“And the gold medalist, representing Great Britain – Sebastian Newbold Coe.”
Sometimes it’s the most fleeting and insignificant of moments that stick out in our minds – and these ten words represent a perfect example of one of mine.
Of course, this particular moment wasn’t exactly insignificant for Sebastian Newbold Coe. It was August 1984, and he’d just won the 1500 metres at the Los Angeles Olympics. In doing so, he’d also successfully defended the title he’d won four years earlier in Moscow, becoming the first man ever to do so over that distance.
And now here he was, live on the television in our living room, claiming his place in the vaults of history, and deservedly basking in the glory of his unwavering efforts.
It was that very moment – the one in which I heard Sebastian Coe’s middle name being called out – that to this day still sticks out so clearly in my mind. Far more so, in fact, than the moment he crossed the finish line in the race he’d just won.
Perhaps it was a combination of reasons. Perhaps, having just discovered a love of running myself, I was boyishly daydreaming of basking on a similar podium one day in my own future. Perhaps it was a feeling of pride because a fellow Brit had accomplished such a remarkable back-to-back on the world stage. Perhaps it was because I realised I really had just witnessed history in the making. Or perhaps it was just because I thought “shit, that’s a really odd middle name”.
Regardless of the reason, from that day forward, whenever I saw double Olympic champion Sebastian Coe mentioned in a newspaper or appearing on television, I’d always quietly reaffirm to myself “yep – Sebastian Newbold Coe”.
More Than A Game?
Trivial Pursuit also sticks out in my mind – as the game that annoys me more than any other. I first got my hands on a set when we were given one as a Christmas present, also in 1984. After Christmas dinner, we grabbed the square box from our pile of presents and slowly slid off the dark green lid so we could have our first game.
It didn’t take long for sheer frustration to set in.
I just didn’t get it. I couldn’t believe someone had made such huge success and widespread popularity out of a game with so many difficult and quite frankly irrelevant questions, and across such a wide range of topics.
I mean, for sure there might be experts out there in Geography, Entertainment, History, Literature, Science & Nature or Sports & Leisure who could answer well in their area of expertise. But all six?
And worse, there was no ‘phone a friend’, ‘ask the audience’ or ‘50:50’ – not even four answers to choose from, which would at least reduce your odds of a lucky guess from one in a bat’s chance in hell to one in four.
I may have lost my first ever game of Trivial Pursuit without getting a single wedge in my wheel, but I’d like to point out that it took over an hour for someone to finally get just one question right on Christmas Day in 1984.
Many months later – I’d be lying if I said I could recall the exact date, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it has since been made into a Trivial Pursuit question – myself and a few friends decided to stave off some Glaswegian winter boredom by dusting off the square green lid and having a game.
Once again, the barrage of seemingly unanswerable questions began to flow. But after several rolls of the dice, I landed on my favourite space – Sports & Leisure. It was the one category I always felt I at least had some hope of being asked a question I just might be able to answer.
One of my equally frustrated opponents then pulled a question card from the box. I could not believe the words that then rolled off his tongue:
“What is Sebastian Coe’s middle name?”
“Newbold!” I cried out instantly. I then reached in sheer elation for my precious orange wedge and proudly, almost smugly, placed in my otherwise empty wheel.
But in that same moment, as I basked in the glory of all my own unwavering efforts, my proverbial podium was whisked from under my feet.
“How could ya possibly know that, ya wee cheat?” came the words from the same tongue that the question had just rolled. “You must’ve seen it oan the back of the card!”
“Naw, I just… I just know”, I said hesitantly. Somehow I felt too embarrassed to go into a lengthy explanation as to why I knew the answer.
Back in those days, my friends picked on me a lot for just about anything, so part of me figured that if I explained why I knew the answer, they’d only find a way to mock me further as a result. They’d probably even start calling me Newbold! Another part of me wanted my friends to unquestionably accept that I had got the answer right – that I just knew.
“There’s no way you wid know that”, said one of the other players, with everyone else nodding in agreement.
Initially I felt deflated, like I was being ganged up on, robbed and cheated; I was then overcome with a sense of utter disappointment. But before too long, a dose of the good old irrational guilts set in. I was certain I hadn’t seen the answer, but I did wonder whether I was at least partially guilty – whether I’d momentarily, subconsciously, even irresistibly been drawn towards glancing at the back of the question card as it was being read out.
And so, despite my brief protests, I gave up the fight. The next player picked up the dice and the game continued as if I’d got the question wrong.
So if the whole truth be told, regardless of the reason, from that day forward, whenever I saw double Olympic champion Sebastian Coe mentioned in a newspaper or appearing on television, I’d always quietly reaffirm to myself “yep – Sebastian bloody Newbold Coe”.
