When I found out that my partner and I were pregnant I was overjoyed, we’d been trying to create this little human for 6 months and we were starting to think it just wasn’t meant to be, then along came the late cycle and low and behold there was the test with the lines on it – I was going to be a dad. Looking back on the experience I guess I handled things in the same way that most people do during a pregnancy - ensuring that your partner is ok whilst you’re busy trying to decorate a nursery, assemble Ikea furniture ready for the new arrival all whilst busily telling every man and his dog the big news.
The thing I realise now that I never actually understood at the time is that I simply didn’t grasp the enormity of what becoming a parent actually means and the responsibility and change of lifestyle this brings with it. It might sound obvious to many that you expect it to change your life, but I don’t think anything can ever prepare a 1st time parent for what is to come.
Before Evie, I was always in full control of my life and had everything planned to perfection and everything ran like clockwork – back then a routine to me meant a happy and controlled life which I was more than happy to live in – this was my ‘normal’.
Fast forward to the 18th October 2016 and Hollie was induced as Evie was a week overdue. I could tell that I was starting to feel differently starting on this day. I vividly remember looking at a screen with Evie’s heartbeat rhythms on it and feeling a wave of terror roll over me – I wasn’t ready, I hadn’t prepared myself properly, I was out of my depth. I felt a huge pit opening in my stomach that I’d never experienced before. I wasn’t hungry or ill, but I couldn’t work out what it was. I now know that this feeling was the start of a 2 years spell of my life that I honestly thought I wouldn’t get through. Its name was anxiety and it swept over me like a tidal wave.
Evie’s birth wasn’t straightforward but to spare all the gory details we ended up having to have an emergency C-section which I couldn’t be present for as general anaesthetic was involved. For someone who thinks they are always in total control, to see somebody that you love in that much pain and being unable to do anything about it is a strange feeling – you feel like a spare part and like you’re falling at the first hurdle of being a parent and taking care of your family - I now know that this wasn’t the case but at the time the whole thing just consumed me and my mind.
Evie had to stay in hospital for a few days after she was born, and everybody was so pleased and proud of what we’d managed to create – she was gorgeous and looked just like a little sumo-wrestler. Why wasn’t I happy? Why did I not want to go to the hospital to see her? Why couldn’t I eat? Why was my mind just stuck on pause? How can a man who is so in control of his life feel this way – she was just a baby after all?
The next 12 months of my life were a living hell. I had never felt so trapped in my own mind. My intrusive thoughts kept me locked in a world that wasn’t real and I felt like I was outside of my body watching the first few months of my new life unfold and start to capitulate in front of my own eyes.
I genuinely had nights where I would lay in bed and think that I would have to tell my partner to call an ambulance to take me away to a mental institution due to the thoughts I was having as I didn’t feel I was safe to be around either of them.
I knew something was wrong but as a man I just did the typical thing of keeping it all in and trying to deal with it myself – was there such a thing as postpartum depression and anxiety for men? Surely this was only something that women go through, right?
I found myself trawling the internet week after week to self-diagnose as most people tend to do now nowadays. I was looking for success stories about how this happens to people and how they recover, but all I could ever come across were horror stories about everything that you can imagine. I convinced myself that I fell into every category and symptom that I read about and all this achieved was for me to fall into a deeper, darker hole that I thought there was no way out of. All I wanted was some reassurance that this would fade but all this did was to re-affirm in my mind that I was going crazy and manifest these negative thoughts and beliefs that weren’t true.
I took the plunge to make a doctor’s appointment a week before Christmas 2018 and saw a GP. As a relatively successful, confident man, to sit there and just cry in front of a doctor about how I thought I was going crazy was alien to me. I just kept thinking that he’s going to think I’m an absolute maniac and send me off to be sectioned if I tell him all the thoughts I’ve actually had. My personal experience with the GP was poor and I left feeling more disillusioned than when I went in and at that point I remember thinking that if a doctor can’t help me other than throwing anti-depressants at me then maybe I can’t be cured and I’ll be like this forever – that was not an option and at this point my intrusive thoughts had now turned to how to end the suffering – I think that’s the scariest place you can visit in your mind.
Whilst going through the weekly cycle of desperate internet hope searching, I came across Liz’s website and for the first time I noticed something that I hadn’t seen before – a mobile phone number. This was my lifeline. Someone with experience in what I’m going through that I can actually call and text. I’ve never text somebody so quickly in all my life.
The first interaction I had with Liz was the most refreshing thing that I had experienced for months. To speak to someone on the end of a telephone who had experienced this life event was life changing. To hear Liz assure me that hundreds of men experience the same thing as me and to hear her say that this will pass with time made me feel elated – I felt hope.
This initial conversation was the first of many calls with Liz where she would explain to me that all the things that I was feeling, and thinking were normal in the circumstances. To hear these words and explanations of why we think these things gives you so much re-assurance that you’re not insane and actually serves to start the un-picking all of the negative beliefs that you have installed in your mind over the last weeks, months and years and at that point you begin your journey of self-learning and discovery.
I was so keen to ‘fix’ the problem and it wasn’t until speaking to Liz that I understood that I had to accept the issue for the time being and allow time to pass for this to be over and done with. I always remember Liz telling me that it will go, with time. I must be honest and say I never fully believed this at that point in time – but she was right – it does.
Evie is now 3 ½ years old and I’m so so pleased to say that that part of my life is behind me now and has been for some time.
Although I was physically there for the first 6 months of Evie’s life I never really contributed and for that I will always feel some form of guilt as the whole time period is still a blur to me. What I will say is that regardless of what I went through in those first 18 months of her life, my daughter and I now have the most beautiful little relationship that you could ever imagine. There’s not an hour that passes where she won’t tell me how much she loves me and the feelings that I have for my little girl can’t even be put into words. She is the most beautiful, funny, polite, charismatic, cheeky little soul that you could ever wish to meet, and I am so proud to be her daddy.
I will never look back at what happened with my mental health and wish it away. The whole experience, as painful as it was has taught me so much about myself and so much about life and how special it is.
I’ve had numerous ‘life events’ that have happened since my full recovery from whatever this was, and I can safely say that nothing has ever even come close to making me feel the way I did back then. I think this goes to show how much power this illness can have over somebody, largely because we choose to believe the movie that is playing out in our heads – but it’s not real – it’s just a state of mind at that time.
I truly hope that someone can find this text in their time of desperation and that it can be that little bit of hope and that first step towards realising that you’re not crazy. You’re simply experiencing the results of a tired mind in a tired body. When this is seen for what it is and time is allowed to pass I can guarantee, as Liz did to me, that this will leave you, and when it does your world will change as mine did, all for the better as you will come out of this a stronger, more compassionate and wiser person that when you entered it.
For any men reading this please don’t be put off by the stigma that’s attached to mental health as I was. Talk to people, seek help and you will recover – and let me assure you that life is still there, as beautiful as ever on the other side.