people to get comfortable with not always feeling 100% in control but, likewise, feeling comfortable in asking for help.
  • What do you hope to achieve through Milestone?
  • It’s really about trying to help normalise the conversation around mental health and mental well-being and using sport as the conduit to be able to hopefully achieve this (the tagline for the charity is ‘tackling setbacks through sports’).
  • How will Milestone look to achieve this?
  • We’ve identified 3 aims:
    1. Milestone being a resource: to help educate and raise awareness around mental health;
    2. Milestone bringing people together: through a variety of initiatives and events to try and inspire others to be comfortable to communicate how they feel without fear of judgment, shame or a perception of weakness; and
    3. Milestone being a fundraiser: for the Professional Cricketers’ Trust, and two other charities, the MS Trust and the mental health charity, CALM.
  • Why is Milestone supporting the Professional Cricketers’ Trust?
  • First and foremost, to highlight the amazing work that the Professional Cricketers’ Trust do and the support that they provide.Cricket (and sport generally) is the vehicle through which Milestone will seek to normalise conversations around mental health and vulnerability. Cricket gave me so much happiness and an amazing set of friends and experiences. While I achieved very little as a professional, it taught me a lot. Sport, and especially cricket, challenges you mentally, you learn coping mechanisms to deal these challenges.These coping mechanisms – like the ability to compartmentalise and suppress fear, anxiety & nerves – are highly effective in elite sport (and arguably business). However, they are not necessarily that effective in your personal and private life.While harnessing the ‘power of the changing room’ to create support networks in day-to-day life, I hope that Milestone will raise awareness of the benefits of embracing a different mindset where accepting vulnerability and seeking support are to be encouraged.
  • What are some of the events Milestone will be putting on?
  • We’ve got some pretty big plans! Everything we are doing is aimed around the central purpose of normalising the conversation around mental health. Bringing people together to become part of Team Milestone through sporting events and sporting conquests feels like the best way of doing this (while also having some fun along the way!).There are a number of events this year (Covid-19 permitting!), including a golf day (all details are on the website) but the main event during the first 24 months is an 18-day endurance event next year starting in Durham and finishing at Lord’s where we will be taking in all 18 county cricket grounds in 18 days. Running a marathon one day and doing a 100-mile odd bike ride the next. I’m going to be doing each day, but it is hoped we will get as many people as possible to join us for a leg or maybe two.I would absolutely love to get as many people who read this, current and past players or anyone else who supports the Trust to come and join us for a leg and in turn raise money.All of the details and how people can register are on the Milestone website and will be across our social channels Instagram and Twitter.