Back To The Future
Wind the clock forward some thirty years to a trivia night we had at work recently. Before the questions kicked off, I told the same story to a couple of my team members at our table over a few drinks.
I’d told the story countless times in the past, but it dawned on me that this was the first time I’d even thought about Sebastian Bloody Newbold Coe, never mind spoken about him, since I’d won my battle with the black dogs of anxiety and depression some three years before.
And so as the night progressed, I was able to look around the room, pondering all the Trivial Pursuit-style difficult questions with a fresh, positive, black dog-free perspective. This was despite the fact that my team was slipping further and further down the overall standings with each passing round.
Towards the end of the night, with my team sitting frustratingly out of contention of a place, I recalled a conversation I’d had with a friend of ours, Simon, just a few weeks before. Simon had just started up his own Market Research agency and I’d asked him what he saw as the key to success in market research.
“The answer is always known”, replied Simon, emphatically and without hesitation. “It’s all about getting to the right questions”.
Talk about a lightbulb moment!
Of course I realised I couldn’t rely on this pearl of wisdom as a cunning argument with the Trivia Night quizmaster to pull my team back into contention.
However, it was in that moment that the significance of Simon’s words finally sank in. It was in that moment that I discovered another weapon that can be used in the fight against the black dogs of anxiety and depression – one I’d in fact previously used myself; one that is available in everyone’s armoury. Because as I continued to look around the room that night, it also dawned on me that a struggle in the game of life with the black dog is like the complete opposite to a game of Trivial Pursuit.
What I mean is that during a game of Trivial Pursuit, we ask each other difficult questions that we rarely know the answers to. When we are struggling with the black dog, on the other hand, the bitch bypasses the questions and leads us straight to the irrational answers she wants us to believe; answers she needs us to believe in order to keep herself in existence.
And by firing off so many simultaneous irrational answers in the form of worrying thoughts racing around in our heads, she continues to block us from getting to those simple but important questions. Of course these are questions that if the truth be told, we already know the answer to deep down. And the answers are the complete opposite to those the black dog throws at us.
The black dog will, for example, lead us straight to the answer “I’m not good enough” when the obvious question we could be getting to is “am I really not good enough?” Or “I’m so angry with him” when we could be asking ourselves “why am I so angry with him? Am I perhaps contributing to my own anger?”
The brutal lying bitch also makes us believe there is no escape from her evil clutches. She seems to do this so well by leading us straight to the answer “there is no way I can fix this” when of course the question we could be asking ourselves is “surely there must be some way I can fix this?”
And then there is the collection of classic answers we often seem to be led to before many words and actions, that keep us from being ourselves. You know – the ones that go :”I should be doing this; I must say that; otherwise people will think badly of me”. When we could be asking ourselves “should I really be doing this? Must I really do that? Will people really think badly of me regardless of what I do or say?”
I remember during my own darkest days feeling like the black dog was drowning me in a stream of endless such answers. She’d dream endless portrayals of the most daunting, inevitable outcomes in life for me – minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day. Telling me that I wasn’t good enough, that I was useless, that all my simple everyday mistakes were going to cost me big time, that I wasn’t worthy of all the good things in life, and that somehow she was going to take them all away from me – these were all ways my own black dog would constantly taunt me.
After years of torment and suffering, however, I finally found a chink in her armour. I found and accepted that medication worked well for me, and the tables slowly started turning in my favour. But medication wasn’t my only saviour. It was the head start that paved my way, but further along the path I found equal solace through exercise and diet. And I found solace in asking those right questions.
On one particular day, again I can’t recall exactly when, the old dog was raving on in my head as usual about how terribly my life was going to turn out, and how unworthy and useless I was. But things were different that day. I was further along the path than I’d been before. I found strength within myself to pick up a proverbial question card from the path, I looked her squarely in the eye and I read the question out loud to her:
“Based on what, bitch?!”
She was unable to answer – she couldn’t put a single wedge in her wheel in response to that one. For the first time in her pathetic life, I could actually see the fear in her eyes.
From that day on, I still had a long fight ahead of me before I could push the black dog off the path and keep her there. A huge part of that recovery was being able to shut her down whenever she arked up by asking myself those questions, and reasoning with myself that yes I was worthy of all the good things in my life. Eventually I no longer feared losing any of them.
As I look back nowadays at how far I’ve come, I realise that I did find my podium after all – right at the end of that long path. Not only did I step straight onto the middle of the podium, in doing so I’d also knocked the black dog out of contention for a second or third place. In fact, she was a Did Not Finish.
This was my first place to relish, my reclaimed life to live and love, my opportunity to bask in happiness after my long, unwavering fight. And now it was my turn to tell the black dog there was absolutely no bloody question about it.