“When Evie was a year old, suddenly there was lots more pressure on me to be physically and emotionally present for my family. My wife Helen had gone back to full time study and work as a midwife. I was also working full time as well as getting Evie to and from childcare, cooking Helen dinner before sending her off on night shifts, and looking after Evie on weekends if Helen was working.
Evie was a terrible sleeper. I’d be up all night, dancing around with a sling on trying to get her to sleep while she screamed in my face. A couple of times I completely broke down in tears and collapsed on the floor. My anxiety and depression really kicked in around then.
I had become anxious about going out with Evie on my own because she was so determined to be independent. After a terrible time at a play session one afternoon, we stopped at a pub to share a slice of cake. We sat down and Evie started her ‘Oooh, I’m walking away from Daddy! Come and get me!’ act. Then she ran straight out the front door into the road. I had to sprint out and grab her. It was a quiet road thankfully, but I was bawling my eyes out.
That was the closest I came to a proper breakdown. I felt completely numb but on fire at the same time. When you want to escape a situation, it seems to come down to two things: either packing your bags and running away, or suicide. I had thoughts around both, but I didn’t get close to doing anything, and I was able to talk to Helen about everything.
I was signed off work for three months. I started taking antidepressants and had counselling – both were very helpful. Family becoming aware of what was going on made a big difference. And eventually Evie got older and everything got a bit easier. So when she was four, we decided to do it all again.
When Theo was born, Helen and I both really struggled. It wasn’t a pleasant time at all. That’s when I was told about Dads in Mind. I had an initial chat with Louis, the Dads’ Worker at the time, and he was great. He invited me to Bluebell Place for a dads’ meet up.
The Dads in Mind meet ups were a completely open, safe space where you could talk to other dads. There would be anywhere between four and 10 of us in the room and we’d just chat it all out.
The sessions felt very supportive - you felt free to let all your feelings out. I found it really beneficial to be able to talk about my issues, hear what others were going through and get advice on potential ways to cope and find balance. Realising I wasn’t alone was quite a big thing.
‘Dad guilt’ was a really common theme. Returning to work after paternity leave, you feel guilty for being able to escape to the office. Then you feel so guilty for working that you avoid asking your partner if you can go to the gym, or for a run, or do anything remotely enjoyable. But finding time for yourself is so important, because how can you look after someone else if you're not looking after yourself?
I’m comfortable talking about my emotions, but even I was worried about putting a dampener on my relationship with my bloke mates. What if they’d think, ‘Do I really want to go to the pub with this guy who’s going to sit and moan about his feelings for two hours?” So having an outlet that was completely separate from my friendship group was extremely beneficial.
It was also really helpful to get the clinical point of view from Karl, a psychiatric doctor with young kids. He told us how poor mental health can affect you, gave us information about medication and signposted us to other services like CBT.
Without Dads in Mind, I think I’d still be alive, but I wouldn’t guarantee it. I might not be living with my family. If I were still at home, I wouldn’t be coping with day-to-day life as well as I am now.
Evie and I are very close now and have a lot of fun together. The important lesson for me is that she and her brother won’t remember any of the negative stuff – it’s part of our lives, not theirs.”