A here. How are you doing? Are you sitting comfortably? I’m going to talk about one of those big social taboos in this post and I don’t want you to get back-ache. Go and get a cushion and prop it under the small of your back. You can thank me later.
In polite conversation the following rules apply:
- don’t talk religion
- don’t talk politics
- don’t talk football
- don’t talk mental health
Ok – most people know the first three, but the fourth one is unwritten but it is the case. We are British so our upper lips are stiff. We crack on. We put on the kettle and have a cuppa. We internally despair to the point of cracking…… Ok that last one might be a small subset.
Life is a dichotomy. Often the most happy of events happen hand in hand with those which challenge, threaten or even terrify us. This is the ying-yang of life. Often those who have struggled with what’s going on in their head are put off from sorting it out. Sometimes these have tragic consequences as happened with our one time next door neighbour.
this is my story.
In the Beginning
S and i found out we were pregnant quite early on in our relationship. The pregnancy was a surprise, but it acted as a catalyst for the inevitable and what i already knew from the first time we kissed – “I’m stuck with this lass now” – this was a good thing.
The wave of emotion at finding out that i was going to be a father was overwhelming. I had two ambitions in life – to be a husband and be a father – both were all of a sudden becoming an inevitability. I was overjoyed.
But with this sense of elation came a feeling. A pesky little feeling that starts as a niggle, turns into a worry and manifests itself as stress. This feeling was associated with having to be a provider, supporter and companion. It was also associated with the unknown; would the baby be ok? Would S be ok? What if there was something wrong with either of them? Would the baby like me? And all sorts of other little negative thoughts. Some of which would run away during my dreams or trying to get to sleep to disaster. Now I know that I was catastrophising.
Then I thought I was losing my mind.
However, I had a tactic. The good old English stiff upper lip. Bottling up all these emotions as much as I could. I needed to be the strong one for me and for Steph and for baby.
Upon reflection, our journey to becoming mum and dad and child was also the beginning of a bit of a mental funk. But remember rule 4 – do not talk about mental messed-uppie-ness. Especially when there is a social expectation to be the strong level headed one.
The Middle Bit
Stress is a bit of a funny thing. Not funny ha-ha. But funny like an old person being stuck in their ways and acting casually racist and thinking its socially acceptable when it clearly isn’t. i.e. funny old bugger. Funny thing, stress.
Stressors can range from small things like dirty folk hot-desking at your desk at work and leaving it covered in crumbs and hair and their general disgustingness; to the big things like buying a car, changing job, buying and moving house, getting married and having a baby.
Since meeting Steph in september 2010, this was the timeline:
- Sept 2010 – meet and fall in love with girl of dreams
- Oct 2010 – restructure at work – forced to change jobs
- Early Dec 2010 – find out about pregnancy
- Mid Dec 2010 – move S out of house into my mum and dads
- Mid Dec 2010 – ask S to marry me (she says yes)
- Feb 2011 – move into rented accommodation with S
- Feb 2011 – S TUPE’s to another company
- Apr 2011 – change jobs and loaded on with a heap load more responsibility (doing work of 2 FTEs)
- May 2011 – change cars from sport number to sensible family car which S could get insured on
- June 2011 – next door neighbour commits suicide by hanging when family come round for Sunday dinner (she sadly suffered from bipolar disorder)
- Mid June 2011 – find house for sale. buy house. apply for mortgage.
- July 2011 – discover that rented house was infested with rats
- Early Aug 2011 – S interviewed for new position, or risk redundancy
- Early Aug 2011 – move into new house on S’s due date
- Early Aug 2011 – O is born
- Sept 2011 – return to work. more changes made at work. projects going mental.
- Oct 2011 – need help.
So now you have an idea of how the pressure was building. How the stiff upper lip was wobbling. People near to me were worried about me. There were issues.
Sorry isn’t the hardest word. It’s “help”.
The birth of O was a traumatic yet amazing experience. You can read my amusing version of events with part one here
. The brutal reality of the situation was that we had an 18 hour experience in the hospital which culminated in a precious, delicate little man being born. Three days of support in the hospital and we were taking little O home. This was the real hard bit.
Of course there was the lack of sleep. Of course there were the wet bums, pooey bums and stresses over whether he was too hot or cold. What didn’t help matters was that in addition to this, we had series of health visitor visits where she basically kept looking for faults with O and our house had turned into a glorified coffee shop.
Honestly, we had so many visitors after O was born they blew the kettle from overuse. Our little family had little alone time. Added to this was the whole stiff-upper-lipesque need to hoover before and after every visit. We had morphed into the mummy and daddy version of Hyacinth Bucket from Keeping Up Appearances.
S was struggling. After having mastitis three times she was exhausted and ill. I was stressed and worried. O needed a tongue tie operation to help with the latching on. Our stress was evident. We needed help. We needed to help each other.
Man Baby Blues
I lost it at work. I felt as though I was having a heart attack and went to Occupational Health. They hooked me up to a monitor and they said that my ticker was fine. It was an anxiety attack.
I had an appointment with the Doctor who said that I needed some time off to recalibrate. She suggested taking antidepressants. There was a recognition that S and I had gone through an incredible amount of change and stress over a short period. Work organised a series of counselling sessions in advance of the wait for the NHS to kick in.
Through these short term interventions of drugs (citalopram for anyone interested), counselling and starting a baby massage course to help with bonding with O, I had it confirmed through no fewer than 4 independent medical professionals (GP, nurse, health visitor and counsellor) that Post Natal Depression (PND) was as common amongst men as women. The sad part is that men have this stupid thing called pride which means that it is less commonly treated and resolved.
Eventually I had Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) which really helped. Who would have thought that becoming a father dragged up suppressed thoughts from the death of your Grandparents? Who would have thought that I would sit awake at night listening to O breathing on the monitor because I was scared to death of cot death? (as it is rammed down your throat at every antenatal class). Who would have thought that because of the way I am wired up, that I would worry over ridiculous issues causing me to lose sleep and then being more stressed and ending up in a spiral of despair? Who would have thought it?
S struggled too and sought help when she felt ready. We both needed individual help with Post Natal Depression. Our love and support helped each other. You can read S’s post-natal depression journey here
Rule number 1 of Dad Club – ask for help. Rule number 2 of Dad Club – talk about Dad Club.
The structure of this post may have been a bit all over the place. As you can imagine, going over all of this is hard. Also, this isn’t a usual funny A post. This is a serious post. Like most comedy genii, I have to battle with the black dog of depression at times and the lesson I have learned is to manage it, work with it and seek help.
If you’re reading this and thinking to yourself “I recognise some of the stuff that guy is going through” then I will say this – seek help. Whether it be talking with your significant other, a doctor, a friend or seeking online guidance – seek help.
The End Bit
So O is now two. We got married in Sept 2012. I was on a daily dose of citalopram for 18 months, which I no longer take. The Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and counselling helped immeasurably and I am now aware how to challenge my negative thoughts. I now know how stress and depression and anxiety manifest themselves mentally and physically in me. I have a greater awareness of how I’m wired up.
I am not cured. There is no cure. It’s like a recurring hamstring injury, it niggles at times.
There’s a danger it might come back. but like a well-trained example of a physical god, I now know the signs. Unlike my hamstring injury though, it’s not an injury to be discussed down the pub. There is still that stigma associated with mental health. But I am more open about my mind than I ever have been.
And I have S and O to thank for that. They have made me a better person.
if you are struggling with depression, stress or anxiety – please seek help. knowledge is your friend.
love to all,